January 1, 1966
Man of the Year
The Man Who Always Wanted To Be First Now Occupies the Highest Post In the Land. Will He Be “First” Among Our Country’s Presidents?
By Napoleon G. Rama
TO BE on top and to stay at the top has been Ferdinand Edralin Marcos’ lifetime dream. In school, he was always at the head of his class; in the bar examinations, he was top-notcher; during the war years, he was, according to army records, the bravest among the brave, the most be-medaled soldier; in the House of Representatives, he was minority floor leader; in the Senate, he was the Senate President; in the Liberal Party, he was party president; in the Nacionalista Party, he was standard-bearer; in Ilocandia, of course, he is the supreme political leader.
Today he occupies the highest post in the nation. He is President of the Republic of the Philippines.
Since boyhood, he has been striving for the top with the soaring ambition and nerve of a pole-vault champion.
It was not merely the natural gift of a superior intellect that made him Numero Uno wherever he went. Nor was Lady Luck the primary factor. In Philippine politics, there are other politicos brighter and on the whole luckier than he.
But Ferdinand E. Marcos has other attributes more effective and rewarding than just brains—a will of steel, unflinching resolve and a passion for planning, planning, planning. It seems nothing ever happens to Ferdinand E. Marcos without his knowledge and consent. In politics at least, everything that has happened to him he knew beforehand: he had planned and prepared for it. (His biographer, Hartzell Spence, would dramatize the point by suggesting, albeit half-seriously, that Marcos had something to do with the timing of his entry into the world. “Ferdinand Edralin Marcos,” wrote Spence in the opening sentence of his worshipful book, For Every Tear A Victory, “was in such a hurry to be born that his father, who was only eighteen years old himself, had to act as midwife. In fact, young Ferdinand scarcely waited for his parents to graduate from normal school before he put in his appearance, thus bringing to light a secret marriage.”)
But to separate fable from fact, no politician has assiduously made a fetish of preparing for his political career years in advance. Marcos charted his political course from the House of Representatives to the Senate, to the presidency of the LP and, finally, to the presidency of the Republic. Every political move by Marcos has been a conscious, calculated maneuver, executed according to a meticulous, carefully-studied plan.
Regarding the presidency, he didn’t only draw up a master plan, he also had a timetable with such specifics as when he would become president. Ilocanos now recall how, years back, Marcos, without batting an eyelash, would assure them in the town plazas that he would give them a president in 1965. He did.
Few presidents can boast of a perfect score on their entire political careers. President Marcos is one of them. Never has he suffered anything that might amount to a political setback. He has never lost an election. From the start his career has been one continuous climb, at turns smooth or rough, sometimes slow, sometimes fast, but always upward.
Not once in his entire career as parliamentarian in both chambers of Congress, one now recalls, was Marcos ever caught unprepared in a debate or in a floor maneuver during the periodic power struggles. In a TV debate with the country’s sharpest debater, Arturo Tolentino, on Harry Stonehill’s deportation—a topic heavily loaded in favor of the opposition then—Marcos, as president of the LP, ably held his ground, turned expected disaster into a creditable defense of the LP’s precarious position—thanks to a cool intellect, eloquence, and intensive research and preparation.
When President Macapagal started to hem and haw on his promise to let him take over as party standard-bearer in the 1965 elections, the Ilocano politico had already drafted a plan to deal with DM’s turnabout. His strategy was to capture the Senate presidency and make common cause with the opposition, thus checkmating Macapagal.
With the armor of the Senate presidency, he was able to blunt Macapagal’s deadly thrusts and escape a political beheading at the height of LP power. He waited until it was safe to tangle with the President. When the tide turned against Macapagal in the last two years of the New Era, Marcos charged and took on the party in power.
He resolved to hold on to the Senate presidency at all costs until the end of the session in 1965. “In case our plan to win over Senator (Alejandro) Almendras failed,” said a Marcos lieutenant, “our boss had two other emergency plans ready for implementation, which would have kept him in the top Senate post just the same.”
Marcos had it all figured out. He knew that the NPs would be disposed to deal with him only as long as he remained head of the powerful Senate. He knew only too well that only as Senate President would he be able to crash the NP national convention and elbow aside the NP’s homegrown presidential aspirants. All through the tumultuous years of his incumbency as Senate President, Marcos turned down the most tempting offers, ignored all threats endured all sorts of political buffetings just so he could remain Senate boss until the end of the 1965 session. His ability to plan and think ahead paid off.
Three years ago we asked his favorite brother-in-law why Marcos, unlike his colleagues in Congress, shunned the social circuit, preferring to stay home curled up with a book or immersed in his papers in his library.
“He is preparing himself for the presidency,” replied Kokoy Romualdez with disarming candor. “He has a timetable and it’s already due. He also plays golf every day,” Romualdez volunteered the information. “He wants to keep fit for the rigorous presidential campaign.”
Three years ago all speculation about the president of the majority party running as standard-bearer of the minority party would have been branded wild and wishful thinking. The prospects for Marcos in the LP were quite bleak—the incumbent President then had let it be known that early that he had preempted the LP presidential nomination.
On November 9, 1965, Marcos defeated the reelectionist candidate of the party in power.
Marcos’ favorite reading fare is politics and economics. He has read and re-read all the books about the “making” of presidents in the United States. On the average he finishes two books a day. “He still does it,” said his Press Secretary Jose Aspiras, “despite his heavy schedule as President-elect.”
“Politics,” Marcos once said, “is my life.” He has been boning up on economics, “because the country’s main problems are economic in nature.”
For all the experts’ intricate analyses of what makes Marcos tick, his formula for success is nothing complicated or tricky. He simply made the Boy Scout motto his own: Be prepared. He saw and prepared, came and conquered. He planned and fought his way to the top. He is the FREE PRESS’ Man of the Year, the man who dominated the news in 1965.
In the 1965 presidential elections he demonstrated beyond any doubt that he had more political savvy than all the political pros in both parties put together. Of course, he had in his favor some pre-fabricated votes—the Ilocano Vote, the Iglesia ni Cristo vote, the protest vote. Any opposition presidential candidate who is also an Ilocano, it may be argued, would have little trouble corralling these bloc votes.
But his winning the presidential elections was certainly not the most astounding or the most difficult of his political feats. Far more awe-inspiring than this achievement was his maneuver that transported him from the top echelon of the party in power to the top of the ladder of the opposition party—from president of the LP to presidential standard bearer of the NP. It is doubtful if this feat has been duplicated in any democracy anywhere else in the world.
To win the NP presidential nomination, Marcos had to face and fight a formidable galaxy of NP political giants, joust with them in their own home grounds, under their own terms and rules of the game—and using their own men and votes.
To beat them in the NP convention, he had to woo strangers and old, embittered political foes. For two decades, Marcos had been an aggressive and ardent Liberal leader tangling in every election with the NPs and, in his own political bastion in the North, making life for the NP leaders miserable during all these years.
These were the conventionists that he had to woo and win in the last NP national convention. He won them over, and after that singular feat at the Manila Hotel Fiesta Pavilion, his followers felt certain that he would surmount whatever political obstacles still lay in his path. Even his victory in the presidential elections was an anti-climax.
A politician’s political skill can be measured not only by the enemies he has licked but also by the enemies he has won over. During his early days in the Nacionalista Party and even after the convention and during the campaign, Marcos had to deal with formidable foes in the NP hierarchy.
At the lowest ebb of his campaign a number of top NPs refused to endorse him publicly. In private, they actively opposed his candidacy. He was fighting the elections on two fronts—within the party and without. He succeeded in winning over his NP detractors toward the end. That he succeeded in doing so revealed the quality of the man. He had what it takes to win the presidency—leadership.
To the known factors that propelled him to the summit—the protest vote against the administration, the Iglesia Ni Cristo vote, the Ilocano vote, and Imelda, his wife, who, more than any one individual (except Eraño Manalo), earned more votes for Marcos in the last campaign—one more element might be added. . . Marcos’ political leadership, which welded all these factors together and set them in motion.
What kind of president will Marcos make?
His friends are quick to point out that more than anything else, the popular appeal that Marcos inspired in the last polls would ensure his success as president of the nation. The post-election picture of Marcos himself is one aglow with confidence. Didn’t he lick the party in power? Didn’t he rally the Nacionalistas around him? Hasn’t he proved his ability and determination to conquer tremendous odds, hurdle all kinds of obstacles?
But this analysis is but half of the picture. A president faces not just the problems of his party, the problems of certain sectors of the population, the problems of an election campaign, the problem of winning votes. A president carries the burden of the nation—all the national problems, including those inherited from past centuries and those to come in the next four years.
No past president knew what he was up against until he found himself in the chair of power in Malacañang. True, Marcos as president has tremendous powers. He is now the most powerful man in the country. At his disposal are the prerogatives and authority bestowed on him by the Constitution and the laws.
But soon he will discover, as all presidents before him discovered, that these tremendous presidential powers have built-in restraints. Too late President Macapagal, by his own admission, came to grief with this truth. For one, the great powers of the president carry greater responsibilities. Presidential responsibilities tend to abridge presidential authority.
It was easy for Marcos, as opposition candidate, to damn the administration for trying to raise taxes and promise not to increase them or create new ones. He will soon find out that, as a president responsible for providing the people with essential services, for keeping the government and its programs in operation, his pre-election promises are not so easy to keep.
How does one keep prices down under the decontrol program, with a million new mouths to feed every year? How does one begin employing the four million or more unemployed? Where does one get the homes for the legions of homeless?
There is the unfortunate notion, held by the mass of our people, that a presidential election or rather its results will solve most, if not all, of the problems of the nation. Some of the friends of Marcos seem to have this belief. It is time the minds of the people were disabused of this notion. There’s no telling how the people would react to another let-down, another disenchantment with the president of their choice.
Things are going to be worse before they are going to be better, said the late John F. Kennedy when he assumed the U.S. presidency.
To start off on the right foot, a president must at least try to learn from the mistakes of past presidents. To promise happy days ahead as the New Era had promised the electorate is the surest way to erode public confidence in the new administration.
This is not to say that Marcos is bound to fail as president. He has one quality, it must be admitted, that might turn the trick, bring about the miracle—leadership. But even the most dynamic and heroic leader will not be able to provide instant happiness for the country under present conditions. Not in the next two years, anyway. Marcos is no superman. He can only do so much. The sooner we faced up to this fact, the better for the country.
But the friends of Marcos have one comforting thought to offer. The new President, says a Marcos confidant, was “the most maligned” presidential candidate ever—“He was charged with all kinds of crimes during the campaign. As a result, he will try his best to become the best President the country has ever had. He is out to prove to our people that he is not what he has been painted to be.”
The motive may not be exactly orthodox. But in an age of cynicism and disenchantment, in a country grown weary with politicians’ promises, motives and intentions are of secondary importance. Results, concrete achievements are what count. Whatever his motives, if President Marcos performs well, a grateful people will thank him and future historians will reserve him a permanent niche in the annals of our country.
The new President seems to be obsessed with the word “great.” His battle cry in the last campaign was: “This country can be great again!” The title of his inaugural speech, he told this writer, is “Challenge to Greatness.” His intimates say that his burning ambition now is to go down in history as a “great president.”
Now that the elections are over, the big task is nation-building. What his foes and critics said of him before the election should not matter now that the people have spoken. He has been given the mandate. If he performs well, soon everybody will forget what has been said of him. But if he falls down on the job—then he will have to worry about what his critics said of him. The people will remember him as he had been painted by his enemies. Thus, what is important for him and the country is that he do an excellent job in Malacañang.
The Man of the Year faces his biggest test in the next four years. In essence, the challenge the new President confronts is not new at all: more good government and less politics.
Will he pass the test? Time, a philosopher has remarked, is the fastest thing in the world. The Macapagal era is over. The Marcos regime has begun. Soon the history of this administration will be written—a record of futility and ignominious shame, or a testament to Filipino pride and greatness.