Resurgence of Filipino Nationalism: Post-colonial Forces against Foreign Control of the Economy in the Philippines

By Luis Zuriel P. Domingo

Recently, the Filipino government’s Congress started its plenary deliberations proposing amendments in what they call the “restrictive” economic provisions of the current 1987 Constitution. President Duterte and his close allies in Congress wish to empower the government through freedom to adopt such measures that will pave way for economic development. But many are suspicious that these amendments will only favor China, as the Filipino government has been favorable to Chinese foreign policy since Duterte took power.

Similar conditions, however, happened decades ago when the Philippines received its independence from the United States in 1946. Alongside the granting of independence, the U.S. offered the Bell Trade Act in exchange for war rehabilitation assistance. In the said Act, the Filipino Congress was forced to amend the 1935 Constitution for the passage of the ‘parity rights’ that granted U.S. citizens and businesses the same rights to Philippine natural resources in parity of those of Filipino citizens – despite full independence.[1] In those treaties offered were also unequal provisions that gave the U.S. control over the Philippines’ monetary and exchange policy.[2]

The pro-U.S. government of President Manuel Roxas and his allies in Congress barred members of the Democratic Alliance, a coalition of Filipino nationalists and rural peasants. Six of its members were banned from sitting in Congress because of alleged electoral fraud. They were only allowed to sit in Congress after a successful plebiscite of the ‘parity rights’ amendment. The disappointment of these nationalist and peasant representatives forced them to retreat, reinforce, and resume fighting in the mountains of Central Luzon through armed rebellion.[3]

This marked the beginnings of the post-colonial Filipino nationalists’ attack on U.S. neo-imperialism, such as its foreign control of the economy and export orientation policies supported by the government and a Filipino elite-class.[4] The Filipino nationalists argued that Filipino nationalism is only defensive and protective. As their reaction was not anti-American nor anti-foreign but only against policies that harm the interests of the Filipino people.

A veteran statesman, Senator Claro M. Recto, led the attacks on the ‘parity rights’ and the role of the U.S. in Filipino affairs. He argued that the special relationship between the Philippines and the U.S. will impede the nation’s economic development and independence.[5] Throughout his career as a statesman, he campaigned for economic nationalism focused on rapid industrialization. But despite his pro-Filipino stance, he lacked popularity from the Filipino people because the U.S. and Philippines government labeled him a radical communist. He also gained political enemies and from an influential conservative Church.[6] His nationalist crusade continued until his sudden death in 1960.

The fight against ‘parity rights’ was joined by nationalist Senators Jose P. Laurel and Lorenzo M. Tañada, closest allies of Recto in the Congress. Through the efforts of Laurel, the Bell Trade Act was revised through the ‘Laurel-Langley Agreement’ that shortened full parity rights of Americans in the Philippines until 1974 only. Tañada, on the other hand, continued to oppose the role of the U.S. in the Philippines.

This reawakening of Filipino nationalism from the 1940s to the 1970s was not limited to statesmen in the political arena but also various social forces: university students formed Maoist-oriented left-wing nationalist youth groups and knowledge production/decolonization was anchored on a Filipino perspective promoted by radical intellectuals.[7]

The Philippines regained its full control of the economy in 1974, unfortunately, two years after dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, Sr. declared martial rule. Filipino nationalism decayed after the ousting of Marcos and the following administration under Corazon Aquino. Though the 1987 Constitution made sure that Filipino citizens and businesses will enjoy full control of the economy by enacting provisions that gave “restrictive” economic measures to foreigners. However, the economy remained under the authority of the Filipino capitalists and oligarchs.[8]

If the recently proposed amendments in the “restrictive” economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution push through, will the Philippines once more be under the helm of such strong foreign economic influence? And will it produce another renaissance of Filipino nationalism?

Author’s Bio: Luis Zuriel P. Domingo is a graduate student of history at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, Philippines. He is working on a thesis project offering a detailed historical investigation related to the ratification of ‘parity rights’ and the resurgence of post-war nationalism against foreign control of the economy from 1946 to 1972.


[1] Salvador Araneta, America’s double-cross of the Philippines: a democratic ally in 1899 and 1946 (Manila: Heritage Publishing House, 1978); Frank Golay, Underdevelopment and Economic Nationalism in Southeast Asia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1969): 59. See also Amando Doronilla, The State, Economic Transformation, and Political Change in the Philippines, 1946-1972 (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1992).

[2] Golay, Underdevelopment.

[3] Ben Kerkvliet, The Huk Rebellion: A Study of Peasant Revolt in the Philippines (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1977). See also Dante Simbulan, The Modern Principalia: The Historical Evolution of the Philippine Ruling Oligarchy (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2007).

[4] Stephen Shalom, “Philippine Acceptance of the Bell Trade Act of 1946: A Study of Manipulatory Democracy,” Pacific Historical Review 49, no. 3 (Aug 1980): 499-517. See also Alfred McCoy, “The Philippines: Independence without Decolonisation,” in Asia–The Winning of Independence, edited by Robin Jeffrey (Hong Kong: Macmillan, 1981).

[5] Claro M. Recto, “Industrialism and Economic Nationalism.” Speech delivered at the Lyceum of the Philippines on October 3, 1959; Renato Constantino, The Making of a Filipino: A Story of Philippine Colonial Politics (Quezon City: Malaya Books, 1969): 196-218.

[6] Constantino, The Making of a Filipino.

[7] Joseph Scalice, “We are Siding with Filipino Capitalists: Nationalism and the Political Maturation of Jose Ma. Sison, 1959-61,” Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 36, no. 1 (Mar 2021): 1-39; Rommel Curaming, “Beyond Knowledge Decolonization: Rethinking the Internalist Perspectives and ‘Progressive’ Scholarship in/on Southeast Asia,” Situations 10, No. 2 (2017): 65-90.

[8] John Sidel, Capital, Coercion, and Crime: Bossism in the Philippines (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999).

Feature Image: Claro M. Recto

President of the 1934 Constitutional Convention; Senator of the Philippines 1931-1935, 1952-1960