Sergio Osmeña

Sergio Osmeña (1878-1961) was the second president of the Philippine Commonwealth and a distinguished statesman. He led the country in its initial stage of political maturation by his honest and selfless devotion to public service.

Sergio Osmeña was born in Cebu on the island of Cebu on Sept. 9, 1878. He entered the San Carlos Seminary in Cebu in 1889 and then earned his bachelor's degree from San Juan de Letran College. His schooling was interrupted by the 1896 revolution and the Filipino-American War. During the revolution he edited the militantly nationalistic periodical El Nuevo Dia. After the revolutionary struggles he continued his studies until he passed the bar examination on Feb. 20, 1903.

On March 5, 1906, Osmeña was elected provincial governor of Cebu at the age of 28. Although he had little political experience, he succeeded in solving the grave problems of public order and community cooperation in his province, cultivating the people's trust in the municipal enforcement officers.


Early Efforts for Independence

In 1902 Osmeña had joined those nationalists who petitioned Governor William Howard Taft to allow the formation of a political party advocating immediate independence for the Philippines. In 1906 Osmeña became president of the first convention of provincial governors, which urged eventual independence. In 1907 he was unanimously elected speaker of the Assembly, a post he held for 9 years. Together with Manuel Quezon, the leader of the majority in the Assembly, and other nationalist leaders, Osmeña formed the Nacionalista party.

In 1918 Osmeña was appointed vice-chairman of the Council of State by Governor Francis B. Harrison. When the Jones Law of 1916 created an elective senate composed of Filipinos, it gave rise to the leadership of Quezon who, in the elections of 1922, replaced Osmeña as the party leader in government. The disagreement between Osmeña and Quezon came from Quezon's description of Osmeña's leadership as "unipersonal" in contrast to Quezon's alleged style of "collective" leadership. However, in April 1924 Quezon and Osmeña fused their factions into the Partido Nacionalista Consolidado in an effort to present a united resistance against the heavy-handed bureaucratic procedures of Governor Leonard Wood.

In 1931 Osmeña, together with Manuel Roxas, headed the Ninth Independence Mission to the United States, which culminated in the passage by the U.S. Congress of the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act on Jan. 17, 1933, overriding President Herbert Hoover's veto. Quezon led the opposition antis against the Osmeña-Roxas pros for rejection of the bill on Oct. 17, 1933. In 1934 Quezon succeeded in obtaining a modified version of the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act: the Tydings-McDuffie Act, which provided for complete independence 10 years after the inauguration of the commonwealth.

Inauguration of the Commonwealth

In 1935 Osmeña ran for vice president and won. The commonwealth government was inaugurated on Nov. 15, 1935. Osmeña teamed up with Quezon in a single-party ticket of the Nacionalista party. Osmeña served also as secretary of public instruction and as a member of Quezon's Cabinet. So humble and self-sacrificing was Osmeña that when Quezon's term ended on Nov. 15, 1943, he readily gave up his constitutional right to succeed in office so that the ailing Quezon could indulge his ego in continuing as president of the commonwealth government-in-exile. The operation of the Philippine constitution was temporarily suspended with Osmeña's consent.

On Oct. 25, 1944, after the victorious landing in Leyte, Gen. Douglas MacArthur handed the reins of civil government to Osmeña, who had become president after Quezon's death on Aug. 1, 1944. With his resourceful mind, steadfast purpose, and mature courage in the face of the chaotic conditions of the postwar reconstruction period, Osmeña rallied the Filipinos to unite and fight the remaining Japanese resistance. His first step was to incorporate the guerrilla troops into the reorganized Filipino branch of the U.S. Army. On Feb. 27, 1945, the Commonwealth government was fully reestablished in Manila.


Postwar Years

Immediately thereafter, Osmeña tried to reinstitute the American pattern of education and to get rid of all the residues of Japanese indoctrination. He proposed the creation of the People's Court to investigate all Filipinos suspected of disloyalty or treason. He ordered the post office system reopened and issued a victory currency to stabilize the economy.

Osmeña hoped that Philippine independence would be granted on Aug. 13, 1945, but the U.S. Congress and President Franklin Roosevelt had already fixed the date of independence as July 4, 1946.

Osmeña's perseverance and quiet style of working did not appeal to Gen. MacArthur or to Commissioner Paul V. McNutt, both of whom supported Roxas in his bid for the presidency in the election of April 23, 1945. Roxas won over the weary and self-effacing Osmeña, who refused to campaign for reelection.

Osmeña's situation during the early days of the liberation demanded aggressive tactics and bold policies in order to solve the complicated questions of collaboration, of the domination of the government by feudal landlords, and of the moral rehabilitation of citizens who had been driven to cynicism and pragmatic individualism by the contingencies of war. Osmeña, in spite of his tenacity and astute skill in compromise, yielded to the parasitic oligarchy and acquiesced to the restoration of the prewar semifeudal system, the inherent problems of which could never be solved by parliamentary tact or resiliency. Osmeña retired from public office after his defeat and died on Oct. 19, 1961.


Further Reading on Sergio Osmeña

The best sources of facts about Osmeña's career are Joseph Ralston Hayden, The Philippines: A Study in National Development (1942), and Theodore Friend, Between Two Empires: The Ordeal of the Philippines, 1929-1946 (1965). See also Hernando J. Abaya, Betrayal in the Philippines (1946), and David Joel Steinberg, Philippine Collaboration in World War II (1967), for Osmeña's role in settling the collaboration problem.