The “Dictatorship” of Ramon Magsaysay
October 15, 1955
by Teodoro M. Locsin
FIRST, Sen. Claro M. Recto, the Nacionalista “guest candidate” of the Liberal Party, called President Ramon Magsaysay a puppet of the Americans. Then, when the President said he would not support Recto’s bid for re-election, the Batangueño called the President an interloper, impudent, presumptuous, a bully, a wrecker, a bungler, and corny. When the President got the Nacionalista executive committee to exclude Recto from the party’s senatorial ticket, the senator called the President a dictator.
Is Ramon Magsaysay a dictator? He had his way. Is to have your way to be dictatorial or merely evidence that you are smart? Recto is smart. Is it a crime to be smarter than Recto?
Speaking at a Liberal rally, Recto attacked Nacionalista leaders for having “lost their courage. . .They excluded me from the ticket, all because of the ire of one man whom I personally helped to get into the party; I worked for his victory.” The truth is, said Recto, that Magsaysay “wanted conformity within his circle and that all discussions must be carried on by a select group of ‘yes-men.’ Even granting that I was wrong in my opposition to his policies, the least that the President have done was to uphold my right to criticize by insisting on my inclusion in the NP ticket.”
In short, after being called a lot of names by Recto, Magsaysay, in the opinion of Recto, should have insisted on having Recto included in the Nacionalista senatorial lists which Magsaysay was expected to support. At this point, one might note that Recto would seem to have confused Magsaysay with Jesus Christ. Christ said:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say unto you. ‘Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. . . .Ye have heard that it hath been said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.’ But I say unto you, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. . . .'”
Having been cursed by Recto, Magsaysay should have given him his political blessing. In Magsaysay’s place, one is led to presume, Recto would have done just that. He would have done as Christ would have him do. Because Magsaysay, having been hit, decided to hit back.
“A small dictator—a banana dictator!” cried Recto over the radio.
The senator, in another speech, accused President Magsaysay of “thought control, decisions by impulse, meditated indecisions, personal rule, militarized government, foreign mentors, infant advisers, party dictation, and political prosecution.
Recto said he would run against Magsaysay in 1957 “to save the country from a militarized government.”
Unless Magsaysay was defeated in the next presidential election, the country would face dictatorial rule, according to the senator. Even while Magsaysay was merely secretary of national defense, he had already displayed dictatorial tendencies.
Yet Recto himself, by his own admission, had personally helped this secretary of national defense with “dictatorial tendencies” get into the Nacionalista Party and had even worked for his victory in the 1953 presidential poll.
The same Recto who personally helped Magsaysay into the Nacionalista Party and worked for his victory against Quirino in 1953 called the action of Magsaysay “a political betrayal without parallel in our political history in sordidness of motives, crudeness of execution, and callousness with which it was excused and justified.” The accomplice accuses the principal!
In an interview with this writer early in 1953, while Laurel could not make up his mind whether to step aside for Magsaysay or not, Recto expressed impatience at Laurel’s dilatory tactics. The main enemy was Quirino; his administration was the greatest calamity that had ever befallen the Philippines; under that abominable regime, Recto’s witness in his case of bribery against Quirino’s secretary of national defense and justice had been shot to death like a dog; Recto himself had been accused of living in concubinage with his wife. Quirino and his gang must go!
And, it seemed fairly evident, the only one who could rid the country of Quirino & Co. was Ramon Magsaysay. Liberals could not use the army against him; he was much too popular with the army; the Nacionalistas must nominate Ramon Magsaysay for president as a matter of self-preservation; Laurel must step aside for him. Laurel finally did.
Now according to Recto, that constituted “a political betrayal without parallel in our political history in sordidness of motives, crudeness of execution, and callousness with which it was excused and justified.”
Times change, indeed, and men with them. But this is not new. It is, as Recto himself would put it, ‘corny.” And it does not answer the question: Is Ramon Magsaysay a dictator, or a man with dictatorial tendencies? Because the overwhelming majority of the delegates in the Nacionalista convention expressed a preference for the President over Recto, and because the Nacionalista executive committee, when asked to choose between the two, chose the President—does that make Ramon Magsaysay a dictator?
Hitler was a dictator, so was Mussolini, so was Peron. Is Ramon Magsaysay a Hitler, a Mussolini? A Peron, perhaps? But Peron, under the guise of helping the poor, robbed them; in the name of charity, he accumulated millions of dollars worth of jewelry. If any Nacionalista is getting rich in office today, it is not Ramon Magsaysay; he had to sell an old house of his, with the lot, to pay for the expenses of his wife’s trip to the United States to have her sinus treatment. There are no free elections in Spain today, under Franco; in the Philippines, the election are sufficiently free for Recto and his friends in the Liberal Party to call the President of the Philippines all sorts of names—sufficiently free to make the election of Recto a certainty.
“Recto will win,” is the opinion of an independent voter and political observer for whose opinion we have every respect. “Recto will win—with Pacita M. Warns and ‘Soc’—Servant of Christ—Rodrigo.”
But how did the President get the Nacionalista executive committee to exclude this sure winner from the party’s senatorial ticket, in the first place? Did the President use dictatorial methods?
The President did not use a gun. He did not threaten to send the whole committee to a concentration camp if the members did not do his will. There was no mention of a Philippine Siberia. They did what they did because they lost courage, if we are to believe Recto. When asked to choose between Recto and the President, they chose the President. If the Nacionalista executive committee is a bunch of cowards, does that make the President totalitarian? Perhaps, the committee was merely being practical—as practical as Recto when he became a guest candidate of a party which had consistently voted for the foreign policy of Ramon Magsaysay which Recto had denounced as one of shameless subservience to the United States. Is it cowardly to be practical? If the Nacionalista executive committee is practical, is Ramon Magsaysay to blame?
Actually, it was Recto’s lack of self-control that got him excluded from the Nacionalista ticket. He disagreed with the President in matters of foreign policy; he expressed his disagreement in elevated language. But his colleagues in the Senate, Liberal, Nacionalista, and Democrat, voted him down with what can only be described as maddening regularity. They were for the President. The constant rebuff must have infuriated Recto. From exposition he descended to diatribe, from disagreement to vilification. The President was not only wrong, according to Recto; the President was despicable. He had sold his country down the river — to the Americans. He was a puppet, a marionette.
Had Recto but restrained himself, had he moderated his language, the President would have found it difficult if not impossible to get the Nacionalista executive committee to exclude Recto from the ticket. But after having been called the names Recto called him, after being accused of what amounted to treason to the Republic, of being a helpless tool, a pitiful puppet, a slave of the Americans by Recto, the President could confront the Nacionalista leaders with the question: “In my place, what would you do?”
They appealed to the President’s sense of Christian forgiveness; they asked him to be generous, to be magnanimous. At the same time, Recto went on calling him names.
In the President’s place, what would the Nacionalista leaders have done? Could they have consented to the inclusion of Recto without admitting that Recto was right, without pleading guilty to all the charges brought by Recto against the President?
Had Recto but merely disagreed with the President. . . . But the senator did not confine himself to disagreement; from disagreement he went to accusation. . . . He made it impossible for his colleagues in the Nacionalista Party to defend him. He made defense untenable, then accused those who gave in to the President of losing their courage.
The President moved with care; at first, it was thought that he had been outwitted. He called merely for a vote of confidence in his policies by the Nacionalista executive committee. The committee, which was more or less openly sympathetic personally to Recto, gave the President the vote he asked for. The committee was careful not to say that it was against the President, that was all. Recto, it was generally believed, would still be included in the Nacionalista senatorial ticket.
The President refused to be “humored.” Was the executive committee for the Philippine commitments in SEATO, the President’s declaration that the occupation of Formosa by the Communists would be a serious threat to the Philippine security, and the recognition of Vietnam? the President asked. What could the executive committee say but yes, it was for all these? After all, a Nacionalista Senate had voted overwhelmingly for them. Yes, the executive committee said. . . But it was for these various stands, how could it be for Recto, who had denounced them as evidence of servility to a foreign power?
As a matter of fact, the President went on, Recto should be ashamed to run as a candidate of a party whose foreign policy he holds in such utter contempt. Of course, if Recto had changed his mind and would subscribe to that foreign policy, the President would be the first to nominate him and work for his reelection. . . .
Recto, naturally, could not say he had changed his mind. That would be to crawl. He announced his intention to run for the Senate as an independent. (The President said that he knew how difficult it would be to run as an independent, offered to help Recto, if he chose to run alone, in the distribution of his sample ballots.) In the end, Recto joined the Liberals, as a “guest candidate” of a party whose leaders had voted for the foreign policy Recto had denounced.
In all this, it is difficult to see where the President had been dictatorial. If his intention was to prevent the reelection of Recto by having him excluded from the Nacionalista ticket, and if Recto wins, the President will have been proven wrong, but not dictatorial. Recto’s victory would be the best evidence of the absence of any dictatorial tendencies in the President; all the President would have to do to prevent the victory of Recto is to repeat 1949. (Recto is now with the accomplices if not principals to that rape of democracy.) But Laurel can confidently say that the victory of Recto is a “foregone conclusion.” The story of 1949, when Laurel was cheated of the presidency by mass frauds and terrorism by Recto’s new political friends, will not be repeated. From reports, it would seem that more Nacionalistas are being shot than Liberals these days. The President himself, we are told, is expecting Recto to win.
Because Recto lost his head in the face of total rejection of his foreign policy views by Nacionalistas, Liberals, and Democrats, does that make the President a dictator? Because the Nacionalista national convention and executive committee when it came to a vote, freely expressed preference for the President over Recto, does that prove dictatorship?
Let us use words carefully; let us not speak from the side of our mouths. Where, precisely, lies the alleged dictatorship of the President?
A man’s real possession is his memory. In nothing else is he rich, in nothing else is he poor. —A. Smith