Quezon and Osmeña
From a former Free Press associate editor come these recollections of two Philippine presidents.
By Frederic S. Marquardt
December 15, 1962—SERGIO Osmeña’s long life was filled with many great services to his country, but none of them surpassed his voluntary relinquency of the presidency of the Philippines in the fall of the war year of 1943. That office was the goal of his political life. He undoubtedly wanted it more than anything else. But he gave up the presidency to which he was legally entitled. If history records a similar example of self-abnegation in any nation in the world, it has escaped my attention.
Perhaps the closest parallel in American history is to be found in the case of William Tecumseh, a Civil War general who was asked to run for the presidency. Because of his tremendous personal popularity, a move was started to draft him for the post. In terms of utter finality, General Sherman said, “If nominated, I will not run. If elected, I will not serve.”
But Osmeña went even farther. He gave up the presidency after having been, in effect, elected to it. He signed away his right to the chief magistracy, when all he had to do was remain silent and the mantle of power would have fallen to him. He gave up what was rightfully his, in the interest of Philippine unity during time of war.
The story really began when the Philippine Constitution was drawn up. Although neither Manuel Quezon nor Sergio Osmeña was a delegate to the constitutional convention, they agreed with a charter provision limiting the presidential tenure to one term of six years. Quezon was elected president, Osmeña vice-president. They assumed office on November 15, 1935, the day on which the Commonwealth of the Philippines was officially proclaimed.
I covered the constitutional convention for the Free Press, and attended many of its sessions. It was always my opinion, although I could never prove it, that Governor-General Frank Murphy, who later became a justice on the US Supreme Court, planted the seed of the single six-year term. He also was responsible for the unicameral legislature that was written into the Philippine Constitution—and abandoned shortly after he left the Philippines.
It didn’t take much longer for opposition to mount against the single six-year term for president. There was a general feeling that it would be a mistake to rob the Philippines of the service of President Quezon, its most distinguished son and most gifted political leader. If the constitutional provision were carried out, politicians argued, it would be impossible for Quezon to be president when the Philippines achieved independence on July 4, 1946. So powerful was Quezon’s hold on his people that Independence Day without Quezon as president would have been like a wedding ceremony without a bridegroom.
So the Constitution was changed, to fix the term of president at four years and to prevent anyone from holding the office for more than eight consecutive years. It was generally understood that Quezon and Osmeña would be reelected for four-year terms in 1941. Quezon’s eight consecutive years would be up on November 15, 1943. he would step aside on that date and Osmeña would be president for two years. Then Quezon could be reelected in the 1945 elections, and he would be president when Independence Day arrived on July 4, 1946.
Things didn’t work out that way. The Quezon-Osmeña team was reelected in November, 1941, but the votes had hardly been counted before the Philippines was at war with Japan. President Quezon and Vice-President Osmeña went to Corregidor with General Douglas MacArthur, and early in 1942 made their way to Washington to establish a Philippine government in exile.
By the summer of 1943 it became evident that the Philippine presidential issue would have to be resolved. Japanese propaganda broadcasts were proclaiming that Quezon had been forced to go to the United States, and was in fact being held in Washington against his will. If Osmeña should become president, as would happen unless the constitutional limitation on the presidential term were changed, the Japanese would claim Quezon had been stripped of authority by his alleged friends, the Americans. Of course, the Japanese propaganda mills would also work the other way. If Osmeña did not become president, Radio Tokyo would say the Philippine Constitution had been altered at the behest of the US government.
A few days before the November 15, 1943, deadline, the US Congress passed a bill providing Quezon would remain president and Osmeña vice-president until their terms ended in 1945. Congressional authority to act in the matter was based on American sovereignty in the Philippines, which would run until 1946. However, such a distinguished authority as George A. Malcolm, long-time member of the Philippine Supreme Court, described the congressional action as “constitutionally indefensible” in his book, First Malayan Republic.
The bill to keep Quezon in the presidency passed the Senate unanimously, but 150 members of the House of Representatives voted against it, largely because they were opposed to allowing any president to serve more than eight years and they hoped, somehow, to stave off the bid for a fourth term that President Roosevelt was obviously going to make in 1944.
Just how was this critical decision in Philippine history made? I heard the entire story from the lips of the two major participants, Quezon and Osmeña, in Washington late in November, 1943. I had just been appointed Chief of the US Office of War Information in the Southwest Pacific, and was on my way to join General MacArthur’s headquarters in Australia. I made courtesy calls on both the President and the Vice-President. A verbatim copy of the notes I made after those conferences appears with this article. I believe it is fitting to retell this important chapter of Philippine history in the exact words that I used after talking with the two principal participants nearly 20 years ago.
Notes on a talk with Vice-President Osmeña at the Twenty-Four Hundred Hotel in Washington, Saturday, November 27, 1943
I called on Vice-President Osmeña in his hotel suite and opened the conversation by telling him what I thought the Filipinos in Washington deserved to be congratulated for having so amicably disposed of their differences. I said that unity seemed to me to be essential, and I realized that he had made unity possible by his action in the matter of presidential succession.
“I asked him to let me know exactly what he wanted to do in this case,” said Osmeña. “I said I would study the matter and that if I could conscientiously agree with him, it would be the best for all of us if we presented a unified front.
“Well, Mr. Quezon said that he didn’t believe the Constitution was applicable to our government, since it was no longer operative in the Philippines. I told him that id dint agree with the interpretation, since everything we had done was under the Constitution. We were, in fact, spending the people’s money because of the authority of the Constitution, and I could not agree that ours was merely an interim government. I thought it was the legitimate government of the Philippines. But I said that we could easily refer the matter to the department of the interior, the state department or the attorney general’s office.
“After I was out of the hospital we talked about the matter again and President Quezon said that he felt that President Roosevelt should intervene and use his emergency powers to settle the question of succession. He had apparently consulted some lawyers because he quoted Civil War precedents under President Lincoln.”
As I remember it, Osmeña did not agree with the interpretation of law either. At all events, many times during the conversation he made it clear that he always felt that Congress should act in the matter, since Congress alone had authority to alter the Tydings-McDuffie law. He also said that the attorney-general had given an opinion to the effect that President Roosevelt could not extend President Roosevelt’s term of office.
Mr. Osmeña then told me of a long conversation he had with Secretary of War Stimson. “Since the restoration of our government depended upon the United States military power,” Osmeña said, “I wanted to find out what the responsible American officials thought about it. Stimson kept me in his office for about an hour and a half. There were a lot of generals and chiefs of staff waiting to see him, but when I tried to break away he told me to stay. I told him I didn’t want to be responsible for losing a battle, and he laughed.
“Stimson painted a very compelling picture of the entire war, starting with Pearl Harbor. He told me that one great aim of the United States was to recapture the Philippines and give the Filipinos their real independence. I told him I was glad to hear that pledge repeated, although of course it had been made many times and I had never doubted it. He said that in defeating Japan the United States needed the help of the Filipinos, all of them, and that he hoped President Quezon and I would be able to help, and not only one of us, as would happen if Quezon should be replaced as president by me. I told him that I was anxious for unity too, but I asked him now, assuming that I agreed that Mr. Quezon was to remain as president, it could be done. I told him there were certain legal obstacles to be considered. He said that wasn’t in his province, and that the method of settling the issue would have to be left to the legalists, but he made it very clear that he wanted both Mr. Quezon and myself to continue in our offices as a war measure.”
At a later point in the conversation, Osmeña, referring back to this conversation, said Stimson had said that two men were essential in the reconquest of the Philippines—MacArthur and Quezon.
Osmeña then referred to the letter that Quezon had written President Roosevelt asking that he be kept in office. He asked me if I were acquainted with it, and I said yes. “One day,” said Osmeña, “Quezon called me over to the Shoreham and said, ‘Well, they’re going to throw me out in the street.’ I could see he was depressed so I asked him what made him say that. He had sent me a copy of the letter, as a matter of courtesy, but had not asked me to comment on it, so I had said nothing. If he had asked for my advice, however, I should have told him not to send the letter, as its arguments were very weak. ‘I sent a letter to the White House two weeks ago,’ he said, ‘and they haven’t even acknowledged it. They want to get rid of me.’ Well, I knew that Mr. Quezon had come out of the Philippines against his best judgment, because he was sick, but I assured him no one was trying to get rid of him. To make him feel better, I said I had tried to get an appointment with President Roosevelt but hadn’t received an answer. I said the President was very busy. I also said that I had no intention of throwing Mr. Quezon out. I told him that I had long since told mutual friends that if I should become president I would make Mr. Quezon head of a council of state and would ask him to stay in the Shoreham and retain all the perquisites of his present office. I didn’t want to move in that big hotel suite. This place is fine for me.”
The vital question, it seemed, was one of procedure. Although Osmeña apparently at no time gave his outright consent to a blanket plan of letting Quezon stay in office, he was willing to discuss any method by which it could be done. Finally, he said, he talked to Judge Sam Rosenman, presidential aide, who was handling the case for the White House. “Judge Rosenman wanted us to petition Congress to act,” Osmeña said. “I told him that if that was a request of President Roosevelt’s, of course, I would comply. A little later he called me up and said his office had drafted a letter that he was sure I would be satisfied with, and that he wanted Mr. Quezon and me to sign it. He said President Quezon had the copy. I went to Shoreham and Mr. Quezon read me the letter. But it wasn’t the one I had expected, that is one from the President asking us to take the question to Congress. Rather it was just a letter from the two of us asking Congress to act. I told Mr. Quezon I couldn’t sign it. He said he had already committed himself. I said I was sorry, but I couldn’t sign it. So he called a meeting of the Cabinet.
“He spoke to us at some length, lying there in his bed, about the whole question, and then asked for our opinions. He asked me if I wanted to be heard and I presented my side of the question. Then he said he wanted the opinion of his Cabinet members. First he called on [Jaime] Hernandez, who as auditor-general would remain in the Cabinet by law, whether I took office or not. Hernandez spoke in a very low voice for a minute or two then said, ‘This is a very vital matter, and I would like a little time to think it over.’ Then Mr. Quezon said, ‘Well, I see the Cabinet is divided. In that case, my decision is made. I have rented a home in California and I shall leave here on November 14. Mr. Osmeña will become president on the 15th. This is the final Cabinet meeting. It’s good-bye to all of you.’ They all walked out and I went to the elevator with them. Then I returned to the President’s bedroom and told him I wanted to think things over and I would see him in the morning. I thought he might change his mind. But when I saw him the next morning, he was as determined as ever.
“‘I’m disgusted with it all, and I’ll have no more to do with it,’ Mr. Quezon said.
“‘Does that stop me from settling the case?’ I asked him.
“‘No, you can go ahead and do what you like,’ he said.
“‘All right, I said, ‘but I want one promise from you. I want you to let me handle it entirely alone. Please don’t call up anyone or do anything about it.’
“‘I’ll promise that,’ Mr. Quezon said. ‘You can do anything you like. I’ll have no more to do with it.’
“Then I said that since the White House had refused to intervene, I intended to take the matter up with Senator [Millard W.] Tydings. I outlined three possible courses of action.”
I’m not sure now what one of these three courses was. One was for Congress to suspend the running of all terms of office of all Philippine officials, the terms to recommence running one month after the retaking of the Philippines. The last was to extend the present terms of office, or rather to keep Quezon and Osmeña in their present positions.
Osmeña also said that when he could not get a letter from President Roosevelt requesting him to submit the matter to Congress, he would have been satisfied with a similar letter from the secretary of war. Apparently, however, he failed to get such a letter, or perhaps he didn’t try for one.
At all events, he talked at great length of Tydings, who said that of his three plans, only the final one could be pushed through Congress, and then only if he and President Quezon would sign the request for it. So he asked Tydings to help on the draft, they revised it, and then Osmeña took it to the Cabinet. After a few changes, the Cabinet approved it, all of them initialed it, and he took it to President Quezon, who promptly agreed to sign it.
Then it went to Congress, and the Senate passed it unanimously, but there were more than 150 votes against it in the Lower House after a particularly hot debate. Osmeña could undoubtedly have killed the bill in the Lower House had he expressed any disapproval of it.
It should be added that Roosevelt’s refusal to take any part in the business was undoubtedly due to the 1944 presidential campaign. He would have been charged with perpetuating one presidency fiat as a prelude to perpetuating his own.
Notes on a talk with President Quezon at the Shoreham Hotel on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1943
President Quezon had asked me to see him regarding the possibility of taking a job with the Commonwealth government. I explained that I was going to Australia for OWI, and we discussed the situation in Australia briefly.
I was talking about the radio propaganda now being directed at the Philippines, and mentioned that the presidential succession, whereby Quezon and Osmeña were kept in their present positions for the duration, had been treated in a simple, factual manner in the broadcasts to the Philippines. I went on to say that I thought the manner in which the Filipino government in exile had worked out its problem in unison contrasted sharply with the de Gaulle-Girard rift in the French Committee of Liberation, and with the various Cabinet crises in the Polish and Yugoslav governments in exile. Then Quezon broke in and said, “I’m going to tell you some history.”
He recalled that last May President Roosevelt had told him he wanted him to remain as president of the government after November 15, the day on which, according to the Philippine Constitution, he should retire in favor of Osmeña. “I told the President not to take any action without first consulting Osmeña,” said Quezon to me. “For I earlier had spoken to Osmeña and told him we should settle this question among ourselves. I told him that if he thought he had a right to the office, he should let me know and we should work it out without asking anyone in the United States government to intervene. He agreed.
“Well, last summer when I was in Saranac, some people apparently convinced Osmeña that he should have the office according to legal right.”
Earlier Quezon had explained to me at length that he did not believe the Constitution was operative in the present emergency, since the Tydings-McDuffie Law provided the President should authority in the Philippines, and obviously he had no such authority. “I am the President of half a dozen men, not of the Philippines,” he had said laughingly.
In the fall, when he returned from Saranac, he wanted President Roosevelt to intervene and use his emergency powers to keep him in office. (In this connection, when I saw Quezon late in October, he had me read a six-page letter he had sent President Roosevelt asking him to settle the issue and giving the reasons for which he thought he should be kept in office.) Osmeña wanted Congress to act on the matter. Finally, a few days before November 15, Congress did act, on the basis of a letter signed by Quezon, Osmeña and the Philippine Cabinet.
“Rosenman [Sam Rosenman, White House adviser] called me up one night about that letter,” Quezon told me. “He said Osmeña had agreed to sign it if I would, and he read a draft of it. I told him I wouldn’t sign it. He asked me to think it over and consult Tydings, Stimson and others and let him know in the morning. I told him I wouldn’t have to think it over. I wouldn’t sign it.
“Well, the next morning Stimson came in and showed me the letter and asked me to sign it. I said I couldn’t. He said, ‘That’s your Spanish pride, Don Manuel.’ I said, ‘I resent that, Governor!’ He laughed and recalled I was talking the same way I did when he was governor-general and I stood by him on liberalizing the corporation laws, when every other Filipino opposed him. I said it wasn’t pride, but simply a matter of dignity. I wasn’t a jobseeker, and never had been one. I wasn’t going to sign a letter to Congress now begging for a job.
“Then Stimson said, ‘I’m asking you to sign the letter because we need you in the war effort, and we need you at the head of the government. It’s your duty.’
“So I said, ‘Then I’ll sign it. I have never yet failed to do my patriotic duty. If Osmeña will sign it, I will.’
“So I thought it was all settled, but that afternoon Osmeña came and said he couldn’t sign the letter and he didn’t think he should.”
Quezon didn’t make clear why Osmeña was opposed to signing the letter. But during another telephone conversation with Quezon, Rosenman said, “What’s the matter with you fellows? When Osmeña wants to sign, you don’t. and when you want to sign, he doesn’t.”
Then Quezon told me, “So I called a meeting of the Cabinet. When they were all here, I told them that I hadn’t wanted to sign the letter, but when the secretary of war told me it was my duty to do so I had agreed. However, Sergio wouldn’t sign it.”
He rested for a few seconds in his bed, where he had been during the entire interview, then said with his customary dramatic flourish, “So I said, ‘Gentlemen, I’m through.’ I turned to Hernandez [Jaime Hernandez, secretary of finance] and said, ‘Fix up a complete financial report for my term of office.’ Then I said, ‘Rotor [Arturo B. Rotor, private secretary], get all my papers for me.’ And then to all of them, I said, ‘I’m leaving here on the 14th.’”
He smiled and said, “Osmeña came over quickly and said he’d sign the paper. So did everyone else. And that’s how it happened.”
Then he paid tribute to the statement issued by Osmeña regarding the unity of the Filipinos, and saying it was a pity it had not received more publicity in this country. He didn’t feel, however, that it was of any particular propaganda value in the Philippines.
There was one other statement of particular interest in the conversation. Toward the close, Quezon said, “Marquardt, there’s one thing I want you to remember, and to spread publicly and privately when the time comes. I’m a sick man, and I may die, but I want everyone to know what a wonderful thing Roxas [Manuel Roxas] has done in the Philippines. He refused to come out with me. Three times he has refused to be the head of the new government there, although I wanted him to. He said his duty was with Wainwright. I know of no one better qualified for future leadership in the Philippines than Roxas. If I live, he will be my successor.”