The NP convention story
April 18, 1953
by Leon O. Ty
RAMON Magsaysay is the new leader of the Opposition Party in the Philippines by virtue of his sensational winning of the presidential nomination in last Sunday’s convention at the Manila Hotel. The outcome of that convention cleared all doubts as to Senator Jose P. Laurel’s sincerity in personally endorsing Magsaysay as the NP presidential candidate next November.
Weeks before the convention, not a few people kept saying that Laurel was merely toying with Magsaysay and that when the proper time came, the Batangas lawmaker and other NP big shots would double-cross the former defense secretary, who, in the opinion of some, “is a political neophyte.”
The main purpose in inviting Magsaysay to the minority party was to remove “the only redeeming feature” of the Liberal Party, the pessimists explained. Once out of the Quirino cabinet, Magsaysay would then find himself out on a limb, politically speaking. And since any return to the Liberal Party would be impossible, the Nacionalistas would then be in a position to tell him what to do. They could, for instance, tell Magsaysay to run for senator, and the latter would have no choice but to accept the offer. Whether he liked it or not, he would have to accept anything his new political allies offered him as a prize for bolting his party and joining the Opposition.
But the pessimists were wrong, and the local political dopesters got their predictions all fouled up. For no member of the Nacionalista Party was more enthusiastic in seeing Magsaysay get nominated in last Sunday’s convention than Senator Laurel. The Batangas solon had never faltered in his endorsement of Ramon Magsaysay for the highest elective position in the government. Since that historic day last November when he challenged President Quirino to withdraw from the presidential contest—as he (Laurel), too, would withdraw and give way to Magsaysay—the Occupation leader had never stopped reiterating his support for the former defense secretary.
Laurel had repeatedly stated that Magsaysay was the ideal candidate against the Malacañan occupant. If the wish of every Nacionalista was to see Quirino defeated in November, he said, the only man who could get that wish fulfilled was Magsaysay.
The Batangas senator was probably never more inspired while speaking before a mammoth crowd than he was last Sunday morning at the Manila Hotel. His voice echoed with compelling force and sincerity as he delivered his nomination speech for the man of his choice. Finally, when Magsaysay stood on the rostrum to accept the deafening applause of the crowd estimated at three to four thousand, Laurel thundered:
“I give you this man of the masses, the spirit of Juan de la Cruz…the embodiment of Bonifacio and Del Pilar!”
Senator Claro Recto’s keynote address was a masterpiece of political denunciation. He started by saying that the keynote of the convention was “‘victory.”
Lashing out at the majority party, Recto, the master satirist, cried:
“The Quirino Liberals and their protégés have been emptying the public treasury and otherwise accumulating undeserved wealth in their safe-deposit boxes here and abroad by every means that could be devised by criminal ingenuity, through unlawful immigration schemes, blackmailing in deportation cases, RICPA and surplus property rackets, NARIC scandals, import control quotas, Buenavista-Tambobong estate deals, leonine steamship contracts, smuggling of every thing from Bangkok diamonds to potatoes, onions, and firecrackers, padded pay rolls, tax evasion and even copious tong collections.
“They call that ‘clean and honest government’!
“They surrendered to Kamlon and his gang of cutthroats; they have been frantically tying by plaintive radio calls to contact Taruc and bribe him into campaigning for the Liberal Party; they have utterly failed to curb criminality and gangsterism in our cities and towns.
“And they call that ‘strong and efficient government’!”
Senator Recto’s fiery assault upon the administration included “digs” at President Quirino’s “total economic mobilization program.” He also pointed out the causes behind the Communist aggression in the Philippines.
Recto’s keynote address was one of the most sarcastic pieces ever to come from the pen of the famous jurist and parliamentarian. (It must have hurt the Liberals very much because Secretary of Justice and acting head of the department of national defense Oscar Castelo violently hit back at the Nacionalista leaders the following day—April 13—with a threat of criminal prosecution he said he’d undertake in “due time” against two ranking Opposition leaders. Castelo also said that Laurel and Recto were making a puppet out of Magsaysay.)
End of a Trail
Last Sunday’s convention also spelled the death of Senator Camilo Osias’ political career. The most impartial observers in that Opposition powwow did not hesitate to say that the result of the presidential nomination contest—and especially the “unfortunate incidents” which marred Senator Cipriano Primicias’s nomination speech (for Senator Osias) and the La Union senator’s political swan song” which lasted for almost one and a half hours—disclosed a tragic but inescapable fact: Osias had reached the end of the political trail.
The way Osias was treated by the very Nacionalista leaders he had helped get elected in past elections was definitely heart-breaking. Senator Primicias, who had preceded Osias on the rostrum with what was supposed be a nomination speech, almost failed to say his piece because the pro-Magsaysay delegates and guests booed and hissed and indulged in practically every form of baboonery to disturb him. The crowd simply went uncontrollably wild.
This writer was with Senator Osias in his Manila Hotel room (No. 347) while Primicias was resorting, in vain, to every form of platform strategy and oratorical trick in order to get the rowdy crowd under control. As the crowd continued to laugh down Primicias and kept shouting Magsaysay’s name, Senator Osias started to get visibly impatient and restless. Now he would sit down, then stand up, and sit down again, as he listened to the radio broadcast in his room in order to keep track of the proceedings in the Fiesta Pavilion of the hotel.
There is no doubt that those were probably some of the most trying moments in Osias’s political career. As he sat beside the radio set, he kept closing his eyes, but at the same time biting his lip. Sometimes he would shake one leg, then another. In all the years that his writer has known Osias, in and outside the legislature, we have never seen him so troubled as he was last Sunday afternoon.
“Why don’t those rascals allow Primicias to speak?” complained some of Osias’s faithful political followers and friends who were with him in the room. “They are boosting Magsaysay!” others grumbled angrily. “We should ignore that convention!” “Is this democracy?” “Why should they do this to you, Mr. Senator?” “Shall we go down and start something violent?” demanded a hard-core Osias partisan from the provinces.
The La Union senator didn’t say anything. He continued listening to the broadcast, at times taking down notes of what he heard in the convention hall.
Some of his close advisers who had, by this time, gone up to his room—Congressman Miguel Rilloraza of La Union, Ex-Sen. Jose Ma. Veloso of Leyte, former Senator Alejo Mabanag and ex-Rep. Leonardo Festin of Romblon—consulted each other as to whether or not Senator Osias should go down and address the delegates. But Osias himself was determined to change the attitude of the howling crowd from hostility to sympathy.
“I’m going down and quiet them,” he vowed, when we asked him what he thought of the way the delegates were booing Senator Primicias.
Osias went down all right, perhaps hoping against hope that he might yet succeed in swaying the political tide in his favor.
As he proceeded to the Fiesta Pavilion, flanked by leaders and followers, shouts of “Mabuhay si Osias” rent the air. More shouts of “Mabuhay!”
At other times and under different circumstances, the La Union senator—an amiable man—would have readily acknowledged the applause. But at that time, he didn’t. His eyes were red and he pressed his lips tightly, probably in a firm resolve to control the hostile crowd on the convention floor.
Meeting of Rivals
As he ascended the rostrum where the NP leaders were seated, Osias did not forget to shake Laurel’s and Recto’s hands. In a sarcastic vein, he congratulated Laurel for the “magnificent nomination speech.” Presently Magsaysay stood up and extended a hand to his rival. Osias, who was at first hesitant to greet Magsaysay, finally extended his hand, too.
After that, he started his spirited address. During the first half-hour, the crowd, although uneasy, allowed him to recount his sacrifices for the Nacionalista Party. But when he began to attack Magsaysay, hoots and catcalls followed. The crowd became more unruly when he said indignantly:
“Let these disrupting elements in our party have a little consideration for those who sacrificed for the party.”
All in all, Osias was booed ten times during his almost one-and-half-hour speech. Hurt by the hostile attitude of the majority of the delegates, Osias shouted:
“You did not boo me when I was fighting for the Nacionalistas in the 1947, 1949, and 1951 elections! I implore you not to repeat such acts because we would be destroying democracy!”
More boos and hisses.
“I am aware of the situation, and I have faced tighter situations,” Osias pleaded. “But let us reason as gentlemen…. Do not believe you can cow me.”
Again, more boos and more hisses.
This time, Osias was truly rattled. He perspired profusely. Sensing that it was useless to plead with the crowd which openly shoed its antagonism to him, the exasperated senator started attacking Magsaysay for being inexperienced and, therefore, not prepared to shoulder the responsibilities attendant to the office of President.
If Osias had hoped to quiet down the crowd with this line of talk, he made a mistake because he only succeeded in making the pro-Magsaysay delegates more angry. His sarcastic references to Senators Laurel and Recto also infuriated most of the delegates. Osias bitterly deplored the fact that instead of being neutral in the fight between him and Magsaysay, the leaders of the party showed by their words and deeds their partiality to his rival. Osias even recalled the dark days of the Japanese occupation when he accompanied Dr. Laurel to Japan and suffered with him in a Japanese prison.
Senator Osias tried very trick he knew to quiet a hostile crowd but he failed completely in drawing the sympathy of the NP delegates that afternoon. He even showed a photostatic copy of a letter written to him by the late Archbishop Michael O’Doherty, to prove that he was acceptable to the local Catholic population. In addition he showed another photostat of a plenary dispensation given him by the Pope during his last visit to Rome. But none of these proved effective in swaying the crowd to his side.
As a last resort, Senator Osias challenged Magsaysay to withdraw from the presidential race as he (Osias) would also withdraw. The two of them and Senate President Rodriguez would then constitute a committee to select a “compromise candidate.” The idea behind Osias’ proposal was “to preserve unity in the party,” he said.
Instead of cheers, a chorus of boos greeted his desperate proposition.
The La Union senator did not, however, lose his bearings completely. Before concluding his speech (which would have been effective had he limited it to half an hour, instead of almost one and a half hours) he reminded the crowd that he would not bolt the party in case he lost the nomination.
“My second name is Nacionalista,” he said, and the delegates like it. “Bolting the party is not in the vocabulary of Osias… I am a Nacionalista by instinct, by training, and by conviction.”
This portion was received with loud cheers.
Magsaysay’s speech, in sharp contrast to that of Senator Osias, was surprisingly brief. He consumed not more than two and a half minutes, but the tumultuous ovation which followed lasted about five minutes.
In his straightforward and simple way, Magsaysay said, in part:
“I am a man of action… I am not a speechmaker. I do not believe in words but in deeds…I am giving myself unreservedly unto the hands of this convention.”
A Jaycee official who was at our side made the following comment on Magsaysay’s brief address:
“Monching (Ramon) is wise…He knows his limitations. He might have committed errors had he spoken at length… Not being a good speaker, he might have flopped and created a bad impression among the delegates. But he knew when to stop, unlike Osi (Osias).”
The candidates for vice-presidential nomination—Senators Carlos Garcia, Jose Casten Zulueta, and Arsenio Lacson, Manila city mayor, spoke briefly. Lacson declined the nomination. Garcia’s speech was even shorter than that of Magsaysay. Zulueta spoke in English but he did not feel “at home” in it. So he switched to Spanish, and he became quite eloquent.
A total of 754 delegates participated in the secret balloting. Magsaysay polled 705 votes while Osias obtained only 49. Garcia polled 598 votes, as against Zulueta’s 149. After the 450th ballot in favor of Magsaysay was read, his victory was conceded. At 10:20 that night, Magsaysay’s nomination was announced over the radio throughout the country.
Magsaysay’s wife, the former Luz Banzon of Bataan, and his aged mother, were at the Manila Hotel—Room No. 301—to hear the exciting news of his victory. When asked what she thought of her son’s chances in the coming election, the old lady replied:
“It’s in the hands of God.”
The La Union delegation did not take part in the voting. After Senator Osias proposed the creation of a committee to name a “compromise candidate” the delegates from the senator’s province decided to ignore the results of the convention.
Magsaysay’s acceptance speech was a model. Following is what he said in accepting his party’s nomination:
“I accept your nomination. I accept it with humility. The honor you have conferred on me, and the responsibility that goes with it, overwhelm me. Alone, I could never be worthy of the honor nor equal to the responsibility. This could only be possible with full support of you, the members of the party, the faith of the people, and the guidance of God.
“To all of you, my deepest gratitude. I thank the grand old man of the Nacionalista Party, Senator Rodriguez, for his fairness and understanding.
“I thank that great patriot and Nacionalista, Senator Laurel, for his self-effacing and noble act of sponsoring my nomination.
“I thank that brilliant thinker and statesman, Senator Recto, for his unselfish encouragement and support.
“And I wish to salute that faithful Nacionalista, Senator Osias, whose aspirations for the nomination were just and sincere. I offer my hand in continued comradeship, to him and all his loyal supporters.
“My thoughts go out tonight to that venerable co-founder of the Nacionalista Party, Don Sergio Osmeña, who manifested his deep concern for our party’s welfare, by sending his own son, Ramon, to represent him in this convention.
“My thanks also go to the tireless leaders of our party, senators and congressmen, governors, provincial board members, mayors, councilors, and chosen delegates for placing their confidence in me.
“With this convention over, we now embark on our great crusade. Of course, our immediate objective is to win—to bring about a complete change in the administration of this country. This will require a total Nacionalista victory in November, and to achieve this victory we must all work together and exert ourselves to the utmost.
“I do not have many promises to make. I can only promise to carry out faithfully and to the letter the provisions of the platform of the Nacionalista Party. If elected, I will administer the affairs of this country as they should be administered—primarily for the welfare of the people—and by methods sanctioned by our constitution. I shall carry out the will of the people within the limits of constitutional executive power, cooperating and in perfect harmony with both houses of Congress, which, after November, I am certain, shall be controlled by the Nacionalista Party.
“My first concern, as should be the concern of every Nacionalista, is the welfare of our people.
“But I shall never forget that I owe, next to my duty to my God and my country, a duty to my party—to consider carefully the counsel of our established party leaders, to attend promptly to the problems, both national and local, of our fellow Nacionalistas, and, in general, to see to it that the men who have sacrificed and fought under the Nacionalista banner to place me at the head of our government, in order to establish a clean and honest administration, shall not be forgotten in the hour of victory.
“I humbly ask God this day to grant me the strength, the courage, and the life to carry out the mission with which you have entrusted me. With His help, and with the active cooperation of all of you, I know that we shall win, and that we shall restore to our country and our people what they fully deserve—an efficient, honest, and God-fearing administration, a government worthy of the sacrifices of our heroes and the respect of all mankind. Goodnight—and God bless you all.”