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The Winner! November 20, 1965

November 20, 1965

The Winner!

It’s The Same Old Story – A New Hero’s Rise to Power On the Wave Of The People’s Will,Whose Name Is Fickleness; The Downfall Of Yesterday’s Idol Who Was Blamed For All The Country’s Ills.

By Napoleon G. Rama

It was like 1961 all over again. The play had the same ending. The lonely vigil in the Palace. Laughter and lights in the hideout of the winner. The stunned disbelief. The threats and tension. Controversy over the count. The flight of “migratory birds.” The warm embrace of the few faithful left – warm like the coming of tears.

Turn back the clock of history . . . An era was ending; a new one was about to begin. The rock of Sisyphus had rolled down – and now to begin again at the foot of the hopeless hill.

One passed by the Palace on that night of defeat and noted the stillness and the sadness, the silence drenching the park and the passersby. And the lamps, once lovely and luminous among the trees, announcing with their incandescence the gay rituals in the Palace premises, now burned dully, somberly, casting more shadows than light.

A new hero was hailed; the old one was mocked and derided. Such was the will of the people, whose name is fickleness. It seemed as if politics had been invented to punish the powerful, and the cycle of presidential elections, to confirm the loneliness of the office of the president.

Now, the same old story. . . . glory and defeat in the batting of an eye, in a dot of time – reminder to the vanquished and a warning to the victor that power passes and the contract with the electorate is good only for four years.

Let the winner never forget – no president of the Republic has eve been reelected. There was President Elpidio Quirino, then President Carlos P. Garcia, and now President Diosdado Macapagal. It is doubtful if President Manuel Roxas could have avoided their fate even if he had lived long enough to face the electorate again. Before him, President Sergio OsmeƱa, the greatest statesman the country has ever produced, was not spared the rebuff reserved for all re-electionist presidents.

Only President Ramon Magsaysay could have survived a reelection bid, but only because he was endowed with that rarest of gifts – political charisma. But he was phenomenon hard to come by. In the last half century only two Philippine politicians possessed this gift – Quezon and Magsaysay. They inspired not merely admiration but also adulation. Worshippers overlooked their idols’ faults, remembered only their virtues.

The political pattern of presidential rise and fall favored President Macapagal in 1961. In 1965 it was President-elect Marcos’ turn to profit from it.

The cards are always stacked against the incumbent.

The reason is not hard to find. No president, no matter how well-meaning and hard-driving, how wise and competent, is capable of solving the problems of the country in four years. So tremendous are the problems, many of them centuries-old, that four years is too short and a human president too limited to cope with them.

It is here that a president comes to grief at the hands of his own people. More than just an occupant of the loftiest post of the land, he is in the eyes of the electorate (thanks to campaign speeches and promises) the Moses who will deliver his people from bondage and want.

Every election season the them dinned into the ears of the electorate is that the presidential aspirant can do what the incumbent president did not accomplish. The companion theme is that for all the evils buffeting the country the President is to blame. Alas for President Macapagal, there were even those who blamed him for the eruption of Taal Volcano.

Thus, in every election campaign the people’s mind is conditioned to fixing responsibility for the unsolved problems of the nation on the incumbent president. They expect the in-coming president to perform miracles. The clamor for change becomes the opposition’s most resonant was cry. Every opposition party since Roxas’ Liberal Party has adopted the battle cry. It has never failed. No theme, the politicos have discovered, more effectively establishes identification with the electorate. For it echoes the popular sentiment. It was the issue that licked President Garcia, the theme that beat President Macapagal.

For all the expert analyses on the factors that swept President-elect Marcos into power, the obvious reason is a simple one, a needy people demanded a change – any change. This demand was stronger than all other factors put together in the last campaign.

Hence, the biggest most powerful vote in the country is not the Ilocano vote, the Cebuano vote, the Iglesia Ni Cristo vote, the NP or LP vote, but the protest vote, the poverty vote. There is no other way of explaining why President Macapagal lost or scored so poorly in almost all undisputed LP bailiwicks.

For as long as the country is afflicted with the ancient problems of food, housing, unemployment, high prices, law and order, so long will the protest vote be the most potent force in a presidential election.. The rising expectations, the unreasoning demand that the president solve all the country’s major problems, the predisposition to blame him for every ill, the predilection of candidates to make wild promises, the general poverty – all help create the protest vote.

Next to the protest vote – from which every opposition party has profited – the most powerful factor behind the Marcos victory was the solid Ilocano vote. It marked off the l965 election from all other presidential elections in the past.

The Ilocano vote was a tremendous political asset for Mr. Marcos, not only because the Ilocanos are clannish and numerous but also because they furnished the President-elect with a tremendous political machine to match or blunt the operations of the powerful administration one. Even more vital to the Marcos victory than the votes in Ilocandia was the national machine assembled and oiled by Ilocano immigrants in all parts of the country. The most footloose group in the country, they are in every nook of the Republic. There is no single big town in the country that doesnot harbor an Ilocano community.

Now it can be told. Mr. Marcos’ secret weapon in the last elections was not the Ilocanos in Ilocandia, but the Ilocanos out of it.

The Ilocanos away from home”, explains Jose Aspiras, Mr.Marcos’s genuine Ilocano spokesman “are more Ilocano than those in Ilocandia.”

What keeps the Ilocanos away from Ilocandia fervent Ilocanos is their minority complex, the instinct of self-preservation and constant nostalgia, said Aspiras. Always a meek minority and keenly aware of the national joke about their thriftiness (“The Scots of the Philippines”), they stay close to one another, make common cause and form a well-knit, solidly-welded community, not so much out of fondness for one another as for purposes ofself-protection.

In Ilocandia where the climate is harsh and the soil niggardly, the Ilocanos have to fight for survival. Hardship and poverty at home,said Aspiras, have made the Ilocanos away from home a self-conscious, hardy, industrious group, better-equipped than any other group to meet the challenge of life and to survive a crisis. Such hardiness and industry have paid off in their quest for a place under the sun in other provinces. In many provinces in Visayas and Mindanao, the Ilocano communities are well-off and well-heeled, some of them dominating the business fields.

It was these immigrant Ilocanos spread all over the country that provided Mr. Marcos with what the political pros regard as the most necessary election equipment – a “personal” campaign apparatus. In many places the party machine, because of factional fights, cannot be relied upon. It is here where the “personal” machine comes in.

According to the Marcos boys, the immigrant Ilocanos proved their clanish allegiance to their region and fellow-Ilocano candidate for president.

“As far as they were concerned,” said Aspiras, “it was no longer just an election fight between President Macapagal and Mr. Marcos. They regarded it also as their own personal fight which had at stake regional pride and fortune.”

They conducted their own campaigns in the towns and barrios where they resided; they got organized; they gathered information, they printed their own sample ballots; they took care of herding the voters to the polls; they raised campaign funds; they stood watchers inside the polling places. They were Mr. Marcos’ Fifth Column in Mindanao, the vaunted LP bastion.

The NP standard-bearer could not have had a more devoted, more hard-driving political machine. What made it a perfect political machine was that it was self-winding so to speak. It was a volunteer organization, fired with missionary ardor and zeal.

Next to the Ilocano vote, in Ilocandia and elsewhere, Mr. Marcos’ msot devastating election “weapon” was Mrs. Imelda Marcos whose success as a vote-getter was described by most political writers covering the NP campaign as “phenomenal.”

She managed a campaign of her own. She certainly was the most beautiful campaigner in the l965 elections. Everywhere she went she drew bigger crowds than any of the senatorial teams. On the surface, the voters wsent for her bewitching campaign tactics – her little sob stories, her glorious dresses, her tea parties, and her kundimans sung with professional style and skill.

But it was not her tear–jerkers, her dresses, her parties and kunkimans that made up her greatest contribution to the Marcos campaign. It was her remarkable defense of her husband’s questioned integrity that countred most.

NP tacticians were agreed that in the electoral battle the LP’s most lethal weapon was the integrity issue against the NP standard-bearer. At the start of the campaign some NP leaders threws their hands up and kept out of the fight because they were convinced that the integrity charges against the NP standar-bearer were simply unanswerable.

In the integrity issue the LP’s found Mr. Marcos’ softest spot. NP strategists were at their wits’ end trying to blunt the LP attack on Marcos’ personal character and record in office. It was Imelda who provided the NPs with the armor that shielded Marcos from political destruction.

And Imelda’s defense was classic in simplicity and conciseness. She offered herself as the star character witness for her husband. And her punch line was:

“They say that my husband is a forger, a murderer, a land-grabber. Look at me. Do you think I would have married this man if he was that bad? Do you think I would have stayed with him and campaigned for him if the charges were true? I should have been the first to know about the character of my husband. He is the best, the tenderest husband in the world. . .”

A beautiful woman, with the “voice of a nightingale” and the “charms of a movie queen,” as an AmericAn newsman described her, testifying in behalf of her husband, is the most effective, the most appealing star witness in the world.

That her defense was largely addressed to the emotions and, in the realm of logic and legal procedure, a little irrelevant was of no moment. A town plaza is not a courtroom. What might be an effective brief before a court of justice is a “dud” as far as the crowds are concerned. Thus, the NPs solved what they considered their biggest problem in the battle of propaganda – the integrity issue against “President-elect Marcos. It was Imelda who “de-fused” the LP propaganda bombs.

And, of course, there was the Iglesia ni Cristo vote. The fact is Mr. Marcos, despite the confident predictions of his strategists, did not get 90 per cent of all the votes in Ilocandia. But INC insiders will swear that Marcos got at least 99 per cent of all the INC votes.

The INC vote has proved to be more monolithic than the Ilocano vote. The reason is simple. The Ilocanos voted as Ilocanos devoted to a fellow-Ilocano and a “favorite son.” The Iglesia ni Cristo members voted as a religious sect, bound by a religious dogma and by church injunction to vote for INC candidates under pain of mortal sin and expulsion from the sect.

The INC makes no bones about it. Its spokesman in an official statement confirmed that the policy of the INC to vote as one man is “scripturally-supported.” The injunction is part of the INC catechism. As a religio-political organization, the Iglesia Ni Cristo has a totalitarian force.

Apart from the effects of an absolutely solid vote, variously estimated at from 300,000 to 400,000 in number, the INC, although a religious minority, increases its political sway and power by expert political horse-trading in towns and barrios. In many places, the INC’s small but solid group holds the balance of power. Where the contending candidates are evenly matched and engaged in a nip-and-tuck fight, the INC vote determines the result of the elections. Here is where the INC strategists come in. The politicos knws that the INC can deliver on its promise. That is why they go out of their way to woo the INC ministers in their districts and jump at the opportunity to make a deal with the INC. Under this setup, the INC usually winds up controlling the town or the province.

It is this situation that makes the INC even more powerful than it is thought to be. With its solid vote, it holds the sword of Damocles over the heads of politicians, big or small. It is not the number, but the monolithic character, of the Iglesia Ni Cristo that makes it a very potent and dangerous political force.

The INC knows the uses of religion for political purposes, understands Philippine politics and is aware of its political power. There’s no telling how far the INC will go to influence national elections. INC insiders are already predicting an INC president in a not so distant future. All this INC political sway is further abetted by the lack of a Catholic vote, as the last elections clearly demonstrated. Catholics vote as independent men.

Summing up, the President-elect’s victory in the last elections was made possible by the protest vote or guts issue, the Ilocano vote, the campaign charms of Imelda and the Iglesia Ni Cristo’s politico-religious vote.