April 6, 1957
The political jungle
The political calendar
It is now 1961 as far as the politicians are concerned. The death of President Magsaysay has speeded up political time. The old calendar restrained ambition; those who would be president must bide their time; they must wait until it was not possible, constitutioanlly, for Ramon Magsaysay to run again. They must wait until 1961, when his second term would come to an end; his reelection would be prohibited by the supreme law of the land. They would be free, then, to run for president; they would have chance.
So absolute was Magsaysay’s domination of the political scene that men who should have fought him did not dare. The sugar bloc, which hated his economic policies, placed discretion above valor; better a live coward than a dead lion. The hacenderos of Negros cried that they were being ruined by the no-barter policy of the government, but Magsaysay was their “Guy.” They hated his guts, but they played ball. They had to be practical. They could not afford to fight a sure winner.
Recto, who had the courage – if that is the word for it – to run against Magsaysay, could not find a running mate. Nobody would be his vice-presidential candidate. The politicos would have nothing to do with Recto. Not while RM was around.
The Liberals, who were supposed to constitute the official opposition, betrayed the cause of the two-party system, so essential to democracy, by crawling to Malacañang and pledging the President their abject support. So a Liberal, Primitivo Lovina, viewed the action of his colleagues; another Liberal, Tony Quirino, called it “prostitution.” Anyway, the Liberals, too, were being realistic. If you couldn’t fight RM, join him – if he would have you.
Now he is dead.
Before that fatal Sunday when Ramon Magsaysay boarded an army plane at about one in the morning with 26 others – against every rule of presidential security – his reelection was held as certain as – as death and taxes. Sen. Jose P. Laurel, who had run for president in 1949 and was cheated of victory and who steeped aside for Magsaysay in 1953 because he would have been cheated again if he had insisted on running, because it was the practical thign to do, was asked by Recto if he, Laurel, was interested in running for the presidency in 1957. If Laurel was running, Recto would give way and give him support, like a good Batangueno. If Laurel was not running, well, he, Recto, was, and he expected Laurel to support him, again like a good Batangueño…. Laurel was not running; at the same time, he would not come out in support of Recto; instead, he called for “unity,” whatever that meant.
Besides, Laurel was reportedly a sick man; he had high-blood pressure. If he were to run, even if he won, the presidency would be too much for him. He was bent on retiring, for his own good and the good of the nation. A sick president is something the nation could not afford – assuming Laurel could win.
Laurel would not fight RM; the Liberals pledged RM their support; Recto could not find a reputable political figure to run wih him; the opposition, official and otherwise, had only one thought: to play ball. Everybody must wait until 1961. Then came “Sunday.” There was a new political calendar: 1957 became 1961.
Anybody could be president.
As a matter of fact, the President is not just anybody; he has a anme and a good political record; he is Carlos P. Garcia. Only a hearbeat separated him from the presidency, we wrote a month ago. “…the president may wake up one morning and find himself the chief excutive. All men are mortal…. Anything can happen.” Now, Garcia is president.
Yet, a month ago, he was not even sure of his party’s renomination for the vice-presidency. Sergio Osmeña, Jr., a new Nacionalista, had been elected head of the league of governors and city mayors; this gentleman was being mentioned as the man most likely to wrest the vice-presidential nomination from Garcia in the Nacionalista convention. Garcia was “good old Charlie” to his fellow-Nacionalistas, nothing more. Even President Magsaysay was reported not too enthusiastic about him.
But Garcia was a bridge. A bridge is something on which everybody walks to get to other side. Garcia was a bridge between the Nacionalista Old Guard and President Magsaysay. Garcia had his uses. His renomination would symbolize the unity of the party; there was no break between the Old Guard and the Young Turks, it would proclaim. The Old Guard had run the party pretty much as they pleased; every Nacionalista senator was interested in reelection; they all needed the President’s help to insure it. but the President had his own men. These were called, somewhat irreverently, one must say, the “rah-rah boys.” Whatever the President did, they cheered. The President was grateful and some of them hoped that he would show his gratitude by getting them nominated for senator. Election was certain.
On the one hand, there was the desire of old Nacionalistas to hold on to office, to run for reelection, and on the other the desire of “rah-rah boys” to replace some of the old Nacionalistas, who always felt superior, intellectually and otherwise, to the chief executive. If there was to be no break in the party, it was obvious that one set of ambitions must be sacrificed at the altar of the other set.
The Old Guard must hang together or hang separately. Hence, the proclamation of the principle of priority for reelectionists: Nacionalista senators and congressmen would like to remain in office should be nominated by the party instead of others; they had a prior claim! The President’s endorsement of Garcia as the party’s candidate for vice-president again would be an endorsement of the Old Guard’s general position. Every relectionist should be encouraged to run.
Hence the importance of being – Garcia. That is, of Garcia’s renomination for the vice-presidency. That would be the test of whether the President was prepared to break with his party or not. The Old Guard would sink or swim with garcia. If the President did not want Garcia, he could not want any of the Old guard. If he was not for him, he was against them.
The renomination of Garcia, then, was the bridge that would make political communication possible, or continue it, between the Old Guard and the President, between the Senate, which the Old Guard dominated, and Malacanang, the habitat of the “rah-rah boys” or Young Turks. If the President would be certain of congressional cooperation for his program the next four years, he had ho alternative but to give in to the Old Guard, and endorse old Nacionalista reelectionists, including Garcia.
Now, Garcia does not need the support of the President. He is the President.
The political forces
Recto once dismissed the size of the crowds that greeted President Magsaysay wherever he went as sheer illusion. The people did not go to meet RM because they really wanted to; they went because they were forced to; he was the President. The whole welcome was a rigged-up affair. Actually, they were angry with him; they lived better under the previous regime.
The general sense of irreparable loss at the death of Ramon Magsaysay, the tears of millions, the national feeling that the best was gone – even recto must admit that he was wrong. He was wrong about the “unpopularity” of the late President. The people, foolishly or not, loved him. Now, Recto is the heir of their grief over the passing of the man in whom they believed; he had attacked and attacked Magsaysay.
The feeling however, may pass…
What about Laurel?
If Laurel was a sick man before Magsaysay died, that does not mean that he is sick permanently. He may recover sufficiently to answer the call of duty. Already, there is a clamor, by Batanguenos and others, for drafting him for the highest office in the land. If the Nacionalista Party should nominate Laurel, how could he turn his back on the nomination? Laurel probably knows as much about economics as any man in public life; he has written a book on the subject. The main problem of the country is economic; Laurel, believe it or not, is an economist. He would cure the country’s ills! The sick man, assuming he is sick, would bring the republic economic health.
But how would Garcia feel about it?
In the struggle for power, the race for the presidency, a Nacionalista whom most Nacionalistas like – some because they owe him money – the head of the party, the president of the Senate, Eulogio Rodriguez, may come out as a dark horse. If Laurel should decide to run for prsident and Garcia insist on remaining as one, well, how better to preserve party unity than by nominating Rodriguez? Laurel might not like it, and Garcia would, of course, be furious, but what could “Amang” do? He must keep the party together, and the only way to do that would seem to be to run in place of Garcia or Laurel. A compromise is always better then a break. Truce is preferable to war.
Who would be “Amang’s” running-mate? Why not Sen. Emmanuel Pelaez, President Magsaysay’s fair-haired boy? More than once, the late idol of his people had expressed the hope that Pelaez, or a man like Pelaez, would succeed him. An “Amang” – Pelaez ticket would represent the greatest compromise of all; it would mean the wedding of the practical and the idealistic, people would say. The old and the young would be together; the Old Guard and the Young Turks would no longer be at war.
But a Rodriguez-Pelaez team must expect the bitterest opposition from Garcia. Who do they think he is: vice-president? For the information of all Philippines. Why should he stop being one? Why should he step aside for anybody? If he did not watch out, they would be proposing a Rodriguez-Garcia team as a compromise, with the President running for vice-president. Can anything be more painful, not to say ridiculous?
The Mayor of Manila, Arsenio H. Lacson, has indicated his availability for the presidency. He will run – if he can get anybody to nominate him, that is.
The Liberals have, doubtless, their own plans, or are cooking up one. The name of Jose Yulo, Quirino’s running-mate in the last presidential election, comes up now and then. He has money; election campaigns are expensive things. The Liberals need him, financially. Who else could pay their bills? But he is enjoying his retirement. Why take a chance?
The position of Garcia
Carlos Garcia is the President of the Philippines. Why should he let anybody else be? He became president because of an accident. The unexpected death of Roxas made Quirino president; when Avelino, who was much more popular in the Liberal Party than Ilocano, thought that Quirino should step aside for him—well, we know what happened to Avelino.
It is true that Garcia has only a few months to consolidate his new power, while Quirino had two years. But the opposition today is weak. Quirino faced the Nacionalists, whom the people thought the champions of good government; the Nacionalistas would save them from Quirino! Yet, Quirino won – no matter in what fashion – against Avelino and against the Nacionalistas. Quirino won, with a divided party, in spite of being probably the most unpopular man in the Philippines. He was the President, and the President has, behind him, all the power of the government.
Today, the opposition is confused, opportunistic, and nominal. The position of the Prsident remains what it was: a position of overwhelming strength. His party needs Garcia as muchas if not more than Garcia needs his party. The necessity is mutual. Who is the Nacionalista who will volunteer to tell Garcia not to run for president, to be a good boy and let Laurel, or “Amang,” be president in his place?
Garcia may be a poet; he isn’t crazy. Or, to put it another way, he wasn’t born yesterday. To ask Garcia to step aside for Laurel or Rodriguez or what-have-you would be equivalent to the attempt to get the late President Magsaysay to agree to six-year term without reelection when he was certain of two full terms, or a total pf eight years as president. It would be to insult the intelligence.
Garcia, as president, has the following advantages:
- The powers of the office.
- The venality of politicians.
- The need of the party.
- The weakness of the opposition.
Nacionalista reelectionists need the help of the President to feel sure of reelection. The Constitution has mane the President too powerful, constitutionalist like to complain. Well, the President is indeed powerful, and his party needs his cooperation if it would be certain of winning.
Pork barrel funds are released – upon order of the President. Who would vote for a Nacionalista if he had no pork barrel? Who would vote for a Liberal, for that matter? The pork barrel – that is decisive. And the President is sitting on it.
The opposition is weak. There is no need for an extraordinary political team to defeat it. if Garcia is a”non-descript” politician, as the magazine Time called him, he will do; what is decisive is not his personality but his position. He is sufficient unto the day, politically speaking. Nobody can beat him. If his own collegues in the party, that is, do not start rocking the boat. Even then….
“If you don’t want me, I don’t want you, Garcia could very well tell too-ambitious Nacionalistas. “If you hurt me, I will hurt you. And I can hurt you. If I go down, you go down. Well?”
If the Nacionalista Party does not nominate Garcia for president, what is to prevent Garcia from using the full strength of the government to make a non-Nacionalista candidate win? He could go over to Recto, in desperation. A deal could be made with the Liberals and Democrats. Having lost his party’s nomination for president, President Garcia would have nothing to lose, whatever he might do. He would be a dead duck, politically, if he stayed a good, because obedient, Nacionalista. But he could make trouble for his party – and perhaps, come out ahead.
Whatever happened, Garcia would have what the world of the duel would call “satisfaction.”
Jackals and Hyenas
Mayor Lacson of Manila, recovering from an operation for sinusitis, observed, on the death of Magsaysay:
“The jackals and hyenas will now fight and snap at each other for the privilege of devouring the country’s entrails.”
We do not know whether the Mayor was referring to all those who would be president of the Philippines, but we do know politics is a jungle. Anybody is fair game. There may be honor among thieves, but anything goes with politicians. Present company, of course, always excepted. There are men of honor in politics, we have no doubt. The fact remains that the rule in politics is: Each man for himself, and the Devil may take the hindmost. He who does not think of himself first will find himself subordinate to another. One man’s loss is another man’s gain, one man’s demotion another man’s promotion. There is no morality, only expediency, no friends, only followers.
It is better to be loved than to be feared, if all men were good, as Machiavelli once said. In the jungle of politics, it is better to be feared than loved – as one walks among the tigers and lions, if not jackals and hyenas, of that world.
Today, Garcia walks alone. It is better, if he would stay where he is, if he would not get hurt, to be feared by those who would take his place; meanwhile, it would do no harm if, while being feared by the ambitious, he manages to win the love of the people.
He has only a little time to do it.