The old-fashioned virtues
By Leon Ma. Guerrero
Free Press staff member
September 24, 1939
JOSE Yulo has most of the old-fashioned virtues.
He is intelligent. He passed the bar examinations at 19, was not given a license to practice law because he was under age. But in his thirties he was already topnotch Philippine corporation lawyer, helped draft the Philippine corporation law. His briefs were so logical and forceful that he seldom had to appear in person for his Big Business clients.
He is wealthy. A corporation lawyer is one lawyer that is sure of making money, if he is any good. Yulo’s income, before he became Secretary of Justice and had to abandon private practice, was estimated at about P50,000 a year. Shareholder in Negros sugar centrals, chairman of the board of the Philippine National bank (he has cut interest rates on loans, continues to show a good profit), he is still no pauper.
He is modest. Few men in Philippine public life are less known—through their own fault. Favorite adviser at Malacañan, he makes important statements—to the President. Front page copy for the last month, he has still to talk about himself. All that weary reporters can get from him is a noncommittal: “I do not cross my bridges until I come to them.” Not a streamlined slogan, just an old-fashioned proverb.
He is industrious. He has performed his official duties as Secretary of Justice, and his unofficial duties as right-hand man, with remarkable efficiency. He is seldom absent or late at his office in Malacañan. He has little use for the bright lights; probably can’t dance the tango very well. The last big party he gave was way back in 1934, that famous old-fashioned Filipiniana costume ball.
He is successful. Orphaned of his mother at six, of his father at 12, his life has been that of the Horatio Alger hero. He left his native Negros after finishing third year of high school, continued his studies in Manila, supporting himself doing odd jobs.
Copybook model boy
When he tried to enroll at the U.P. law school, the university authorities objected because he was only 16. Finally admitted, he found he had no money for textbooks. George Malcolm, then law dean, gave him a job in the college library.
Graduated with honors, he had to wait until he was 21 before he could practise. He worked with the firm of Bruce and Reed, a big U.S. firm of corporation lawyers, at P100 a month. Then he received an offer to become private secretary to Justice Adam Carson, at P300 a month.
It was a magnificent chance for easy work, high wages, and security. But Yulo turned down a chance for which 99 percent of this country’s young men would give their right arm. He was determined to make good alone, as a lawyer, outside the government service.
Bruce and Reed closed their Philippine branch. They retained Yulo as Philippine consultant, but it must have been a difficult time for the young lawyer. He received other offers from the government, of P230, P350, a month. He turned them all down.
In the end, and within a surprisingly short time, he made good.
Jose Yulo is the copybook model boy, the original Alger hero. To President Manuel Quezon, intent on the regeneration of the Filipino from the modern vices of frivolity and the easy-way-out, Yulo’s old-fashioned virtues look like heap powerful medicine.
Last month the President proclaimed Yulo his heir apparent. On a tour of the southern islands, he conferred with Negros planters in Iloilo. “I want Yulo to be elected to the Assembly from Negros,” the President said in effect. “I want him to be the next Speaker.”
And then, just to show he was serious, the President joked: “If you do not support Yulo, I am willing to have him run in Tayabas.”
Subsequently the President denied he was trying to dictate to the future Second Assembly on its choice of a Speaker. But he did not make any strenuous efforts to deny that he would be very glad indeed, and very grateful, if Yulo were chosen.
It was a bombshell. Few Filipinos, outside of Manila and Negros government and social circles, had ever heard of Yulo. Certainly only those in the know had suspected that Yulo was that dear to the heart of the President, and that high in his regard.
But the Presidential proclamation spotlighted a pattern in past acts. The signs had been there to read.
When the first Commonwealth cabinet was organized, Yulo was invited to be Secretary of Justice. He was reluctant. The President insisted. Yulo finally accepted “at,” in his own phrase, “great financial sacrifice.”
The phrase became a favorite of satirists. But it was true. As Secretary of Justice, Yulo would get only P12,000 a year. As a corporation lawyer he was getting four times that amount.
Previously he had been offered the same portfolio by Gov. Gen. Dwight Davis and Gov. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt. Always he had declined.
He had left private life only shortly before the establishment of the Commonwealth. Gov. Gen. Frank Murphy, last of the American governors general, tried a third time to get his friend Joe to take the job. A third time Joe turned it down.
Then at a majority caucus, it was offered a fourth time.
“I do no think my services are indispensable at this time,” said Yulo.
“Indispensable!” cried Senate President Quezon. “Why, man, a new government will be established in the islands before the end of next year. You know what that means. The government needs all the good men that can possibly be mustered to fill positions of responsibility.”
Control of judiciary
“If it is a case of service and patriotic duty, then I accept,” Yulo gave in. “But only on one condition: that the department of justice be detached from politics; that this department be made responsible for making appointments from the post of justice of the peace to that of judge of the court of first instance.”
Yulo had his way, so thoroughly that now the department of justice is accused of playing judicial dictator. Yulo was mainly responsible for the commonwealth reorganization of judges, now assailed as unconstitutional by former Judge Francisco Zandueta. His complete control of the judiciary is one of the opposition’s main points of attack.
In fact, Yulo’s many secret enemies and detractors say he has most of the old-fashioned vices too. They say he nurses grudges, that he is unscrupulous, petty, that he is, against the law, keeping up his private practice of corporation law, under cover.
After his appointment to Murphy’s last, and then Quezon’s first, cabinet, Yulo disappeared from the newspapers except for inside sticks on departmental routine. But he was already an important and trusted Presidential adviser, well on the way to being no. 1. But the public heard more of Jorge Vargas, the Little President, or of Carlos P. Romulo, popular publisher of the DMHM newspapers.
It was not until the JPCPA that Yulo rocketed into publicity again. He was named chairman of the Filipino participation. But why had Yulo been named at all? The Secretary of Justice, theoretically at least, had less to do with economies and trade than, say, the Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce. And why, with such brilliant and recognized economists as Manuel Roxas on the committee, had Yulo been made chairman?
A plan was becoming apparent to build up Yulo.
For what? To be, as recently announced, the Speaker of the Second Assembly? Hardly. Gil Montilla, as Silent Speaker of a docile Assembly, left nothing to be desired. He was obedient, popular, generous. Under him, “cooperation” was smooth and complete.
The Speakership then was only another step in a gigantic build-up.
The conclusion was obvious: too obvious to escape political gossip. Manuel Quezon wanted Jose Yulo to be the next President of the Philippines.
But what of Sergio Osmeña, serene self-sacrificing Vice President? What of Manuel Roxas, dynamic leader, resourceful economist? What of Claro Recto, president of the constitutional convention, former associate justice, sagacious, conservative, hope of frightened businessmen?
The only logical answer is that Manuel Quezon is in much the same position as Franklin D. Roosevelt in the U.S.
Roosevelt is deep in a vast sociological experiment. His New Deal, if it is to become effective and permanent, must be kept going at full speed for a few more years. But FDR is bound by tradition to turn in his cards after two terms.
He does not trust conservative Jack Garner, his faithful but reactionary Vice President. He does not trust Jim Farley, his affable campaign manager, who would sabotage any ideal for a vote. He does not trust ambitious Paul McNutt, who has a mind of his own.
He must therefore either bust precedent and run for reelection or maneuver into power a man who thinks the way he thinks, such a man as “Dear Alben” Barkley, who has been built up to national prominence as floor leader of the senate.
In the same way, Manuel Quezon cannot trust Sergio Osmeña, the cryptic evolutionist, to carry out his Social revolution. Recto is hand in glove with Big Business; Roxas might go too far.
Who else then but quiet, dependable, faithful, Jose Yulo? As adviser no. 1 he is credited with drafting most of the President’s social justice legislation. Recently the sugar central with which he is connected took the lead in Negros and increased the planters’ share in the profits, on condition that the extra money be spent on the sugar serfs.
Like Barkley, Yulo will be built up in the legislature. And if Yulo cannot swing it, Quezon, like Roosevelt, is reported ready to run for reelection.
Can Yulo swing it?
He has most of the old-fashioned virtues. But he lacks the new-fashioned virtues. Above all, he lacks that modern virtue of virtues, personality. He lacks color, he lacks the human touch, that his patron enjoys in such abundance.
He will not miss it so much in a disciplined assembly.
Much of what he lacks in personal appeal will be made up by skillful incessant publicity. His wife, the charming and vivacious Cecilia Araneta, is niece of the owner, sister of the general manager, of the powerful DMHM newspapers and the only nationwide radio chain, Radio Manila. In fact the Aranetas are said to have bought their way into control of these organs of public opinion, precisely with Yulo’s build-up in mind.
Neither the DMHM nor Radio Manila can indeed give profits to attract sugarmen accustomed to yearly grosses of a million pesos. Both concerns were in fact losing money when the Aranetas got aboard them.
But both concerns will pay millions of pesos worth of dividends in publicity for a family in quest of power. They can make the old-fashioned virtues of Jose Yulo the earmarks of a modern hero.
Then, with Manuel Quezon sewing up the Nationalist convention; with business reassured by Yulo’s steadiness and appealing business connections; it will only be a question of counting the votes in 1941.
It’s a long way off. But one of the old-fashioned virtues is preparedness.