Hugh Gibson’s Food Mission Diary: Herbert Hoover in Manila, 1946

(above) British Pathé newsreel of a portion of former President Herbert Hoover’s mission to assess food requirements for devastated parts of the world, 1946.

While this diary is part of the Herbert Hoover papers, the diary of Hugh Gibson gives a useful glimpse into an interesting mission –Hoover’s task to survey the globe to see food requirements for devastated countries– and American perspectives about those countries and peoples. Among the nations visited was the Philippines. See The Food Mission Diaries of Hugh Gibson (1946 and 1947), particularly 2nd diary: 1st trip (part II), 1946 April 27–June 19, which contains the portion on the Philippines.  The entry starts at the bottom of page 11 and concludes the Philippine portion in the middle of page 20. It provides an American’s impressions of war-devastated Manila (Monday, April 29, 1946):

We drove through the ruined town which is far worse than it looks from the air. Instead of having been destroyed with bombs which scatter the walls, these buildings were for the most part knocked out by artillery and fire, so the walls still stand in utter desolation. Some of the newer structures stood up better to the punishment but there is very little that is fit for habitation. Wherever there is a vacant lot the squatters have swarmed in with scraps of corrugated iron, ply-board or tin and have erected shanty towns of the most appalling variety. With a weak government there is some doubt as to how and when they can get these people out.

It also includes an interesting vignette of a visit to Malacañan Palace in April, 1946 (pages 11-15, Monday, April 29, 1946):

 Malacañan was occupied by the Japs and consequently escaped destruction. It was mined but as so often happened, when the time came the enemy was so busy getting out that he neglected to carry out his fell purpose.

We were escorted up the red-carpeted staircase and through several big drawing rooms in one of what was a tremendous and rather fine chandelier. Holes showed where two other had hung. It seems the Japs made off with them but there is hope they may be hidden somewhere near at hand as it is doubtful whether they could have been packed and shipped in time at their disposal.

Osmeña was waiting at the door to receive us and escorted us across the room to instal us in big arm chairs. Then he sat down, composed his features and was silent in several languages at once. After waiting for him to sound off the Chief [Hoover] made some remark about being happy to tell him that an idea had appeared this morning as to how the Philippine food needs could be met. Osmeña nodded his head without batting an eyelash. He did not ask what the solution was, but nodded and then stopped as if turned off. The Chief made another remark and again got a nod for his reply. [U.S. High Commissioner] McNutt leapt into the fray with two efforts and got two nods for his pains. As things were rollicking along at this rate servants came in with champagne. Osmeña raised his glass and uttered two words: “Your health.” After this outburst of garrulity he relapsed into silence and after a time the Chief allowed he must not take up any more of his time. He evidently agreed as he offered no protest, but accompanied us all the way downstairs to get his picture taken by the waiting photographers.

This entry gives a glimpse of the reaction of Americans to the increasingly hard-of-hearing Osmeña; and incidentally documents the absence of two of the three large Czechoslavak chandeliers in the Reception Hall of the Palace –in the 1950s Minister of Presidential Protocol Manuel Zamora would recount that the chandeliers had been taken down for cleaning right before the war broke out, and were buried for safekeeping for the duration of the war.

On page 18 of the diary, there is also an account of a dinner given in honor of Hoover by the American High Commissioner, Paul V. McNutt, in which President Osmeña and President-elect Manuel Roxas were both present:

At 7:30 dinner at the High Commissioner’s. He has an agreeable house facing the bay, adequate but nothing like the style of Malacañan which [Frank] Murphy stupidly gave over to the Philippines so that he could go and live near the Elks Club. The High Commissioner has been a vagrant ever since and it has not added to his prestige. Murphy built a house of the water front where he and [Francis B.] Sayre lived, which may have been comfortable inside but which looks like of the less distinguished Oklahoma high schools. Why we had to put up something of that sort in a country where there is a distinguished native style is a mystery. Fortunately the cursed thing was thoroughly bombed and it is to be hoped that something decent will be be built or required for our new diplomatic mission.

Most of our party was asked to the dinner, a number of official Americans and several Filipinos, including the President and his wife and the President-elect and his. There was no love lost between then. I sat next to Señora de Osmeña. Directly across her was Señora Rojas [sic], wife of the Pres. elect. Not one word was exchanged between them through the dinner although McNutt did his valiant best. My neighbor is as chatty as her husband is taciturn and kept up a steady flow of conversation –but I haven’t an idea of what she talked about. Perhaps she does this as compensation like Mrs. Coolidge.

It was hot as blazes and we dripped through dinner which was served out of doors in a loggia. The thermometer stood at 102 which is high for people who were not so long ago in the snows of Scandinavia. We had some talk among the men after dinner…

In the same entry, there is another interesting vignette: about agrarian conditions:

FitzGerald ran into an interested situation here today. The Government people are crying famine and calling for help in securing rice for the starving. It seems that after the war the people in the valleys of Northern Luzon decided to get rid of their landlords and take over the land for themselves. So they shot some landlords and chased the rest away. Thereupon Mr. Osmeña’s boys moved in, organized a cooperative, and announced it would take the place of the landlords. Of course the landlords had been wrong to take half of the rice as their share, so the co-operative would take only thirty percent. However Osmeña’s party was essential to keeping the co-operative afloat, and there were some expenses of the underground which had to be met, so another ten percent would be knocked off for that. The net result is that Osmeña and his people have forty percent of all the rice crop of the region hidden away in hundreds of little warehouses, ready to play politics or make a fortune, or both. But it does indicate that the people are not going to do so badly with all the fruit and vegetables that grow so easily and all the fish they can have in any quantity.

And he closes with a snapshot of American official opinion on the prospects of Philippine independence:

On May 25 Rojas [sic] takes over as Pres. of the Commonwealth and on July 4th comes complete independence. The prospect is not rosy. The Osmeña government has had a year to put things in order. Congress is voting $600,000,000 for rehabilitation which is a fabulous amount compared to the work that has to be done. Many of the local people are already unhappy and look forward to disintegration as soon as the P.I. [Philippine Islands] are left to their own devices. The remark is frequently heard that within five years the people will be clamoring for the United States to move back in again. And at that they have not yet begun to envisage the possibility that China or Russia might move in. Asia for the Asiatics is a grand slogan but the mess they are going to make of it is terrifying.


November 2, 1944

Must hurry writing this stuff because Joe’s waiting for me outside. Nothing much today. None of the usual processions to the cemetery to visit the dead. Tribune says that Laurel will give a speech on the heroes that died in O’Donnell.

On my way to Dad’s office, I saw many Jap trucks filled with supplies. They’re spreading their dumps to minimize destruction from bombing. They’re very afraid of raids. You ought to see how they scramble to their dugouts when they hear the siren. The Filipinos laugh at them and they get sore when our countrymen stay out in the streets and watch the U.S. bombers drop their cargoes.

There are sentries in many street corners again. They’re afraid of guerrillas. The City is full of these patriots and nobody can tell when they’re going to attack the Japs. This keeps the Jap on nerve’s edge and he’s very nasty these days.

The Japs are commandeering horses. First, they took cars, now it’s horses and bicycles too, according to Sal Neri. Damaso said that he saw gasoline tins being moved into our former house. Oh by the way, they paid us a couple of worthless Jap bills for rent. I felt like laughing. I don’t know why.

Many Jap soldiers walking in the streets. They haven’t got trucks. Transportation is a big problem for them. They try to bum rides from anybody.

Saw Formosan soldiers –you can tell when they’re Formosans because they’re very thin and underfed– building foxholes and dugouts. I wonder if they’re going to put up a stiff fight in the city.

Three main questions in the minds of people these days

First: When will they land in Luzon?

Second: Will there be heavy fighting in Manila?

Third: Will the Japs bring the Puppet President and his cabinet to Japan?

There is a fourth question any everybody more or less knows the answer but ask it anyway: What will the Americans do to the collaborationists like Aquino and Laurel?

P.S.

Dad have a good one during dinner time today. “Did you ever notice the names of our three Presidents?” he asked. “Yes, why?” I asked. Mrs. Quezon’s name is Aurora meaning Dawn; Mrs. Osmeña’s is Esperanza, which means Hope; and Puppet Laurel’s wife is Paciencia, which means Patience. We had our morning, our birth under Quezon, Osmeña’s regime is now filled with hope; and you certainly have to have a lot of patience during this regime of Laurel.


March 14, 1942

Bataan, HQ, MIS

 

The general looks very depressed. He talked to nobody today. He stayed in his tent smoking his pipe silently. He must be brooding about something sad.

I told Fred when I said “Good morning” to the General, the old Fogie did not even answer, damn the impolite bum. (Sometimes I like him; sometimes I detest him.)

Fred said the General talked with him. Said the general: “Fred you talk pessimistically.”

Fred said he was taken aback but he replied: “I always try to take a rational and realistic point of view, sir.”

The General did not reply.

Leonie is down with malaria and dysentery. He is getting very thin. He does not trust the doctor.

No change in general situation. Occasional artillery duels, partial skirmishes.

 

(later)

 

Three U.P. boys are here. They are Angel Baking, Teddy Lansang, and Renato Constantino. They want to join our service. They are sergeants.

Leonie was indifferent about taking them in. “What can these U.P. guys do, anyway?” he asked Fred jokingly because Fred comes from U.P.

The General asked me if the three fellows are O.K. because he does not know them. I told them the three were good writers and editors at one time or another of a paper called Collegian.

The General said: “Ah, they are your rivals.” I replied: “I don’t know them personally. What are we rivals about?”

The General said he liked the Ateneo.

I told the General to take them in and I would answer for them because I believe they are intelligent fellows. “Put them under Leonie or myself.” I wanted to have them under me, confidentially.

I pointed out that maybe we could use them for some mission in Manila.

The General said: “Let’s try them out on little things first.”

It was decided that I should bring them the day after tomorrow to Corregidor and give them instructions on the way.

 

(later)

 

Very dark night. Maybe it is going to rain. If I get wet, my malaria will get worse. Hell!

Spent afternoon reading Tribune. Saw pictures of Manilans biking in boulevard. Noticed that marriage wave continues unabated. I wonder how Morita is.

Leonie looked at advertisements. This and that restaurant selling this and that pastry and cake. This and that show running this and that film. We felt very homesick. Leonie read some parts of “Personals” aloud.

The three U.P. boys are all right. They are regular fellows. I don’t know why there is so much tiff between the Guidon and the Collegian. Its just a case of not knowing each other.

Constantino showed me a diary with a drawing of his girl’s face. He is in love with her. I think she is a niece of Speaker Roxas. Lansang sketched her face. Lansang also likes to write poems.

Will bring them to the Rock tomorrow afternoon at about five o’clock. Told them to eat well. They laughed.

Several raids today. Some AA shrapnel dropped near our toilet.

Three operatives arrived from Manila. One had a letter from Mrs. Osmeña to the Vice President.

Another operative whom we gave up for lost arrived. He claims he was captured by the Japs and allowed to return providing he comes back with information for them, heh, heh. Sometimes Japs are naive.

The general bawled out one of our officers. He was sent to the front to observe conditions and he pretended he went but he really stayed in rear.


January 30, 1942

HQ, MIS, Bataan

 

Filipino officers in USAFFE may get same pay as Americans, according to General. There is no reason why an American should get higher pay than a Filipino doing the same job with the same rank. Both are undergoing the same risks and both are human beings. To hell with the superior air of some Americans!

Beautiful message from MacArthur to Roosevelt. Wrote Mac: “Today, January 30th, your birthday anniversary, smoke-begrimed men covered with the murk of battle rise from their fox-holes in Bataan and batteries in Corregidor, to pray reverently that God may bless immeasurably, the President of the United States.”

Heavy raids today. Japs hit Cabcaben and Mariveles airfields.

Saw P.I. Army planes flying at three o’clock in the afternoon. Three of them. Good sign.

Reports from City indicate people cheered by raid on the 27th. Manilans started shouting recklessly. Some said: “They’ll be back in a week.” Japs started to run and hide, according to operatives. It must have been a great day in the old city.

No confirmation of rumors about Batangas landings.

Received letter from Mr. Romulo.

The General repeated his intention to send me on secret mission to Manila.

The general joked me. He said all unmarried girls in Manila will be married to Japs. “Too bad about your G.F.,” he said.

 

(later)

 

Operative just arrived from Manila. He carries a note from mama. He says the folks are all well and that Mrs. Osmeña was at home when he gave them my note. Mrs. Osmeña wrote a small letter to the Vice Prexy. Leonie also received a note from Annie and a knitted sweater. This is a great day!


February 7, 1936

An hour in the morning at the office with Manuel Concepcion, in my time Secretary of the Philippine National Bank. He told me of his father’s conviction by the Courts (as President of that bank) and his own sentence by a divided, and perhaps influenced court; [Johnson and Malcolm seem to have railroaded him] –aided by bed-ridden Chief Justice Araullo, who should not have written the opinion. Manuel is now engaged in placer mining in Abra, and says he takes out enough gold for his living expenses every year and added: “I don’t need a Government position.” Interesting talk on the currency situation. He advocates fixing the ratio between gold and silver, and proposes dissociating the Philippines from the American dollar. Says inflation, and further devaluation of the dollar in the United States is imminent. Believes they mean to raise the price of gold to 45. Says Warner, Barnes & Co. are instructed to invest their cash in Benguet Consolidated for a big rise. Thinks Philippine currency should be based on silver, and sufficient gold dollars held only for all foreign exchange.

He commented how Quezon is rising rapidly through good government.

Had an appointment with Quezon in the afternoon, but he did not return until very late from his official visit to the English Admiral and went straight to bed–exhausted. Garfinkel said Quezon had ordered a launch the duplicate of the Admiral’s, for official visits; that he went aboard the yacht Yolanda and at once wished to have a ship like that; he enquired of the Captain who told him of Lady Yuill’s which was for sale at Glasgow. Wishes to take it up through the British Consulate. Florence Edwards has seen this yacht and says it is “wonderful.”

Osmeña is broke, and is worried about the behavior of his sons by his first marriage. Osmeña’s present wife, however, is a rich woman (Limjap).