I was browsing over the digital copy of “Estado de las Islas Filipinas” (which I downloaded gratis) when I noticed a signature on the fourth page. The owner was no less than William Cameron Forbes, Governor General of the Philippines during the American occupation from 1908 to 1913. Turns out that his research papers (and his book collection) were all deposited in Harvard. Some has been recently made available on line.
The governors research on the conditions and emotions of the Filipino is a vital source for Filipino historiography. Forbes studied Philippine history quite extensively (his works are now in Houghton Library). My little discovery proves that his research was not confined to familiar English references about the former Spanish colony. Forbes was reading Spanish history books learning from its rich historical experience. Something that Filipinos today have yet to realize.
It was no surprise that in 1921, he was sent (together with Wood) by US Pres. Harding to research on the condition of the Philippines. He had extensively studied the Philippine condition and was a major player from 1904 to 1913. The study was supposed to determine the ability of the Filipinos to self-govern. We should remember the Jones act (1916), an act that loosely defined the move towards permitting Filipino independence. It does not guarantee anything in reality, what it does have are set conditions before independence can be granted.
The Forbes report was suppose to validate if we qualify to be granted independence, which as you can imagine must have been frustrating for those Filipino who knew well that the destiny of the Filipino should not be dictated upon again by a foreign country. This frustration is still with us today as we try to cope with our national life under neocolonial conditions.
Forbes is an interesting man. I think he had realized the enormous potential of our country long before he was assigned governor. He was an investment banker after all, and it is not impossible that his experience (together with his family connections) was one of the considerations why he was sent here. He was assigned to various post (starting in 1904) in the American colonial government. The posh gated village called Forbes Park was named after him – the year of its creation gives us an idea why it was named in honor of an American. 1940 was the year when the highest number of Americans migrated to the country. Ayala’s first land development was trying to cash in on the influx. Of course, this American holiday came to a screeching halt when the Japs decided to drop by Manila. In the 30’s, Forbes was sent to Japan as ambassador. The decade when the Japanese was arming itself. Those years was when they were already recovering from economic depression. The 30’s was when the Japs started building their warships (like Yamato). And Forbes was there — the right man for the right time.
In his book “The Philippine Islands” Forbes made an observation on their nation’s use of its military, “It is interesting that for a nation that prides itself on a separation of civil government and the military, the military was from the beginning so involved in administering all of the territories that the US had acquired, directly or indirectly, as a result of the Spanish American war”. Not much has changed – this policy are business-as-usual for them even today.
Perhaps his best legacy was modern Baguio. Burnham a Harvard classmate, gave him the blueprint of developing Baguio. He would supervise this project until its completion. He made Baguio the center of his administration. He also transferred the military training facility in Baguio. Harrison would later stop this summer affair. Forbes being a New Englander must’ve had a hard time in the tropical environment. He was born to a wealthy Massachusettsian family. His father was once president of Bell Telephone Company and his wife, Emily, was the daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson – it is hard no to notice these connections. He is a maternal grandfather (not sure what degree) of John Kerry.