Joaquin Miguel (Mike) Elizalde, a wealthy businessman, won appointment as Resident Commissioner from the Philippines in 1938 as war clouds converged in the Pacific.1 In the U.S. House of Representatives, he threaded the needle between preparing his home islands for independence while assuring the United States of Philippine allegiance in the face of imminent conflict with Japan. He displayed remarkable skill as a diplomat, protecting business interests and Filipino laborers in the United States and serving as an articulate, widely admired spokesman for the commonwealth. He was, said one colleague during the war, “the leading spirit of bracing up the morale of his conquered and ill-treated people.”2 Elizalde transformed the Resident Commissioner’s office into the functional equivalent of the Philippine Embassy, an office he later held as the islands’ first ambassador to the United States in 1946. Representative Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, who served with Elizalde in the House, attributed Elizalde’s success to his personable, even humble, approach that complemented his steadfast devotion to the islands: “He is as plain as an old shoe and is a real friend of his people.”3
Joaquin Miguel Elizalde was born on August 2, 1896, in the Philippine capital of Manila to José Joaquin Elizalde and Maria del Carmen Diaz Moreu Elizalde. The family was of Castilian Spanish descent; Joaquin Elizalde was a Spanish citizen until the 1930s. Sources vary, but the most reliable suggest that he became a Philippine citizen in 1933.4 He was schooled in Spain, in Switzerland at Dr. Schmidt’s Institute in St. Gallen, and in London, England, at St. Joseph’s College and the London School of Economics. According to at least one source, Elizalde also served in the Spanish army for a year.5
As the scion of one of the islands’ most respected families, Elizalde moved easily among the Filipino elite and, by his early 30s, had positioned himself as one of the Philippines’ captains of industry.6 From 1918 to 1934, he was a managing partner of Ynchausti y Cia, a trading company that his family founded in the mid-19th century. When Elizalde took over as president in 1934, it became Elizalde & Company, Inc. At various points in his career, he also was a leading figure in a web of interconnected companies that ranged from insurance sales to steamships and in other companies producing or trading in rope, gold, iron, cattle, lumber, paint, sugar, and distilled spirits.7 Elizalde was an avid golfer, director of the Manila Polo Club, and a member of a championship polo team comprising his brothers in the 1930s. He married Elena von Kauffmann in Manila on May 17, 1924. That marriage produced two daughters, Cecilia and Elenita. The couple divorced in 1957. Elizalde remarried to Susan Magalona Ledesma, and the couple had two children, Maria Theresa and Juan Miguel.8
Like many Philippine Resident Commissioners before him, Elizalde was propelled by business success into public service. In 1934, as the islands began to ready for independence, he was appointed president of the National Development Company of the Philippines. Three years later, President Manuel L. Quezon tapped him as an economic adviser. He also had a seat on the National Economic Council, which he held until 1941 and then again from 1952 to 1953.
When Quintin Paredes resigned as Philippine Resident Commissioner, President Quezon appointed Elizalde his successor on September 29, 1938, several months after the 75th Congress (1937–1939) had adjourned sine die.9 Elizalde, whose “right hand quivered like a leaf when he was taking the oath,” was sworn in as Resident Commissioner by a clerk in the War Department in the presence of Secretary of War Harry Woodring on October 1, 1938.10 In a prepared statement, Elizalde pledged to devote his office to protecting the rights of Filipinos living in America and noted, “Friendship with the United States stands as the cornerstone for the perpetuation of American ideals and democratic institutions established in the Islands.”11 He retained the office for the next six years.
Due to the outbreak of World War II, controversy accompanied Elizalde’s elevation to the post. Filipino laborers working in the United States, as well as other expatriates, doubted that Elizalde would effectively represent the Philippine people and felt that his loyalty would tilt toward big business. They also groused over his Spanish ancestry. Several weeks after his swearing- in, a New York-based businessman, Porfirio U. Sevilla, publisher of the Philippine-American Advocate magazine, filed a lawsuit in DC district court, claiming that Elizalde lacked the citizenship qualifications to serve as Resident Commissioner and had not been appointed legally. The suit was dismissed in 1940 when the court refused to hear it.12
Over the course of his first year in office, however, Elizalde won over many of his critics. Even as the United States restricted its trade with Japan, he worked to protect the islands’ economy in the run-up to independence and became a vocal advocate for Filipinos living and working in America, particularly on the West Coast and in Hawaii.
Elizalde’s policy positions and legislative activities tended to reflect his business background. As a firm supporter of independence, he believed the colonial system had depressed the Philippine economy. He believed that only by giving the island territory the freedom to set the terms of its own international commerce would the situation improve.
Elizalde wanted to see the United States and the Philippines gradually unwind in such a way that necessary trade between the islands and the mainland would not be disrupted. In November 1938, in one of his first acts as Resident Commissioner, one that would typify his tenure, he spoke at the National Foreign Trade Council convention in New York City, urging the United States to implement a reciprocal free trade agreement and avoid protectionist legislation.13
He carried that message onto the House Floor a year later, calling for an amendment to the Philippine Independence Act to keep tariffs from rising against the islands’ major exports, including coconut oil, cigars, pearl buttons, and embroidery. “Mr. Speaker,” Elizalde said in one of his rare floor speeches, “I must repeat that what we ask here is, to us, emergency legislation, which will benefit not only the Filipinos but the Americans in the Philippines who, over the past 40 years, have devoted their energies, in partnership with us, to build up a flourishing Philippine–American trade.”14 The bill, H.R. 268, which kept in place many of the favorable trade policies between the United States and the Philippines through independence, scheduled for 1946, passed that day under suspension of the rules.15 Elizalde also later successfully opposed changes that would have cut the quota on Philippine sugar exports in 1940.16
As often as he pushed for big trade interests in the Philippines, he also looked out for the interests of Filipinos working in the United States and its territories. It became a common refrain during Elizalde’s career. In 1939, for instance, the Resident Commissioner’s office intervened
on behalf of 6,000 Filipino asparagus pickers in California who went on strike to protest wage cuts. Elizalde managed to restore their salaries and won plaudits for his efforts.17
That same year, Elizalde backed a bill (H.R. 3657) sponsored by Representative Caroline O’Day of New York to extend U.S. citizenship to any Filipino serving on a merchant or fishing ship who had legally been admitted to the United States for permanent residence before 1934. Appearing before a somewhat hostile House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, Elizalde argued that, based on their years of service and the fact that Filipinos were denied the right to serve on flagged U.S. ships by
the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, the thousand or so sailors affected by the bill ought to be granted citizenship in order to get their jobs back or apply for new ones.18 Despite his forceful protests, the bill appears to have died in committee.
A year later, Elizalde spoke out in favor of New York Representative Vito Marcantonio’s bill (H.R. 7239) to extend naturalization to Filipinos who were legal residents of the United States prior to 1934—a much broader category that encompassed agricultural laborers on the West Coast and in Hawaii as well as individuals who worked in shipping—roughly 75,000 individuals in total. While Elizalde’s official position was that the Philippine government was doing its utmost to convince these individuals to return to the islands, the reality was that they had established lives in the United States and had children who were legal citizens. “They are practically men without a country,” Elizalde told the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization. “They cannot be blamed for their plight; they are innocent victims of circumstances.”19
Elizalde pointed out that, since the Independence Act, Congress increasingly had treated Filipinos residing in the United States as aliens. He argued that both governments ought to find a solution for the “Filipinos who can no longer return to their country, who have dedicated the best years of their life to the United States only to see themselves considered in the same category as aliens.… Invariably they have assimilated completely the philosophy of the American life.”20 The committee, especially its West Coast members, met this with thinly concealed contempt, and the bill died in committee. A nearly identical bill authored by Marcantonio in 1942, to which Elizalde gave his full-throated support, suffered a similar fate.21
In late 1939, when he returned to the Philippines for the first time since he took office, Elizalde was greeted at the airport by an official welcoming party and received an “ovation” like those reserved for Quezon.22 The Philippine Free Press named him its “Man of the Year” for 1940: “Mike Elizalde began a new era of U.S.-Philippine goodwill in Washington. He has cultivated and impressively won the friendship and confidence not only of Federal officials but also Washington correspondents (who broadcast the news from the world’s No. 1 news center), the American people (upon whose attitude will depend the extent of help the U.S. will give to his country’s aspirations for an independent existence), and U.S. Filipinos (whose interests he has championed more effectively than any
of his predecessors because he sees in them not the Philippines’ lost generation but potential assets of the future independent republic).”23
Perhaps just as important, the newspaper explained, was that Elizalde’s “shrieking success” had transformed the Resident Commissioner “into possibly the most glamorous Philippine office next to the Commonwealth presidency.”24 It was all the more remarkable, since he had very little legislative power in Washington. As per House Rules, Elizalde never served on a committee. He spoke sparingly on the House Floor, but, like his predecessors, he spent far more time testifying before House and Senate committees. In large measure, he combined the roles of publicist and diplomat. “In every possible way, Elizalde drives home the problems of the Philippines,” noted one observer. “He takes them to officials in Government departments by direct dealing. He gives an occasional party to which those who manage to get things done in Washington come, not just the possessors of big names on the social surface. He makes an occasional radio speech and his staff gets out a magazine to acquaint Americans in general with island problems.”25
Elizalde, who insisted on being called “Mike,” was often found socializing in neighborhoods dotted with embassies and peopled by diplomats. He had extensive contact with the press and appeared regularly in profiles and in the society page. “He is of medium height, has friendly brown eyes that peer out through his glasses, smiles easily, likes shirts with blue stripes, runs to American slang which sometimes bobs up in the middle of his Spanish,” said one description.26 A piece from early 1942 in the Boston Globe noted, “He is a snappy dresser, with a liking for somewhat striking patterns in haberdashery, likes to throw big parties and has been quick on moving into a first-name acquaintance even among Washington’s most imposing citizens.”27 Elizalde “seems to like everybody,” the Globe went on, and everyone seemed to like him: “his big old mansion [on] Massachusetts [Avenue] is the haven of friendly and gregarious citizens.”28
It was not all just socializing for Elizalde, however, as the war in the Pacific magnified the diplomatic aspects of his job. After the Japanese invaded the Philippines in late 1941, President Quezon and many other officials fled the islands. They set up a satellite government in the States, and on February 5, 1942, Elizalde was sworn into the Commonwealth government cabinet-in-exile in Washington.29 For a time, Elizalde was his country’s principal spokesman. When Japanese broadcasts claimed that the Philippine government had fled Manila ahead of a Japanese offensive, Elizalde bristled, “The Philippine people are prepared to resist to the last.”30
On December 17, 1941, Elizalde delivered a shortwave radio broadcast, which he would do periodically during the war, to urge his countrymen to defend the islands, stressing full U.S. support in the effort: “Every heart in the United States beats for our welfare.… Everything possible is being done here to give us strength and support. Our faith in America is justified. Have courage and perseverance.” He exhorted Filipinos to fight back against Japanese aggression with “cold revenge,” and he supported a revision to the Selective Service Act in late December 1941 that allowed Filipinos residing in the United States to join the Army.31
For Elizalde, the occupation was personal, as several immediate family members, his estate home, and his businesses were all held by the Japanese. There was a certain amount of chivalric symbolism to Elizalde’s actions in the early months of the war. In 1942 he took a leave of absence from the House to take command of the Limbis, a 70-foot yacht that President Quezon offered to President Franklin D. Roosevelt on behalf of the islands for the patrol service of the U.S. Coast Guard. Elizalde and his all- Philippine crew plied the waves on local patrol.32
The crisis of war and the arrival of Quezon’s government-in-exile in early 1942 funneled much of Elizalde’s attention to constructing a diplomatic apparatus in the United States. In anticipation of planned independence in 1946, Elizalde had overseen the purchase of a mansion on Sheridan Circle along Massachusetts Avenue’s Embassy Row in November 1941.33 It became the hub of the Philippine mission in the United States, centralizing previously scattered offices. Elizalde ran it like an embassy, moving his offices into the renovated building in 1943. He had a personal staff of 28 people, many of whom worked in the Elizalde businesses back home. It was an embassy-in-waiting, one correspondent observed: “When independence comes, the resident commissioner’s office can be transformed into a smoothly-functioning embassy or legation without a hitch.”34
During the early part of the war in the Pacific, prior to U.S. intervention, Elizalde walked a tightrope trying to protect key industries while also supporting America’s economic and military policy toward an increasingly hostile Japan. On May 10, 1941, he pledged “unqualified approval” of the U.S. decision to include the Philippines in a system that restricted exports that might hurt the defense of the United States or the islands.35 Elizalde echoed that statement in a hearing before the House Military Affairs Committee the following day, supporting H.J. Res. 183, which extended controls to the Philippines and other U.S. dependencies. “Control of exports of the Philippines entails future far reaching and profound economic problems to us,” Elizalde conceded. “But regardless of the sacrifices we may be called upon to make … the Philippines will accept its share of the burden.… We feel that the spiritual values involved in the present conflict transcend all material considerations.”36
Even if Elizalde’s efforts did not always succeed or even if they required major concessions, they were not “wasted,” one observer noted. Instead, “they served to spotlight the status of the Filipinos, loyal nationals of the U.S.,” and demonstrated Elizalde’s “watchfulness over Filipinos’ political rights.”37 In the years before the war erupted in the Pacific, Elizalde squelched rumblings in Congress that a thoroughgoing investigation be launched into the loyalty of the Philippines. “As far as our cultural inclinations are concerned, our entire national life is founded and maintained on American principles and democratic ideals which are so fundamentally instilled that they will be maintained,” Elizalde assured his colleagues. “Any influences alien to democracy and free government do not thrive and are not encouraged in the Philippines.”38
Even in wartime, with manpower sapped by military conscription, Elizalde found himself having to advocate on behalf of Filipino nationals residing in Hawaii who faced employment discrimination. One week after the United States declared war on Japan, he supported a wartime measure to allow Filipinos to work on public works projects in Hawaii. While the legislation contemplated directly recruiting workers from the Philippines, it simultaneously included sunset provisions on the contracts for the many Filipinos who already lived and worked in Hawaii. The legislation, Elizalde told the House Committee on Territories, would clearly take advantage of Filipinos who would be working in dangerous conditions without the employment protections given to their American counterparts.39
Elizalde also cast an eye toward shaping the post-war peace in Asia and the Pacific, free from Japanese occupation and European colonial systems. In a radio address in March 1942, Elizalde urged U.S. officials to consider making a “Pacific charter” that mirrored the principles set forth in the Atlantic Charter to win the hearts and minds of Asian peoples under the yoke of Japanese oppression. “In Asia there is a great mass of colonial subjects who today merely stand on the sidelines,” Elizalde noted. “The world must offer Asia something better than the cold comfort of superior protection and patronage.”40
Elizalde gave very few floor speeches during the six years he served in the House. In fact, the Congressional Record records him speaking on the floor only on three occasions. One of those moments occurred on November 10, 1943, when he voiced his support of Senate Joint Resolution 95 to extend President Quezon’s term in office beyond November 15, 1943. The proposal stipulated that Quezon remain the Philippine president until the President of the United States “shall proclaim that constitutional processes and normal functions of government shall have been restored in the Philippine Islands.” The alternative was a potentially disruptive wartime transition to Vice President Sergio Osmeña, who would automatically succeed Quezon. Elizalde had worked personally with Secretary of War Stimson and others in the administration to convince FDR to invite Quezon to set up a government-in-exile in Washington, DC. He argued that, because Quezon was elected prior to the onset of the war, the term should be extended “strictly on the basis of war necessity” and government continuity. The measure passed the House by a vote of 181 to 107, with 143 members not voting.41
President Quezon’s death in the summer of 1944 precipitated a shakeup in the government-in-exile cabinet. When Osmeña ascended to the presidency, Elizalde resigned abruptly as Resident Commissioner on August 8, 1944, a little more than a week after Quezon’s passing. He also was dropped from the war cabinet at that time. Reportedly, tensions had simmered between Elizalde and Osmeña for years when the Resident Commissioner first staffed his office with Spanish elites like himself rather than indigenous Filipinos.42
Elizalde’s departure from the House evoked an outpouring of praise for him that was highly unusual for a colleague who could not trade votes and who had little direct influence. But his colleagues clearly appreciated his powers of persuasion.“Throughout the membership of the House, he had an entrée which assured the cooperation of his colleagues in any problem in which he was interested,” Emmet O’Neal of Kentucky observed. “Many of us have envied him as to his ability to accomplish that which he undertook to do. His fine intelligence, persistence, and sound sense are great assets, but his personality and his understanding of human nature are even rarer.”43
Elizalde’s departure from DC was brief. In July 1946, he returned as the independent Philippines’ first ambassador to the United States. On the day he presented his credentials to President Harry Truman, Elizalde asked that the United States swiftly enact legislation to grant loans to help the Philippines rebuild after the war left its infrastructure and its economy in ruins. “The future is dark but by no means hopeless,” he said. “The Philippines is capable of developing a self-sustaining economy.”44
During his tenure, which lasted until 1952, the embassy on Sheridan Circle was celebrated as “one of the liveliest gathering places in the city.”45
Elizalde’s public service also included a term on the board of governors of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank from 1946 to 1950. He was appointed the Philippine secretary of foreign affairs from 1952 to 1953. Later he represented the Philippines at the United Nations in a variety of capacities, including chairman of the Philippine delegation (1953 and 1955) and economic adviser to the Philippine Mission, with the rank of ambassador, from 1956 until his death.
Elizalde, who for years lived in Adamstown, Maryland, just outside Frederick, died after a long illness on February 9, 1965, at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, DC. He was interred at St. Joseph’s Church Cemetery in Carrollton Manor, Maryland.46
View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress
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