The “Untimely Withdrawal” of Roger de la Rosa
By Quijano de Manila
EXPLODING ten days before E-Day, the opposition’s 50-megaton bomb has, during these last rapt days of the campaign, been spreading lethal fall-out—in the NP camp, say the LPs, who claim that the hysteria with which NP spokesmen reacted to the bomb betrayed how utterly the majority party was demoralized by it; in the LP camp, say the NPs, who claim that defections to the Garcia camp of some of Roger’s followers, with whom the LPs might have proved that politics is addition, indicate that the bomb may have blown up in the LP’s faces, because a lot of people, disgusted by it, have abandoned both Roger and Macapagal.
Both claims may be correct. It’s impossible, after all, of control the drift of fallout; and the opposition bomb could have caused damage in all the three camps involved. But the resonance of the explosion, the brilliance of the publicity, could have done the LPs no harm at all, being worth several months of campaigning and a million pesos’ worth of propaganda, focusing, as it did, national attention on the Liberals. And the beauty of it is that the NPs themselves helped whip up national interest in the LP show.
The LPs had the bomb ready by November 2, were set to detonate it, with grisly humor, on November 4, President Garcia’s birthday—but how get the public to wait agog for the explosion? To enhance the force of the bomb, public interest and suspense should precede it—but how build up the suspense? The LPs thought of putting ads in the papers bidding the public watch out for a terrific event, but the ad gimmick had been worked to death this election year: one more political ad promising a sensation might create no sensation at all.
Then providence stepped in. Somebody (the LPs suspect a disgruntled ex-adviser of Roger de la Rosa) leaked the news of Roger’s withdrawal to Malacañang. “And Malacañang,” happily grin the LPs, “did the rest.” The LPs have reason to describe initial NP reaction to the bomb as “hysterical,” for the first public announcement of it was made by radio news commentator Rafael Yabut, on November 3.
Mr. Yabut, never a tepid speaker to begin with, was more overwrought than usual as, with a shocked sob in his voice and much banging of his fists, he informed the nation that, even as he spoke, a dastardly plot was being laid, a monstrous deal was being consummated, and a presidential candidate was withdrawing from the race for unspeakable reasons, reasons that had driven the candidate’s wife, in disgust, to attempt suicide.
Mr. Yabut named no names, but everybody knew whom he was accusing of such fearful stratagems.
Mr. Yabut was followed by Malacañang Press Secretary Jose Nable, who, the next day, had even more lurid revelations to make.
Mr. Nable declared that:
“The presidential aspirant agreed to withdraw from the race in favor of the other candidate in consideration of the staggering amount of P500,000.
“In addition to the P500,000, the withdrawing candidate would be granted complete and absolute control of the Central Bank and the Commission of Customs, and the freedom to fill up any three Cabinet positions;
“The withdrawing candidate had proposed identical terms to President Garcia but President Garcia had rejected the proposal outright as he condemned the attempt to commercialize the highest post in the gift of our people, and bluntly told this particular candidate that the post of president can never be for sale;
“As a result of this withdrawal, and after failing to dissuade her husband, the wife of the withdrawing candidate took poison and was committed to a private hospital.”
Mr. Nable had taken the trouble to dig up all these horrors so that “the entire Filipino people” might be warned against “this great conspiracy” against them.
Cried Mr. Nable, aghast:
“The Judas in Philippine politics, who has all this time campaigned and posed as the champion of the common people, will betray the very masses whom he swore to defend and protect. The Biblical sale of Christ for 30 pieces of silver has found its counterpart in the twentieth century.”
And he branded this attempt by the withdrawing candidate “to deliver to a political ally the votes that were entrusted to him by a trusting electorate” as “the most unique in double-cross,” apparently forgetting that the Nacionalistas had nothing but praise for Ambassador Romulo when Mr. Romulo withdrew from the presidential race in 1953 to support the Nacionalista candidate. Did not Mr. Romulo, too, deliver to a political ally the votes entrusted to him by a trusting electorate—or is sauce for the goose applesauce for the gander?
Nor should Mr. Nable be so worried that this “unholy alliance” has brought about “a national shame that mars the good name of our country before the eyes of the nations of the world.” Politics is understood to be naughty everywhere in the world; even in such a civilized country as the United States, a politician of the stature of Mr. Richard Nixon, who is planning to run for governor of his state, can be and was recently accused of trying to persuade, with a very juicy deal, the incumbent governor not to run again—and the Americans are not exactly hanging their heads in shame.
Moreover, Mr. Nable’s use of such epithets as “Judas” and “double-cross” are so passionate one begins to wonder if the passion is really in behalf of the voters whom, after all, the Nacionalistas have always contemptuously characterized as the ignorant fans of a movie idol. To call somebody “Judas” is to imply that he was the confidant of whomever he betrayed; and the term “double-cross” presupposes a shady deal. Was Mr. Nable trying to say that a third party—of whom Roger was a confidant and with whom he had a deal—had been made a fool of?
Mr. Nable’s metaphorical language is rather obscure; Roger himself is more forthright. At the November 4 press conference he remarked casually: “The rumor is that Malacañang paid me to run.” Roger dismissed the rumor as just a rumor; so why should Mr. Nable persist in hinting that a Dr. Frankenstein was assaulted by his own creature?
The story is that whoever was helping finance Roger’s campaign got scared and furious when Roger started invading the South; so the subsidy stopped. The break may be roughly dated about three weeks ago, after Amang Rodriguez had bluntly declared: “At this stage of the campaign, De la Rosa is getting more votes from Garcia than from Macapagal.”
And at this stage of the game, do all the NP innocents whose sense of honor has been so deeply outraged have to be told that politics is rough and dirty and that little boys who play with fire can get burned?
The Yabut broadcast started a run on the bank. From noon of November 3, the bakya-and-salakot crowd began storming Roger’s house, wanting to know if his slogan—“We Shall Return To Malacañang With Roger De La Rosa As President”—had indeed shrunk to a starker notice: “No Returns, No Refunds.”
His henchmen say they were afraid there would be trouble that night, so ugly was the temper of the idol’s fans. The early-evening crowd, mostly from the suburbs, eventually dispersed; but by two o-clock in the morning another crowd, from more distant hinterlands, had formed in front of the senator’s gate and was demanding to be let in. These indignant visitors were admitted and staged what practically amounted to a sit-down strike in the large nipa house on the senator’s lawn.
“Let us not move from here,” said they, “until he himself comes and tells us what he really intends to do.”
Noon came, and they were still there, squatting inside the nipa house and along the driveway, but their leader had still not appeared to them.
Only a few of them were allowed inside the senator’s residence, and there they found not Roger but his brother Jaime, who, when asked about Roger, replied with a scathing attack on the administration.
One thing must be said for Roger: he really drew the peasant crowd, for the faces one saw on his lawn that morning had the look of the Philippine earth: burned black by the sun and gnarled by misery. The men were in cheap polo shirts, the women in shapeless camisolas. It was obvious they had dressed in a hurry. One heard that this one had come all the way from Quezon, that one all the way from Cagayan; a man said he had flown in from Mindanao. All had a common complaint: why did they have to learn about this from Yabut? Why hadn’t Roger taken them into his confidence? They all claimed to be volunteer workers who had used their own money to spread Roger’s cause. If Roger backed out, they would lose face. How could they return to their barrios if they had lost face?
They all clung to the hope that all this was but more “black propaganda.” Their boy had not withdrawn; or if he was thinking of doing so, they would persuade him to continue the fight: let him but appear before them.
A cry rose up:
“Matalong lumalaban, huwag matalong umuurong (To go down fighting, not to go down retreating)!”
Had he lost heart because he had run out of funds? There was still some money they could scrape up among themselves; one man said he had already contributed P3,000 and was willing to contribute more; after all, there were only ten days left of the campaign. It didn’t matter if Roger was a sure loser.
“Let the votes we cast for him,” cried a bespectacled woman from Binangonan, “be a clear picture for 1965!”
The cheers that greeted this seemed to indicate that the Roger extravaganza would, by insistent public request, be extended for another ten days. Poor deluded rustics who did not know that the decision had already been made! They could cheer and argue and weep all they wanted; they were standing outside a closed door. Their fate was being settled, without their knowledge, in other rooms of other houses behind other doors, while they offered their very blood to the cause.
But as the day climbed toward noon and no Roger showed up, hope became feebler, the mutterings became darker. Inside the nipa house and all over the driveway, angry knots of disciples debated what to do.
Some said they would still vote for Roger, even if he had withdrawn, even if their votes should be “nulo.” Others cried that Roger could commit himself but not them to another candidate. The angriest spoke bitterly about the quality of Pampango blood and swore that they would, in protest, go over to the Garcia camp. A few still wistfully hoped that Roger would come and tell them that the show would go on.
By five that afternoon, the hope was dead. Roger had appeared on TV, with Macapagal; the withdrawal had been announced, the change of stand had been made.
That night, Roger’s house stood dark and silent. Gone were the noisy folk who had filled the lawn all day. The angry ones made good their threat and went over to the Garcia camp that very night. The undecided ones crept back to their barrios, wondering how to save face. The trip back must have been agonizing: whichever way they looked they saw that handsome face smiling from posters, from billboards, from streamers hung across roads, promising Malacañang to all these pathetic folk who had hitched their carretelas to a star.
They did not know it, but they had been looking up that day at a dead star, a star that had ceased to exist days before, though seemingly “still in its appointed place in the heavens,” a star that had, in fact, begun to fade away two weeks before, in mid-October, which was when negotiations started between he Roger and Macapagal camps.
The initial feelers were made by two men who are, like Roger and Macapagal, from Lubao; all four were boys together. In Roger’s camp was Atty. Antonio Ybarra, his legal adviser, who had begun to feel that carrying on the fight was futile. In Macapagal’s camp, the contact man was former Pampanga governor Jose Lingad, whose intent, at first, was merely to effect a reconciliation between Roger and Macapagal. The two had been like brothers since boyhood; Lingad felt that even politics should not have turned them into mortal enemies. Why could they not continue to be friends though rivals? When Lingad discovered that Roger, faced by a financial crisis in his campaign, might not only be willing to re-establish friendship but might even be persuaded to back out in favor of Macapagal, what had started as a peacemaking mission turned into a frantic political operation.
Two more men entered the picture: Jaime de la Rosa from Roger’s camp; Amelito Mutuc from Macapagal’s camp. Lingad continued to be the liaison man, traveling from one camp to another, following the two candidates to the field, and sending back to Manila coded messages on the progress of the negotiations.
The strategists named their project Operation Rabbit; to ensure secrecy they have every participant a code name. Macapagal and Roger were respectively referred to as Oscar and Cesar, the names they had used in zarzuela days; Ybarra was called Paul (because he warbles in the Paul Anka manner); Lingad was dubbed Bob Steele (because he looks like a brawny cowboy); and Amelito Mutuc, over his indignant protests, was named Nehru. Mutuc says that the others could never remember his code name; one time he sent Lingad a telegram signed Nehru and Lingad wired back: Who the hell is Nehru?
Negotiations were going smoothly when something happened that almost blew them up: two sisters of Roger, Africa and Gloria, suddenly decided to come out in favor of Macapagal and campaign for him. Later, people would put two and two together and hazard the guess that the decision of the sisters was part of the plot to capture Roger and should have been read as a portent of Roger’s withdrawal; but the organizer’s of Operation Rabbit say that they had nothing to do with the decision of the sisters and were, in fact, more dismayed than delighted by it. For Roger flared up and accused them of bad faith, of continuing the war against him even while discussing peace terms. “Look,” he said, “you’re even using my sisters against me!”
He was finally convinced that what had happened was a fortuitous coincidence, and Operation Rabbit went on. His two sisters were turned over to LP campaign manager Taning Fernandez, who was soon heard loudly wailing: “Now I have three prima donas on my hands—Lacson and the two De la Rosa sisters!”
After two weeks of long-distance, proxy talks, Roger agreed to a face-to-face meeting with Lingad and Mutuc. The site chosen was Ybarra’s house, which is in a wild lonely hinterland of Quezon City. The appointment was for Halloween night, but Roger, who was campaigning in Laguna, did not show up until two in the morning. He came with his brother Jaime. Waiting up for him were Ybarra, Lingad and Mutuc.
The two LP men at first kept the talk on Roger’s campaign, praising his ability to draw the masses. Says Mutuc: “Roger is a sentimental man and is really sincere about wanting to improve the conditions of the masses. Talk to him about them and he softens up. Then it’s easy to reason with him.”
They asked him what his conditions would be for withdrawing. Roger said he wanted his program of government to be adopted by Macapagal, no retaliation against his men, and the promise that he could continue to do what he had been doing: acting as a “bridge” between the people and the government. He made one tangible demand: that he be given a higher place in the LP hierarchy.
Mutuc scoffs at the rumors that the withdrawal was a financial bargain: “As a matter of fact, I felt sure that one of Roger’s conditions would be reimbursement of his campaign expenses, but he didn’t even ask for that.”
Mutuc says that Roger said that he was impelled to consider withdrawing from the race by the thought of his followers: he himself was not afraid of defeat but he did not relish the thought that he was surely leading his followers to defeat; by leading them into the Macapagal camp, he felt he was leading them to victory. Roger, it seems, has been misunderstood by those of his followers who thought he had betrayed them: what he did, he did for their sake.
The conference broke up at dawn, with Roger assuring the LP men that he was ready to withdraw the moment Macapagal accepted his conditions. Mutuc at once sent a telegram to Macapagal, who was in Iligan City: “Operation Rabbit successful. Bob Steele flying to see you.”
Lingad booked passage on a plane and was at the airport at seven that morning. November 1. The plan was that he was to brief Macapagal on what had happened, then fly back to Manila with Macapagal the following day, for the signing of the pact. The withdrawal would be announced that very day, after Roger and Macapagal had signed the pact.
But toward seven in the evening of November 1, Mutuc almost collapsed from surprise when Macapagal walked in. Mutuc lives in Forbes Park; Macapagal had gone there from the airport, was still in his campaign cap and jacket. Nobody knew he was in town.
“But where’s Lingad?” asked Mutuc.
“I don’t know,” replied Macapagal. “I just got his telegram.”
It turned out that Lingad, who was merely a chance passenger on the plane, had not been able to get a seat and didn’t go to Mindanao at all. He had merely sent Macapagal a wire bidding him come to Manila at once. How secret Operation Rabbit was kept may be deduced from the difficulties Lingad had in determining where to send the telegram. He called up LP headquarters for a schedule of Macapagal’s Mindanao tour but the LPs at the headquarters, not knowing that Lingad was on an important mission, refused to tell him where Macapagal was. Lingad had to find out for himself, correctly sent the telegram to Sindangan, Zamboanga del Norte. Macapagal had just arrived there when the wire came; he at once boarded the plane again and flew off to Manila.
Macapagal told Mutuc that he wanted the pact signed that very night if possible because he had to go back to Mindanao the next day for very important rallies. But the pact could not be prepared without Ybarra and Lingad, and Mutuc could not locate them either. Whenever he called up Ybarra, Ybarra’s phone was busy.
“Everything,” sighs Mutuc, “seemed to be happening to me that day!”
Macapapgal, impatient, rushed off to his own house, to greet his wife. It was her birthday and he had a very nice present for her: the news that Roger was practically set to withdraw.
Mutuc finally drove over to Ybarra’s house; he found nobody at home and the telephone receiver improperly hooked: that was why it had been buzzing all the time. He learned that Ybarra and Lingad had both gone home to Lubao, to spend All Saints Day there. He wired them to return at once.
They arrived at two in the morning and, with Mutuc, began drafting the joint manifesto of Roger and Macapagal, the separate statements of each, and the letter to the Commission on Elections. To polish the grammar and give the documents a literary tone, they summoned a veteran workhorse of the Liberal Party: Hermie Atienza.
By five a.m., the papers were ready, Macapagal was called up and came running. Over breakfast, he went over and revised the drafts. Then Ybarra and Lingad rushed them over to Roger’s house, with instructions that they were to be signed at once because Macapagal had to fly back South at ten that morning.
But ten o’clock struck and the emissaries had still not returned. Then word came that Roger had asked for two more days, to consult his leaders, and that he wanted a “confrontation meeting” with Macapagal that noon.
Macapagal decided to defer his trip and consented to the meeting.
He waited in a bedroom of Ybarra’s house, with Lingad, Ybarra and Mutuc. The vice-president was moody and nervous. He said to the three men with him:
“You are close to me, Pepe, and you, Tony, and you, Mel. But I tell you: no one is as close to me as Roger. It nearly broke my heart that the one closest to me should be the one to oppose my bid for the presidency.”
Roger and Jaime de la Rosa arrived and were shown up to the bedroom.
“Pare!” cried Roger when he saw Macapagal.
“Pare!” cried Macapagal as he strode toward Roger.
The two men fell into each other’s arms and burst into tears. The brothers-in-law have, since they grew up, been calling each other pare, being compadres.
The rest of the group left the room, leaving the two erstwhile rivals alone. They had a lot of unburdening to do. They were alone together for an hour, were red-eyed from weeping when they finally called back the others.
Mrs. Ybarra sent lunch up to the bedroom—a festive lauriat she had ordered from a restaurant—but her guests were much too excited to eat. Macapagal said all he could take was boiled eggs.
As he was peeling the eggs he said: “Just look, even this habit of mine of eating boiled eggs, I got from Roger. When I was a sickly body he told me I should eat boiled eggs—and I’ve been doing so ever since.”
Suddenly he began to shake with laughter, leaning toward Roger: “Remember when you and I—the eggs?”
Roger began to roar with laughter too: “And the neighbors chased us?
They had been boys together and this was one of many private memories: one day they had picked up some eggs from a neighbor’s yard and almost got caught.
At three in the afternoon they parted, after another embrace and more tears; and Macapagal flew back to Mindanao. He had managed to sneak away to Manila without making the newsmen in his entourage suspect that something was afoot. The inquisitive ones were told that he had merely gone to greet his wife on her birthday.
Three days later, on November 4, he was back in Manila. After four that afternoon, he and Roger stood side by side before the TV cameras, announcing to the nation that the Pampangos were solid again. The monster bomb had gone off.
Everybody agrees that the timing of the bomb was terrific, though the NPs can be forgiven for saying that the day chosen, President Garcia’s birthday, revealed the quality of the minds behind the bomb.
The most explosive announcement of this pre-election period was made in a studio of the ABS Station, before a crowd of newsmen and jubilant LPs.
Macapagal arrived first, looking exultant, in light-violent trousers and a silk-colored baro embroidered all over with the LP shield. He strode to the row of newsmen and shook hands with all of them. “I can’t get over the habit, you know,” he quipped.
Lacson was there, and Senator Marcos, and Hermie Atienza, in one of his old suits. Hermie Atienza is one politico who has not been converted to the barong Tagalog; he persists in wearing prewar suits—and do they look prewar. Malicious folk, observing his frayed cuffs and lapels, remark: “The LP really should win, if only so Hermie can buy himself new suits.” But Hermie says that, after his party wins, he will have to give up suits and adopt the baro: “Macapagal says that coats like this one I’m wearing have too many pockets!”
Applause greeted the entrance of Roger, and a shock of surprise, for with him was his wife Lota. She looked like a Garbo, in a dark-chocolate frock and a severe hairdo, the hair swept tight from her face and knotted into a bun that crowned her head. Pale and grave, stark and statuesque, she drew all eyes and necessitated a revision of the program. She said she wanted to speak.
(The joke then current was that Lota had been deeply upset by Roger’s “untimely withdrawal.”)
Roger was in gray trousers and a white shirt with thin check-stripes in blue, and he looked very quiet and serious too, speaking in a very low, often inaudible voice.
“After deep soul-searching, I have come to the firm conclusion that the only way we can effect a change for the better in the life of our people is to unite against the present administration. I have thus decided to withdraw my candidacy for the presidency of the Philippines in favor of Vice-President Macapagal.
“Believe me, my friends, my decision was not easy to reach. It means a great personal sacrifice for me and my wife, and for thousands of our friends, sympathizers and supporters who have fought for what we believed to be a just and rightful cause: the cause of the common tao.
“But even the noblest idealism must give way to the unbreakable wall of realism.
“Divided, the opposition will fall; united, it will triumph.
“The presidency, however exalted the office, is and should merely be an instrument for the achievement of the public good. It should never be proclaimed or seen as an end in itself.
“What have I proved during these months that I have been campaigning for the presidency? This: that the masses are no longer the docile, helpless creatures that the political bosses take them to be. They are no longer content to play a passive role, taking what comes as their fate. They are ready and willing to take political action. This I have learned in the few months of my presidential campaign; and to those who seek to betray the people, I say, beware of their power.
“I will not stoop low to answer at this solemn moment the malicious and evil propaganda that are being spread about this decision I have taken. Suffice it to say that my conscience is absolutely and clearly satisfied that this is the best that could be done for our fatherland. Let our people and history be the ultimate judge.”
Macapagal praised the “patriotic step” Roger had taken. “United Opposition victory is doubly assured,” cried he. “This marks the end of the venal Nacionalista regime!”
Then Lota de la Rosa joined her husband and Macapagal at the table in front of the cameras to speak for herself. Her voice is deep, husky and emotional; whenever she mentioned her husband she turned her face toward him.
“I have decided to appear here this afternoon because of ugly rumors that have been spread to the effect that I am opposed to my husband’s decision to withdraw. This is not true. His decision is my decision.
“Some people, in their evil desire to destroy us, have spread the yarn that I have tried to take my life because of this decision. This is nothing but a lie—a monstrous, evil lie.
“It is true, my friends, that I have been to a hospital. But it was due to my low blood pressure, aggravated by the fatigue and exhaustion caused by the rigors or the campaign. That malicious people in the pay of the powers-that-be have dared distort this fact is evidence of the extent to which they will go in order to continue holding on to that power.”
Afterwards, Roger was interrogated by the newsmen. Did he think his withdrawal enhanced Macapagal’s chances of winning? “As far as I am concerned,” he replied, “the elections are over.” What did he think of Malacañang folk’s comments on his withdrawal? “Tell them,” said he, “to start packing.” And he said he would file libel charges against certain of those folk.
As he spoke, his brother Jaime and his sisters Gloria and Africa stood in the background weeping. Theirs was the only show of emotion during this TV spectacle in which one felt rather than actually saw the drama, watching those two brothers-in-law together again under the spotlights, who had spent their youth together before the spotlights.
Yet the brilliance of the spectacle only heightened the darkness of the mysteries behind it, mysteries that promise more bombs and explosions, mysteries that include two foreigners, one accused of having put up the money for the withdrawal, the other suspected of having leaked the news of the withdrawal to Malacañang. The NPs are especially incensed against the former, having apparently forgotten all the Americans involved in their capture of the Palace in 1953. The LPs are talking deportation too, being wrathful against the other foreigner, whom they believe to have been Roger’s “evil genius,” the one who lured him away from the Liberals.
But the most attentive spectator of that TV spectacle must have been the man in whose honor and on whose birthday it was staged. Down in Tagbilaran, President Garcia turned 65, had a birthday cake, got a kiss from his wife, another kiss from an impetuous lady physician, was at home all day to hundreds of well-wishers. His leaders say that he was undisturbed by the Roger withdrawal, so unconcerned by it that he even laughed merrily as he discussed it with his leaders—at three o’clock in the morning.
The LP bomb seems to have been a multiple birthday present—for President Garcia, who celebrated on November 4; for Mrs. Macapagal, who celebrated on November 1, even for Roger himself, who celebrates on November 12. All these people believe that the bomb increased their respective parties’ chances of winning.
All are sure that the birthday bomb will result in a joyful message on November 14:
“Many happy returns!”