Post-War Religious and Political Conditions
“For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.” (1 Cor. 16:9)
Before writing about the Lord’s work in the Philippines after World War II, it might be well to review both the political and religious background in these islands. These conditions do have a bearing on the development of the work.
When we arrived in 1922, the Philippines was a dependency of the United States. The country had its own legislature and the two most prominent Filipino leaders were Manuel Quezon and Sergio Osmena. However, the final authority was in the hands of the American governor-general. The American intention was to gradually turn over the control to the Filipinos. On our arrival, General Leonard Wood was governor-general. Being a military man he was strict in abiding by the laws and was authoritative. He was not popular with the politicians who had pretty much their own way with the previous governor-general. He had been an easy-going man and, according to reports, shared in the loot that many acquired. Naturally the Filipinos felt the process of becoming independent was too slow and that the Americans were seeking their own advantages. While there was no doubt some truth in this, American rule had brought many benefits which they had not had under the Spanish regime. One of the most prominent of these benefits was the public school education. This was signaled by the arrival of many American teachers who were known as “the Thomasites” because they arrived on the S.S. Thomas soon after American troops landed in 1898.
In 1935 the Commonwealth Government was inaugurated with Manuel Quezon as President. Being an historical event I took the boys downtown to see the inauguration ceremonies. The Presidential Palace, Malacanang, previously the official residence of the governor-general and before that of the Spanish governor, was turned over to the Philippine President. The United States was then represented by a High Commissioner. The Commonwealth was a transitional government for ten years. During the period the tariffs would be adjusted gradually so that by the time the Philippines became a fully independent republic it would no longer be dependent upon trade with the United States.
Unfortunately, these plans were interrupted by the war in the Pacific and the invasion of the Japanese. The leaders of the Philippine government were evacuated to the United States; President Quezon later died there after a long-time illness with tuberculosis. He was succeeded by Sergio Osmena, who had the assistance of men like Carlos P. Romulo. Some of the Filipino leaders left behind joined the guerrilla movement in their continuing opposition to the Japanese. Others believed they could serve their country and people by a measure of cooperation with the Japanese. Still others were apparently opportunists who felt they could advance their own cause by collaboration with the Japanese. It was difficult to determine at times the difference between these two latter groups. Jose P. Laurel, a prominent politician, was appointed President by the Japanese when the Japanese ostensibly forestalled the American plan of granting full independence. Laurel was wounded in an assassination attempt on a golf course near our home.
President Osmena and Carlos Romulo came ashore with Gen. MacArthur in the first landing in Leyte in the fall of 1944. The Japanese were finally defeated in 1945. The following year on July 4, 1946, the Republic of the Philippines was inaugurated. In later years the date of Independence Day was changed to June 12 to conform to an earlier independence movement in 1896 during the time of the Spanish regime. It was a most difficult time for the birth of the new republic. Most of the country lay in ruins because of the bitter battles against the Japanese. One-sixth of the population had been decimated by the horrors of war. The country had been stripped by the Japanese of many of its assets. Like a Phoenix arising from its ashes, the country made great strides but with great effort and expense.
Yet there were many problems remaining. Graft and corruption were rampant. Some of the political leaders gained great power in their own bailiwicks through their bodyguards and private armies. In Central Luzon even before World War II, there had been unrest among the farmers, most of whom were oppressed tenant farmers for absentee landlords. These warred as guerrillas against the Japanese as the Hukbalahaps or Huks which was an abbreviation for the Tagalog of “Army fighting against the Japanese.” The movement was infiltrated by Communists and to this day have continued as dissidents against the government, but more generally known now as the New People’s Army. In the south, the Moslem Moros also wanted an independent government and this antagonism of the Moros goes back even into Spanish times. In recent years they have formed the Mindanao National Liberation Front, though many of the Moros are not in favor of this organization.
In the 1950’s President Ramon Magsaysay took a firm stand against the Huks. For those who surrendered to the government, he offered land and farming utensils in virgin land in Mindanao. For those who rejected this offer, there was relentless fighting. He was very popular and was fondly called “The Guy.” Unfortunately, he died in a fatal plane crash near Cebu and his loss was keenly felt.
From 1968 to 1972, the Communists became bolder in their attacks. There was a great deal of student unrest and many demonstrations. These took on an anti-American tone as students gathered outside the U.S. Embassy. Crimes such as bank robberies and arson became common. We wondered what the outcome would be. While on furlough in 1969 (to 1970), we were questioned by Ken if we should return. As we prayed about it my thoughts turned to Revelation 3:8, “Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it.” LeValleys were also on furlough at the time and Jim called to ask what our plans were. I mentioned this verse as the Lord’s leading to us and he agreed that they felt led the same way.
The folks had a celebration for us on our fiftieth wedding anniversary in September 1972. In connection with that, Hahn Browne of Far East Broadcasting Company arranged for us to be received by President Ferdinand Marcos at Malacanang. He granted us 15 minutes of his time in a very interesting interview in which Ken and Elaine and Rose shared. At that time there were many rumors of impending martial law. As we left the President’s study, Hahn asked if any decision had yet been made and was told that the matter was being studied.
The following week our mission group was greatly saddened by the death of Teddy St. Clair, the second son of Steve and Dot, who were houseparents at Faith Academy. Teddy had gone outside and had apparently fallen into a small, shallow fishpond. The funeral was held two days later from the San Juan Gospel Chapel. In the Saturday of this weekend, we got up and found that no radio station was on the air nor was our morning paper delivered. The report was that martial law had been declared radio—all radio and TV stations closed down as well as all newspapers. All airports had also been closed overnight. Ken called the U.S. Embassy to ask if they had any instructions for U.S. nationals. We were told that we could go about our usual business and not be alarmed as we waited for further developments.
We didn’t see such things as tanks rolling down the streets nor much evidence of the military. Gradually radio stations were permitted to resume operations under certain regulations. Far East Broadcasting Company was one of the first to be granted this permission. Also, papers resumed publication though obviously under censorship. The immediate outcome was the cessation of outward dissent. There was no restriction on our religious liberty nor any hindrance to our spiritual ministry. (In any case, it is not our policy to participate in political affairs.) It was undoubtedly a form of dictatorship against which the opposition rallied continually. Martial law was lifted just prior to the Pope’s visit in early 1981.
Through all these different forms of government there has been religious liberty. Prior to World War II the Roman Catholic Church was the dominant religious force. They were in the majority and boasted that the Philippines is the only Christian nation in the Orient. Naturally they had advantages which were not shared by the Protestants who were and still are in the minority numerically. However, there have been many changes in these post-war years. There has been a greater openness to the Gospel, and these have been days of great opportunity in the work of the Lord. It may be worthwhile to consider some of the factors that have made this possible.
First, there is the factor of population growth. The population had increased six-fold during the period of Protestant missions, from about eight million at the turn of the century to over 48 million as of 1982. The population has more than doubled since World War II. There are just that many more people to be reached. Missionary effort always seems to lag behind the growth of population. It was only natural that in early days missionary work was carried on in the more accessible areas. The Bible was soon translated into the larger languages which had already been put into Roman script by the early Roman friars. In these early days there just weren’t enough missionaries to penetrate the tribal areas which were not so easily reached. The training of national missionaries was also going on at a slower pace. Since World War II, there has been more outreach into tribal areas by groups like Summer Institute of Linguistics, New Tribes Mission, and Overseas Missionary Fellowship.
A second factor in the growth of missions was an outcome of the war itself. As the liberation forces poured into this country, there were among them Christian servicemen and godly chaplains. For the first time in their island-hopping conquests, they came to a land where many could speak English. Thus, they found fellowship with Filipino Christians. As it had been in San Juan, so it was in many places; chapels were damaged or destroyed and believers scattered. Christian G.I.’s helped to rebuild in many of the small evangelical congregations. It did not escape the attention of many communities that this voluntary help was more prevalent among Protestants than Roman Catholics. These practical demonstrations of Christian faith added prestige to what had been despised and insignificant minority groups.
Yet it also worked in another way. As the G.I.’s and chaplains worked with Filipino Christians, they were getting a first-hand experience of the missionary work. They saw the need, had a vision, and were challenged by the future possibilities. The most marked example of this is the Far Eastern Gospel Crusade, whose name is now SEND International. It was born in a servicemen’s center in Manila in September 1945, and has reached out to other lands as well. There was a time in the late 1950’s when it seemed as if the majority of new male missionaries were ex-chaplains or ex-servicemen who had been here during the war.
A factor in the progress of missions has been the change in the Roman Catholic Church in recent years. Since the time of the Second Vatican Council and days of Pope John, Protestants are no longer labeled as heretics but are viewed as “separated brethren.” In March 1937, Testaments and Gospel literature were publicly burned in a plaza in Zamboanga. In recent years, priests have had a part in preparing new Bible translations in various languages of the Philippines. The people are being encouraged to read the Bible, though at one time it was banned for the laity. On Billy Graham’s first visit to Manila some years ago, the archbishop forbade Roman Catholics to attend. On a more recent Crusade it is reported that 60% of the inquirers identified themselves as Catholics. Nowadays, a Bible verse is often seen in the obituaries of those who are evidently Roman Catholics.
In the early days of Bible School of the Air, priests and nuns forbade their students to receive our courses. In later years, we have had requests from priests and others for Emmaus courses to help them in teaching about the Bible. There have been many Bible study groups for Catholics. The charismatic movement has had a great influence among their clergy and laity. Questions have arisen about papal authority. Chinks have appeared in the monolith! The present openness to the Gospel was unthought of a few years ago.
A fourth factor in the progress of missionary work since World War II has been the increase in the number of different missions in these years. One reason for this was the closing of the door for missionary work in China and in what was Indochina. As the missionaries were forced out of these lands they looked for other fields of service. It was our privilege to entertain in our home the first survey team of the then China Inland Mission, now Overseas Missionary Fellowship. The stay of Raymond Frame and Stephen Knight with us was a refreshing experience for us, and we were happy to share what information we had and to help in this new outreach. About the same time we enjoyed fellowship with Dick Pittman who stayed with us for a time while on a similar mission for Summer Institute of Linguistics. (In later years Dr. Richard Pittman was honored with the prestigious Magsaysay Award as representing SIL.) There were other groups too that came here because of the open door. Here was a field with religious liberty and not too much difficulty in obtaining visas.
Of course, this same freedom also provided an open door for some cults that, for us, were not so welcome. Seventh-Day Adventists had been here before the war. However, in recent years the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses have been very active. There are also cults which are indigenous. “Iglesia ni Kristo” (Church of Christ) founded by Felix Manalo at the time of World War I has grown rapidly. With a distinctive type of church architecture, they aim to rival the Catholic Church. Since their adherents follow their leaders, they have been able to wield some political influence by telling their people for whom to vote. Also, faith healers linked with spiritists have attracted considerable attention. People have come from other countries in the hopes of getting healed.
A fifth factor has been the modern methods of evangelism through radio and television. While we used the commercial radio stations prior to the war, it was in 1948 that the Christian station of the Far East Broadcasting Company began operations. The impact of this radio effort has reached all over the Islands as local stations have been established in various places besides the main station just north of Manila. The wider use of radio has been facilitated by the invention of tape recorders and transistors. Back to the Bible Broadcasters have had an extensive ministry in the Philippines with its radio programs and also literature. Others have used television programs with advantage though the expense has been a limiting factor.
Finally, there is the factor of increased participation by national believers in the spread of the Gospel and in church planting. This, of course, is the goal of most missionary work—the indigenous church. So in local churches and in the Bible Schools and seminaries the nationals are carrying the burden. Foreign missionaries are here to help and serve as partners, leaving the administration to the nationals. This has gone a step further in that Filipinos from various Christian groups have gone to other lands as missionaries. One couple from the San Juan Gospel Chapel has been serving in Thailand with OMF and have done a great work there. It is a tremendous thrill to see the church in the Philippines not only receiving missionaries but also sending them forth, to their own people and to other lands.