Filipino Political Humor
February 1986–“Amang” Rodriguez, known as “Mr Nacionalista” and famous for his malapropisms, congratulated U.S. Pres. Dwight Eisenhower on a speech the latter had just delivered saying, with a radiant smile:
“That was a great speech! It should be published posthumously.”
Sebastian Ugarte of football fame and after whom the field in Makati is named liked to tell this story about an aide of Commonwealth Pres. Manuel Quezon in exile in the United States during World War II. Vice-Pres. Sergio Osmeña Sr. should have succeeded Quezon as President when the latter’s term expired under the Constitution, but Quezon would remain President. His aide loudly supported him, referring contemptuously to Osmeña as:
Quezon died and Osmeña became President.
“At last,” exclaimed the former Quezon aide, “we have a statesman!”
When Manuel Roxas, who had been accused of collaboration with the Japanese invader, split the Nacionalist Party, formed the Liberal and announced his candidacy for the Presidency against Osmeña the professional nay-yea sayer expressed the highest indignation at Roxas’s action:
The Roxas won.
“Now, we have an economist!” rejoiced the man of all politcal seasons.
The wittiest of the lot was Mayor Arsenio Lacson of Manila, a man of “infinite jest” and well, invention. Lacson, who was also the best sports writer the country ever had, and even up to now, described a fistic encounter between two old senators right in the Senate hall as:”The battle of a couple of centuries.”
Then Pres. Elpidio Quirino who was suffering from a severe case of gout, received this accolade from Lacson: “He has one foot in the grave and the other foot goosing the Filipino people.”
Lacson called Manuel de la Fuente, the preceeding mayor of Manila, “Canvas-back De la Fuente,” from the once-upon-a-time pugilist’s alleged propensity for hitting the canvas.
It was all in fun, of course. That was the Age of Innocence.
Lacson’s best was probably this:
After a senator involved in a war-surplus scandal decided to run for President, he went to Quiapo Church for reassurance on his candidacy from the Black Nazarene.
“Lord, what are my chances in the election?” asked the kneeling candidate.
“May suerte, ka,” said the Black Nazarene. “May suerte, ka.”
“Thank you, Lord,” said the happy man.
The following month, he sought further reassurance and once more received the same comforting reply.
But how could be possibly win against the formidable advantages of his opponent? In an anguish of doubt he went to the church for the third time and on his knees, torn between the previous answers of the Black Nazarene and his new uncertainty, cried:
“Lord, Lord, what are my chances in the election?”
Said the Black Nazarene:
“May suerte ka nga nakapako ang aking paa, kung hindi, sisipain kita!”
What’s been happening to the Filipino people, what’s being done to them is no laughing matter. Humor out of such suffering should be as difficult of extraction as water from stone, blood from turnip – but humor issues, just the same. Filipino wit is irrespressible. It may amount to nothing more than whistling past a graveyard. But if one can still laugh at one’s situation however grim it may be, it can’t be as bad as all that. Laughter wards off despair. It is also the oppressor’s secret weapon, though not wielded by him; he is a mere beneficiary. For while one is laughing, one can’t be mad.
The best practising wit around these days is probably Alejandro Roces, former secretary of education and author of one published book on the Filipino fiesta and several more awaiting publication. Here’s Anding:
Of a KBL candidate for the National Ass. in l978, Anding said that the man was so old “he was godfather at the baptism of Andres Bonifacio” – which the man troubled himself to deny.
Another KBL bet of similar vintage was quoted by Anding as saying, in denial of his alleged senility: “That’s a lie! I’m not senile.What are the signs of senility? No. 1. Loss of memory. No.2. . . No. 2. . . No. 2. . No. 2 . . .”
And there was the man who, because of the recurrent shortages, got so fed up with having to line up for water, rice, sugar, every necessity, he got his bolo and proceeded to Malacañang where he was stopped at the gate by a presidential guard.
“What have you come here for?” the guard asked the bolo-waving man.
“I have come to kill the President!” said the man, throwing all caution to the wind.
“Then.” said the guard,”you will have to fall in line.”
The Marcos press headlined it as advocacy of assasination of the President by the Opposition.
Anding’s best is probably:
Farmers were constantly being pressed to attend regular barangay meetings where they were endlessly dosed with government propaganda.One farmer was conspicuous by his absence. The, one day, he showed up.When the barangay captain saw him, he said:
“Ah, there you are. At last! Do you know what you have been missing for not attending these meetings? Do you know what’s going on in our country? What’s what, who’s who?”
The farmer said nothing.
“Do you know who is the minister of tourism?” pressed the barangay captain.
“I don’t know,” confessed the farmer.
“You see, you don’t know. It is Aspiras. Do you know who is the minister of labor?
“I don’t know,” said the farmer humbly.
“That’s the price you pay for non-attendance. Ignorance! The minister of labor of our glorious republic is Blas Ople.
Now it was the turn of the farmer to ask questions. Just one, it turned out.
“Do you know who is Pedro Espadista?” he askedthe barangay captain.
“No,” said the barangay captain after searching his memory.
“I don’t know Pedro Espadista.”
“You see,” said the farmer triumphantly, “that’s what you get for attending these meetings all the time. You don’t know who he is. He is the man who has been sleeping with your wife.”
Last but not least, Arturo Tolentino, running-mate of the Great Dictator:
“Twenty years is already too long a period for anybody to be governing the country, and perhaps it is time for the President to retire.”
“I will not support Marcos . .”
“I will follow the rule of law and prosecute (the Marcos and Romualdez families) if there is evidence.”
“The election is unconstitutional!”
And have you heard this one about the American woman columnist and former high government official who distinguishes between totalitarianism and authoritarianism Marcos-style, chiding the American press for its anti-Marcos “bias,” arguing that the Marcos dictatorship is nicer than other dictatorships?
“I wonder if she has read the Amnesty International report on the widespread use of torture by the Philippine dictatorship. You know, burning the pubic hair of prisoners with cigarette lighter, water cure, forcing water down the throat of a prisoner under interrogation until he or she is almost ready to burst?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe, if she were given the same treatment by the Marcos military, she would sing a different tune.”
“Singing in the rain.”
Triumph of the Will
By Teodoro L. Locsin Jr.
There was a time, remarkably, when Filipinos thought Marcos to be a genius. It was like a man’s admiring the agility of his wife’s lover in getting in and out of their bed while he was brushing his teeth. Cory dismissed this proposition contemptuously.
February 7, 1986—THE stage was like the whitecap of a giant wave. Cory walked from one side of the stage to the other, as Doy asked her to check the crowd’s responses to his questions: Were they for the Opposition? Were they tired of Marcos? Were they determined to rid themselves of his dictatorship, whatever the price? Where they going to vote for Cory-Doy? Arms and voices rose in unison.
Doy was like the heavy blade to the fine, sharp edge of Cory. With his hoarse but powerful voice, he defined the issues of the election and channeled the passions and thoughts of the crowd to the single direction of a resounding “No” to more of Marcos and a thunderous “Yes” to a future under the Opposition. But it was not spellbinding demagoguery on his part.
One got the feeling, looking down at that mass, that it held the two of them in the thrall of a collective determination to end the Marcos regime and give themselves, through Cory and Doy, a chance to control again their destinies. Cory was the edge of that determination, Doy was the blade but the people were the spear shaft and theirs was the force that would propel it forward. The same feeling came to you even in the rallies in smaller cities and in the towns. It was, as Art Borjal, the Inquirer columnist said, the people campaigning for president against Marcos.
Cory walked back and forth, smiling, occasionally raising her hand in the “laban” sign. But she exuded, one felt, even from that height and distance, not so much the self-confidence of a seasoned politician as the feeling that she was at home. When it was her turn to speak, her voice came across with the given authority of the one you most respect in a household. No nonsense, clear, and coming at you from a set of moral assumptions you could question only at the risk of feeling like a pariah, of inviting her disdain. She was reversing the values of the Filipino under 20 years of Marcos.
Marcos’s whole life was dedicated to the proposition that nothing succeeds like success, and that the attainment of your personal ends justifies any means whatever at the expense of others. There was a time, remarkably, when Filipinos would say admiringly that Marcos was a genius as he got away with one constitutional, legal, moral and fiscal travesty after another. It was like a man admiring the agility of his wife’s lover in getting in and out of their bedroom while he was brushing his teeth.
Cory did not refute this proposition. She just dismissed it contemptuously. Twenty years of despoiling a nation with impunity, and not infrequent popular acclaim, ceased to be a ringing testimonial of what one Filipino can do to an entire nation if he sets his mind to it, by golly, but a simple and contemptible betrayal of trust. Marcos had said, “This nation can be great again.” (Referring, it turned out, to himself and a greed of national proportions.) Cory, walking up and down the stage, in a yellow dress with simple lines, was showing that it can be clean again. And that this mattered more.
Darkness had fallen when she came to the end of her speech. Only the stage was lighted. There was a signboard, she said, in one of the towns where she campaigned, and it read: “Cory, isang bala ka lang.” If this was Marcos’s message to her, she said, her answer was, raising her arm with the forefinger sticking out, “Marcos, isang balota ka lang.” In the darkness that had closed in like a threat, one felt the vulnerability of this response to the irrefutable argument of a bullet. One also felt a wave of protectiveness rise form the crowd and enfold her.
Afterwards someone remarked, “She’s certainly grown in her role.” I thought, “No, she simply stepped into it.” It was the same Cory I had first met in 1971.
It was the night of the Plaza Miranda bombing. Marcos had immediately blamed the communists for it and declared he was suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and ordering everyone to turn in his guns. Ninoy fetched me in his blue LTD and thrust into my hands what looked like a piece of artillery. He was in a dramatic mood again. “That’s a BAR,” he said, “a Browning automatic riffle. Surrender guns, Marcos says, let’s see about that. This guy’s out to kill us all and he wants us to go like sheep to the slaughter.”
We were going, he said, to confront the secretary of defense, Enrile, before the TV cameras, and “let’s see them try to disarm us.”
I don’t recall what passed between them, except that, after the show, Enrile told us that he had gotten the pair of boots we had complimented him on in a shop in San Francisco and wrote the name on a piece of paper.
I don’t know if Ninoy’s bravado had arrested a plan for martial law after the suspension of the writ if the people showed that they were cowed. But it looked like that because the Administration was on the defensive thereafter as Ninoy barnstormed the country for the hospitalized Opposition senatorial slate. And when the Opposition won by a landslide, Marcos went on the air and said that he was accepting the victory as a rebuke from the people.
Later that evening, well past midnight, we went to Times Street for dinner. We sat down to pork chops and fried rice. Cory moved around the sala, occasionally stopping to listen to what we were talking about. Other people had dropped in and Ninoy regaled them with a slightly embellished account of how he had challenged the government that evening. He turned to me to confirm every detail he gave until Cory fixed a no-nonsense, it’s late gaze on both of us and we all just ate quietly after that. I remember this when I noticed Cory at the Makati rally lean toward Doy and motioned him to tone down his theatrics. But Doy was beyond reproof even from her. And, anyway, he didn’t have to go home to Times Street.
If you study the picture of Cory looking at a weary-faced Ninoy in the prisoner’s dock in the Supreme Court, you will see a woman whose loyalty, support, admiration and affection are total givens, but who remains very much her own person with her own thoughts about the situation.
She hasn’t changed. The circumstances around her have changed. Her role has changed and she has suffered much in the process. But she hasn’t changed. The integrity and individuality remain the same. It is this constancy, this sureness about how people should behave, this steadiness one might call indomitability were it not for the refinement with which it is manifested, that explains how she was able to forge unity among the proud chieftains of the Opposition.
It is well to remember that the unity she forged was not among dependent and undistinguished clones, like the KBL that Marcos holds in his hand. Doy Laurel, Pepito Laurel, Tañada, Mitra, Pimentel, Adaza, Diokno, Salonga and the handful of others who kept the democratic faith, each in his own fashion, through the long years of martial law, are powerful political leaders in their own right. Each has kept or developed, by sagacity and guts, a wide personal following. Not one thinks himself subordinate to another in what he has contributed to keep alive the democratic faith. As far as Doy is concerned, his compromises had enabled him to kept at least one portion, Batangas, of a misguided country as a territorial example of viable opposition. An example to keep alive the hope that the rest of the country could follow suit and become free in time.
We have forgotten how much strength and hope we derived from the stories of Batangueños guarding the ballot boxes with their lives and Doy’s people keeping, at gunpoint, the Administration’s flying—or was it sailing?—voters from disembarking from the barges in which they had been ferried by the Administration. This is the language Marcos understands, the Laurels seemed to be saying, and we speak it.
We have forgotten the sage advice of Pepito Laurel which stopped the endless discussion about how to welcome Ninoy. Every arrangement was objected to because, someone would remark, Marcos can foil that plan by doing this or that. Pepito Laurel said, “Huwag mo nang problemahin ang problema ni Marcos. His problem is how to stop us from giving Ninoy the reception he deserves. Our problem is to give Ninoy that reception. Too much talk going on here!” that broke the paralysis of the meeting.
This is the caliber of men who were approached with a project of unification that entailed the suspension, perhaps forever, of their own ambitions. Cory would be the presidential candidate, and Doy who had spent substance and energy to create ex nihilo a political organization to challenge the Marcos machine must subordinate himself as her running mate. In exchange, the chieftains would get nothing but more work, worse sacrifices and greater perils. Certainly, no promises.
After two attempts, she emerged, largely through her own persuasive power and in spite of some stupid interference, as the presidential candidate of the Opposition, with Doy as her running mate. She had not yielded an inch of her position that all who would join the campaign must do so for no other consideration than the distinction of being in the forefront of the struggle. This should be enough. She had exercised the power of her disdain.
Cory calls on people for advice, but she has no advisers in the sense of a tight circle whose ideas dominate her thinking and invariably decide her actions. She is repelled by importunate offers of counsel and shows it. Even that circle of ardent support called the Council of Trent, because admission is based on holiness, wholesomeness, and the ability to endure and relish interminable discussions, know better than to push its ideas on her. The closest it can come to influencing her is to present draft encyclicals for her consideration and frequent, but gentle, rejection. And, as the campaign has progressed, she has found a wider door to an understanding of the country she might rule in the multitudes that have flocked to her yellow standard.
Cory Aquino returned to the Philippines dressed in black, with a will to justice, but with the paramount aim of presiding over the last honors to be given to her martyred husband. She would have limited herself to this and to a solitary struggle for justice, if the people had not reacted with outrage. She had learned, as Ninoy never did, not to be hurt by indifference or misunderstanding. Not to depend on anyone.
She did not try to whip up further the fury of the people. She announced, with quiet dignity, that another injustice had added itself to the long list of injustices under Marcos. As far as she was concerned, she would dedicate herself to seeing justice done for Ninoy, for others like him, for the country. If others would join her, so be it. There was a deliberate disregard for passion as a force for change, unless it was combined with a clear conviction and a firm and deliberate commitment to go all the way. Absent that, she’d just as well go it alone. Ninoy had done it and she was prepared to pay the price. She does not seem to want people to follower so much as to be with her in what she is doing. She may have read the people right for they appear to rally to her so that she will lead them in the direction they have already decided on.
Marcos has grown so great—in his possessions, power and prerogatives—that he has to be carried and can barely hold himself together. He is starting to come apart in places. Cory, on the other hand, looks slight but she’s all there, held together by an unquestioned set of values, a disturbing ability to embarrass you into self-sacrifice, and a will to triumph with the people.
To Be A Woman!
February 7, 1986–THERE has never been anything like it in Philippine history: a woman telling the machos of business and industry to do what she is doing, to stand up to the injustices against which they have been content merely to complain. That the economy is being ruined, has been ruined, from which they happily drew so much profit in the past; that the system under which they prospered is in dire danger of total collapse and eventual replacement by one that would have no place for them is evident to them. Free enterprise, that holy of holiest in their minds, is doomed by crony capitalism. And one with any sense of morality, of human right and dignity, can only recoil from government by, for, and of one man clearly determined to maintain his rule at whatever cost to the nation. But it took a woman to do what a man, or men, should have been doing: Fight! Being a man was sadly inadequate. One had to be something else. Be a woman — like her!
Said a foreign observer as applause interrupted her speech at the Manila Intercontinental Hotel:
“You may not agree with her program but you can smell the honesty!” She doesn’t smell, as the regime she would replace does, but “smell the honesty!”
“It is like a religious experience,” said an otherwise cynical observer during another speech of hers, this time at the Manila Hotel before more than 2,000 — a speech preceded by a standing ovation, interrupted by 55 bursts of applause during its course, then ending with another ovation. “Jubilation and pride” filled the men and woman who were there and heard Cory give the regime, in the most forthright language: hello.
Support for her cause — the cause of the honest, decent and good, the long-suffering and patient, until now — comes not only comes from the well-heeled but also from the poor, the barely surviving. She asks for their votes and money pours out for her from those the regime feels compelled to bribe, cheat and coerce. Women and children form a cordon around the vehicle carrying her from the airport to Cebu City in an act of loving protectiveness against goons, uniformed or not, of the powers that be. A KBL poll, in spite of the inevitable adjustments of the results to favor the pollsters, showed Cory ahead: 65/35 for the widow of the man murdered in the custody of the Marcos military. At an American Embassy Christmas party, a general of the regime told embassy officials loudly enough for others to hear, that a recent survey by the military showed Cory leading Marcos by 2 million votes—up to then.
How could it be otherwise but humiliating for the dictator? What’s worse, the challenger is a woman. A cartoon in a Hong Kong paper shows him, in one panel, fuming over the predicament, the shame of it all, running against a woman, then, in the next panel, demanding who’s responsible for his having to run against Cory instead of Ninoy, then, quieting down, saying in a small voice: “Forget it.”
Not only humiliating but, if he loses, whether against a man or a woman, unacceptable! How could justice be allowed to prevail after so much injustice by the regime? Would life, in the pleasurable sense of the word, be possible for him? For him and his?
Worse still, the woman was calling him a coward!
“I am here in Mindanao in the midst of the violence and devastation that Mr. Marcos has wrought. And I am not afraid to be here. But Mr. Marcos is.
“I accuse Mr. Marcos of cowardice because he has not come to Mindanao in the past 10 years to see for himself the horrible effects of his greed, his brutality and his ignorance.
“I accuse Mr. Marcos of cowardice because he will not come to Mindanao to stand in the physical presence of the people he has hurt and betrayed.
“I accuse Mr. Marcos of cowardice because he will not stand before me and dare to hurl his charges in my face and let my answers be heard.
“I accuse Mr. Marcos of cowardice because he needed over 2,000 troops to kill one man — Ninoy Aquino. And he has the gall to say he fought off hordes of Japanese soldiers at Besang Pass. What a laugh.
“I accuse Mr. Marcos of cowardice because he whimpers about a little scratch in his hand and ignores the hole that his people blew out of the face of Jeremias de Jesus and the mangled bodies of the Opposition after the grenade attack he launched at them in Plaza Miranda.
“I accuse Mr. Marcos of trying to cover up his cowardice with a salad of military decorations none of which he ever earned in the field of honor.
“I challenge Mr. Marcos to stand up, like a woman and answer my charges of his cowardice with truth — if he dares.”
He could meet one charge of cowardice based on his non-appearance in Mindanao, by going there, of course. But then came the U.S. Army leak about his war record and medals. My God, what next?
The election should never have been called, in the first place. Now, what must he do to “win”? it No. 1 . . . . . No. 2 . . . . . Number 3 . . . . . But who would believe in such a victory? He had until 1987 before having to run for reelection if he would stay in power—if he lived that long. All he had to do was sit there in Malacañang and rule. Why put his presidency at risk? True, the Americans were demanding an election for a new mandate as the condition of continued military and financial aid, but he could have told them to go to hell. They were not content with an election, any kind of election, it had to be honest and free — and what if he lost? What dictatorship ever willingly submitted to one of that kind? Why risk what you have to gain what you already have? That’s plain stupid. What could the Americans do to him that would be worse than what would happen to him if he lost in the election? Let them do their worst!
But victory was not to be ruled out — even in an honest and free election. That is, if the leading Opposition contender, Doy Laurel, were to gain the nomination, and it seemed clear enough that he would, boasting as he did of a political organization the others could not claim to have. Laurel, it was the Malacañang consensus, would be no problem. Especially since his candidacy would not unite the Opposition, none of the other contenders showing any willingness to concede that Laurel was the better man, the better bet. Cory would be a problem, but she was not running. (Not then.) The British Broadcasting Corporation survey showed Marcos leading Doy by a comfortable margin. So, let there be an election. It might not even need to be rigged.
Then Cory ran. And united the Opposition. Oh, my God again!
So, now there is Cory, challenging absolute power, with its Central Bank, AFP, Commission on Election and almost exclusive access to radio and television and the crony press all working for it. But could the Commission on Elections be wholly trusted despite its membership of Marcos appointees? Why not, if it ran true to form? And NAMFREL had yet to be given accreditation as a poll watcher. Now NAMFREL is an accredited observer and counter of votes, but could NAMFREL prevent fraud in the final official count? And what if terrorism kept people from freely voting, or vote-buying plus terror kept them at home? How could the true, untrammeled will of the people prevail?
To be resigned to evil is to support it. Acceptance is consent. So, Cory runs. Against all odds. And who knows, she may prevail. She will — if the good and brave are with her. The Filipino people cannot be held captive too long by any power, native or foreign. But they can be if there is no will to resist power however great.
“There are no tyrants,” as Rizal said, “where there are no slaves.”
Slavery is the just desert of slaves.
The Conscience of the Filipino
by Teodoro M. Locsin
February 2, 1986–DEFEAT is usually termed ignominious unless one fights to the end, against overwhelming odds, then it is called honorable. Thus, Spartan mothers told their sons setting forth to war to return with their shields or on them. But there is another kind of defeat, and it’s a rare one. Rare in history, and most rare in political history, for politics seems to bring out the worst, the meanest in men. It’s more than just honorable, it’s glorious, and that is defeat from self-denial: to lose when one might have won, out of a sense of high purpose. Such was the defeat of Pres. Sergio Osmeña in the 1946 presidential election. He lost in his presidential reelection bid because he would make no promise he was not certain of fulfilling. He would not stretch the meaning of the word “promise” to cover mere attempt. Surely, one may not be expected to do more than one can, but he would not equate mere attempt with performance and what he was not sure he could do, he would not promise. Presidential candidates promise to balance the budget and get elected only to unbalance the budget even more, and people do not hold it too much against them. Failure to fulfill a political promise is taken as just one of those things, like death and taxes. One learns to live with it. Not to promise what one is not sure one can do is, surely, naive. After all, one might be able to do it. Things might improve. To hold promise under so strict a definition is not, well, not common. But Sergio Osmeña was not a common man.
He might have been President earlier if he had not yielded his right to a sick man who would cling on to the office. Too long had he played a secondary role to the flamboyant Quezon, now he would be first at last! Quezon’s term as President of the Philippine Commonwealth expired in 1943 and Osmeña was to succeed him in the office under the Constitution. But Quezon argued that the war had suspended the Constitution and he should be allowed to serve as President indefinitely. For life, if the war went on. Well, he did, remaining President until death took him. Though convinced that he should be President, with every legal reason supporting his position, Osmeña acceded to Quezon’s plea. The Filipino people had come to think of him, Quezon, as the symbol of the Philippine government-in-exile and Osmeña’s taking over might create confusion, the ailing man argued. Osmeña listened and gave way. Let his old political rival have his way since he wanted the office so much! He himself suffered from no such obsession. And if it was good for the Filipino people that he should step aside, that is the way it should be. Told after Quezon’s death that he was now President, all Osmeña said was: “Am I?”
Asked when he would take the oath of office, Osmeña said he would first attend to the funeral arrangements, then asked to be left alone so he could compose a tribute to his dead associate. Later, he offered Quezon’s widow and children the continued use of their elegant quarters at the Shoreham Hotel and a pension, the law being silent then on such provision for the widows of past presidents.
When the U.S. government ordered the prosecution of Filipinos who had collaborated with the Japanese during the war, Osmeña asked General MacArthur to release them on his personal guarantee. He thought they had served in the Japanese puppet government to act as buffers between the people and the brute force of the invaders. But MacArthur could not go against Washington and so herded them all in the Iwahig penal colony.
But while understanding toward collaborators — the political ones like Roxas, who would afterward take the Presidency away from him, Laurel and Recto — Osmeña would show no favor to two of his sons who were charged with collaboration with the Japanese for money, and when one of them tried to see him in Leyte, wearing a guerrilla outfit, he refused to see him. The son stayed under a tree all morning waiting for his father to change his mind, but the old man was unrelenting. The other son, whom we visited in prison, cursed him. But the law, as Osmeña held it to be, is impersonal, whatever heartbreak that might mean to the enforcer. When, during the trial of that son, he had to be confined at the Quezon Institute for the tubercular, and asked for “better facilities,” the father said his son should be given the same facilities the others had, not more, not less.
When Roxas split from the Nacionalista Party and created the Liberal Party to run for president, Osmeña, in the interest of national unity, prepared to retire and let Roxas have the field to himself. But those who wanted to hold on to their government positions argued with Osmeña that he should run to demonstrate that the Philippines was capable of holding a true election, a democratic electoral contest even amidst the ruins of war, that an orderly succession was possible — the ultimate test of political maturity. National unity would be served and Americans who held that Filipinos were incapable of self-rule and therefore unworthy of independence would be confounded.
So, Osmeña decided to run. But run in his own fashion.
Under the law then, the Nacionalista Party, as the majority party, was entitled to two election inspectors and the Commission on Elections to one, with none for the splinter party. Osmeña had the law amended so that the Roxas party would be entitled to one inspector in each precinct and would not be cheated without detection.
An act of political madness, the usual practitioners of politics would say. Well, Osmeña was mad — mad for fairness. Before the election, Osmeña was scheduled to leave for Washington with Roxas and Jose Zulueta, then Speaker of the House. When their names were forwarded to Washington for the necessary clearance, Roxas was not “cleared” for the trip. A newspaperman heard of the Washington message and asked for a copy so it could be published, demoralizing the Roxas camp. Osmeña would have nothing to do with it.
“Let me keep that in my safe,” said the President then of the Philippines (How such a President made a Filipino feel clean!) He would not hit the man who sought to remove him from his position “below the belt.”
When it was suggested that he use the Philippine Air Force for an island-hopping election campaign, he ordered all units grounded. Then, when told that Eulogio Rodriguez — “Mr. Nacionalista” — had used an Air Force plane in campaigning for the party’s ticket outside Luzon, to deliver campaign material, Osmeña ordered his secretary of defense, Alfredo Montelibano, to call up Roxas and offer the use of an Air Force plane to equalize advantages. The offer was made twice.
“The fight is over,” said Rodriguez. “Roxas is really fortunate. His campaign manager is Osmeña.”
When an appointment of a Roxas supporter to provincial fiscal was up for approval by Osmeña, he was advised to turn it down because of the man’s political affiliation. That was one of the few times Osmeña showed anger.
“Tell them,” he said, “a man is appointed to an office because his qualifications call for it, not because of his political sympathies.”
Government employees held a rally before Malacañan demanding backpay for services to the government under the Japanese and Osmeña was urged to promise them backpay if elected, even though Washington had not yet set aside the money as it had promised.
“I can’t do that.”
“You need their votes.”
“No, I have to tell them the truth.”
So, he told the rallyists who represented a multitude of government employees all over the country that he would not fool them, he would make no promise he was not certain of fulfilling. And they shouted, “Long live Roxas!”
He would not campaign for election as he would not lie. He had the duties of his office to do, work to do for a ruined country.
“I will just stand before the electorate on the basis of my record and what I have done for the country all these years.”
He did make an election-eve speech — on the state of the nation.
He had served the Filipino people well. If they were not satisfied with his service, if they believed another would serve them better, he was happy to go. He lost by 200,000 votes. If he had lied to that howling mob before Malacañan, he might have gained their votes and those of their families and friends, and won. But he would not lie.
He lost — and felt no rancor toward the winner. Not one word could be extracted from him by a journalist in derogation of Roxas. He was a gentleman to the end.
Why did he refuse to campaign?
“Those were abnormal times,” he said later, “those days after the liberation. There were tens of thousands of loose firearms in the hands of private citizens. The peace and order situation was uncertain. If I had gone out to denounce my political opponents and urged my leaders in the provinces to win the election at all costs, perhaps I could have won, but there would have been bloodshed. Political wrangles might have aggravated the prevailing situation. So, I told my leaders to allow the opposition to say anything its spokesmen wanted to say in their meetings and in the newspapers. I believed then as I do now, that as President it was my highest duty to set an example to the rest of the candidates, to avoid trouble that might endanger the nation and cause our people to lose faith in the government and its officials.”
His old rival and beneficiary, Quezon, said, after defeating him—yet not defeating him in the disgraceful sense of the word:
“It is useless to try to defeat him; he is in alliance with God.”
He set an example for his people and those who led them after him — in vain. The motivation behind the degradation of democracy that came after was best expressed in the words of a high government official:
“What are we in power for?”
Osmeña set an example. He set a standard for those who would govern a people, and it was not enough. He had done his best. I visited him in retirement and found a man—a gentleman—at rest.