Wealthy and well connected, Isauro Gabaldon was part of a cohort of rising politicians who helped transform the Philippines and dominated the territorial government in the early 20th century. By the time he became Resident Commissioner, the islands were already along a path toward independence, but a presidential administration change only a short while later completely altered that trajectory. As a result, Gabaldon spent his eight years on the Hill fighting congressional efforts to reassert control over the insular government. As he once told colleagues, “on every occasion which I have addressed the Congress … I have declared that immediate, absolute, and complete independence is the desire of the great majority of the 12,000,000 inhabitants of the islands. Nothing less than this … will be satisfactory to the Filipino people.”1
Isauro Gabaldon was born in the northern Philippine town of San Isidro, Central Luzon, on December 8, 1875. The landlocked Nueva Ecija Province, where he spent his earliest years, offered limited educational opportunities; Gabaldon’s well-to-do family instead sent the four-year-old to Spain for his primary education in the city of Tébar, about 120 miles southeast of Madrid. At the age of 16, he attended the colleges in Quintanar del Rey and Villanueva de la Jara in Cuenca, earning a bachelor’s degree from the latter school in 1893. “My dream was to be a military man,” Gabaldon recalled years later. “But my father was against it. In school I was strong in philosophy and letters. And when the time came for me to decide, the happy mean was chosen: I took up law.”2
Gabaldon studied at the Universidad Central in Madrid for five years, but returned to the Philippines after his father’s death, earning a law degree from Manila’s University of Santo Tomas in 1900. That same year he married Bernarda Tinio, whose family had considerable wealth and land. The couple raised two children, Teresa and Senen.3 After passing the bar in 1903, Gabaldon worked in private practice for three years. In addition to his work as a lawyer, Gabaldon was an oil and gold executive, and he owned several large rice producing estates.4
Gabaldon made a rapid transition into politics and, though he at first avoided party labels, he struck an alliance with other up-and-coming nationalist politicos, such as Manuel L. Quezon, Sergio Osmena, and Jaime de Veyra.5 In 1906 he won election as governor of his home province, Nueva Ecija. As with other provincial governors, such as Osmena and de Veyra, he left the governorship before his three-year term expired, running for a seat in the newly formed national assembly. Elected as a member of the Nacionalista Party on July 13, 1907, Gabaldon served two terms (1907–1912) in the national assembly representing Nueva Ecija. In Manila, he chaired the committee on provincial and municipal governments and served on three other panels: police, accounts, and agriculture.6 While in the legislature, he authored a bill subsequently named after him that provided 1 million pesos to construct modern public schools throughout the islands, but particularly in the barrios (neighborhoods). Despite his vast wealth, he earned a reputation for keeping a watchful eye on the aparcería (sharecropping) system, protecting the rights of agricultural laborers and small farmers.
From 1912 to 1916, Gabaldon again served as provincial governor in Nueva Ecija, but with the enactment of the Jones Act in 1916 and the creation of a popularly elected senate, Gabaldon sought and won a seat in the newly formed legislative chamber. During his three years in the senate, he chaired the committee on accounts and served on the agriculture, commerce, communications, railroads, and rules committees.7
In February 1920, the Philippine assembly nominated Gabaldon as its candidate for the Resident Commissioner post vacated by Teodoro Yangco, who was returning to the Philippines to focus on the private sector. With Speaker Sergio Osmena’s backing, Gabaldon won the support of Nacionalista leaders, but still faced some opposition from the party. He was challenged for the nomination by Teodoro M. Kalaw, a key Quezon aide, but prevailed by a 53 to 16 margin. The assembly elected Gabaldon over the minority party candidate, Tría Tirona, on February 7, 1920, by a vote of 69 to 3.8 Gabaldon later comfortably won re-election in February 1923, for the period from March 4, 1923, to March 4, 1926, and again in late 1925, for the period March 4, 1926 to March 4, 1929.9
By the time Gabaldon arrived in Washington early in the fall of 1920, Congress had already gone home to finish election-year campaigning. As was customary for Resident Commissioners, Gabaldon submitted his election credentials first to the President, who then informed the legislature. Gabaldon spent nearly two months in the capital settling himself and his family before the House convened for a lame-duck session on December 6, 1920.
Like other Resident Commissioners, House Rules barred him from committee service and voting on the House Floor, but he made it clear that he planned to use the power of publicity to an extent that neither his colleague, Jaime de Veyra, nor his immediate predecessor, Teodoro Yangco, had done. Even before the start of the session, he honed a message that would be the hallmark of his eight-year career as Resident Commissioner. “It is of the utmost importance to continue friendly relations between the Philippines and the United States that Congress should take up the question of independence without further delay,” he told the Christian Science Monitor. “The officials of the Philippines and the masses of the Filipino people are alike insistent that independence shall be granted. As we have demonstrated our ability to govern ourselves just as often as we have had the opportunity to demonstrate it, there is absolutely no question as to our ability to do so in the future.”10
At the time, however, the political calculus in Washington greatly complicated Gabaldon’s task. Both Congress and the White House were controlled by Republicans, the party which traditionally sought to maintain U.S. control in the Philippines. Moreover, the new President, Warren G. Harding, had chaired the Senate’s Committee on the Philippines in the 66th Congress (1919–1921) and had a poor view of President Woodrow Wilson’s efforts to expedite Philippine independence.11
On March 3, 1921, the final day of the 66th Congress, Majority Leader Frank Mondell of Wyoming asked unanimous consent to allow Gabaldon to speak on the floor. The Resident Commissioner opened his inaugural speech to the House by reminding Congress that its “promise” of freedom remained “unredeemed.” Gabaldon reassured his colleagues that Filipinos appreciated U.S. efforts to improve schools and public health on the islands. He described the Philippines’ two-decade apprenticeship in government, highlighting the stability of the insular legislature and local governments, and discounted the threat of Japanese invasion. But Filipinos, he said, expected independence sooner rather than later. “It will be the greatest example of international square dealing in the history of the ages.”12
Gabaldon and fellow Resident Commissioner Jaime de Veyra met with Harding shortly after his inauguration, but the President refused to commit one way or the other on the matter of independence. His inclinations became clear enough when shortly afterward he dispatched a fact-finding mission to assess the islands’ “fitness” for self-rule. Harding assured the Resident Commissioners that he would not make a policy decision until the investigators submitted a formal report.13 Perhaps sensing the drift of the new administration, Gabaldon tried to preempt the mission by recommending a four- to five-year period of “probational independence.”14
Led by General Leonard Wood and former Governor General W. Cameron Forbes, both of whom opposed independence, the mission visited the islands from May through August 1921. After interviewing a wide range of people, including resident Americans and Filipino political leaders, the mission advised Harding to strengthen the governor general’s office and retain the islands because, in its opinion, the Philippines had not yet mastered self-rule.15 Harding unsurprisingly endorsed the report.
Gabaldon and de Veyra protested the recommendations, especially the suggestion to embolden the governor general at the expense of the Philippine legislature.16 In a floor speech refuting the principal findings of the Wood–Forbes report, Gabaldon alleged that it was a thinly veiled attempt to “find excuses for delaying independence.” To critics who claimed that Japan would exercise undue influence in the Pacific, he claimed the Philippines were perfectly capable of defending its borders and pointed to provisions in the Washington Naval Conference of 1921, a treaty signed by the United States, Great Britain, Japan, and France, that all but eliminated the threat. In the final analysis, he claimed, “The [Wood–Forbes] report is a clever, but unworthy attempt to change the issue from that of stable government to a multitude of other conditions not required by Congress.”17
After Harding appointed Wood to the office of governor general in the fall of 1921, the relationship between Filipino leaders and the American administration quickly deteriorated.18 The situation became so dire that in 1923 the islands sent another delegation to Washington to lobby Congress and the new President, Calvin Coolidge. Members responded by submitting six bills between December 1923 and March 1924, beginning the process toward independence.19 Coolidge, however, rejected the suggestion outright and instead asked Congress to again strengthen the governor general’s office.20
Despite Coolidge’s opposition, many in Congress sided with the Philippines, and in February 1924, Gabaldon testified on behalf of H.J. Res. 131, which cleared the way for a new constitution and immediate independence. Gabaldon’s testimony described the stability of the insular government as well as its loyalty during the First World War. The Philippines, he noted, “not only … maintained peace and order but also performed the international obligations of America” in the Pacific.21 The House Insular Affairs Committee withheld its report on the bill until its chairman, Louis Fairfield of Indiana, introduced H.R. 8856 two months later, providing for a measure of self-government, but still giving the United States veto power over the proposed commonwealth legislature. Filipinos rejected the bill, and the whole effort stalled heading into the fall elections.22
In late 1924, Gabaldon found himself in the middle of an anti-independence backlash. Led in part by the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce, the effort to maintain American control in the Philippines took a nasty turn when, from late November 1924 to January 1925, the Washington Post ran a 41-part series titled “Isles of Fear” written by Katherine Mayo.23 Mayo held a number of nativist and anti-Catholic beliefs, and her articles directly challenged Gabaldon’s claims that the Philippines had established a stable government and were ready for independence.24 She accused Filipino officials of widespread graft and rampant corruption, and her articles used crude stereotypes to depict Filipinos as lazy, irresponsible, and incapable of managing a modern nation-state.25
In response, Gabaldon and fellow Resident Commissioner Pedro Guevara, who had earlier succeeded de Veyra in the House, penned a detailed reply in the Washington Post dismantling Mayo’s assertions.26 Gabaldon also denounced Mayo’s thesis on the House Floor, calling it “unjust” and “wholly unnecessary,” a “wholesale indictment of my people.” He implied that Mayo invented her data and that she had a singular purpose: to conjure up “material with which she might blacken the character of the Filipino people and belittle their civilization, customs, culture, achievements, and progress.”27
Over time, congressional intransigence seemed to take its toll on Gabaldon. His rhetoric took a sharper tone as he began to, in his words, “speak plainly” about the Philippines’ status. In 1926, for example, Jonathan Wainwright of New York proposed sending a delegation to the Philippines every two years to investigate the political situation.28 Gabaldon roundly opposed the bill, and the fact that its author was “one of the recognized foremost opponents of independence,” he said, “does not add to my enthusiasm for the measure.” Gabaldon envisioned the delegations traveling to the islands to “look the Filipinos over, dine and confer with the American opponents” of independence, and then “return and advise Congress” to retain the islands.29 But even that criticism failed to gain traction. Wainwright’s measure passed the House and was reported out of the Senate Committee on Territories before the Senate decided not to fund the missions.30 On the last day of the 69th Congress (1925–1927) in March 1927, Gabaldon somberly admitted to the House that there was a “growing belief in the Philippines that America does not intend to ever give us independence.”31
In his final year in the House, Gabaldon marshalled resources to try and beat back a number of discriminatory measures. In January 1928, Frank Willis, chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories and Insular Possessions, submitted S. 2292, increasing the salaries of 13 presidential appointees, and directed $125,000 from Filipino revenue taxes toward hiring additional assistants and technical advisers. Another Willis bill, S. 2787, circumvented the Philippine senate and proposed empowering the governor general to appoint provincial governors for the Muslim and other non-Christian provinces. In the House, Insular Affairs Committee Chairman Edgar Kiess of Pennsylvania submitted companion bills, H.R. 8567 and H.R. 10074, respectively. When both the Secretary of War Dwight F. Davis and newly appointed Governor General Henry L. Stimson testified in support of the measures, Manuel Quezon asked independence allies in the Senate to fight back. Meanwhile, the Resident Commissioners readied to testify in committee hearings.32
On January 31, 1928, both Gabaldon and Guevara testified before the House Insular Affairs Committee against the proposals to increase the salaries and staffs of the islands’ presidential appointees. In a prepared statement, Gabaldon blasted the effort as “tyrannical” and scolded Congress for not consulting the Philippine legislature on tax issues. “It would seem,” Gabaldon said, “that the representative system of government implanted in the islands imposed upon this Congress the duty of adhering to the fundamental principle of government that ‘taxation without representation is tyranny.’ ”33 According to the Jones Act, Gabaldon reminded the committee, the avowed purpose of the United States was to set the islands on the path to self-rule and independence “and certainly you would be doing the opposite of that policy if you make the Philippine participation in governmental affairs a mere fiction instead of a real fact.”
The following day the Resident Commissioners were scheduled to testify before the Senate Committee on Territories and Insular Affairs, with Guevara taking the lead. But in between hearings, Guevara suffered a heart attack. Gabaldon, concerned for his colleague’s health and hoping for time to prepare new remarks, asked Chairman Willis to postpone the hearing, which Willis promptly denied. Gabaldon learned of this while visiting Guevara in the hospital.
Incensed, Gabaldon appeared before the committee later that day and registered his displeasure in no uncertain terms. Only Chairman Willis and one other Senator had bothered to attend the hearing. Gabaldon complained that the 45 minutes allotted him to speak had been cut to 15 minutes just before the hearing opened and, after describing Guevara’s condition, said that it would be an “unnecessary and a useless expenditure of your time as well as mine to proceed as I intended.” Gabaldon simply submitted his statement and Guevara’s into the record, fully aware that the Senators would ignore them before convening an executive session immediately afterward. “We do not want hearings to be dragging out,” Willis told Gabaldon during the testimony. “You see we have other matters: Porto Rico, Hawaii.”34 The Willis and Kiess measures never made it to a vote on the floor, but because of Congress’s maneuvering, the Philippine legislature later appropriated $125,000 to expand the staff of the governor general.35
Barely a month later, Gabaldon informed the House that he would resign as Resident Commissioner. Frustrated in Washington, he wanted to run for a seat in the Philippine legislature and breathe new life into the independence battle at home.36 As a parting shot, he inserted an incendiary farewell address into the Congressional Record, what political observers described as “the most bellicose formal announcement” ever made by a Philippine Resident Commissioner.37 The national press corps quickly picked it up, particularly his claim that every U.S. dollar invested in the Philippines was an “additional nail in the coffin of our independence.”38
Gabaldon ran through a laundry list of what he described as insults and half-truths directed at the insular government that repeatedly seemed to frame the debates about independence. The Wood–Forbes Mission report provided a perfect example. Philippine officials exhausted themselves having “to deny the many counts … against our readiness to govern ourselves,” he said. Gabaldon held special contempt for Katherine Mayo and her series of influential articles, saying, “She misrepresented us in the most vile and venomous manner that a human being could stoop to, and we were obliged to answer her.” As for the Wainwright fact-finding bill and other such dilatory proposals, Gabaldon predicted that Congress would always have Members who “oppose us.”39
Gabaldon also inverted the argument that American rule provided protection from Japanese imperialism. Not only was a major U.S. military presence on the islands “a menace,” he said, it made the Philippines a more attractive target. Strategically, the islands were a liability for the U.S. military, he added, noting “there is nothing in the world to prevent Japan from taking the Philippines if she desires.” Gabaldon predicted that, if such a war took place, the Philippines “would be reduced to a no-man’s land by the time the Americans and the Japanese got through fighting for its possession.”40
But the Resident Commissioner saved perhaps his sharpest remarks for the empty promises of the Philippines’ governors general, especially those made by Stimson. Stimson’s insistence that economic development be linked to political independence was little more than a smokescreen for a reassertive U.S. imperialism, he said, pointing out, “The very reason that we have not been given our independence is the investment of American capital in the islands.”41 Greater autonomy was no substitute for independence.
Speaking for the “Filipino race and for the Philippines nation to be,” Gabaldon encouraged his countrymen, “Stand firm. Insist upon that which has been promised us. Autonomy will perhaps give our leaders more power, but only more power over you. Independence alone will place power exclusively in your own hands.”42
Philippine leaders roundly denounced Gabaldon’s address. In some parts, it read like a stump speech, and, in fact, it became the blueprint for his campaign for a seat in the Philippine legislature. In other parts, it read like a declaration of a new political party, marking a clear break with the Nacionalistas, including both Quezon and Osmena. Philippine leaders scrambled to reassure Stimson that the Resident Commissioner had gone rogue and did not speak for the insular government, as the New York Times reported.43 Writing a half-century later, one historian suggested that raw “political ambition” and the belief he could wrest power from Quezon motivated Gabaldon to resign and run for the insular legislature.44
But betting against Quezon and the political establishment proved an unwise wager.45 Gabaldon’s scorched-earth campaign won him few friends, and he blasted the Nacionalistas for backing off demands for complete independence in exchange for a circumscribed form of autonomy.46 The Manila Times advocated against his “non-cooperation” platform and recommended that Gabaldon prepare for “a stinging rebuke at the polls” if he continued on.47 On Election Day in early June, the Nacionalistas retained control of both houses of the Philippine legislature, and Gabaldon lost to Aurelio Cecilio, 7,263 to 6,442 votes.48 After his defeat, Gabaldon’s resignation as Resident Commissioner became effective on July 16, 1928.49
While Gabaldon did not return to a career in electoral politics, he remained involved in the independence movement, returning to Washington as a member of an independence mission in 1933. He died on December 21, 1942, in Manila during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines and was interred at the Cementerio del Norte in Manila.50
View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress
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