Presidents at Play
July 9, 1949
By Filemon V. Tutay
EVEN heads of state must also play. And the present President of the Philippines and those before him provide no exception. Whit it is true that presidents are very busy people, they always manage to find a little spare time for some kind of sport to divert themselves from the manifold worries of running a government. And, of course, it is not always poker, as some people think.
When in Manila, the President loves to go swimming in the elaborate swimming pool of Malacañan park at least once a week. And when he does go swimming, one of the palace physicians is also in the pool. Sometimes, the President also invites friends to go swimming with him. Very rarely does he avail himself of the well-kept miniature golf course on the park just across the river from the palace although he can swing a mean club when he is in the mood.
President Quirino saves his golf for his visits to Baguio. This is probably because swimming pools in the summer capital are too cold for him to enjoy his swimming routine. His son, Tommy, keeps him company around the course of the Baguio Country Club. No betting, Tommy is a pretty good golfer.
As a senator and later as member of the cabinet, Quirino used to play bowling at the old Columbian club. Since he landed in Malacañan, however, the Apo has not been known to bowl. Indoor diversions include poker, but no bridge.
The late President Roxas’ favorite sport was golf. he was the one who authorized the laying out of the miniature 9-hole course at Malacañan park. he had told friends that he wanted to save time by having a golf course close at hand. Wack Wack and Caloocan were too far off to suit him. When in the mood to play, if playing companions were not available, Roxas played against himself. But playing either alone or with companions, he always had an aide following him with an umbrella. The late President made pretty poor scores in his golf, but those who should know say that Roxas was great at poker.
Roxas’ other pet diversion was truck gardening. he started a truck garden in Malacañan park to inaugurate a food production campaign, probably as a publicity stunt. But his interest in the garden did not end there. He put in more and more of his leisure time in the cultivation of the plants with his own hands. Roxas had a lush luck garden going at the time of his death.
Former President Osmeña does not have any know athletic proclivities. This does not mean, however, that he lacked exercise, for he went in strong for dancing. With the possible exception of the late President Quezon, Osmeña should rank highest as a dancer among former occupants of Malacañan. Unlike other presidents, Osmeña was not choosy in his partners. he danced with anybody.
The present “Private Citizen No. 1” did not confine his exercise to dancing. When he could not dance, he hiked. He used to take early-morning walks when he was president. And he enjoys the long walks he now has time to take in his extensive hacienda in Cebu.
Quezon was perhaps the most athletic of Philippine presidents. he loved to play golf and did so every time he had a chance, either at the Manila Golf club in Caloocan or at Wack Wack in Mandaluyong. His favorite playing companions were Sen. Vicente Madrigal, former Speaker Jose Yulo, Dr. Jose P. Laurel and sometimes Archbishop Michael O’Doherty. it was said of the late fiery leader that when his score was low he used to call out his score to friends playing one hole behind. But it was different when his ball was always “in the rough,” and his score was high. It was then that Don Manuel was at his vitriolic best. He swore in at least three languages and a couple of dialects. It was just too bad if one of his playing companions happened to be the archbishop of Manila. The other players had a merry time laughing behind Quezon’s back.
Horseback riding was also a great love of Don Manuel’s. He did most of his riding early in the morning and it is said that he made his greatest decisions while on horseback. it is related that he was riding horseback one morning when he suddenly realized that the then house of representatives was getting out of hand under Quintin Paredes and he decided then and there to start the necessary maneuvers to unseat Paredes and install in his place Gil Montilla who, later on, was referred to as the “silent speaker.”
Dancing was another pet diversion of Quezon. Those who have seen him dance agree that the late President was a very elegant dancer and would do credit to any dance floor. His favorite music was the tango. Because of his dancing proclivities, his detractors used to say that his was the cabaretista type of leadership in the government.
Generally, he did not give a hoot to what his critics said about his cabaretista leadership. He learned how to dance from the most exclusive dancing maestros in New York. Even after he became an accomplished dancer, Quezon used to take dancing lessons whenever he was in the United States, not so much for the instruction as for the pleasure of dancing with pretty and graceful partners.
Quezon did much to promote athletics on a national scale. he was president of the Philippine Amateur Athletic Federation from 1917 to 1935, and ceased as such only upon his election as President of the Philippine Commonwealth. He started the movement which culminated in the participation of Philippine tennis players in the Davis cup championships.
This being a straight sports story without any political implications, we include Dr. Jose P. Laurel, president of the republic, under the Japanese. Laurel is a pretty good golfer. He played golf even before he got to Malacañan. His most memorable round of golf was played at Wack Wack some time in 1943, with Dr. Nicanor Jacinto, Dean Leoncio Munson, and Enrique Katigbak.
Everything went well until the foursome got to the seventh hole, which is near the road. Laurel was making a putt on the seventh green when shots rent the air. The occupation president fell, seriously wounded by four heavy slugs. The injury was serious but Laurel’s life was saved by the best surgical skill the whole Japanese army in the Philippines could muster. He was patched up as good as new and he is still able to play the game.
It may be of interest to add that Laurel’s favorite indoor pastime is to fiddle. He frequently plays the violin in the presence of friends. And they say that he plays well indeed for an amateur.
General Emilio Aguinaldo, having been the first and only president of the first Philippine Republic, should be given space in this story. In his younger days, the general rode horseback a lot, more for duty, of course, than for pleasure. He also put in a little swimming when he got the time. As a hunter, the general once bagged a prize crocodile in the Cagayan river in the early ’20s. The croc was mounted and at one time decorated the hallway of the University of the Philippines.
Aguinaldo has no “vices.” He takes no liquor, does not smoke and does not gamble. In his old age, the general’s main interest is looking after his veteranos. The thinning ranks of his followers have not dimmed his hope of eventual recognition for their sacrifices from the government in the form of token aid or pension in their old age. The general’s pension was stopped in 1935. He is not interested in the revival of the pension for himself, but he would like to bring satisfaction to his veteranos who have, after all, only a few more years to live.