Remembering Teodoro M. Locsin
by Manuel L. Quezon III
January 26,2002—ANECDOTES told by those who knew him in his prime assure me that Teodoro M. Locsin was a man who possessed a sense of humor, indeed a sense of fun, even what could be said to be an impish wit. He liked good drink and song; we all know he wrote well. But it is the elusiveness of this characteristic that has always intrigued me. If the sons of a man are any reflection of the father, then the assurances given me by my elders that Teddy Locsin, Sr. had a sense of humor must be true; one only has to see his two elder sons to know they have a sense of humor in spades. Yet Teddy Locsin, Sr., if one depends on his writings, comes across as a man of manic anger, of near-hysterical indignation. That was the public man, the crusading journalist.
He described himself, many years ago, reminiscing right after the death of a close friend and recalling the days of Liberation then merely a few years back:
“We had,” he wrote in 1949, recalling the time before the FREE PRESS reopened after being shut down by the Japanese, “with Jose Diokno, the son of Senator Diokno, put out a new paper, the Philippines Press. Diokno was at the desk and more or less kept the paper from going to pieces as it threatened to do every day. I thundered and shrilled; that is, I wrote the editorials. Philip was the objective reporter, the impartial journalist, who gave the paper many a scoop. That was Philip’s particular pride: to give every man, even the devil, his due. While I jumped on a man, Philip would patiently listen to his side.”
Teddy Locsin, Sr. was famous –or infamous, depending on who was reading his editorials and articles and who was being attacked in them– for “jumping on people.” His was the the anger of the man who had fought for his country as a guerrilla; his was the highly-developed moral conscience inculcated by his love of books and the mentorship of Robert McCullough Dick; his was the mind of a poet turned to penning the philippics and jeremiads of a reformist, a man who would give and take no quarter as he was proxy for Juan de la Cruz in fighting corruption, stupidity, cupidity and avarice in and out of government.
Yet there is one instance of his writing reflecting a wit, though, since written as a journalist, the merciless kind of wit. One of my favorite pieces is one he wrote on then Senatorial Candidate Pacita M. Warns on October 22, 1955.
He began the piece self-deprecatingly, writing, that when it came to tackling controversies involving women leaders, “It is difficult to write critically about a woman. Whether you are right or wrong makes no difference; you are being hard, it will be said, on the weaker sex. At the same time, it isn’t fair that just because a woman occupies an office, it should be above reproach. Where does chivalry end and civic duty begin? One cannot always tell. A gentleman has been defined as one who never inflicts pain; a newspaperman sometimes seems to do nothing else but inflict it. It is no use arguing, with people and with oneself, that it is a job that must be done. ‘How can you be so cruel to a lady!’ is the first and last reaction. And when the official, upon meeting you, instead of scratching your eyes out, speaks of the high standard of your paper and how, in only this case, it has fallen from that high standard, how she has admired your writing and thought you a man of principles, fair and objective in your reporting, and how disappointing that you have been less than fair and objective in dealing with her, what a gentleman she always thought you were, and look at you now—as she goes on heaping compliments and reproaches on your head, what can you do but say, ‘I am a dog?’”
In the process of the interview, the self-deprecation remained even as he let his subject pillory herself:
“. . . .Last Wednesday, we had an interview with Mrs. Warns. It was arranged by an officer of the SWA, Victor Baltazar, who came to the office and asked us if we would talk things over with the former SWA head. Certainly, we said.
“We met Mrs. Warns at the Jai Alai Keg Room. With her were Baltazar and two women connected with SWA. With us was Melecio Castaños of the FREE PRESS….”
Locsin asked a question concerning the controversy of the day: “How about those pictures of yours which we saw in the SWA? They were glamour shots and were autographed. Is the SWA supposed to distribute them?”
And Mrs. Warns replied, “Oh, they are my personal property, left there when I resigned. People kept asking for my pictures while I was administrator. The poor pasted them on the wall of their huts alongside the picture of the Virgin Mary. . . .”
Locsin writes that he responded,”No.” And the interview goes on to its –to this writer, anyway– hilarious conclusion:
“Yes.” [replied Mrs. Warns] “ If you could only see how the poor greet me wherever I go! They kiss my hand and tell their children to kiss the hem of my dress.”
“’Do they really paste your picture along that of the Virgin Mary?’
“’You may find it hard to believe, but they do. If you could come with me, I would show you. . . . Ah, you do not know what it is like to be poor! If you had lived with them, eaten with them, seen how wretched they are, you would understand how they feel toward me, why they would paste my picture beside that of the Virgin Mary and kiss my hand and tell their children to kiss the hem of my dress.’
“Speechless, we listened. She went on.
“’I have always admired the FREE PRESS for its crusading spirit and I have read your articles and thought you to be fair, just, principled newspaperman and when you do not even give me a chance to explain. . . .’
“’But I did give you a chance. I called you up, you will remember, and you told me you did not know how much the SWA spent for photographic materials but you gave your salary to the poor. . . .’
“’Not only my salary, I gave my own money daily to the poor. I only wish I could go on helping the poor. . .’
“’I am sure you can afford to do that immediately.’
“She looked at us with eyes full of pity.
“’Do you know what they are saying about the FREE PRESS now? In the provinces, in the barrios, wherever I go, the people are saying, having read your story about me and the SWA, ‘The FREE PRESS has become just like of the tabloids. It has attacked our Virgin Mary.’ That is what some would say. Others would correct them: ‘Not our Virgin Mary but our goddess.’ That is what the people of this country are saying about the FREE PRESS after your article.’
“’Will you please repeat that.’
“’Well, to show you how objective the FREE PRESS is, I am going to report what people are saying about it and about you in my next article.’
“’But do not say that I said I am the Virgin Mary and a goddess. It is the people who are saying that.’
“’I shall say that the people are saying that the FREE PRESS has become just like one of the tabloids because it has attacked their Virgin Mary or goddess. Is that correct?’
Magnificent. And one of the few examples I’ve found of Locsin letting his sense of humor shine through any of his articles.
He was always a shrewd observer; his journalism is replete with telling details and observations that endure. A short piece he wrote on August 10, 1946, titled “The Big Scramble,” could have been written yesterday, and can be written tomorrow. Just change the names, and the scramble is still there –the only thing different is the uncompromising morality of Locsin, then and always anti-collaborator.
“The young men of Capiz,” Locsin wrote, (referring to the new administration of Manuel Roxas), “according to reports reaching the FREE PRESS, are flocking to Manila, to shake the hand of their province mate, the President of the Philippines, to congratulate him on his election—and to ask for a job.
“Thus it was in Quezon’s time, and it was no different during the Osmeña administration. When Malacañan corridors still echoed with the oaths and curses of the High-Strung One [Quezon] as some cabinet member was called to account for some act of omission or commission, as the Church puts it, the Chosen People came from Tayabas. During the brief reign of Sergio the First and probably the Last, the Lucky Ones spoke English with a thick Cebuano accent. In the 2604th year of the reign of Showa, when Laurel was ‘President,’ Malacañan was a home away from home for Batangueños. Now, in the first year of Roxas, the Palace by the Pasig is being stormed by determined Capiceños, all animated by one single thought—a government job.
“In the palace itself, according to intelligence reports received by the Minority Camp, there are intra-mural hostilities between the De Leon side and the Acuña side of the Presidential family. The Acuñas are said to be increasingly bitter at the way the Bulakeños are getting the best jobs, and there are many dark references to blood, how it should be thicker than water.
“Meanwhile press communiqués indicate that while the Bulakeños and the Capiceños were arguing with each other who should have this job and who should have that, the Ilocanos—Quirinos—boys—have quietly infiltrated the lines and taken over the choicest offices. Determined to hold their positions at all cost, the Ilocanos were last reported to be forming suicide squadrons and building road blocks against future counter-attack by the boys from Bulacan and Capiz. In the face of a common enemy, they may even join forces and as one united army attack the Ilocano positions.
“From Capiz itself comes a report—the author keeps himself anonymous, and wisely, too, probably—that school teachers who made the simply unforgivable error of voting for Osmeña are finding themselves either dropped or assigned to distant barrios where nothing more is heard of them. Osmeña himself was given an honorary elder statesman’s job, but those who voted for him the last time are being slowly—and not so slowly — frozen out of the government, the report concludes.
“In Manila, things are not so bad. Many government employees took the precaution of voting for Roxas during the last election. If Osmeña won, they would still have their jobs, but if Roxas won—well they voted for him, didn’t they?”
And Locsin concluded with an observation that still speaks to us, today:
“Most government jobs are low paid, and one wonders why there is such scramble for them. Then one recalls the story of the pre-war Bureau of Customs employee who had a two story house, a car, and who sent his two daughters to an expensive private school—all on a salary of less than P100 a month. Who knows, once you are in the government, when such an opportunity will strike? The thing is, be prepared—and enter the government.”
Teddy Locsin, Sr. was not a prophet; he was a journalist, but the best kind; from his early post-war writing one is moved to jump to one of his last pre-martial law interviews, this one of his close friend Ninoy Aquino. The same Ninoy he advised, in 1983, not to return to the Philippines because, as Locsin’s middle son once recalled, “bravery achieves nothing, my father told him [Aquino], especially in a country of cowards. Yet that putdown of courage may have tipped the scale for Ninoy’s return. The worse the odds, the more inviting the challenge.”
This is only part of an interview, titled “Mission Impossible?” Locsin wrote on March 21, 1971. The issue of the day was the Jabidah massacre; there was an officer whose wife was looking for her husband. Locsin wrote,
“Captain Titong’s wife wonders, not only where her family’s next meal will come from, but where the hell her husband is.
“What happened to Captain Titong?
“’Five possibilities,’ said Aquino:
“’First, he could be absent without leave. The law demands that if he is AWOL, he should be court-martialed. But, thus far, no charge has been filed against him.’
“’Second, he could have been killed in action.’
“’Third, he could be missing in action.’
“’If the second or the third, then his dependents must receive a decent compensation, but this has been denied them.’
“Fourth, he could have deserted. But before one can prove desertion, one must first prove that the accused has no intention of returning or that he has joined the enemy. If he has deserted, then the officer who sent him on this last mission, even while he was facing charges before a General Court-Martial, has a lot to answer for.’
“’The fifth possibility is that he could be on a mission. This is the army position. But who would be so stupid as to send an exposed agent on a mission? Even the foreign press knew of Captain Titong.’”
Having allowed his readers to see Ninoy’s mind at work, now came Locsin’s turn to reach his own sinister conclusions:
“To send an exposed agent into the field of espionage,” Locsin continued, surely speaking from experience during the War, “again is like leading a sheep to slaughter. In October 1970 a Filipino secret agent identified as Capt. Solferiano Titong was reported to have been apprehended by Malaysian security forces. Some sources say that he has already been executed; others that he is still a prisoner in Kota Kinabalu.
“Where is Captain Titong and what is his fate? If he has been killed while on a mission his dependents should be supported. It is not only the humane, but also the legal thing to do. But if he is on a mission—or was, if he has been captured or killed—why was he sent on a mission while he still faced charges before a General Court-Martial? If he is a deserter or AWOL it could only be because he was given more freedom of movement than he was entitled to. He should have been closely watched. Why was he not?”
Locsin steps back to let Ninoy pose a question that Locsin then answers:
“’I will continue blocking General Ramos’s appointment until he satisfactorily explains what happened to Captain Titong,’ Aquino told the press. It is not true that he is blocking it because General Ramos is President Marcos’s second cousin or because he is ‘an anti-Huk fighter,’ as Malacañang has alleged…
“’Who is more responsible,’ Aquino retorted, ‘I or the man who put the lives of our young men in danger and most probably pushed this country to the brink of conflict?’
“Suddenly Senator Aquino realized that there was something odd about Malacañang’s reaction to his questions about Captain Titong’s fate. Why its deep concern? At the same time he heard from Moslem leaders about a certain individual who stood to profit greatly if the Sabah claim was pressed.
“Malacañang called Aquino, ‘unpatriotic.’
“Against whom? Aquino asked. President Marcos is not the Filipino nation. Or is he? …” Locsin goes on to go into the details on the claim on Sabah and the claim by Ferdinand Marcos that he had a power of attorney from the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu –a complicated question, but which, in the end, boils down to a question pregnant with foreboding:
“Either President Marcos does not envision anyone ever succeeding him as President or it is legal for a private individual to deal with himself as the highest official of the government.”
And so it came to pass. Locsin could see it coming. When the knock came on September 23 he was ready; he went into capitivity willingly. A country unwilling to resist tyranny might as well have examples of those willing to suffer imprisonment for principles upheld. Released, he kept silent –he would not dignify the dictatorship with his journalism. He took up his pen and wrote poetry, his true love; he wrote short stories, he brooded in his library and advised his friend Ninoy that a nation of cowards deserved what it was getting.
But when Ninoy died –the time had come for Locsin’s last crusade. In a sense, it was his Indian Summer, the last hoorah of a mind rejuvenated; he would praise Ninoy and exalt his widow; he would nod at the way a nation redeemed itself –only to keep pounding away at his typewriter as his country degenerated into the same sort of scrambling he had so trenchantly written about as a young man.
The mind of Teodoro M. Locsin, Sr. is best understood as the mind of a romantic; and like any lover of romance, he had his paramour –his country. He had the heart of a minstrel poet yet set it aside in order to be the guardian of the country he loved, betray her though she might, dissapoint her as often she may have done; still –to the end, the would be the man of the days of Liberation who would jump on anyone should they try to take advantage of the country he loved.
There is no other way to make sense of a man who seemed to be so violent in his prose and so forbiddingly distant when it came to his public persona, and yet who was the doting father and loving husband who would sing and drink his scotch and later, wine. The man who, in the twilight of his life said so little, even as he decided to write no more, is the man we see all over. The man who loved, and loved true; and yet refused all recognition for his long arduous hours of guardianship.