May 27, 1939
Last of the 100 days
By the Amateur Assemblyman
“WELL, my friends,” Speaker Jose Yulo is said to have told several Assemblymen last week, “all of you have had your palabas. You have given privilege speeches. You have directed investigations. You have passed important bills or amended them. You have had your share of newspaper headlines. Now give me a chance to show off. Let’s close it ahead of time.”
The he announced he would give his colleagues a big feed at the Manila Hotel at 8 p.m. on the last of the 100 Days, four hours before the witching hour of midnight, when the clock was stopped in other legislative windups.
It was a subtle and effective trick that would have done credit to a veteran, and proved that the debutante Speaker had come of political age. The Assemblymen, in high good humor, rattled off bill after bill in third and final reading, and cleared the table by 6:45 p.m. with the approval of the P8,180,000 public works appropriation. Assemblyman Eugenio Perez occupied the rostrum during the last lap. The Assembly passed a total of 87 bills in the 100 Days; five have already been signed by the President.
Then they recessed for half an hour, swapping jokes, sharing reminiscences in the legislative restaurant, while the house leaders passed around boxes of expensive cigars paid for out of the Speaker’s discretionary funds. Leftovers were tossed to the cheering scrambling gallery of onlookers.
There was only one slip-up. While many of the members were off the floor, celebrating in advance, a rider was almost smuggled through a vote. It provided for the abolition of national government assistance to local secondary schools. A bill on the same subject had been introduced separately but it had been turned down previously on second reading.
In the festive hurly-burly of the last day, the bill was tacked on as a rider to another bill.
Only alert Assemblyman Buslon of Bohol detected the daring trick. He foiled the maneuver by holding up the proceedings with a vigorous speech. The members, jolted into vigilance, quickly killed the bootlegged provision. Floor Leader Paredes heartily thanked Buslon for his intervention, admitted ruefully that the rider would have passed otherwise. It would have been a black mark on an otherwise splendid record of legislation.
Yulo Comes Of Age
Shortly before 8 p.m. Assemblyman Gregorio Perfecto, his face drawn but happy after he had accomplished the mighty task of scrutinizing the mass of bills passed in second reading up to three days before, limped up to the rostrum to preside temporarily over the session. Speaker Yulo had been waiting outside the session hall all evening.
Expressing the thoughts of all the members of the house, Perfecto praised Yulo’s unbelievably rapid emergence as a legislative leader. The chunky, spunky, sagacious Negrense had indeed displayed an extraordinary versatility. He had learned the legislative ropes as quickly and thoroughly as he had bureaucratic routine when he was named secretary of justice. An interesting sidelight: he had also learned to bang the gavel forcefully.
Then Assemblymen Antonio Villarama, Tomas Clemente and Dominador Tan were named as a committee of three to notify Yulo that the session was ready for adjournment. The Speaker entered the hall amid great applause.
A few minutes before, the President had entered the old senate chamber, now transformed into the air-conditioned Assembly hall. Memories of the powerful body which he had once ruled and pitted against American executives, must have crowded into the mind of Mr. Quezon.
Together with his cabinet, he chose to witness the closing hours of the first session from the public gallery a floor above the Assembly pit, instead of taking preferred seat below. Thoughtful and serious, he listened to his hand-picked Speaker summarize with a flush of pleasure and pride, the achievements of the 100 Days.
Servant of the People
But the 100 Days had not been all “days of friendship and companionship.” Nerves had been frayed and tempers had flashed in the last hard-pressed week. Assemblymen Miguel Cuenco and Hilario Abellana, both of Cebu, had almost come to blows. Assemblyman Antonio Villarama of Bulacan had completely lost his head.
Villarama had been especially interested in three bills. In the rush of the “jam session,” he had asked Paredes to put the three on the calendar for consideration. Paredes promised to do the best he could. Villarama took it as an assurance that they would be taken up. He stayed up until midnight at the wearying next-to-the-last meeting. But only one of the three was considered and passed.
Going out of the hall after adjournment, Villarama was boiling mad. “I thought you said all my three bills were on the calendar,” he upbraided the floor leader.
“My dear fellow,” explained Paredes, who was usually cool, “I didn’t promise anything. I did the best I could.”
“Do you think I’m a servant here? You can’t treat me like this,” replied the servant of the people. “Do you realize I stayed up nearly all night for nothing?”
“All of us stayed up,” said Paredes patiently. “Remember, you are not the only member of the Assembly. The others have pet bills too.”
But Villarama would not be pacified. He spouted curses all the way from the session hall to the elevator, down to the lobby of the legislative palace, and out to the street, where the sleepy members waited for their ears. With amazing forbearance, Paredes took everything Villarama dished out. He was probably too tired to care.
Then Yulo came up, put his arm around Villarama and said: “Hello, chico.” The Speaker had not heard the preceding fireworks.
“You too,” Villarama turned viciously on the surprised Speaker. “Do you think I’m a servant? Do you realize, etc., etc.?”
Yulo finally managed to murmur something comforting about placing the bills on the calendar for the next day. Villarama refused to be comforted.
“Entonces me opongo,” blurted out Paredes with an oath, The bills never went to the floor. Next day, after sleeping on his pet, Villarama probably made his peace with the Assembly leaders, for he was chosen as the chairman of the committee which notified the Speaker the session was over.
The Cuenco-Abellana clash was the eruption of an old volcano. Abellana, the only Osmeñista who survived the Cuenco public-works avalanche in Cebu last year, had spoken against President Quezon’s reelection at the Constitution caucus last week.
Cuenco promptly wired instructions to the officials in Cuenco towns in Abellana’s district, to send the Assembly telegrams supporting reelection. The telegrams arrived en masse, and Cuenco secured permission from the Speaker to copy them out of the records and distributed mimeographed copies among the other members. This was meant to be interpreted as a repudiation of Abellana by his own district.
Abellana was furious but he held his tongue; although he distinguished himself in the first session by opposition rivaled only by Orense, the Cebu solon is usually hard to get into a personal fight. Cuenco however was determined to razz him. Whenever Abellana, as chairman of the reorganization committee, reported out or sponsored bills, Cuenco harried him with objections. Even when Abellana rose to make relatively innocent remarks, Cuenco followed up with random sarcasm.
When Abellana finally lost his temper, the two had to be kept apart by force. It would have gone badly for Cuenco otherwise; Abellana is an adroit amateur boxer.
Incidentally, the Assembly leadership was embarrassed by the complete accounts which appeared in the next day’s papers, of the first caucus on the Constitution. The details on who voted how, and on the decisions reached, were remarkably accurate. If they had not been revealed, the bewildering shifts of position taken by the Assembly would have been avoided. The President could have explained his wishes at another caucus, instead of in an open address to the Assembly, and everything could have been fixed up quietly without showing inconsistency or weakness.
One of those who spoke against reelection was Lanao’s Tomas Cabili. After Mr. Quezon delivered his conditional acceptance of reelection, several members crowed to Cabili: “See? See what’s happened?” They as much as said: “Now see what you’ve done. Aren’t you sorry?”
Cabili was not flustered. “The speech contained an order of the President,” he observed calmly, “for you, but not for me. Only my constituents can tell me how to vote.” It was a crushing rebuke from the man who held up the Constitution in 1935 by refusing to sign it.
Eyebrows were also raised at Eusebio Orense, who had spoken often and loudly against reelection, when the President revealed that Orense had, in private, tried to persuade him to run again. The Batangas gamecock was not flustered either. “My change of stand,” he said, “is a tribute to the President’s reasoning powers. He argued so well against reelection that I have stayed convinced.”
The 100 Days came to an end at 8:15 p.m. on May 18, four hours before midnight, a record that was a tribute to the popularity and efficiency of the Speaker and floor leader. The President, the cabinet, and the Assembly then went home to change into barongs and to fetch their wives, who had put on the native balintawak to match their husband’s clothes.
The met again at the Winter Garden of Manila Hotel for Yulo’s blow-out, a buffet supper dance. Champagne flowed freely, and legislative spirits bubbled merrily. Assemblyman Dominador Tan and pretty Mrs. Quintin Paredes, Jr., put on an exhibition dance number. Then former Secretary Antonio de las Alas, with Mrs. Jacobo Zobel for his partner, showed off new steps he had picked up in Washington.
The final touch to the general goodwill was given by the President, who issued a press statement saying that “the record of the National Assembly stands unsurpassed in the history of our country.”
Mr. Quezon will have a hard time explaining that when he asks for a senate.
For the strongest argument for the Senate is that the unicameral Assembly tends to hurry bills through without sufficient deliberation. But if Mr. Quezon thinks the Assembly’s record is “unsurpassed,” he admits that it is doing as well as the old bicameral legislature.
Tommy Oppus of the Voltairean sallies had another view of the matter. The Leyte wit defended the Assembly against charges of being a rubber stamp, at the start of the session. Last week, in the midst of the agitation for the senate, he told Publisher Carlos P. Romulo, an ardent bicameralist, “If the bicameral system is restored, don’t you think that the Senate will be a rubber stamp too?”
Then he added irrepressibly: “And the Assembly will be the ink-pad.”
But cooperation, rather than abdication, had been the attitude of the second Assembly. President Quezon himself admitted this week that he had left the second Assembly pretty much alone; he also admitted he had “guided” the first Assembly just to start off the new unicameral system.
The Assemblymen proved they could get along on their own. Chiefly responsible for the “unsurpassed” record (a flattering exaggeration, by the way) were the Assembly’s leaders, Speaker Yulo and Floor Leader Paredes. With the latter off for Washington, the legislative machinery may not function quite so smoothly in the second session next January. But if experienced Jose Zulueta is drafted to take Paredes’ place, there will be a minimum of friction from the change.
A favorite newspaper sport in season just now is to pick what other legislators, besides Yulo and Paredes, were outstanding this session. One daily used Life Magazine’s method of grading legislators on different qualities, and then picking the ones with the highest average. Consciously or unconsciously, however, the local daily made a nasty crack on Philippine solons when, in adapting Life’s tabulation, it dropped the tests of “intelligence” and “integrity”!