As a journalist turned politician, Jaime de Veyra was the voice of the Philippines in Washington following enactment of the landmark Jones Act of 1916. As Manuel L. Quezon’s successor in Congress, de Veyra spent six years as Resident Commissioner navigating the shifting U.S. political landscape, speaking on behalf of the Philippine legislature, and lobbying for an independent Philippines. “No benefits, however great, and no altruism, however splendid, can compensate any people for the lack of that national independence,” de Veyra noted in a House Floor speech late in his career. “Without freedom wealth is nothing, culture is meaningless, existence itself is only the procession of idle images on a purposeless screen.”1
Jaime Carlos de Veyra was born in Tanauan, which is on the northeast coast of Leyte Province in the Philippines, on November 4, 1873, to Felix de Veyra, the director of a private school, and Ildefonsa Diaz. Born into a middleclass family on an island 600 miles southeast of Manila, de Veyra received an education in the local schools. He left Tanauan at age 15 to attend the Colegio de San Juan de Letran in Manila. After he graduated with a bachelor of arts in 1893, de Veyra remained in Manila for two more years to study at the University of Santo Tomas, studying alongside future national leaders Sergio Osmena and Manuel Quezon. The Philippine Revolution of 1896 interrupted de Veyra’s studies, prompting him to return home and join the fight against the Spanish, eventually serving as secretary to provincial rebel commander General Ambrosio Mojica. On June 28, 1907, he married Sofia Reyes, a notable social worker who became one of the most prominent women on the islands. The couple had four children, Jesus María, Manuel, Lourdes Josefina, and Maria Rosario. In 1961, when de Veyra was in his late 80s, he received an honorary PhD in humane letters from Ateneo Municipal de Manila.2
After the war, de Veyra worked as a newspaper editor, starting El Nuevo Día (The New Day) with his former college classmate, Sergio Osmena, on the neighboring island of Cebu. Together they dug into local political issues that arose during the transition from Spanish rule to American occupation. The publication was critical of the new U.S. administration, and cautious American bureaucrats viewed de Veyra “as anti-American with pro-Republic sympathies.” Many worried that the paper might be too radical, but Osmena’s deft skills as a diplomat kept it from being censored or shut down.
El Nuevo Día ended up being a short-lived experiment. Osmena quickly won election as governor of the province, leaving de Veyra to manage the paper by himself. But de Veyra was also gradually drawn into Cebu City politics, winning election as municipal councillor in 1901. When El Nuevo Día folded in November 1902, de Veyra jumped to another newspaper, La Nueva Era (The New Era) and oversaw its Tagalog section. He also managed a private school in Leyte. In 1904, after narrowly losing the race for governor of his home province of Leyte, de Veyra returned to Manila to join the staff of El Renacimiento (The Renaissance), a newspaper run by a former colleague from El Nuevo Día, Rafael Palma. Like their old publication, El Renacimiento criticized the U.S. colonial government.3
In 1906 de Veyra left journalism for good. That year he again ran for governor of Leyte against Peter Borseth, one of the few remaining Americans in a popularly elected office. According to one scholar, de Veyra was part of an emerging generation of politicians who commanded local bases of power outside Manila, their influence enhanced by U.S. officials who wanted native allies to help maintain control of the Philippines. Running as a Nacionalista, de Veyra was seen by Manila authorities as an unpalatable “radical.” Officials in Leyte, on the other hand, celebrated when he won the governorship. An American supporter cabled the news to Manila: “God lives. Leyte saved. Borseth overwhelmingly defeated.”4
De Veyra served as provincial governor for little more than a year before running for a seat from Leyte in the newly created first Philippine assembly. Elected in July 1907, he served for two terms (1907–1912) alongside familiar faces. Osmena, now a representative of Cebu Province, was speaker of the assembly, and his other college contemporary, Manuel Quezon, represented Tayabas and served as majority floor leader.
When Outlook magazine profiled the assembly shortly after it first convened, it noted that de Veyra had shed his reputation as a “revolutionary firebrand” in favor “of more moderate measures.” De Veyra, according to Outlook, understood the assembly to be something of a “political training-school” where Filipino politicians could prove to the world that they were capable of handling the responsibilities of self-government.5 During his time in the legislature, de Veyra earned the nickname “Protector of Children,” steering government subsidies toward pasteurizing the islands’ milk supply and authoring a law making women eligible to be schoolteachers.
After Quezon went to Washington as Resident Commissioner in 1909, he and de Veyra stayed in close contact.6 That political connection advanced de Veyra’s career at various turns, and in 1913 he was nominated to serve on the Philippine commission. Four other Filipinos were also selected so that, when the commission convened later that year, Native Filipinos held the majority for the first time. De Veyra eventually became the commission’s executive secretary.7
Under the Jones Act of 1916, a formal, popularly elected senate replaced the Philippine commission, and in Washington neither Quezon nor Manuel Earnshaw stood for re-election as Resident Commissioner. De Veyra and Teodoro R. Yangco were nominated to take their places, and, as the nominee of the new senate, de Veyra sailed through the process. Facing only minor opposition, both men were elected to three-year terms by a joint session of the Philippine legislature on January 10, 1917.8
De Veyra’s political skill, one Manila newspaper noted, made him “ably prepared” to direct the Philippines’ agenda on Capitol Hill in the years following the Jones Act.9 According to the Christian Science Monitor, he and Yangco shared the workload. In effect, de Veyra would represent the Filipino people while Yangco would work to protect the Philippines’ commercial interests.10 While Yangco did not stand for re-election in 1920, de Veyra was re-elected by the Philippine legislature on February 7, 1920. His second term commenced midway through the 66th Congress (1919–1921).11
Throughout his career on the Hill, de Veyra had the expert help of his wife, Sofia, who began her career as an educator and in her own right had become a leading proponent of Filipino women’s issues. In 1907 she founded the first training school for nurses on the islands and later organized women’s clubs throughout the archipelago that she then consolidated into the National Federation of Women’s Clubs. The Philippines Free Press once observed that she was “the most envied woman of the Philippines” and a role model for many young women who aspired to careers in public service.12
When the Nineteenth Amendment granting U.S. women the right to vote went into effect, Sofia de Veyra spoke frequently on the East Coast lecture circuit, stressing the gains of Filipino women. Because of the matriarchal culture on the islands, they enjoyed progressive property rights and professional opportunities unavailable to women in the United States, Mrs. de Veyra noted. She voiced the strong desire among Filipinos for “progressive legislation” particularly in women’s health care, child health, and day care. She confidently predicted that Filipino women would soon gain access to the ballot and was an unceasing advocate for the right of the Filipino people for self-rule.13 “I want the Americans to know the truth about that distant country,” Sofia said, “which is not infrequently misrepresented and misunderstood.”14
During his entire six-year stint in Washington, House Rules barred Jaime de Veyra from serving on committees or voting. He spoke sparingly in debates, perhaps a half dozen times in all. He did not deliver his first floor speech until the closing weeks of the 65th Congress (1917–1919), when he eulogized William A. Jones, chairman of the Insular Affairs Committee and namesake of the Jones Act of 1916, calling him “the American most dear to our hearts.”15
De Veyra was far less a legislator than he was a salesman, constantly publicizing the Nacionalista platform and calling for independence at the earliest possible moment.16 Like Quezon, he was a pragmatist who leveraged a variety of opportunities to promote Philippine sovereignty. He often spoke to the press and privately lobbied Members of Congress and administration officials. He and Yangco frequently gave public lectures around the country, but principally in major East Coast cities, to publicize Philippine autonomy.17 The pair also helped form a Philippine American Chamber of Commerce to encourage trade and rally support for independence. De Veyra was often found testifying before House and Senate committees on economic matters, including the adjustment of the Philippines’ debt load, tax revisions for U.S. citizens living on the islands, and salary changes for U.S. colonial officials.18
When de Veyra went to Washington, Democrats controlled both the House and the presidency and were generally more focused on domestic reforms and mobilizing for World War I than the status of the Philippines. In 1916, the year before he arrived, Democrats agreed to support the Jones Act, gradually eliminating U.S. control over the Philippines, but when Republicans took over in 1919, Congress changed its approach.19 When the GOP issued calls to strengthen U.S. authority in the Pacific, the Philippines’ territorial legislature responded by more or less putting de Veyra in charge of an independence mission to Washington.20
De Veyra met the independence mission when it disembarked in San Francisco in February 1919, and over the next two months, the delegation traveled the country, publicizing Philippine independence. After meeting with Secretary of War Newton Baker, the delegation brought their cause to a number of cities, pushing for a final resolution on the Philippines’ political status. Shortly after the mission’s visit, the Philippines opened an official press bureau in Washington and put its two Resident Commissioners in charge of placing key issues before the general public.21 Two months later, de Veyra published a memorial calling for immediate independence in the Congressional Record, and in 1920 he led a Filipino delegation to the Democratic and Republican National Conventions to lobby for immediate autonomy.22
With Republican nominee Warren G. Harding’s decisive victory in the 1920 presidential election, de Veyra and other pro-independence activists realized they would need to move quickly to secure as much as they could from the outgoing Wilson administration. A former chairman of the Senate Committee on the Philippines, President Harding, like many Republicans, believed the United States should hold the islands indefinitely.23
By November 1920, Horace M. Towner of Iowa, chairman of the House Insular Affairs Committee, publicly declared he would not consider immediate independence, forcing de Veyra and his newly elected colleague, Isauro Gabaldon, to shift their attention to the White House. Wilson had earlier told Congress that the Philippines had “succeeded in maintaining a stable government … and have thus fulfilled the condition” in the Jones Act as a prerequisite for independence.24 In the fall, in order to move one step closer to sovereignty, the two Resident Commissioners persuaded Wilson’s secretary to ask the President to support a bill certifying that the Philippines successfully fulfilled that requirement, but it was too little, too late. No Member in either chamber acted on Wilson’s request.25
De Veyra backed one last, desperate measure in the waning days of the Wilson administration to speed an independence provision through Congress. Edward King of Illinois submitted H.R. 14481, a bill to enable the Philippine government, by means of a presidential proclamation, to form a constitutional convention within one year of its enactment. Once the Filipino people drafted and approved a constitution, the President could, at his sole discretion, declare the Philippines free and independent. In supporting the King bill, de Veyra cast aside concerns that the removal of U.S. military protection might embolden Japanese designs on the islands. “We are willing to take a chance and we are confident we shall be able to … defend ourselves from any possible aggression.”26 The bill went to the House Committee on Insular Affairs, but never resurfaced.
Early in the next Congress, de Veyra and Gabaldon met with President Harding to discuss the status of the Philippines in his new administration. The President refused to render an immediate decision about independence, but told the Resident Commissioners he would review the results of a fact-finding mission led by General Leonard Wood and former Governor General W. Cameron Forbes, who were sent to assess the Philippines’ “fitness” for independence. Even before Wood and Forbes departed for the islands there were doubts their report would have much effect. “Nothing in connection with the investigation indicates that the movement to turn the islands loose from this country will be encouraged as a result of the inquiry,” the New York Tribune reported.27
The Wood–Forbes Commission visited the islands from May to August 1921 and spoke with territorial government officials, Filipinos, American residents, and “foreigners of every walk of life.” The commissioners spent a week in Manila, visited all but one of the 49 provinces of the islands, and held meetings in nearly 450 cities and towns.28 In its final recommendation, the commission not only cautioned against independence “until the people have had time to absorb and thoroughly master the powers already in their hands,” it actually recommended strengthening the powers of the governor general while weakening the territorial legislature.29 President Harding endorsed the findings and nominated General Wood to reassert U.S. authority as the islands’ new governor general.
In Washington, de Veyra and Gabaldon protested the commission’s report in a joint statement. They took particular umbrage at the suggestion of curtailing the hard-won rights of the Philippine legislature: “To a subject people like us, the power of the Philippine senate to confirm or not to confirm appointments … is a bulwark against possible tyranny on the part of the governor general … therefore we cannot surrender it.” De Veyra also submitted a letter of protest and supporting documentation to President Harding, challenging the reported results in the Congressional Record.30
The Wood–Forbes Commission inspired a second Philippine independence mission to the United States in June 1922. As with the original mission three years earlier, de Veyra helped to coordinate its activities. Unlike the 1919 group, this one had a singular political goal: challenging the Wood–Forbes report to protect the promise of autonomy embodied in the Jones Act. Senator Quezon and Philippine house speaker Osmena, the insular legislature’s highestranking officers, led the delegation.
The House received the independence mission on June 21, 1922, shortly after their arrival in the United States. Peering down from the public gallery, they listened as Insular Affairs Committee Chairman Horace Towner complimented Manila’s leaders as “educated men,” “able orators,” and “keen debaters,” and he noted paternalistically that Congress was “proud to claim them as our legislative children. We have given them, and they have gladly received and assimilated, our form [of government] and most of our procedure.” After being recognized on the floor, the mission delegates went to meet with Speaker Frederick Gillett of Massachusetts and other Members of the House.31
Nine days later, de Veyra submitted a “statement of conditions” demonstrating the viability of the Philippine government. The 23-page entry in the Congressional Record accompanied the official memorial that the delegation submitted to President Harding and Congress. Publicizing the message via the Philippine press bureau, de Veyra argued that the time was ripe for independence. Not only had the Philippines kept their end of the bargain by maintaining a “stable government” per the Jones Act, but each of the island’s main political parties favored independence.32
In 1922 de Veyra opted not to stand for renomination as Resident Commissioner. In retrospect, the reasoning behind his decision is not all that clear. One could perhaps infer that de Veyra understood that, with the transition from Wilson to Harding, the case for immediate independence had been temporarily shelved. It is also plausible that, after more than 15 years in elected office, he was ready to return to private life. While he subsequently held appointed positions, de Veyra never again sought elected office and seemed content to focus on academic pursuits.
Three weeks before his term expired at the end of the 67th Congress (1921–1923), in early March 1923, de Veyra submitted a request from the Philippine legislature calling for a constitutional convention. The “holding of a constitutional convention,” he said, was the “next logical step to be taken in the direction of … complete and absolute independence.” He insisted that the desire for independence was requested “in no spirit of ingratitude, in no forgetfulness of the obligation of the Filipino people to the United States.” Touting the United States’ own history and noting that many U.S. citizens were sympathetic to Philippine autonomy, de Veyra asked how much longer Filipinos must wait. Citing the Jones Act, de Veyra noted that the stable government provision was the only requirement Congress asked of the Philippines prior to independence. Since the Philippines had met that obligation, de Veyra said, Congress’s opposition to independence was meant only to benefit “small circles and private interests that derive profit from the present conditions.”33
Upon the election of his successor Pedro Guevara, de Veyra returned to the Philippines, where he became a respected academic, widely recognized as “the peerless literary critic in Filipino-Spanish literature.” He published broadly in periodicals and academic journals and also authored several well-received books. He served as the head of the Spanish language department at the University of the Philippines for nine years and was the assistant director of the National Library of the Philippines. At the urging of President Manuel Quezon, he headed the Institute of National Language from 1936 to 1944.34 De Veyra also was a member of the Real Academia Espanola de la Lengua and the Philippine Historical Committee. He died in Manila on March 7, 1963.35
View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress
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