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The Philippine Economic Association of 1933

CROSSROADS TOWARD PHILIPPINE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL PROGRESS - Gerardo P. Sicat (The Philippine Star) - October 28, 2020 - 12:00am

As prospects for political independence loomed on the horizon in 1933, thoughtful Filipinos, leaders and professionals in their different fields of interest, decided to form an association concerned with the economic future.

The Philippine Economic Association. They called it the Philippine Economic Association (PEA). They were mostly professionals involved in work that dealt with business and the nation’s economy. In those days, lawyers, professionals and individuals engaged in business and economic affairs were easily labeled economists.

Many of the members were into white collar work and who had become successful beneficiaries from the growth of opportunities that opened to Filipinos during three decades of American colonial rule. They were in varying fields of expertise – business education, civil service within the economic agencies, law, business, and finance.

The organization was, therefore, made up of like-minded professionals who wanted to organize their views and to voice them in order to influence the course of the country’s future economic development.

In this sense, they were a kind of business chamber, but organized to seek the nation’s economic advancement, unlike chambers that worked mainly for their group interest.

The first president of the PEA was Elpidio Quirino, a lawyer and politician who at that time was a senator in his second term. The fact that the PEA was led by a senator might reveal something about the association. Since Sen. Quirino was an ally of then Senate President Manuel L. Quezon, the country’s most senior politician, this articulated all the more the ambition of the new organization.

These men wanted to be heard, perhaps were goaded by prospects of greater challenges, since they could be harnessed or heard by those who would lead the country’s march into political independence.

Diversity and prestige of the members. At the time of its initiation, there were 24 members listed. They came mostly from the professions, not business, although some were practitioners helping business.

The membership was impressive. There were at least five educators who were active in business education. At least 14 members were in the high civil service, many from the departments of Finance, of Commerce and Agriculture who were active servers as bureau directors, division chiefs and heads of units.

Since this happened during the fight for independence, and all were Filipinos, there were apparently no rules to bar them from membership in such associations.

Most of them were educated in the nation’s UP and other local colleges. The educators especially had graduate degrees from well-known American universities – Harvard, Columbia, Chicago. The civil service bureaucrats had at least taken special training in the same universities and other institutions in the US. Many of the public servants had trained under some special study arrangements, some went to the US as pensionados, or scholars funded by the colonial government.

In fact, some of them would possess longer recognition value. They would achieve later distinction. Conrado Benitez (UP dean of business and educator); Cornelio Balmaceda (would become a Secretary of Commerce, in the postwar years); Andres Castillo (second Central Bank Governor during the 1950s); Salvador Araneta (businessman and department secretary in postwar years); Tomas Confesor (a future senator); and of course, Elpidio Quirino (future vice president and, later, president of the country).

Program of work conceived. The PEA had proposals for a program of work. This was surely conveyed to the political leadership. Under Sen. Quirino’s leadership, the PEA suggested a plan that addressed some economic issues for the immediate periods foreseen. In those days, it was popular to think about economic planning.

A time table and major issues to be addressed by the government were suggested, as follows:

A general preparation period: delimitation, survey, and subdivision of public land; speedy disposition of cadastral and land registration cases; colonization of public lands; and extensive vocational education.

Period of planning under the commonwealth: agricultural readjustment; rural problems; development of mines and minerals; promotion of manufacturing industries; labor and population; domestic trade; transportation and communication; banks and credit facilities – central bank; currency.

Period of planning under the republic: foreign trade; trade reciprocity and treaties; immigration; neutrality.

All these topics covered the magnitude of the problems to be faced in managing the road toward political independence.

In reality, of course, much of the work on the road to independence was mainly political at that time: the establishment of new political and economic institutions that would govern the future. The economic knowledge on policies that might benefit the future independent country was within understanding by many of the members of this professional class.

However, the economic policy problems in the immediate future of a would-be independent country would be – for a delicate time period – a matter of bilateral nature involving the former colonial master and an ambitious new and aspiring nation.

In that bilateral determination, a lot of economic and political power over many issues would still be in the control of the colonial master that was relinquishing power and political rights to a former colony. Yet, the problem was to find a new path in the course of history, both political and economic, for a new nation.

There was, thus, going to be a lot of long and arduous interactions between political master and ward. Hence, the Commonwealth period would be spent in long joint studies to be undertaken between both Philippine leaders and American policy-makers. Hence, many hearings under the auspices of joint preparatory committees made up of American and Philippine officials, interacting through study groups, hearings, and public decisions still yet to be made.

As it would turn out, the workhorse of many of the studies for Philippine policy-making would be contributed by some of the members of the PEA, but in their official capacities.

Disconnect between the PEA and the current Philippine Economic Society. The old PEA was different from the current Philippine Economic Society (PES). The PEA was not a society of economists, but was an organization composed of individuals in the different professions whose concern was to help in affairs of economy and business.

The PES is an association of professional economists essentially hoping to advance the profession of economics. Its memberships might be involved in economic development matters.

 

 

For archives of previous Crossroads essays, go to: https://www.philstar.com/authors/1336383/gerardo-p-sicat. Visit this site for more information, feedback and commentary: http://econ.upd.edu.ph/gpsicat/

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