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 10, 1938

Arrived in Manila from the States on Nov. 5, and found a vastly different situation, so far as it affects me and my work, than from the one existing when I left on June 26.

First of all, the General has apparently been stricken with the same obsessions with respect to me that he suffered from in the case of Jimmy. He always bitterly resented J’s popularity with Filipinos in general, and his intimacy with Malacañan in particular. So, while I was gone, he reorganized the office, so as to remove me completely in official affairs from Malacañan. Not content with this he re-arranged the office force so that I’m no longer his C. of S., but only another staff officer –he is theoretically the coordinator of the whole group. My section is plans, training, mobilization, education, etc. –the purpose being to keep me absorbed in academic work at my desk, and to rob me of any influence in the Army or at Malacañan. The only thing he forgets is that all of us are attached to Department Headquarters and whether he likes it or not the Senior Office of the U.S. Army on duty with this groups is compelled to make efficiency reports on the others [. . . .] While I was representing the office at Malacañan I kept him informed of everything pertaining to us. Now he gets only those things that are sent to him in letter form. Secretary Vargas is resentful of the change –but I told him it was a matter of indifference to me. I would make no move to recommend a change. Why the man should so patently exhibit a jealousy of a subordinate is beyond me. I guess it’s because he is afraid a conviction will grow in the minds of local people that he personally is not so important to the Army and to the P.I. If this is his thought, he’s taken the worst possible course, because when a subordinate maintains such contacts he can with propriety glorify the position, prestige and value of the Boss. He (if he has any modesty whatsoever, which I doubt) is handicapped in this direction. Administratively the new scheme is so clumsy as to require no comment.

Of course, he has accomplished one thing he wanted to do, that is, make certain that I’d get out as soon as I decently can. On the surface all is lovely. I will not give him the satisfaction of showing any resentment. But my usefulness is so curtailed as to rob the job of much of its interest, so I’m going at the earliest possible moment. If the d—– fool had only sent his plan to me while I was in the States I would not have returned; but I guess he was afraid to do this for fear of the explanation he would have had to make at Malacañan. Sec. Vargas knows that I worked honestly, and wirh some effectiveness so it would have been embarrassing to the Gen. to show why I declined to come back. He did not have that much courage!

I regret the campaign I conducted everywhere in the States to make him appear a wise counsellor, an asset to the Philippines, and a splendid man in his present post.

The A.G. informed me I’d be expected to make up the 4 months & 10 days I was outside the Philippine Islands. This would bring my tour to a close in early March (1940) and I had originally intended asking to stay until end of June, that year, as John could finish school. Now, I’m going to try to beg off the extra four months and get out of here next October.

When the President and Mr. Vargas raised my allowance to 1000 per mo., and when they volunteered to give me air-conditioned rooms at the same price as the old ones, I see now that they convinced the Gen. he should get rid of me. It was in keeping with his hypocritive habits that these were the subjects concerning which he expressed so much personal satisfaction in the last interview I had with him just before I left for the U.S. But I must say it is almost incomprehensible that after 8 years of working for him, writing every word he publishes, keeping his secrets [ . . . ] he should suddenly turn on me, as he has all others who have ever been around him. He’d like to occupy a throne room surrounded by experts in flattery [. . . .]

So far as I’m personally concerned all this means nothing; as I have not and never have had any intention of remaining in the Philippine Islands beyond a definite, limited period. My fury is academic rather than practical and actual; [ . . . ] T.J. is no higher (apparently) in his estimation than I. His confidence in our integrity and gentlemanly instincts must be high, at that, because I cannot believe he’d deliberately make enemies of anyone that he’d fear might in the future reveal the true story of his black and tan affair, [ . . . ] his speculations on his chances to be Vice-President of the U.S.; [ . . . ] his extravagant condemnations of Pres. of U.S. et al when he was summarily relieved before he reached San Francisco; his chiselling to increase the emoluments he’s getting from the Phil. Govt; his abject fear that he’ll do anything that might jeopardize his job (rather his salary of 66,000 and all expenses). Oh hell –what’s the use! The point is he knows we won’t tell these things!

Now that I’ve jotted all this down I hope that it never again comes, even momentarily, to my mind!

October 8, 1937

At 12:15 today the General had a conference (called a conference by courtesy. It was nothing but a monologue –since even when given “2 minutes” to present our views, we’d lose the floor and have to subside) in his office. Present, Ord, T.J., Fellers and myself. Fellers was unquestionably present to act as “reporter” of the conference, especially to be the messenger to Malacañan. There was no other excuse since he has not been associated with the work of executing the defense plan; which was the subject of the conference.

The occasion for the conference was a conversation the General had with the Pres. last evening. The Pres. showed him an estimate (prepared by Ord for the Pres. at the specific request of the latter) as to the total cost, up to 1946, of the military program that the General has laid down as our objective. This plan, as dictated to us by the General time and time again involves:

Annual training of 40,000 conscripts for 5 1/2 mos. (3,000 to be trained for 11 mos.)

Organization of 30 reserve and 1 regular division.

Organization of an Air Force of approx. 50 fighting planes

Organization of an Off-Shore Patrol –to be as strong as possible with-in a 10 year cost of 10,000,000 pesos.

School, supply, control and administrative elements necessitated by above.

The cost of this plan, taking into account our best information on prices to be charged us by the U.S. for various classes of equipment, for the years 1938-45 inclusive is estimated by Jimmy and me to be 178 million pesos, or roughly 50,000,000 more than the 16 million annual average would provide. This was the information furnished by Jimmy to the Pres. (including 32 million for 1936-37).

The General states that this information, if true, makes him out to be either a fool or a knave, since his earliest promise to Mr. Q. was “that for 160,000,000 pesos, distributed over a 10 year period, he would make the P.I. so secure from attack, that no nation would deliberately undertake the enterprise”. He further says –now– that this 160 million program represents the only plan he has ever entertained for a moment. He says, now, that he has not deviated from that determination, and has not projected any plan that would contravene such a determination, for a single instant in the 2-year interval.

On June 15, 1936, I presented to the General what was intended to be a protest against the 30 Division program, a memorandum in which the certain minimum costs were estimated. A copy of this estimate is in the office files. It showed a certain deficit of 45,000,000 pesos and showed also that the estimates in it were generally far below what it was considered necessary to provide under the 30 Division plan. The General refused flatly to modify or restrict the objectives of his organizational plan as outlined at the beginning of today’s entry in this book. He made some prophecies that additional money would be forthcoming, either in the form of gifts in kind from the U.S., or lump sums from various Commonwealth Credits in the U.S. But finally he said that failing such windfalls, he was prepared to raise the yearly “ante” and demand more money by the appropriation route. When I inquired –which I did– as tohow he would make such action jibe with his 160 million peso promise, he replied that figure was just an approximation, and that it was understood by all that some changes would be necessary. He said also that we had plenty of reasons to advance for hiking the budget –World Conditions, possible early independence, etc., etc. (And this was long before the possibility of early independence was publicly mentioned by Pres. Q.)

So we proceeded on the 30th Division plan at the specific and unequivocal order of the Field Marshal. The occasion for bringing the estimate to his attention at that time was an effort on the part of Jim and myself to secure modification of the Marshal’s order to call 20,000 conscripts for training on Jan. 1, 1937. The original plan, (finally pared down by arbitrary action to the 160 million basis) called for training only 3000 men on January 1, 1937. The new order called for extraordinary and unforeseen expenditures as explained in a prior note in this book.

The General was adamant. He gave Jim and me a long lecture on “adequacy of security” as represented by numbers of “divisions” trained and ready. We urged a budgetary basis for all planning, and he grew furious, accusing us of “arguing technicalities” to defeat the conceptions of the high command!

Now –suddenly– when confronted definitely with the loss of the Pres.’s confidence because of the increased costs, he not only abandons this expanded plan, he deliberately states he never approved it, formulated it, or even suggested it except as an expression of of his hopes and ambitions. He told the Pres. (he says) that all portions of the plan that exceeded the 160 million limit are nothing but the products of Jimmy and myself –produced without approval from him.

Every scrap of auxiliary evidence, letters, partial plans presented to the Gen., requisitions, and the direct testimony of Jimmy, General Santos and myself furnish ample proof that he is again executing one of his amazing “about faces”.

We (J. and I) thoroughly approve of modifying the plan. We’ve fought for and urged such downward revision as is necessary to get within reasonable range of the 110,000,000 for 2 years. But it is amazing, mystifying and completely irritating to see him take the position that he had never directed anything else. In the “conference” I challenged him to show that I’d done anything not calculated to further his plans. Also, I informed him that never had he asked me whether or not I considered his plans a good one in its possibilities for defense of these islands. It’s not important what I think of his plan, but from any subordinate’s standpoint it is important when a senior charges “substitution of policy” –and virtual sabotage. He repeated over and over again his “personal” confidence in us, and, in words, accepted much of the blame for the misunderstanding. He simply “shouted down” any real explanation of my attitude.

But it was not a misunderstanding!

It is a deliberate scuttling of one plan (and blaming Jimmy and me as the sole originators, advocates and apostles of that plan, which we actually opposed bitterly) while he adopts another one, which in its concrete expression, at least, I’ve never even heard of before.

He invited us to apply for relief if we wouldn’t go along with the new plan.

I’m not so concerned in that part of it since it’s his responsibility to decide upon the main features of our defense system. But I’ve got to decide soon whether I can go much further with a person who, either consciously or unconsciously, deceives his boss, his subordinates and himself (probably) so incessantly as he does. I wonder whether he believes there is one atom of truth in his statements of this morning. I wonder whether egotism, exclusive devotion to one’s own interests, (in this case a 66,000 peso salary, plus penthouse and expenses) can finally completely eliminate a person’s perception of honesty, straightforwardness, and responsibility to the people for whom he’s working.

When irritated at the Pres. I’ve heard him curse that worthy as a “conceited little monkey,” and I’ve heard him, in turn, use even worse language with respect to every prominent officer in the U.S. Army, and officials in Washington. But sometimes I think that, in his mind, there is nothing ridiculous, absurd or even unusual in his attitude. He was raised in the conception of Douglas MacArthur superiority. Actually he has become only pathetic. The barest mention of his name in the gossip column of the poorest of our universally poor daily periodicals sends him into hysterical delight or deepest despair, depending upon its note of praise or condemnation. He gets frantic in the face of difficulty, even if the difficulty is only an imaginary one and displays an exaggeration of glee when he believes things are shaping up to glorify his name, or increase his income.

I shall never forget the time in Washington when receipt of instructions to report to the President, led him to conclude, in the greatest seriousness, that he was to be invited to be the President’s running mate in the succeeding election. It is this trait that seems to have destroyed his judgment and led him to surround himself with people [. . . ] who simply bow down and worship.

For some months, I’ve remained on this job, not because of the Gen. –but in spite of him. I’ve got interested in this riddle of whether or not we can develop a W.D. and an army capable of running itself, and I prefer to dig away at it to being on a “mark time” basis somewhere else. But now I’m at a cross road. If the Marshal is to persist in his arbitrary methods, and is going to make things as unpleasant, if not impossible, as his today’s homily indicated, then I’m for home. We should be able to get a better line on the situation with a few days! Right now I’m disgusted and in something of a temper, a bad state of mind in which to make any decisions.

There was some justification for his anger over the presentation of the 50,000,000 “deficit” estimate to Mr. Q. But in our defense it is to be said that we’ve literally begged him to arrange a weekly conference between the Pres. and himself. But in the past he’s been to high ranking to do so. Now he thinks his job (and emoluments) are at stake –and maybe he’ll do it. Thank God I scarcely know the little devil (Q.) so neither now nor in the future do I have to discuss anything with him.

In the meantime, “Quien soba”.

September 29, 1936

At Malacañan, Kiko was introduced to the President in his office–which was formerly the bedroom where Kiko was born–Quezon was very cordial to him and had delightful manners with the boy; showed him about the Palace, and I myself was intrigued by all the recent improvements. The fill is completed on the riverside–to be made into lawn only, with no buildings; the water front opposite is to be a private golf course for Malacañan with a little ferry across the river.

At luncheon, Quezon talked of his recent stiff remarks to the Assembly on their proposal to abolish the salary of Ruiz, Director of Posts,–which, he believes, was really an invasion of the constitutional privileges of the Executive.

The President reported that he had just been talking on the radio-phone with Hausserman, in the United States, who predicted Roosevelt’s re-election, though the Digest polls were favourable to Landon. I asked him about the change of sentiment in America as to the Philippines. He replied that he was like a man in charge of a vessel during a typhoon:–he had nothing to do but to stick to the helm and be prepared for every emergency, and he didn’t want to be caught “snoring.” He agreed that the ten year term for the Commonwealth before independence was just as likely to be shortened as to be lengthened.

He told me he had arranged for Hartendorp’s paper a subsidy of 300 pesos a month, and was ready to go to 500 pesos; remarked that Hartendorp had behaved so much like a man when he was “fired” at Malacañan.

He then went back to the Wood administration, and said that General Frank McCoy was the only able man around Wood. He had been put there by the Forbes crowd to outwit him, (Quezon) but he had won most of the deals. McCoy wanted later to be commanding General of the Philippines, and he (Quezon) had blocked it. I laughed and remarked that he must have selected all the recent commanding generals here himself; –none of them were too bright. Quezon actually looked slightly confused for a moment, then broke out in a story of the selection of T. Roosevelt as Governor General. Hurley (the Secretary of War) told Quezon that Hoover wanted to placate the Progressive element in the Republican party, so wished to make “T.R. Jr.” Governor General here. Hurley asked Quezon to meet “T.R. Jr.”–which he did, then went to see Hurley who enquired what Quezon thought. “You told me, Mr. Secretary that the people of Puerto Rico all liked ‘T.R. Jr.'”–“yes”–“Well then they must be very far behind the people of the Philippines in modern thought.” Hurley laughed and Quezon told him to give him one month in the Philippines before “T.R.” came, and he would make it all right for him. But he warned Hurley that the members of the Cabinet would size up a Governor General in fifteen minutes. When he arrived at Manila, “T.R. Jr.” was only a Mabuhay man. How mistaken “T.R. Jr.” was in writing that letter of advice to his son, (remarked Quezon)–in which he cautioned him against accepting a commission in the army as that career was only suited to the less intelligent mind! Quezon said Governor General Davis had really made no impression out here; he had previously been Secretary of War and really didn’t want to come here–had wished instead to be Ambassador to France or to England.

Quezon told me he would revise the terms of the close season for snipe shooting whenever I wished,–adding: “I never pay much attention to what those Ph.D. men in the Bureau of Science say.”

I remarked that Kiko, having been born here, could, upon reaching the age of 21, choose whether he wished to be an American or a Philippine citizen–in which respect he had a wider choice than myself. Quezon at once said he would put a resolution thru the Assembly conferring citizenship on me; he had looked up the power in the constitution and found it there.

We had many laughs together and a really happy luncheon. He was pleased with Foster’s recent interview, especially his remark; “Up to this point President Quezon didn’t seem to think there was anything he couldn’t do.”

Sat., January 9th, 1932

Spoke with Gov. Davis[1] last night and learned he was having a conference with Hoover this a.m.  Later in the a.m. it was announced that he had resigned and Roosevelt* named in his place.

Rain and snow today. Took Gloria home and dined at Guevara’s and then called on Celia Costa.

We are beginning just into shape material for hearings beginning January 15.

[1] Dwight F. Davis (July 5, 1879-Nov 28, 1945) was Governor General of the Philippines from 1929-1932.  Prior to that he also served as Secretary of War from 1923-1925. He  was also a tennis champion and is best known for established the International Lawn Tennis Challenge, later renamed the Davis Cup.

*Theodore Roosevelt Jr.

January 5, 1932, Tuesday

Mission called on President Hoover,[1] then conference at House Offices including Tirona to agree on sending cable to Manila for money. More conferences in the afternoon.

In the evening, Osmeña and I took Gloria and Mrs. O[sias] to movies and the Madrillion[2]  The others played poker in 801.

[1] Herbert Hoover  (Aug 10, 1874- Oct 20, 1964) was 31st President of the United States, serving from 1929-1933.

[2] “Madrillon” was a “themed” restaurant in Washington DC popular with bankers, businessmen and Latin diplomats