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The Defiant Era
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Forty years ago, the First Quarter Storm rocked Manila, which had not seen anarchy on this scale since the Pacific War. A look back at the movement, where it failed and where it succeeded
January 30, 2010-–THE thrilling thing about the year “was that it was a time when significant segments of population all over the globe refused to be silent about the many things that were wrong with the world.” “And this gave the world a sense of hope that it has rarely had, a sense that where there is wrong, there are always people who will expose it and try to change it.”
That was Mark Kurlansky writing in his marvelous book 1968: The Year That Rocked the World. From Cuba to China to Czechoslovakia, France, Mexico, Poland and the United States, young people began to rebel against the establishment. Kurlansky believes the postwar generation was prepared to do so, ironically because of the relative security and comfort they enjoyed and their having been born after the privations and traumas of World War II. And so young people in communist countries challenged party dictatorship while their counterparts in the democratic world turned leftward to challenge the bourgeois certainties of their elders, for it was in that year, too, here in the Philippines, that an elite family celebrated a wedding anniversary with heedless ostentation.
Filipinos born after the war, who had no memory of that period or the succeeding era of the Huks, came to share the restlessness and iconoclasm of their counterparts around the world: students demonstrated against the Vietnam War (it was the year of the T?t Offensive), and for social reforms in the Catholic Church and in the schools.
In that year, Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr. published a commentary in the American publication Foreign Affairs, describing the country as “a land consecrated to democracy but run by an entrenched plutocracy. Here, too, are a people whose ambitions run high, but whose fulfillment is low and mainly restricted to the self-perpetuating elite. Here is a land of privilege and rank – a republic dedicated to equality but mired in an archaic system of caste.” Aquino was writing in response to the massacre of Lapiang Malaya ralliers on May 21, 1967. Democracy had survived the Huk rebellion; and yet, even the beneficiaries of the relative stability of the mid-Fifties to mid-Sixties left an increasingly better-educated and cosmopolitan urban middle class in discontent.
The First Quarter Storm came two years after the rest of the world was convulsed by student rebellions in 1968. By all accounts, 1969 was the year in which protesting in the style of the civil rights movement in the United States – peaceful, nonviolent, reformist – gave way to more militant protests and bluntly revolutionary aspirations among the youth, along with the flag hoisted with the red field up.
Ferdinand Marcos won an unprecedented full second term as president toward the end of that year. In those days, when presidential terms began on December 30, a newly elected president delivered his annual State of the Nation at the opening of Congress in January. In 1970, that address to Congress was scheduled on a Monday, January 26. A mere four weeks had passed since Marcos’s inaugural as the [Third] Republic’s first reelected president.
Recalling the era for The Philippine Century, an anthology of writings published in the Free Press, veteran journalist Dan Mariano writes: “Outside the Legislative Building, hundreds of moderate student activists were demonstrating to urge the government to call a constitutional convention.” Jose F. Lacaba, in “The January 26 Confrontation: A Highly Personal Account,” the first of his articles on the First Quarter Storm for this magazine, writes that student leader Edgar Jopson, who was then a moderate, had his group’s microphones kept away from radical student leader Gary Olivar, and the radicals wrangled with the moderates just as Marcos had finished his speech and was stepping out of the Legislative Building.
It was then, Mariano’s account continues, that “a paper mache crocodile (representing government corruption) and a makeshift coffin (symbolizing the death of democracy) flew” in the direction of Marcos and his wife, Imelda. “Security aides quickly hustled Marcos into his waiting limousine and sped away from the angry mob. Moments later, Manila police armed with truncheons and rattan shields attacked the student demonstrators who fought back with empty soft-drink bottles, rocks and the wooden frames of their placards.”
The moderates tried to pacify by means of speeches the radicals, among them the Maoist Kabataang Makabayan. But the radicals, as Lacaba reports, were “spoiling for trouble” with the cops and were “in no mood for dinner-party chatter and elocution contests.”
From the battleground that was the vicinity of the Legislative Building on Burgos Drive, the demonstrations that now launched the First Quarter Storm moved on to the premises of Malacañang, after a relative lull of three days in which student groups still took to the streets to denounce the government. Then came Friday, January 30 – “so far the most violent night in the city’s postwar history,” as Lacaba writes in retrospect about these events.
The radicals were demonstrating again in front of the Legislative Building, as the moderates went to Malacañang for an audience with Marcos that turned into a tense confrontation. By the end of that meeting, the radicals had trooped as well to the Palace. As Lacaba reports in “And the January 30 Insurrection,” “[w]hat specific event precipitated the battle that spread out to other parts of the city, and lasted till dawn the next day, may never be known. The students who came from Congress claim that, as they were approaching J. P. Laurel Street, they heard something that sounded like firecrackers going off. When they got to Malacanang, the crowd was getting to be unruly. It was growing dark, and the lamps on the Malacanang gates had not been turned on. There was a shout of ‘Sindihan ang ilaw! Sindihan ang ilaw!’ Malacañang obliged, the lights went on, and then crash! a rock blasted out one of the lamps. One by one, the lights were put out by stones or sticks.”
Firefighters arrived at the scene, literally to extinguish the political conflagration at the Palace gates, but the hose they aimed at the protesters yielded a “sputtering spurt,” then the comical became tragic as the protesters ran after and roughed up the fleeing firefighters, then rammed the fire truck into Malacañang’s Mendiola gate. The very center of power suddenly became a tear-gassed arena, as the presidential guards at once engaged the protesters who were lobbing Molotov cocktails into the Palace grounds.
Amid the blaze of a parked vehicle that had been set on fire, the presidential guards managed to drive out the mob, and the battle shifted again to downtown Manila where, this time, not just cops, but “constabulary troopers” confronted the protesters, reports Lacaba. There were also looters among this defiant crowd, who exploited the situation, smashing shop windows and spiriting away “jewelry and shoes.” Soon enough, “the soldiers started firing with Thompsons into the ground,” the dreadful staccato intended as warning, and yet some protesters were hit by shrapnel. Lacaba himself became caught up in the frenzy of rushing some of the injured to the nearby hospitals, and it is remarkable, going by his account, that not a few residents in the area helped hide the protesters who, fleeing from their pursuers, had wandered into the maze of Manila’s dark alleys.
By dawn, the revolution of January 30 was quite over, hundreds had been arrested and an eerie, smoke-filled silence was restored in the city. But this was just the beginning of the Storm. Marcos did not immediately issue his infamous dire warnings – his threats to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and declare martial law. He still maintained that air of equanimity, as opposed to the spitefulness attributed to him since. Nevertheless this period became his transition to authoritarianism. Vice President Fernando Lopez resigned from the Cabinet the next day.
These events were chronicled by the Free Press writers in what has since been widely acclaimed as “literature in a hurry.” Lacaba’s articles for this magazine and Asia-Philippines Leader remain in print in a book titled Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage: The First Quarter Storm and Related Events, which harks back to a time when protesting in front of the US Embassy was daringly new and not the ossified ritual that such actions became since; when communism and socialism were daring new thought and not bogged down in debates over whether they’re old cant; when the established social order was besieged and a generation of Filipinos thought it was possible to push it to the wall so that it would either reform or suffer destruction through revolution.
In contrast to Lacaba’s reportage, Kerima Polotan, sympathetic to Marcos where Lacaba was brilliantly antipathetic, recounted the same events but with hardly any sympathy for Marcos’s critics, whether old or young. Instead, she wrote of those in whom the radicalism of the youth inspired not admiration but fear.
“Right or wrong, one had kept one’s children off the streets all their lives, a canon, one had warned them clearly, they were not to break while they lived under one’s roof,” went Polotan’s “The Long Week,” published alongside Lacaba’s accounts of the January 26 and 30 riots in the Free Press of February 7, 1970. “They went to school and then came home. They had duties and chores, and tonight, while the police chased some other mothers’ children down below, one’s own young were at home getting supper for the small ones, washing the dishes, and locking up the kitchen before turning to their books – altogether not a popular kind of activism, not any kind of activism at all, not modern, but one’s personal, though passage, idea of parenthood. Parents surrender quickly these days and pay for their easy abdication with the broken skulls of their sons and the crushed legs of their daughters.”
Lacaba’s book recaptures the ferment, the freshness, of a period of agitation that resulted, alas, in dictatorship and in a generation robbed of their chance to lead. Yesterday’s FQS protesters are today’s middle-aged baby boomers with grown-up children of their own, often ensconced in the establishment, either in business or government. Yet the historical verdict seems clear: Lacaba’s articles have survived, Polotan’s, forgotten; youthful idealism continues to be honored; the New Society generally acknowledged to be a sham.
To read Lacaba’s book is to be able to answer a crucial question about that generation: Have yesterday’s activists-turned-today’s fat cats been able to totally jettison their radical youth, or is there something in them ingrained by that period that bears watching as they now handle the levers of power? I would argue that those FQS veterans now in high places cannot avoid a radically different outlook, with its quiet but perceptible impact on how power is wielded in the present day.
Reading eyewitness accounts of great events also points to the depressing reality that some things never change. The reactionaries remain so; the reformists stuck, too, in a rut of self-doubt; and the radicals in a time warp. And, indirectly, Lacaba’s book raises a question no one has ever been able to answer in a satisfactory manner. Did the agitation of idealistic and romantic youth in the late-Sixties and early-Seventies make dictatorship more appealing? For the shameful fact is that martial law was greeted with relief by a majority of Filipinos, at least from the upper and middle classes, who rejoiced in the curfew, in the cutting of hippie hair, not to mention the padlocking of Congress and suppression of liberties. For, if so, the Filipino may be innately reactionary – with all that such a conclusion shockingly implies.
Recalling that eventful first quarter of 1970, Dan Mariano writes, “Although the country had more roads, bridges, dams and irrigation systems than ever before, the economy had begun to nose-dive. The peso underwent a 100 percent devaluation, with the exchange rate going from P2.00 to P4.00, then P8.00. The prices of basic commodities rose out of the reach of the working population, whose wages were not allowed to keep up with inflation.”
By April that year, a general strike was held protesting against increases in oil prices and transportation costs. The next year saw the Diliman Commune, the revolt by University of the Philippines students in February. But the sign of those times was not the Diliman Commune itself, which continues to throb gloriously in the memories of FQS veterans, but a parallel effort overlooked because it’s inconvenient. As students barricaded the campus and broadcast a recording of the President’s postcoital croonings to Dovie Beams, some residents in the area banded together and hunted down the radical students in the defense of order and their property rights.
And it was Ferdinand Marcos, the last product of the American educational system, but a mutant one in that his political maturity took place during the confused, corrupt and corrupting circumstances of the Japanese Occupation, who gambled on form trumping substance. So long as the trappings of legitimacy were maintained, the upper and middle class would embrace his “Revolution from the Center” and tolerate, if not actually accept with enthusiasm, his “New Society.”
The Plaza Miranda bombing took place on August 21, 1971. Two days after, 20 people were arrested as Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus. Martial law followed a year and a month later, restoring order on the surface but fueling the already underground radical movement that Jopson himself would at last join and sacrifice his life for. Yet, when revolution finally came, it wasn’t what the young radicals dreamed of in 1970. It was an entirely different creature, what came to be known as People Power in 1986, and Velvet Revolutions elsewhere since.
Philippines Free Press
May 17, 2004
Perception is King
by Manuel L. Quezon III
IN the Philippines, perception is king, and plausibility is queen. If things are perceived to be, then they are, regardless of reality. At the same time, if something is plausible, it is viewed as probable –again, regardless of reality.
The reality is that the counting isn’t over, and only the counting will reveal what is true. But until the counting is done, the battle over perception and the campaign to enlist plausibility in aid of the campaign continues.
This early on, however, certain trends can be deduced from the recently-concluded national elections.
The first is the return of the importance of machinery, and an accompanying crisis of confidence in media driven campaigns. The failed campaigns of Ramon Mitra, Jr. in 1992, and of Jose de Venecia in 1998, convinced many observers that the era of the party machine had passed. Succesful campaigns, it was thought, would succeed or fail based on a combination of media savvy and shrewd back room operations (including dirty psychological warfare tricks). The campaigns of Fidel V. Ramos and Joseph Estrada were supposed to bear this out.
On the other hand, the dizzying success of Joseph Estrada’s 1998 campaign brought to the fore the importance of show business and personal charisma. The concept of effective communication being essential to a campaign is as old as politics itself: but the fact that Estrada was an actor seemed to indicate something new. The result was that the 2004 campaign suffered from the perception that popularity, in particular show-biz popularity, would rule the roost. This was a particularly dangerous delusion to suffer from on the part of the opposition, but it also put the administration in a demoralized position at the start of the campaign.
What everyone forgot was that the Estrada campaign had succeeded because it combined the old and the new; it had its own machine and its candidate (Estrada) spent as much time cultivating his media image as he did on doing the rounds with provincial kingpins to enlist their support. In that fight, his opponent had machinery but no charisma, and so, all things being equal, electoral success was actually determined by the tried and true electoral formula, “politics is addition.” The candidate with charisma and popularity could do well if he had a serviceable machine; the candidate with machinery alone, however, wouldn’t be able to sustain his momentum in the face of charisma.
The administration carefully cultivated the impression it had all the machinery, when in fact, had the opposition paid more attention to its own machinery, it could have seriously wrecked the administration efforts. The President was viewed not only as a party outsider, but an unpopular one, at that. But when the hustlings began, she did what her opponent failed to do: assiduously court the support of local kingpins. They could not wait in the wings forever. By imposing her personality on her campaign leaders, the president showed more inclinations to act as a leader who understood the rules of the game, thereby becoming palatable to local leaders. She did not shrink from the traditional role national leaders play in elections, which is to act as broker and referee in closely-contested local races. She therefore created a political infrastructure while being careful to give the impression it was there all along, even while she was cobbling it together.
The opposition’s main contender, on the other hand, either refused, or was unable, to play the game, and alienated local support. He stood to inherit the Marcos political machine as reinvigorated by Estrada. Instead, he squandered his opportunities by ignoring local leaders and refusing to mediate their various quarrels. Leadership for him was a zero sum game in a system in which the leader who can dole out the most gravy to everyone comes out ahead.
Fernando Poe, Jr. and his handlers bet on showbiz glitz and bet big. Not even Estrada had done so. When the President, having consolidated her machinery, then took the fight into the very field Poe’s people assumed was theirs for the taking, real trouble began. Taking the fight to Poe’s home ground points to the next trend observable in this election.
The second trend is a generational shift in national, and even local, politics, with interesting implications for the future. The strength of Poe was anchored on his ruling the showbiz roost. But as the campaign dragged on, his kingship was seen to be a titular one. The showbiz elite, in general, it is true, answered his call. Out of loyalty or fear, the majority of the powers that be gravitated to his campaign. But his command was eventually exposed as limited, not all-pervasive. In the first place, while only a small minority of showbiz personalities openly defied him, showbiz insiders did whisper that a significant number of actors and directors and producers kept a discreet silence. More significantly, the minority that did dare to go against him tended to come from the ranks of younger celebrities. Celebrities who, it must be remembered, had already demonstrated their capacity to eclipse Poe at the box office. Such was the case with Ai Ai de las Alas, whose “Tanging Yaman” had killed Poe’s “Pakners” at the box office, and whose own following was mobilized through her endorsement of President Arroyo. Raul Roco and Bro. Eddie Villanueva, too, had their own cast of showbiz supporters, generally young, generally more in tune with the audiences whose votes were being courted.
That audience –the electorate- it must be remembered, is predominantly young, and speaks a different language from its elders, whose rhetoric it despises. Poe’s fans are increasingly aging; his political lieutenants political dinosaurs; his machinery, aging as well. His opponents were more vigorous, and perhaps, more ruthless –certainly, more creative. The class-based rhetoric of Poe belonged to an earlier age, and was somewhat ineffective in light of a less rural, more mobile, and more sophisticated citizenry which had already rejected the two past masters of fostering class divisions, Marcos and Estrada. The numbers to whom this kind of rhetoric appeals, it is true, is significant, but still, a minority. And that minority, which could have spelled overwhelming victory if it had been nurtured, was disgruntled by their candidates inability to put up a strong fight. Those really wanting an iron-fisted leadership clung to Lacson, while those who disliked the incumbent, but also disliked her predecessor, either supported Villanueva or Roco. The President, fairly young herself, and surrounded by more young people than Poe, was better able to entice the young.
The third, and final, trend, is a longer, more strategic view of campaigns on the part of certain candidates. New forces have been unleashed, for whom the 2004 campaign was merely a prelude for 2007 and 2010. These include first time voters, and those slightly older, but for whom their first political experience was the Estrada impeachment. They include a new class of younger entrepreneurs and the remnants of the middle class, who want strong, even authoritarian leadership. And it includes those who have rejected traditional religious institutions, becoming, instead, born again Christians. The Roco, Lacson, and Villanueva campaigns were the most creative and demonstrated the inroads alternative machineries can make in traditional politics. Their techniques will have an impact on the techniques of their more traditional colleagues. Their electoral failure must be balanced by the surprising cohesion of their supporters, and their remarkable showing in the polls. They have tasted blood, so to speak, and their thirst for more will be hard to quench. They will, to a significant degree, affect the lay of the political land for some years to come.
Whatever the surveys say, the campaign was a closely contested one, and the eventual outcome still holds some surprises. The battle for perception continues, because try as they might, the two leading contenders weren’t able to conjure up the perception of an overwhelming, or at least, inevitable, victory. At present the administration is trying to preserve its gains, but the closely contested national contest is being replicated in enough local contests to offer the opposition the opportunity to raid the squabbling local groupings of the administration, some of whom may be desperate for help, any help, to bring them victory. Therefore, the administration is busy guarding its machinery to ensure it doesn’t break down, while the opposition, back against the wall, is ruthlessly attempting to deny the administration a plausible victory.
The surveys prior to the election, and immediately after, offered the administration the chance to declare its victory plausible. But the manner in which the Commission on Elections bungled the voting, in particular the disenfranchisement of voters estimated by the Social Weather Stations to have reached 900,000 individuals, offers the opposition the chance to declare that enough people couldn’t vote to put the results of a close race in doubt. The collapse of the Namfrel quick count, too, places its efforts as an antidote to cheating –or the perception of cheating- in doubt. Monkeying around with the results on both sides becomes that much more plausible. The result is the denial of the administration of the perception of the inevitability of its victory, and affords the opposition a second wind –one coming at the heels of its blitzkrieg effort in the closing 10 days of the campaign, when its candidate finally came out swinging in a blizzard of ads. The effects of those ads, it seems, can be directly correlated with the closeness of the race. Smart money remains on a victory by the President. But in the continuing battle for perception and plausibility, the opposition is showing a startling resilience.
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.
Free Press cover story
January 13, 2002 issue
Too early the birds of prey
by Manuel L. Quezon III
MAKING an ass of one’s self should be a basic human right, if only politicians could be denied this right because of the problems it causes other politicians and most of all, the public. To put matters in historical perspective, of the past presidents of this country, two were reelected to office (Manuel L. Quezon and Ferdinand E. Marcos), and only two former presidents ran for the position of president after having served as head of state: Emilio Aguinaldo, who went down in grumpy defeat in 1935, and Jose P. Laurel in 1949, though Laurel was the nobler in at least telling his supporters, who were as angry as Aguinaldo’s had been, not to mount a revolution.
Yet in the case of Aguinaldo and Laurel, there were extenuating circumstances in the cases of their candidacies. Aguinaldo was a political enemy of Quezon from 1922 to 1941, and was pushed by his supporters to run as a symbol of the aspirations of the Revolution; Laurel ran as much to vindicate his name as to achieve a mandate, never having been directly elected by the people to a position he served as a well-meaning head of a puppet government -indeed, it is interesting to note that both Aguinaldo, who ran in the first national presidential elections in 1935, and Laurel, who ran in the elections of 1949, were haunted by a desire to achieve what they never had when they were president: a genuine national mandate at the polls.
But one must consider, on the other hand, the cases of the only two presidents reelected: Quezon in 1935 and 1941, and Marcos in 1965 and 1969. Both tarnished their reputations by clinging to power beyond the terms allowed them by the Constitution under which they were elected. To this must be added the inevitability in the minds of many that had Quezon lived, he would have stepped down for a brief 2 years in order to run again in 1946 to be the first president of the independent Republic, and that Ramon Magsaysay would have run —and won— again, after his first term (and there are even those who suspect that Magsaysay, who imitated Quezon in so many ways, would have found a way to stay in office as long as possible as well). But fate decreed Quezon’s death in large part because of the strain of his final battle with Sergio Osmeña to cling to power, and fate had it in the cards that Ramon Magsaysay, like Manuel Roxas, would die before his first term ended, leaving Ferdinand Marcos to make every liberty-loving and democratic Filipinos’ nightmare come true: scrapping the Constitution, ignoring the laws, setting up a dictatorship that only fell when a country regained its dignity and courage and threw the man out of Malacañang.
Now to these negative examples add the examples of past presidents who could have run for office after the Constitutional limitations passed, and yet did not: the list is long. Sergio Osmena; Elpidio Quirino; Carlos P. Garcia; Diosdado Macapagal; Corazon Aquino. Except for Aquino, all the rest suffered defeat in their quest for reelection to a second term, yet had an opportunity (at least in the cases of Osmena, Garcia and Macapagal) to run for president again if they wished. But they never wished to. None of them ever fully retired from politics; they preferred to be consulted as elder statesmen; two of them, Garcia and Macapagal, chose to run for, be elected delegates to, and then presidents of, the 1971-73 Constitutional Convention. But the presidency, having been denied them in the past, was something they never sought again as a political prize.
The fact is that it should be enough for a former president to have had the honor and privilege of serving the country once, or in the old days twice, and end it at that. The exemplar of how a former president should conduct himself after leaving office is of course, Sergio Osmena, who represented many of the political virtues of the country, anyway; to a lesser extent, there are the examples of Aguinaldo and Laurel, the former reconciling himself to playing elder statesman, the latter choosing to serve in the senate as long as he could and even serve other presidents. There are the examples, too, of Garcia and Macapagal: the former went into quiet retirement until the ConCon and then died 24 hours after being sworn in as president of the convention; Macapagal, after a checkered experience with presiding and eventually losing control over the ConCon at least followed Aguinaldo’s path and quietly learned to enjoy the role of elder statesman; poor Elpidio Quirino lived too briefly after leaving office to accomplish much more than begin his memoirs and reach a touching reconciliation with his erstwhile protégé, Magsaysay.
Enter Fidel V. Ramos, former and, to the minds of too many, including quite possibly the mind of Mr. Ramos himself, future President of the Republic of the Philippines. Enter Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, present president and, almost indubitably, candidate for the position in 2004. What of them?
Of Fidel Ramos, one should note immediately what has been whispered about town almost from the moment he left office -the man has never grown accustomed to not wielding the reins of power. He wanted to amend the Constitution to allow himself either two more years in the manner of Quezon, or transform the country to a parliamentary system which was the original Marcos plan to perpetuate himself in power. This grand design failed in the face of the intransigence of Corazon Aquino (former president who seems not to miss being president at all), Cardinal Sin, a multitude of Filipinos, and one Joseph Ejercito Estrada who would be damned if his sure election to the presidency would be postponed even for a minute by a man he loathed.
Result? A lost kibbitzer, which Mr. Ramos is of the first order, as proven by his most unpresidential behavior during Joseph Estrada’s inauguration at Barasoain. The man tried to steal the limelight every moment he could, and then loftily proclaimed that under Estrada, he would be pleased to play the role of Elder Statesman in an official capacity, much to the amusement of everyone who head Ramos say these things. However, neither public derision, or skepticism, or outright hostility has ever deterred Mr. Ramos from doing what he pleases, and it has pleased him to use the time in between his never-ending globetrotting to keep himself in the limelight, including first, playing a lecturing uncle to Estrada, and then supposed pillar of the opposition when Estrada grew impatient with his “advice,” and now, gadfly and thorn in the side of Mrs. Arroyo. Perhaps Mr. Ramos feels that if Cory Aquino can bring down one government after stopping the attempts at charter change of two other presidents dead in their tracks, he has similar powers.
Perhaps. Although if this is the case, then it only proves that the man has an axe to grind against the woman who broke tradition to attend his inauguration (for perfectly legitimate symbolic reasons, the inauguration of Ramos was the first democratic handover of power since 1965) and put country ahead of her having given him her previous blessings in firmly saying “no” to his obvious desire to prolong his stay in office. One is forced to wonder if Fidel Ramos is not only ungrateful when it comes to Cory Aquino, but whether he actively dislikes her now -which would make him a petty, mean, and small-minded man.
Or could it be Fidel Ramos simply is getting old and too dense to realize the reason Cory Aquino can be an influential ex-president and Fidel Ramos may be influential, but not popular, and lacks what he seems to crave: a nation, on bended knee, begging him to return to Malacanang? Were this the case, then at least one can conclude Fidel Ramos is not petty, mean and small-minded but suffering from well-intentioned delusions: of being an irreplaceable man, of believing as gospel truth the insincere flattery of the sycophants that surround any politician, and the quite human refusal to recognize his own mortality and accept being put out to political pasture, since he is by no means, ancient. The reason Cory Aquino has the influence and respect she has, and Ramos does not, is that she is the only president in our history to say one term is enough, I’ve had it, and left Malacanang without looking back and probably murmuring “good riddance” the whole time. In short, she has what Fidel Ramos has never, ever, had in his life or career: moral ascendancy.
Fidel Ramos is too fidgety, too eager the attention-seeker, too enthusiastic the opiner, too happy the meddler, to be respected or have moral ascendancy of any sort. This is not to say he does not have influence, for he does; this is not to say he does not have political supporters, for he does; but it is to say that as far as the public is concerned, Fidel Ramos is history and had better accept the fact that he belongs to the past and not the future. One need only listen to the verbal abuse he was subjected to by the great unwashed at Edsa III to recognize this; and aside from the usual businessmen who value the illusion of Fidel Ramos being “Steady Eddie,” and who crave a man who will be content to go on junkets and turn a blind eye to anything so long as he gets the perks (a bad executive habit he shared with Joseph Estrada except in comparison to Estrada’s being uncouth about corruption, even Ramos’s most vicious detractors give him credit for being suave when it came to the corruption they are convinced he was a party to during his term).
To be a president or past president is, of course, not to be divine; which means Fidel Ramos is as likely to fall prey to illusions as much as the next man. He probably thinks the can still do good for the country, that the country needs him, and if the country were only given a chance it would fall to the ground in gratitude and kiss his feet were he to have the chance to be president again. This explains the never-ending and, really, tiring controversy of the day, which is the alleged rift between President Arroyo and former president Ramos over an election two years away. Fidel Ramos already suffers from the perception too widely held that he at one point pulled all the strings in the new Arroyo administration, or tried to, which made him as much the object of the poor’s equally deluded wrath in May 2001, as President Arroyo herself. And as for President Arroyo, she suffers from two insecurities: the fact that she was elevated to the presidency by succession and not election, and under the most confused of circumstances at that; and that she is the first child of a president who seems to have a chance to break the long curse, it seems, that has afflicted the children of past presidents -none of them ever make it to Malacanang although the senate and Vice-Presidency have been proven to not be beyond their reach.
For a politician and a businessman and even a soldier, and even for certain members of our uncivilized civil society, Fidel Ramos has the virtue of exuding an aura of dynamism, of calm, of precise, methodical working habits and discipline. How close perceptions are to the truth only those truly close to him can answer; but the fact is that there are those with influence and money who believe there exists a Steady Eddie and wouldn’t mind Ramos back. For the same politicians and businessmen, the problem with President Arroyo is that even if she is equally hard working, she happens to be frugal, as hot-tempered as Ramos but far from being his peer in hiding the fact, and she is a woman who suffers from the idea she has nothing to lose by actually giving the country as honest an administration as is possible given our society’s limitations. That, and the fact there is that onus on presidential children and that they might get stuck with her for nine uninterrupted years. The ramifications of a fairly clean, competent, and hard-working government are simply too frightening for these people to contemplate.
And thus the need to at least obtain leverage on Mrs. Arroyo by way of using Fidel Ramos as a threat. After all, Mr. Ramos is willing and able to be used as such a tool, indeed he may have thought up the idea of using the bogey of a Ramos for President campaign in 2004 as a potential spoiler to exact concessions from the administration, which has enough of a problem on its hands with fulfilling its promises, neutralizing its enemies, and keeping the country together during tough times.
Fidel Ramos would never win another presidential election even if Mrs. Arroyo dropped dead and a way was found to make monkeys run against Ramos the way Marcos engineered his farcical martial law presidential elections. What can happen is Fidel Ramos could ensure that if he can’t win, neither can Mrs. Arroyo, but it wouldn’t be in the interest of either to give away the election in 2004 to the opposition, which is indeed vicious, ruthless, has many axes to grind, and much dirt to dish out against the two.
Hence the view of this writer than Mr. Ramos is either extremely delusional or out to keep himself in the political loop and be a powerbroker of sorts, if not an actual shadow president (the best of both worlds). The fact that Joe de Venecia, who has the biggest chance of being Prime Minister for life were we to go parliamentary, is as usual going out of his way to get into trouble trying to patch things up between former president Ramos and President Macapagal, is no surprise or mystery. De Venecia is simply too nice, too compleat the politician, to give the opposition ammunition when things could all be quietly smoothed out to his party’s advantage.
The spoiler of course is Mrs. Arroyo’s determination not to be anyone’s patsy; she may have, as all presidents have done, tried to pay her dues in the early part of her administration, but she can clearly see, if she has half a brain (and no one doubts she has not just half but quite a complete one), that she needs a mandate, a real mandate, and that her political destiny must be played out as her father’s was -either to a happier conclusion by way of election in 2004, or defeat, as her father endured in 1965. But she has no other option but to stay the course and fight.
That having been said, this is all, then, a testing of the waters. The West Pointer in Ramos is probing the defenses of the administration, looking for its weaknesses. His archskeptics are under the impression his real aim is to simply be done with a Constitution that he could not amend to satisfy his ambitions, and be called upon to trot out on a white horse and restore the lost era of Philippines 2000. No one with any intellectual honesty can deny that Mr. Ramos’s actions to date, down to calling a radio station to muse on the need to file a test case to figure out if he’s entitled to run legitimately in the next election, only serve to reinforce the worst perceptions that exist of the man. Nor can anyone deny the political and even personal imperatives that would drive Mrs. Arroyo to seek election in 2004 come hell or high water, if only to prove her critics wrong, and be remembered not as a woman who inherited the presidential mantle, but who earned it in her own right.
So Fidel Ramos says he is not running —period, period, period. Though the country is used to his three periods being the ellipse that leads to a pregnant pause that leads others to begin to have paranoid attacks (which Ramos surely enjoys). The President, on the other hand, truthfully says she is too busy worrying about the here and now to fuss over 2004, though even in that she is being disingenuous -but then which president entitled to reelection, with the exception of Cory Aquino- ever was anything but disingenuous about the possibility of their running again? Even Cory Aquino, who was not bound by the term limitations of the Charter approved during her term, kept her options open if only to keep from becoming a lame duck. The only president in our history who ever committed political suicide was Joseph Estrada and neither Ramos nor Arroyo are Estrada. There is no surer way to commit political hara-kiri than to say you have no intention of running for reelection when you can -and be believed.
The whole non-issue then boils down to a rift between the Lakas-NUCD people who grew fat and soft under Ramos, and who aren’t pleased that they are expected to stay relatively lean during the Arroyo New Era Part 2. The whole issue is that having abandoned the Liberals, and never having established a cohesive hard-core party of loyalists of her own, Mrs. Arroyo is not in full control of the party she is putatively the chief of, but which recalls its salad days as having been under Fidel Ramos. Ramos may be circulating offering them a chance of reliving the good old days when boys could be boys, businessmen could do business under a regime that was all light and sound, and not hard work as it is at present.
Pie in the sky, Ramos-style, versus the drudgery of the dirty kitchen, Arroyo-style. Were you a politician you would at least give pause to the thought that life would be tough under another six years of Arroyo, and positively miserable if not dangerous to life and limb under a Ping Lacson regime: so why not, indeed, a return to steady Eddie.
We shall have to see who has the last wink. Or who raises her eyebrow last in satisfaction as her opponent folds.
Escape from Corregidor
by Manuel L. Quezon Jr.
(Fom the late author’s unpublished memoirs.
December 8, 2001–THE last public occasion I attended with my father (I was then 15) was when my father told the UP audience on Taft Avenue that if bombs started to drop and people was killed because there were no shelters, it would be because of the Civil Liberties Union. My father had planned to build air raid shelters all over for the safety of the people but Roosevelt had asked him not to use the special powers given him by the National Assembly because of the Civil Liberties Union. I have never liked the CLU since. If widespread bombing had occured in Manila, people would have died because of the CLU. In their self-righteous so-called defense of rights, they sometimes block higher rights —and those people should have been hanged from the lamp posts.
During the speech, my father was shouting. I never remembered any of the subject matter of my father’s speeches — what 15 years old wants to sit through hour-long public speeches — at least they seemed hours long — but that speech I do recall. The smart-alec UP students laughed.
In 1941 — December 8— the war came. The day World War II started in the Philippines, my mother, my sister Baby, Jovita Fuentes and I were at our (then) hacienda in Arayat, Pampanga, just about half an hour from the Buencamino hacienda in Cabiao, Nueva Ecija. As it was the Feast of the Immaculate Concepcion, Patroness of the Philippines and also of Cabiao, we went to Cabiao; we had the usual enormous breakfast of adobo, tinapa, eggs and God knows what else. I suppose Jovita Fuentes had to sing at Mass. Then we went back to Arayat, where we soon saw the smoke rising above Fort Stotsenberg, as the Japanese that had bombed it flew right over us. Jovita Fuentes fell into a ditch from fright. My mother signalled me to join her under a shrub or trees lower than her (she was only five feet tall). My sister Baby did not join us in hiding. She was one of those enviable individuals who was inmune of from fear, and bent over double with laughter at my mother and myself, hiding under the little shrub. My father was in Baguio resting at the outbreak of war — apparently he was having a resurgence of his TB, although I did not know.
That evening my father picked us all up and we we moved back to our country house in Marikina for safety. Marikina had a very well designed air raid shelter.
Government people kept coming and going. There were lots of meetings, and finally what turned out to be my father’s last cabinet meeting before evacuating to Corregidor. It was held under the shade of a large mango tree in our Marikina house, where PSBA is now.
What I was doing in the open-air Cabinet meeting I do not know but I do recall that my father got telephone reconfirmation of MacArthur’s approval of my father’s instructions — the cabinet members were to do everything to protect the Filipino people, short of swearing allegiance to Japan and the rule was followed by the Filipinos. It did them little good, as they were all tried for collaboration. Only Pres. Roxas’s amnesty saved them.
Except for our departure for Corregidor — perhaps not that — I was never told what my father intended — I was just told to move whenever we were to move.
On December 24, 1941, when we were brought to the Presidential landing to board the Mayon, the largest interisland steamer at the time, painted all white — it was obvious we were going to Corregidor. We were given life jackets. An air raid started and the ship could not move — I think the ship’s engineer was missing. But the Japanese did not know who were on board — the Philippine government. Perhaps they did not care. It was especially frightening for a terrible scary-cat like me — a terrible experience, being marooned in the bay not far from the Manila Hotel. Fortunately, no bombs were dropped on the ships. Perhaps the Japanese intended to use the ships later.
Finally, the all clear was sounded and finally we got underway. As I recall it, we reached Corregidor towards evening. The previous time my father had brought me to Corregidor, months or a year before, we were received with a 19 gun salute, in broad daylight. Now it was a humble arrival. We were brought to the hospital side-tunnel of the Malinta tunnel. At midnight Father Pacifico Ortiz, S.J., our Chaplain, said mass for us and the soldiers, in Latin of course. It was either at that mass or the New Year’s Mass that he preached to comfort us, speaking in our Lord’s words “Put your hand in mine,” referring to the darkness of the war.
Corregidor became our home from Dec. 24, 1941 to Feb. 20, 1942. If the war had not come, we should have been hearing Midnight Mass in the richly carved wooden chapel in our home in Pasay. Noche Buena was meant to be the re-inauguration of our own house in Pasay, where we were to live instead of in Malacañan. We never saw our home again, except in ruins, as was the case with our Marikina house — the Japanese or the Makapilis, or in the case of Pasay, perhaps the Americans had destroyed them.
As our Corregidor stay was prolonged, things became worse. At first we had some minutes’ air raid warning, then Cavite fell and there was no warning — shells from Maragondon would just come over, my eldest sister, Baby with her mission in life (as Nini said) of perpetually making puns, punned — May Aragon doon. The lovely presidential yacht, the Casiana had been sunk of Corregidor and US soldiers used to dive underwater to bring up bottles of liquor, champagne, etc.
I recall one air-raid that was terrifying. We were sitting outside the hospital tunnel on the small platform under a tent, where my father used to spend the day. Suddenly, siren! How we got my father inside, I don’t remember, but obviously he could still walk. But I recall my mother starting to run but with just a half-step she stopped dead and looked around for her children. Baby who was one of those irritating people who literally never experienced fear, was bent over in laughter. She had spotted Carlos P. Romulo running down the hills towards the tunnel as fast as he could, which anyone in his right mind would do. But when he saw Baby laughing, bent over, he suddenly stopped and walked. His rather foolish male pride came into operation, even though he and Baby could both have been killed. My mother shouted “Baby!” I still remember her voice and we all made it safely to the tunnel. Then the bombs started to drop closer and closer until an absolutely deafening explosion came. I thought a bomb had entered the tunnel and the lights went out. We were already in the sub-lateral we occupied, with the only light being the sanctuary lamp of the curtained-off little chapel. How long we continued sitting in the dark I do not recall.
During the raids, my father made no sound at all that I recall. He used to say that the brave man was not the one who had no fear — but the one who felt fear and still did his duty.
In the tunnel my mother prayed of course and we were comforted by the presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. I imagine my father prayed too, but he must have prayed in silence.
As the days went on, the shelling became more and more frequent, though I think never at night.
When my father and Don Sergio Osmeña were reinaugurated, on December 30, 1941, the ceremony was held outside one main entrance of the Malinta Tunnel. All I remember is that High Commissioner Sayre addressed Vice-President Osmeña as “Don Serjoe Osmanyo.”
On the 19th of February, 1942, Fr. Francisco Avendaño came to Corregidor to say mass on my mother’s birthday and complained to my father about the lack of food on Bataan. He also complained of the American treatment of the Filipino soldiers. One Filipino who I think was too sick to stand, was kicked by an American.
At midnight that night we boarded the submarine Swordfish. During the night we traveled on the surface, where the sub could make better speed, above 20 knots per hour. Underwater it could make only about 8 knots per hour. After a good night’s sleep, there was an alarming sound of a siren, the signal that we were submerging. On the surface the sub had moved with the waves like any other ship. The moment we submerged the sub became almost completely motionless, as there were no waves underwater. We spent the whole day submerged until we landed at San Jose de Antique. I must be one of the very people who ever received Communion under water. We were given tongue sandwiches and I threw up. The reason was the heat. Commander Smith had decided to attack Japanese troopships in Subic before picking us up (most irresponsible really) and naturally the Japanese dropped depth charges. As a result, half the air-conditioning system did not work and it was hot as hell. There were a lot of red lights meaning no smoking but the sailors were merrily smoking away.
As we were passing Mindoro, we were allowed to peep through the periscope. The sky looked a non descript color. At one time also there seemed to be sound of propellers which was alarming —possibly an enemy war ship — but it turned out to be the movement of fish tails. We remained submerged all day and surfaced after dark when the sea was quite rough. Then we approached the shore, I seem to recall there was some problem with identifying the people signaling from a boat to pick us up. If only the people on the boat had realized how close they came to being sunk, but finally we were put ashore to drive to Iloilo. I recall distinctly leaning my head and shoulders against my father’s dark brown leather jacket in relaxation, feeling safe. Fortunately during reminder of our stay in the Philippines I did not realize we were in danger all the time.
When we arrived in Iloilo later that night, we went to sleep in comfortable beds and awoke to the sound of the thin horns of Iloilo streetcars the following day. I am under the impression that we stayed at the Cacho mansion, but it may have been one of the Lopez Mansions. We spent the day there — I do not know whether my father saw any government officials. Of course, Iloilo at that time had not yet been occupied by the Japanese. Our nighttime ride from Antique to Iloilo was the first of a series of night time drives in the Philippines until we escaped.
That night we boarded the Princess of Negros, which must have been a slow ship. We went to Guimaras on the way to Negros, but spent the day there, taking a lunch, up to the river to a house where Father Ortiz baptized an infant with me as sponsor. I never saw the baby again and do not even recall his name. We disembarked from the Princess because we might be spotted by Japanese planes. We reembarked at night and went on to Bacolod where we arrived the following morning.
Humor is always involved with our family. My chronology is shaky so I am not sure whether the following funny episode happened when we landed in Bacolod or later at some other part. My father covered his face with his usual large white handkerchief and told the rest of us to do the same, which we did or did not, depending on whether or not we had suitable handkerchiefs. Some local officials approached and greeted my father, “Good morning, Mr. President”. He got quite angry at us for not covering our faces, which he blamed for his being recognized. He did not realize that his get-up, with his jodhpurs and large handkerchief and, I think, a soft white hat, and riding whip were instantly recognizable all over the Philippines, whereas our faces were not. We (the rest of the family) had a good secret laugh over it, not openly because he would have been even angrier.
I do not know who provided the cars, but we drove to the Lizares hacienda where Sonia and Lety Lizares were staying. I do not recall whether their respective husbands Peping Coroninias and Manuel del Rosario were there, but definitely Letty’s daughters and Minnie were, and became my playmates while we luxuriated there. Luxuriated is the word, after our stay in Corrigidor and our brief stop-over in Iloilo. Sonia and Lety had known me since I was a little boy. I do not remember how long we stayed, but my father took advantage of our stay to confer with government officials, among them Gov. Alfredo Montelibano, who was the uncle and later apparently guerrilla commander of Teddy Locsin. I suppose our stay there was supposed to be a secret, though how any kind of secret can be kept among Filipinos with their wagging tongues is beyond me.
One evening we drove up a zigzag to a lovely but not large house in an hacienda owned by the Aranetas. It was called Buenos Aires a very appropriate name because it was so nice and cool. I do not recall whether we went back to the Lizares hacienda or went on to our next stop on the trip which ended up in a rest house in Canlaon Volcano. We stayed there for some time, how long I don’t recall. It seems I felt quite safe there. The rest of our party must have been there too. I remember that at some time Don Andres Soriano went on a reconnaissance flight. I suppose the plane belonged to our Army Air Corps but I can’t be sure. I think they spotted a Japanese destroyer, probably the one which finally towed away the Princess of Negros, and which ended up with the Japanese announcing on the air that my father was dead. How we learned of the broadcast I don’t know; it was very brave of Don Andres and his pilot to be scouting because they could have been shot down by the destroyer. I do not think there were many, or any, Japanese Air Force planes in the area as yet.
After sometime, for purposes of security I suppose, or perhaps my father received a message from MacArthur that we should join him in Australia, we set off again. The move was supposed to be a secret but somehow my sister Baby knew where we were going and with her predilection for punning , she said “A donde Bais.” According to my sister Nini, Baby felt her mission in life was punning. I believe Bais was in Negros Oriental and belonged then to Tabacalera or some other Spanish company.
Later —how much later escapes me– we went on our usual long caravan at night. I was in the back seat of the car with Dr. Trepp my father’s Swiss TB expert and Director of Quezon Institute. It seems my mother’s driver Pedro Payumo (“Pedro Taba”) was driving — how he managed to come along I don’t know — but I distinctly remember his asking us to keep talking as he was sleepy and it was dark but we — at least I — paid no attention and went back to sleep even though we could easily have fallen into a ditch.
It turned out that our destination was Dumaguete , which was pitch dark. There were a lot of people on the side of the road with bundles or cardboard boxes on their heads and also the church bells were ringing. It turned out that the people were alarmed by the sound of the PT boat’s engines which sounded like airplane engines. The PT boat had been sent to pick us up. We drove to the wharf and boarded the PT – boat. How we all fitted in the PT-boat, I don’t know. My mother and I entered the cabin where I put my head on her lap. I suppose the rest of the family were in the cabin but I remember only my mother and the cabin was pitch dark.
After sometime there was a loud conversation on the deck and sparks could be seen. I was scared to death as usual but after a short time the sparks and the commotion stopped and everything went back to normal and we continued the high speed trip. Later on I learned that, with the rough pitching of the PT-boat a torpedo had slipped about half way out of the deck torpedo tube, the sparks being the result of the torpedo’s motor having been started. Someone had the presence of mind to fire off the torpedo. If the torpedo’s fuse had struck the deck, the torpedo would have exploded and that would have been the end of us.
In the early morning light, we were put ashore in Misamis Oriental in Oroquieta. That silly episode of my father’s being recognized the moment we went ashore may have been then.
We went to two places, one of them being Oroquieta, where we met the Ozamis sisters and, I think , Senator Jose Ozamis also, then Governor of Misamis Oriental. Perhaps it was then that my father talked to Commissioner Teofisto Guingona, whom somehow I understood was in charge of Mindanao. I turned over to him for safekeeping the case that contained my two .22 cal rifles and my .25 cal automatic pistol. For some reason I remember the encounter as being at night and I usually have a pictorial memory.
After spending the day with the Ozamis family —very mestizo looking— we set off by car for Bukidnon and the Del Monte plantation where we arrived at night. We were put in very comfortable company houses. I was put in a room with Dr. Trepp and fell sound asleep.
The following morning I was shaken awake by Dr. Trepp saying in a loud voice, “ Nonong wake up, wake up, it is air raid.” There were twin engine Japanese planes which flew over the area and went on, but no air raid.
I had been to the Del Monte plantation once before with my father and it was so beautiful. This time it was still beautiful but there was an overpowering smell of rotting pineapples, because no one was picking the fruit. Many years later, someone wrote that, during the days we spent waiting for the Flying Fortresses to take us to Australia, we spent every day in the hills surrounding Del Monte. I have no such recollection and when I checked with my sister Nini, she had no such recollection either. She recalled something else, Americans in Del Monte, which I do not recall.
We knew we were waiting for Flying Fortresses to take us to Australia and after a few days we were roused in the dead of night and drive to the airfield where there were two Fortresses waiting for us. As we drove to the Fortresses, I started to talk and my mother told me to keep quiet —I suppose my father was very pensive and my talk was out of place.
The fortresses were new models (I knew all about practically every airplane and its various models). This model had tail turrets, the latest version. Some of us — my family and others, but I do not remember who, climbed into one Fortress and the others climbed into the other. It turned out that we were in one plane and Vice-President Osmeña in the other, I suppose to increase the chance of either my father or Osmeña surviving if anything went wrong — the planes being shot down or crashing, I suppose.
My father and mother sat on a mattress on the floor. I think my father was given oxygen during the night —the cabin was not pressurized. I do not know where my sisters sat. I sat at the radio-operator’s seat, at a table. I suppose the radio transmitter could not be used or the Japanese would have spotted us.
I had always wanted to be a pilot, but as the plane picked up speed I was not excited, I was scared. I started asking God not to allow the plane to take off, but of course it did. As the plane climbed I fell asleep with my head on the table. All through the night we were bouncing up and down –it was a very rough flight. We could not really fly very high, among other reasons because of my father’s condition I suppose. Also, perhaps there were not enough oxygen masks to go around. Through the night I slept on and off. At one point of I noticed it was raining, then I saw clouds over the ocean. My nervousness at take off was gone. As day dawned the sky cleared and finally we landed at Bachelor’s Field in Northern Australia. I did not realize from my aviation reading that touch down was a little rough, not perfectly smooth.
I remember getting off the plane and being taken to a mess-hall for breakfast, together with the rest of the party, then were set to prepare to take off for Alice Springs.
Anyway, we were transferred at Bachelor’s Field to another plane, a Douglas DC-5, a bit smaller than a DC-3 and intended to replace the DC-3, but war broke out in Europe and Douglas changed to producing twin engine bombers. KLM was always up to date and the DC-5 had been delivered to KLM. The Dutch Airline had a very reliable service from Holland to the Dutch East Indies and the DC-5 had escaped to Australia, having an auxiliary gas tank in the cabin. Aside from the Dutch pilot and co-pilot, there was a young American US Air Forces man on board, whose presence I do not understand because I think he was a machine-gunner and there was not machine gun on the DC-5.
As we walked out to the DC-5, a smartly dressed Dutchman in a KLM uniform saluted. My father asked him “how do we fly?” and the Dutchman answered — “About 3,000 meters” (about 10,000 feet ) which apparently disturbed my father. He asked the next smartly dressed Dutchman the same question and the man, apparently the Captain, answered “We fly as Your Excellency wishes.” which pleased my father. Apparently some agreement was arrived at and we took off. This was in the morning and as the air started to warm up unevenly, I had one of the bumpiest flight have ever had.
My mother sat beside me and I tied a white hanky over my eyes. Every time the plane bounced my mother called out — “Sagrado Corazon de Jesus,” or “Corazon Sagrado de mi Jesus!”— I would lift the blindfold from my eyes to see if we were about to crash. We were flying over the Australian desert, with rocks all over the place. I finally started to sing hymns to my mother to calm her down. All through the flight, there would be a slight increase and then decrease in the vibration of the engines and I could see that the propellers would be rotating smoothly and then slightly roughly and smoothly again. I turned out that there was a slight nick in the propeller, how acquired I can’t guess. This went on until we landed at Alice Springs five hours later. We made a slightly rough landing in Alice Springs. When we got out of the plane, it turned out that the men were wearing sun helmets with long veils over their faces because there were large horse flies all over the place, a phenomenon I had never seen before and have never seen again. They were what we call bangaos and would not be driven away. If you tried to drive them away, you might squash them with your hand.
Vice-President Osmeña’s Fortress did not land after us. As it took longer to arrive, someone —I forget who— urged my father to continue our flight but he flatly announced that we would not continue until the Vice-President arrived. Our original Fortress had continued the flight with us and looked for the Vice-President’s Fortresses, but to no avail. Night fell and we stayed at a small inn. My mother and I saw a cat catch a small mouse, which disgusted us. All through the night we could hear drunks throwing up.
The following morning we had breakfast and our Dutch plane took off to search for the Vice-President’s plane. In a very short time the DC-5 returned followed by the missing Fortress. It seems the Dutchmen were better pilots than the Americans. While our original Fortress had no trouble finding Alice Springs — possibly by following our little twin-engine DC-5, the Vice-President’s place was lost. At least the pilot had enough sense to land in the desert before running out of fuel. Then the Americans spent the night firing off flares and rockets. When the Dutchman found the Fortress, it took off for Alice Springs. Finally Don Sergio was able to continue with us, to Adelaide this time. It was another five hours’ flight. This time, I sat beside my sister Nini, to get away from mother’s exclamations. I did not overcome the fear of flying then instilled by my mother for years.
When we landed in Adelaide towards evening we spent the night. The following morning we went to a church to give thanks for our safe flight. As we came out, my father had his first encounter with Australian English. Perhaps we were the first non-Caucasians those Australians had ever met and they were very friendly and also curious. They asked “Did you come today?” which they pronounced “to-die.” I am sure he was able to figure the question out right there but later on he embellished the exchange by saying that he had answered, “I came to live, not to die!”
We took an overnight train to Melbourne. During the day, I saw a plane overhead, and for the first time since Dec. 8, I was not afraid. The following morning we arrived in Melbourne where we were met by Gen. MacArthur.
We heard of the fall of Bataan on April 9, my sister Nini’s birthday, in Australia
However, discussions started in our government over going to the States. I do not know whose idea it was originally, but my father wanted to stay in Australia, I suppose to return more quickly to the Philippines after liberation. Don Sergio Osmeña wanted to go to Washington and when my father disagreed he said: “Send me.” I don’t know why it was decided that our whole group should go to the States — perhaps MacArthur urged it, to pressure Roosevelt to send more aid quickly to the Philippines. We sailed for the States on the President Coolidge. The Coolidge had been converted into a troopship but some twin cabin had been left in their original condition and the dining room and lounge had been left untouched. It seems there was some kind of band because there was dancing in the evenings.
At the beginning of the voyage — I had no map and thus did not realize what a long voyage it was to be — we were escorted by a New Zealand warship. Sometime later, the escort duty was taken by a US navy ship which accompanied us until we reached San Francisco. As usual my roommate was Dr. Trepp. We were a large number. From the Philippines we had lost one member of the party, Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos who had insisted on remaining in Mindanao — he was finally executed by the Japanese for refusing to swear allegiance to the Japanese and for maintaining his loyalty to the United States.
However, while we were sailing to the United States, I still thought we would be going home anytime. During our voyage, we had one little exciting episode. We started to zig-zag violently; probably they had detected a submarine. But after a while, the zig-zagging stopped. It was probably a false alarm or, the submarine being under water and therefore very slow, we outran it. The rest of the voyage to the States was uneventful. Finally, we passed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, which was still undergoing its finishing touches of paint when we went to the States in 1937. We were safely in port.
We were taken to the Mark Hopkins Hotel, considered one of the best at the time, where we stayed for about a week. This time my roommate was Col. Jaime Velasquez. There were newsmen swarming outside my father’s suite and when they knew who I was, they started to interview me but one of our group stopped me.
After some days in San Francisco, to give us a rest from the voyage I suppose, President Roosevelt’s special railroad carriage (called the Ferdinand Magellan) was sent for us and attached to a transcontinental train. It was a four or four and a half day train ride to Washington.
The start of a journey has always excited me. We had to drive to Oakland, CA, to catch the eastward train there. When we arrived at Union Station in Washington, DC, at the exit to the Station there was FDR standing beside his car and we were photographed in memorable poses. I was so moved my lips were trembling. We were driven to the White House where we had lunch and dinner. We were entertained by President Roosevelt who was a great raconteur. Mrs. Roosevelt kept walking in and out and when I met her in a corridor, she smiled “The mail, always the mail.” She seemed terribly tall, as did every one else, which is no wonder since I was only 5’2”. We spent that night at the White House, where I was put in an enormous (to me) bedroom alone. I had the impression it was the Lincoln Bedroom but I may very well be wrong.
The following morning we were taken to the eighth floor suite of the Shell Oil Company at the Shoreham Hotel, where we stayed for a time. Then we moved to the Pat Hurley estate in Leesburg, Virginia, about forty minutes from Washington, where we stayed for the summer, until our permanent quarters at the Shoreham, were ready.
Before deciding to stay at the Shoreham, we took a look at a Waldorf Towers suite way up — the Waldorf is about 34 stories high. Since my father was terribly acrophobic, the project was dropped and thereafter whenever we went to New York we stayed at an 8th floor suite at the Waldorf.
On Corregidor my father was always outdoors in a tent, away from the dust in the tunnels, but of course he had to be active when we went to the Visayas then Australia via Mindanao; and then in the United States, having settling down in Washington, he resumed a normal life, which was a mistake. His condition worsened. Dr. Edward Hayes, the doctor who had treated him in the Monrovia Sanitarium in the thirties, came to Washington and the plan was for us to go out to California. Unfortunately, my father changed the plans.
When I graduated from high school in June of 1944, my father was already bedridden in Saranac Lake, New York.
By the first of August, 1944, a month and a half after my eighteenth birthday, my father was dead.
Free Press Cover Story
December 30, 2000
Men of the Year
Once and future heroes
by Manuel L. Quezon III
FOR their foolishness, their greed, their quarreling, and the consequences the end of their friendship has entailed for the Filipino people -pushing the nation to the brink of political chaos and submerging it into economic peril- Joseph Ejercito Estrada, president of the Philippines, and Luis Singson, governor of Ilocos Sur, are the FREE PRESS’s Men of the Year for 2000.
Theirs is the story of a friendship built on wine, women and song, on politics and plunder, a camaraderie that was the personification of traditional small-town ideas of fellowship based on shared vices; it is, most of all, the story of a friendship gone sour, and fatally so. Both for their respective political careers, and for the fortunes of the country they both claim to serve.
One must go back to the wild, wild west years before martial law to trace the origins of Joseph Estrada’s and Luis “Chavit” Singson’s famous friendship. According to Singson, their friendship began when then-actor Estrada used to go to Vigan on location for movie projects; the then- Vigan chief of police of with budding political ambitions became exposed to the man with whom he would become closer and closer: they discovered a common affinity for packing pistols and gambling high stakes, even as they drank and feasted and caroused with women. As the years progressed, each man climbed the ladder of political advancement: not in a leisurely, gentlemanly way, but with the sort of steely, iron-fisted determination that is essential for success in small-town and provincial politics. Singson, becoming governor of his province, and Estrada mayor of the municipality of San Juan, each facing challenges both legal and more sinister. Both would find security of tenure by making themselves fixtures of the martial law government, their positions ensured by their continued support for the dictatorship, and their seeming sinecures ended only by the upheaval that was the Edsa Revolution.
Like so many suddenly unemployed politicians, Estrada and Singson had to seek new employment and a vindication of their names by way of a new mandate. Singson would successfuly be elected as a Congressman representing his province while Estrada achieved election to the Philippine senate; after that, Singson would resume the governorship of his province while Estrada would rise even further and become Vice-President of the Philippines.
It is at this point that narrative must give way to reflection; for it would seem that it was in their very vindication by an electorate they they didn’t need during martial law, but to whom they turned with the restoration of democracy, that the seeds for the destruction of both their friendship and the reputation of the Estrada administration would be sown. If any lesson was meant to be taught by the removal of martial law-era local officials, it was a lesson easily ignored by the ability of the very same politicians to seek election and rise to even higher positions. Their personal fortunes intact, their power base threatened but not destroyed, and having had experience in premartial-law politics, there was no reason why the experience of the past could not be used to ensure their continued political future. And that is what the two men.
Unrepentant, with a new mandate, there seemed no reason to think that old tricks would be as useful in the newly-restored democracy of Aquino as it was in the Old Society and New Society of the various Marcos terms; everything would be business as usual. Singson would resume being a political kingpin in Ilocos Sur, and dynastic considerations taken care of in San Juan, Joseph Estrada, having refreshed the memories of voters with an anti-bases propaganda film, went on to the Vice-Presidency and was poised for capturing Malacanang.
Enter, once more, according to his own account, Chavit Singson, who played an active role in the Estrada presidential campaign. The election of Fidel Ramos in 1992 had already conditioned politicians and voters to calculate victory not in terms of building a formidable and overwhelming mandate, but in cobbling together enough resources to engineer a plausible plurality. Fidel Ramos himself had ridden to victory not because of some nation-wide bandwagon, but because his people were clever enough to do enough damage to his opponents to enable him to squeak through; indeed it would even be claimed that his accomplishment was to steal the election “fair and square.” The large number of presidential candidates in 1992 was matched by a mushrooming of “presidentiables” in 1998; with the crucial difference that while in 1992, the plausibility of Fidel Ramos was enhanced by suspicions of the mercurialness of his leading opponent in 1992, six years later the opponents of Joseph Estrada had to contend with the seeming inevitability of an Estrada victory based on predictions in the surveys.
Against Joseph Estrada his opponents hurled every possible defamation possible. But how could the charges hurled against him -of womanizing, of gambling, of fast and high living- be made to count in the already morally-debased atmosphere of the last years of the Ramos presidency? the Ramos administration had been plagued with its fair share of scandals involving graft; it had a terrible record as far as peace and order were concerned, a record not helped by the administration’s inability to either control Estrada in his role as crimefighter or play crimefighter itself; and Ramos himself seemed to be cursed with a genetic (because of his being related to the late dictator) Marcosian predisposition to keeping himself in power regardless of what the Constitution might say: not to mention the futility of accusations of womanizing being hurled against the Vice-President of a President whose supposed mistress had made herself a power broker and a leading figure in Manila’s always morally-ambivalent high society.
In such an atmosphere of naked ambition and moral indifference, the presidential ambitions of Joseph Estrada, which seemed so remote in 1987, the year he was expelled from the mayoralty of San Juan, not only seemed inevitable, but also appropriate. After a little over of six years of sincere, piously Catholic, but at times muddled and naive administration under Aquino, and another six years of an energetic, self-pleased, but crass, clever but fatally weak Ramos administration, enough of the electorate was convinced that it had nothing to lose under a President who didn’t hide his vices, who didn’t pretend he was clever, and whom everyone knew was a tough guy. After the bland corporate-style leadership of Ramos, the country seemed ready for a rejuvenating populism; and it was this populism which told the electorate that here was a man with all the defects of the Filipino masses writ large, in contrast to his opponents who had all the defects of the Filipino patriciate writ large, who deserved their votes.
If all elections involve myth-making, then the election of Joseph Estrada involved myth-making on a truly, well, mythical scale. The heroes of Edsa were tarnished; so why not turn to a folk hero? The so-called old rich were against him; so why not glory in his being a self-made millionaire surrounded by other self-made millionaires? Here was a small-town leader prepared to provide small-town style leadership after 12 years of elite rule; here was a man who spoke the language of the people and who could claim that he could eat with his hands and swagger down the street, in a way that hadn’t been seen since Magsaysay. Here was the underdog who could be a winner.
And he won, without having to steal the election, thanks to ten million votes that were enough to negate the tens of millions of other votes divvied up between his opponents, none of whom had his charisma and rapport with not just the masses, but even the middle and upper class. His supporters crowed that he received the largest number of votes in Philippine history, while ignoring the uselessness of this statistic in a nation that has an ever-growing population -for his percentage of the votes, while respectable, only served to underline the fact that 6 out of 10 voters had been against him.
Still, the myth had endured; it had been added to. And in true small-town style, there would be no magnanimity in victory. The Estrada of bacchanalian tastes would be the President Estrada who would exact revenge, Roman in zest if not in scope, on his enemies. And reward, in equally determined fashion, his friends and benefactors.
Enter, once more, Chavit Singson, Estrada’s point man in negotiating alliances with Singson’s fellow governors. With Estrada’s victory would come what he and Singson perceived as approval of their attitude toward governance and the conduct of not just their public, but private lives. Like their political revivals after Edsa, Estrada’s victory in 1998 would come to be seen as a referendum, overwhelmingly approved, on Estrada the man: how often would he be quoted by insiders as saying, in response to any criticism, “They voted for me, let them adjust to me”. The slogan of the new administration might be “Erap para sa mahirap,” but as more and more would complain, the real guiding principle of the administration seemed to be the gambler’s view that the winner takes all.
The defects of Estrada’s larger-than-life personality, while perhaps a strength on the hustings, proved to be the defects of his administration. Everything was done apparently on a whim; a country used to mercurial presidents suddenly found itself with a president both mercurial and without a strong work ethic. The President would be, as all presidents with strong characters tend to be, the fountain of all patronage; but it was patronage dispensed without rhyme or reason, purely, it was whispered, on the basis of who could whisper into the President’s ear while he caroused and sank karaoke until the early morning. Much has been written about the Estrada administration being an administration within an administration. But what concerns us here is the role Chavit Singson played in what has come to be known as the “midnight cabinet”.
Having placed his bets on his friend Estrada, and with Estrada having taken the biggest gamble of his life -and having won big- it was time for Chavit Singson to cash in his chips and collect his share of the winnings. Singson was to have his cut: and he was given it. That cut was control -call it “supervision”- of jueteng. The story of how Singson was given his racket, and peddled influence both to serve his own interests and that of the President, has been discussed at length elsewhere. What is important to consider, however, is how Singson was among the most important among the hardy crowd of drinkers and gamblers and womanizers that surrounded the President. People whose continued influence was dependent not on what they could offer the President by way of skills in government, but simply by virtue of their sharing the tastes and physical endurance of the President.
If Chavit Singson was the loyal courtier, then the President, at least according to his enemies and friends, held office in the manner that the Aga Khan: his attitude that tribute and lavish gifts were his right and due because of the position he held. The coming rift between Singson and the President could be traced to this attitude, which became offensive even to his closest friends and more intimate allies; this was a man who had forgotten two crucial “Asian values”: gratitude and face.
Machiavelli wrote that it is better for a prince to be feared than loved, and woe to the prince who tries to be both feared and loved but fails to achieve either. The story of the souring of the Estrada-Singson friendship is the story, at least as told by Singson, of a President who liked to throw money and privileges at his friends while reserving the lion’s share of both for himself. And whose caprices and appetites repeatedly led him to discarding the friends who could not pay the President the tribute he felt he deserved. Having been rewarded with the supervision of the illegal numbers racket, Singson was tasked with ensuring the President received his cut. It was the tried-and-true Marcosian manner of handing out monopolies in order to delegate the amassing of illegal wealth while giving cronies a cut of the action. However, where Marcos had operated subtly and cunningly and with attention to detail, Estrada, at least as Singson has described it, acted in the grand manner, without thought of the consequences of his decisions, and without caring how things were done, as long as Estrada got his cut: and while Marcos would skim here and there, the President would insist on more and more, the quicker the better. And while Marcos would, upon seeing an ally becoming ineffectual or acting suspicious, allow the preservation of a small racket or too to enable the once-useful ally to save face, Estrada, again according to Singson, would simply lose interest and turn over what was once a particular cronies’, lock stock and barrel, to another one.
If there is the truism that in politics there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests, then Chavit Singson should not have been surprised to reach the point where his once close friend would decide he had outlived his usefulness. What he did find surprising, and perhaps doubly so because of their being contemporaries who had seen Marcos at work, was the way President Estrada apparently thought he could deprive his friend of a monopoly and leave him no other racket by way of a face-saving compensation. Upset over the way Atong Ang had not only eclipsed him, but seemed bent on reducing him to political impotence and even financial danger, Singson appealed to the President’s sense of friendship, fairness and amor propio -and found himself the target of presidential indifference and hostility. Faced with the humiliating circumstances surrounding his fall from grace, it was not surprising in turn that Singson decided to reward a betrayal with a betrayal of his own. A betrayal that, having begun as a last-ditch face-saving threat, became the cause for a vendetta when Singson saw himself targeted for liquidation. For when Singson saw that as far as the President was concerned, a useless friend was no longer even a friend, but someone expendable, he decided to make true his threat to go public and make a dramatic expose of the inner workings of the administration.
It is important to note that by his own confession, Singson viewed going public as his last card; he gave the President every chance to reach an accommodation that would enable Singson to save face and retire quietly to the sidelines. Emissary after emissary from the President came to Singson but could not offer him anything beyond an offer to liquidate Atong Ang, the President’s ambitious Chinese chum who was the cause of Singson’s fall from favor. However, the elimination of Ang would not solve Singson’s pressing needs -such as how to cover up the missing millions Singson said he filched from provincial funds and passed on to the President- and did nothing to undo the humiliating farming out of gambling license concessions in Singson’s own province to his political opponents. Singson said he was constrained to refuse; and such was the bad faith of the President or his people that Singson would soon after only narrowly escape assassination.
It was the attempt on his life that convinced Singson that he had to burn his bridges with the administration and go public. If seeking the Presidency was the greatest gamble of Joseph Estrada’s life, the attempt on Singson’s life would, in turn, lead Singson to taking the biggest gamble of all: providing the ammunition the President’s ever-growing number of opponents needed to disgrace him and shove him out of office.
When Chavit Singson went to town and told the public that he had been in league with the President in tolerating and using illegal gambling, he became the first prominent person close to the President who, for whatever reason, had finally dared to do what so many have been hoping would be done: point a finger at the President and call him a crook, a liar, and a thief.
That a man so close to the President should have been driven to doing what he did, served as the gravest and most damning indictment of the President himself. A good man, a good President, an honest and sincere Chief Executive would not be reeling from accusations of the sort Singson began hurling about, simply because people would have know, instinctively, that such charges were ludicrous.
But when Singson started talking to the press, the public’s reaction was the opposite of what it should have been if the President was everything the Palace spokesmen and the President claimed was the case. The fact was that people believed Singson. They believed Singson, more or less, because what he said seemed so plausible. And this is the reason why the President henceforth was always to be on the defensive: the Estrada of many weaknesses had already been seen, in less than two years, to be an Estrada of enormous appetites and an even vaster ego. When Singson said he had pleaded for a way out, a little consideration, and had received none, instead inviting a gangland-style rubout upon himself, the picture he painted of Estrada was one people had gotten all too familiar with. The very appetites that had once been considered strengths were now revealed as what they were: flaws and liabilities in every respect.
A remarkable transformation took place in the political landscape; it was as if Singson had abandoned the field in a crucial moment of the battle, and thereby started a rout. Seemingly overnight, far fewer people were frightened of Estrada. What had been whispered was now freely discussed in the press and by the public. The President flinched when he saw businessmen, journalists, the middle class, intellectuals and even the ordinary man on the street, not to mention churchmen, all of whom, as individual sectors he had managed to either bully or appease into an uneasy acceptance of his administration, suddenly declare him morally unfit for office. He could scoff, as he did scoff, that they were being hypocrites; but it was he who began to be viewed as the bigger hypocrite. For his flaws, though public, had never been connected with criminality and contempt for the law; his tastes, while known to be lavish, were always seen as fueled by his own personal fortune, gainfully made; now the Presidential fortune, it was alleged, was the fruit of crass and demeaning graft and corruption and gangsterism: no President, however crooked, had ever deigned to accept money from illegal gambling. Now here was the President of the Republic taking the dirtiest of dirty money, for it came from the small-time wagers of the very poor he said he had come to free from misery.
What would ensue was the transformation of Chavit Singson into the good crook; the crook who, staring death in the face, decides he might as well redeem himself by confessing his wrongdoings. His motivations of revenge and resentment over losing face and his longtime friend, the President showing no gratitude, Filipinos readily understood and sympathized with. While known as a typical crooked politician, he became the politician who was willing to blow the whistle; and the country gloried in his every lurid revelation.
In contrast, the Joseph Estrada who had been seen as a tough guy with compassion for the poor was seen to be a man who didn’t even have compassion for his partners in crime; the accusations of widescale graft and corruption in his government only served to underline the disparity between the administration’s rhetoric and what was going on in secret; and the President’s tactical mistakes -his silence, marred by occasional sallies on radio and television that became the despair of his lawyers because of the way he refused to keep to the script they prepared for him, and then the perception he refused to face his accusers, preferring, instead, to hide behind his frustrated lawyers- eroded the image of Estrada the straight-talking, blunt and courageous man. If his image and popularity were built on the myth that here at least was a politician who was unashamed of his weaknesses and compensated for them with courage and conviction, then the revelations of Singson quickly and effectively dispelled that myth.
An ironic reversal of roles thus took place. Where once Singson was a not particularly respected and indeed, notorious official, he became a hero; and where once Estrada was hero to many, he was suddenly seen as a poor caricature of his mentor, Ferdinand Marcos. Where once no one was afraid to call the President’s bluff, Singson ended up calling the President’s bluff -and the President folded. Just as he had folded time and again every time he tried to bully his opponents into submission, over giving Marcos a heroes’ burial, amending the Constitution, and muzzling the press. Here was a man standing up to the President, and hundreds of thousands rushed to his aid.
It would be Chavit Singson who would manage to steal the role that had successfully catapulted Estrada to the presidency. Chavit Singson, henceforth, would be the underdog, the maligned man fighting for his survival. It would be Estrada who would now be painted as the villain with immense wealth and power using every means, fair or foul, to get rid of his enemy and humiliate him. This turned out to be a reversal of roles incomprehensible to Joseph Estrada, action star. He had never played the role of a villain, on or off camera. Yet here he was, now, being demonized by his opponents.
Like Ferdinand Marcos, too long used to commanding and getting his way, Estrada would refuse to accept that the public’s perception of him had changed, perhaps irrevocably. He continued to sally forth, pleading that he was misunderstood, maligned, slandered; and yet the old lines didn’t work anymore. The more he protested innocence, the harder his supporters worked to prevent what he himself said he wanted: a chance to vindicate himself. And the more his supporters failed to derail the attempts to impeach and try the President, the hollower the rhetoric sounded, and the more admirable Singson became in the eyes of the public.
The result is that, as the year 2000 draws to a close, President Estrada finds himself being cast in a role he was never prepared to play, all the while insisting he is still the Asiong Salonga, the Filipino robin hood of the slums, that made him famous. But it is Chavit Singson who has adopted that role; the President finds himself reduced to the role of the old mafia don screaming for revenge as his hit men stumble over each other in confusion. All the while, protesting to the a press he once bullied, and a civil society whose moderate conventions he had defied once too often and too flagrantly, that he was still a good, well-meaning yet highly misunderstood man.
Yet it is the President who does not understand himself; and it is Singson, strangely enough, who has revealed a better understanding of the psychology of the Filipino, than Estrada the so-called man of the masses. Estrada, history may come to judge, placed all his eggs in one basket, ignoring the need to cultivate enough support to at least keep sectors that might mobilize against you, divided. Sector upon sector has united in defiance of the President, in support, whether moderate or enthusiastic, of the President’s accuser; leaving the President only his vaunted masses to cling to.
What the masses will do still remains to be seen; the daily round of revelations in the impeachment court, however, have been closely followed by the masses; and where once they were disposed to give the President the benefit of the doubt, it may turn out more and more are inclined to believe the allegations of his accusers. For Chavit Singson’s new role as underdog has been strengthened by a supporting cast of witnesses who have gained the public’s admiration for standing up to the administration. An administration, no one should forget, personified by the President.
they rose up together, they could have enjoyed six years of eating, singing, gambling and wenching together; instead, after less than three years, the party has come to an end, the friendship is gone, and only one man, either President Joseph Estrada or Luis “Chavit” Singson, will remain standing when the crisis comes to an end. As Singson has said so many times, there was no reason for things to come to this. The President had a chance to settle matters, but he preferred to kick his friend when he was down. As so many Filipinos have discovered, from all walks of life, that is one thing you never do to someone you used to call a friend. The man who knows your weaknesses is the man best able to turn that knowledge into an instrument of revenge.
Free Press cover story
August 3, 2000
Erap brings home the bacon
By Manuel L. Quezon III
IT wasn’t very fatty, in fact it was rather lean, but contrary to expectations President Estrada will be able to say, upon his return from his visit to America, that he’s brought home the bacon. Of course he wouldn’t have gone home at all if he hadn’t been sure of being able to brag about being able to bring back something in the first place; but a hundred refurbished trucks, eight second hand helicopters, and prospects of a much-needed addition to the Philippine navy’s fleet (and spare parts to boot, for the “new” second-hand largesse of Uncle Sam as well as for the PAF’s grounded Hercules transports) in this day and age aren’t anything to sneeze at. But the biggest piece of bacon of all was one no one expected: the President made a decent impression abroad.
Questions of timing were what had hounded the President right up to the moment of his departure for America. Why a trip now, of all times, when Bill Clinton is as lame a duck as a lame duck president can get, and when the Democratic party is too busy worrying about the candidacy of Al Gore? The President’s critics questioned the usefulness of a trip that had been earnestly wished for, but which now seemed destined to reap few benefits, if at all. In the end, what had been lobbied for from the start of Estrada’s administration only became possible now; that was all there was to it. It was now, or perhaps, never. Besides which, Filipino leaders have always had a feeling they do better with Democratic administrations, and far better to get a little from a sympathetic Democratic administration in office than possibly nothing from the next, possibly Republican, administration.
One thing is sure: Joseph Estrada is a lucky man; and all questions on the timeliness of his trip became academic when the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks collapsed at Camp David and Bill Clinton found himself with nothing better to do than play host to the President of the Philippines. Instead of being overshadowed by larger, geopolitical concerns, President Estrada became more of an honored guest than one just sort of squeezed in between other, more pressing appointments.
What was supposed to be a paltry 15 minutes with Bill Clinton became 20 minutes shy of a three hour session with the American President.
In typical Filipino style, Mr. Estrada arrived at the White House late; delayed by his visit to the Arlington National Cemetery.
He was immediately whisked off to hold a one-on-one meeting with Clinton at the Oval Office. This was followed by an extended bilateral meeting with legislators and Cabinet officials, government-speak for a quick run through a reception line.
The press further reported that Clinton and Mr. Estrada emerged from the Oval Office at 12:20 p.m., passing through the Rose Garden, to have lunch in the residence wing of the White House. The President said he enjoyed the “very modest lunch” of just salad and chicken, though he did note he managed to gobble up two drumsticks.
Then came more photo opportunities, with Estrada being able to brag that Clinton “virtually became my tourist guide at the White House.”
The two emerged on the front lawn of the White House at 2 p.m. Clinton shook hands with our President near the door and went back in as Mr. Estrada walked to a podium to give his statement.
The result was a President Estrada so brimming-over with delight that he ended up burbling to reporters that he was “on cloud 9” after having been to the White House. Or, to be precise, Estrada said, “I didn’t expect it to be like that…when I left the White House, I felt like I was walking on clouds.” The President continued to regale reporters with ecstatic sound bites that sounded like reviews of films: sort of Joseph Estrada rating his latest tour de force, “Erap goes to Washington.”
In the lingo of showbusiness, the Presidents’ reviews of his own performance were what can only be called raves: “It was more than I expected”… “ most meaningful official visit I have ever had since I became president” … “Indeed, this is a significant way to start the third year of my presidency,” Siskel and Ebert could not have outdone our President on that day in lavishing praise on himself.
There were good words for his co-star, as well: “I was so impressed with the warmth and hospitality accorded me by the president of the most powerful country in the world,” President Estrada told representatives of the Fil-Am groups. And like a good Hollywood extra, Philippine Ambassador Ernesto Maceda couldn’t help but provide his own thumbs-up:
“All the purposes of the visit had been achieved,” he gloated to the press. And, for that deliciously attractive human interest angle, Maceda even managed to recount that “They were like soul mates,” with Clinton noting that he and Mr. Estrada were both left-handed.
“President Clinton said that according to a brain doctor, the most intelligent people in the world are the left-handed,” Maceda said, thought whether or not he told this story with his tongue in his cheeck the press was unable to detect, just as Maceda’s noting the two Presidents immediately hit it off by talking about golf and basketball “among others” included the sort of things the rest of the public (American and Filipino) considers among the prime interests of their presidents.
But what did the President get, besides the usual military hand-me-downs? $20-million food aid for Mindanao, for one; and expanded health and medical benefits for Filipino war veterans, or at least promises of efforts for such, was another, to the extent of Clinton’s assurance that he would support the lobbying going on for the passage of a bill filed by US Rep. Robert Filner for additional benefits for the Filipino war veterans. Estrada even got a promise from Clinton that the United States would try to live up to the expectations of their little brown brothers vis a vis the thorny issue of toxic waste in the former US bases in the Philippines.
Most significantly of all, Estrada was able to say that the United States was foursquare behind the government’s efforts to fight the Abu Sayaf in Mindanao. As the President’s jolly official version put it, “We considered the situation in Mindanao, [and] I informed President Clinton of the Philippine government’s commitment to peace. [Clinton] assured me of America’s support for our peace process.” President Estrada managed to condense things and make his summary of American policy toward Philippine policy in Mindanao even more concise later on: “He was happy about it and I told him we are opening talks again. He was very happy about it.”
How lucky can a Philippine president get?
And Estrada’s luck continued to hold; the threats of virulent protests by environtalists, both Filipino and American, either didn’t push through, or fizzled out altogether.
Nothing too embarrassing happened at home, except for the usual coup rumors that sprout whenever a President leaves home. And every single thorny issue –veterans’ benefits, the environment, Mindanao- that his critics thought Estrada would either not address or would find a frosty reception in the White House ended up being both discussed and supported by William Jefferson Clinton.
The President’s trip was a lobbying effort in the tradition of similar trips undertaken by Filipino leaders since the 1920s; indeed, Clinton’s enthusiastic support for veterans’ benefits and the resolution of the toxic waste issue are the sort of things lame duck presidents gladly say to visiting leaders: Clinton’s much earlier predecessor Woodrow Wilson unequivocally announced support for immediate Philippine independence in the closing days of his own lame duck administration.
Which means whatever Clinton has promised that’s not written down remains nothing but a feel-good statement of potential political benefit to himself and to Joseph Estrada; but nothing that should be considered binding on his successor, Republican or Democratic. But Joseph Estrada knows that, he is a player, too. The end of the matter –and what should be said of the President’s trip, is this: it went well, with hardly a hitch, and the bacon was delivered. That is good enough by any President’s book. There are more trips to look forward too, including that still-coveted State visit.
The rest? It’s like the movies. Look at the pictures accompanying this article and see our President at his best. Amiable. Affable. Smiling; even, despite his girth, looking rather dashing.
Special to the Century Book
Re-constructing Colonial Philippines: 1900-1910
Patricio N. Abinales
THE birth of the Philippines in 1896 was one thing; consolidating the territory was another matter. While most Filipinos would attribute the unification of the Philippines to the 1896 Revolution, in reality it was a series of local revolts against the Spanish, and later against the Americans. It remains debatable as to whether these revolts either identified wholly with Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo’s Malolos Republic, or whether, had they all succeeded, whether would unite under one contiguous territory. Already when the first American troops landed in Negros Island, Negrenses were threatening to create their own republic.
The Americans were actually responsible for giving territorial reality to Las Islas Filipinas, the basis of the future Republic. They did this first by employing force against those who opposed American rule. They waged brutal military campaigns against forces loyal to the Malolos Revolutionary Government of Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo, pushing the latter as far back as the mountain fastness of northern Luzon and scattering his troops in southern Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. The American use of armed might was so brutish that in Samar Island, for example, hundreds of women and children were killed when Gen. Jacob Smith ordered to turn the island into a “howling wilderness.” After Aguinaldo’s capture at Palanan, Isabela, there were attempts to re-establish a new revolutionary center, but all this was quashed by the Americans.
In the towns and in Manila, American suppression of Filipino revolutionary nationalism took the form of proscribing the publication of “seditious” materials that could be disseminated through the emergent print media and the ever-popular plays. Public display of pro-revolutionary sentiments were also prohibited, with the most notable ban being the Flag Law that disallowed any showing of flags associated with the Katipunan and the Malolos Republic. The Americans also sped up the organization of police forces to oversee “peace and order” and this successor of the hated Spanish Guardia Civil proved up to the task of suppressing urban dissent.
Once sure that their control would not be seriously challenged anymore, the Americans turned their attention to governing “the new possessions.” The foremost problem that immediately confronted them was the generating money for the colony and then developing the personnel necessary to run the government.
The U.S. Congress approved the colonization of the Philippines but refused to provide sustained financial support for the undertaking. In fact, the Congress allotted only $3 million for the Philippines in the entire period from 1903 to the formation of the Philippine Commonwealth. One economist called it colonial administration “accomplished ‘on the cheap.’” Financial constraints were also complicated by the difficulty of attracting Americans to govern the colony. The solution to these problems was found in generating revenues from the colony’s own resources, particularly the existing crops that the colony was exporting abroad later years of Spanish rule. Enhancing this export economy, however, was not easy. American legislators, especially those coming from the agricultural regions of the U.S., vigorously opposed proposals that Philippine products enter the country tariff-free. As a consequence, the so-called “free trade” that introduced under American rule was not so free. The U.S. was very selective in the choice of Philippine products that could be exported to the American mainland. Only sugar, hemp and coconut were allowed open access to the U.S. market; and even these products would later be taxed in American ports. Selective entry of these goods however was enough to resurrect the export economy, and by the end of the decade much of it was re-energized because of the American market.
The second issue—putting people into the administrative and political structure—proved more successful because the Americans early on opened up the structure to Filipino participation. It is general knowledge that even as the war against Aguinaldo was raging, the Americans were already able to recruit prominent Filipinos to their side. These collaborators became the backbone of the Federalista Party, a party committed to full American control as well as the medium for introducing the party system to the Philippines. The Federalistas were also supposed to become the dominant Filipino party in the soon-to-be formed Philippine Assembly and American backing initially helped them to mobilize Filipino support.
The Americans transformed the Philippine Commission from its original function as a fact-finding and policy-recommending body created by Pres. McKinley, to the highest policy-making body of the colony. Through the Commission, the Americans were also able to bring in Filipinos into the leadership (although they had limited powers) and further legitimize their rule. With the Federalistas supporting them and the pacification campaigns winding down, especially after Gen. Macario Sakay, the last of the revolutionaries fighting for a Tagalog Republic in 1905, the Americans proceeded to prepare the grounds for eventual self-rule.
The Commission ordered a colony-wide census to ascertain the exact population of the Philippines. The census was followed by provincial elections in 1906 where a new group of Filipinos emerged to challenge the Federalistas. The former consisted of local elites who saw the value of the nationalism of 1896 and how it made many Filipinos suspicious of the pro-American Federalistas. Using their provincial positions, this group began to present themselves as the real alternative to the Federalistas. Americans increasingly recognized the strength of this sentiment, especially at the provincial and municipal levels, and began to turn their attention to these new elites. The result of this new collaboration was the creation of the Nacionalista Party, a coalition of provincial elites who promised to fight for the cause of nationalism but within the framework of the American policy of eventual self-rule.
On July 30, 1907, the first elections to the Philippine Assembly—the legislative body which would act as the “lower house” to the more “senatorial” Philippine Commission—was held and the Nacionalista won a majority. From their ranks emerged Manuel L. Quezon (from Tayabas province) and Sergio Osmeña (from Cebu), who would lead the fight to expand Filipino power inside the government and eventually become the dominant leaders of the American period. Under Quezon and Osmeña, a colony-wide party system began to take shape, its power derived from a combination of clan-based alliances, patronage and a commitment to Filipinization. As more Americans chose to return to the mainland instead of staying to serve the colonial government, Filipinos increasingly took over their position.
By the end of the first decade, “regular provinces” comprised half of the Philippines. These provinces had elected and appointive Filipino officials, many of whom owed their positions to Quezon, Osmeña and the Nacionalistas. Combining their local political experiences learned from the last years of Spanish rule, with the “political education” they were getting from the Americans, the Filipinos proved within a short period of time that they had the ability to be equally adept at governing the colony. In its first year at work, the Philippine Assembly had already shown a marked adeptness in introducing additional provisions or new amendments to existing colonial laws, and in negotiating with the Philippine Commission and the Governor General over matters of policy formulation, funding and government personnel changes. Quezon and Osmeña were at the top of all these processes. They were fast becoming astute leaders of the political party they helped build, of the Assembly that they presided over, and of the colonial regime they co-governed with the Americans. If Rizal was credited for having conceived of the “Filipino,” and if Bonifacio and Aguinaldo were the leaders who gave this imagination a reality with the Revolution, to Quezon and Osmeña must be given the distinction of helping construct the political and administrative structure that would be associated with the term “Filipino.” The Americans may have created the colonial state, but it was these two leaders who gave flesh to it and putting the foundations that the future Republic would stand on.
This type of political and administrative consolidation however was only happening in one part of the colony—the “Christian” Filipino dominated “lowlands” in Luzon, the Visayas and northern Mindanao. In the other half of the colony, the U.S. army administered the “special provinces” on the grounds that their population—the so-called “non-Christian tribes”—were more backward than the Filipinos and were prone to more “warfare.” The Americans saw their “civilizing mission” as special given that the underdeveloped character of the Cordillerans and Muslims required a longer time for them to become familiar with self-government. They also had to be thoroughly “pacified.”
Surprisingly, the pacification process was fast and relatively easy. There was hardly any resistance from the various indigenous communities in the Cordilleras, while Muslim resistance was scattered and unsustained. At the middle of the first decade, the Cordilleras and “Moro Mindanao” had become very stable and peaceful areas.
A major reason for the American success was the cooperation extended by Muslim and Cordilleran leaders to the Americans. They regarded colonial rule as a means of protecting themselves against Christians and “lowlanders.” American military officials reciprocated this cooperation by resisting the efforts of Filipinos to extend their power to the “special provinces.” A working relationship eventually developed between these community leaders and the Americans whereby the former were given minor posts in the provincial government (“tribal wards” in the case of the Muslims) in exchange for agreeing to recognize American sovereignty. U.S. army officers who administered these areas also became their protectors against Filipino leaders, doing everything they can to limit the presence of Manila and the Nacionalista party in the Cordilleras and “Moro Mindanao.”
The only major resistance came from the Muslims at the hills of Bud Dajo and Bud Bagsak, when the army declared a ban on weapons and raised head taxes. American military superiority prevailed and over a hundred Muslim men, women and children were killed. Politically, however, these actions eroded the army’s standing and opened up an opportunity for Quezon to attack military rule in Mindanao. After the massacres, the army was forced slowly to concede authority to Manila and the Filipinos. The army’s powers were also clipped once the U.S. Congress authorized its partial demobilization, and once the American president ordered its withdrawal from the special provinces and its replacement by Philippine Constabulary units. Many American officers also preferred to continue their military careers in the U.S. mainland, seeing very little prospects in just limiting themselves to the Philippines. All these problems emboldened the Filipinos to assert their political presence in these special provinces. This was something that a weakened military government could not repulse anymore. In 1913, the army conceded its power to the Department of Mindanao and Sulu, a body controlled from Manila and by Filipinos. The Cordilleras’ status as a special province was also terminated and the Nacionalista Party began recruiting its first “Cordillerans” to join the organization.
Two major features therefore characterized the first decade of colonial rule. First was the full and effective unification of Las Islas Filipinas under American rule, and second was the division of colony into two major zones of administration reflecting the histories of their respective populations. These two zones were eventually unified under the Filipinization policy, but the distinctiveness upon which they were based continued to affect overall colonial development. Muslims and Cordillerans remained staunchly pro-American and anti-Filipino, while Christian “lowlanders” continued to mistrust and maintain a low regard for these “wild tribes.”
About half a century later, a separatist movement threatened to disengage “Moro Mindanao” from the Philippines, while in the Cordilleras, the quest for autonomy remained strong.
(from the Free Press Century Book)
World War II in the Philippines:
The lasting effect on the Filipino people
By Alfonso J. Aluit
FOR a people without experience of war, World War II came as the crucible for Filipinos, the ultimate test for the individual and the nation, a test of the effectiveness of the institutions of government and religion, a test of faith in truth, justice, and freedom, in fact a test of all the beliefs Filipinos subscribed to.
The Japanese invasion in December 1941 had no precedent in the memory of most Filipinos of that period. The American invasion in 1898 had been a reality only to disparate groups in the country. The Philippine-American War was not of a national character, having been limited to certain areas in Luzon and the Visayas, and was but endemic in nature in Mindanao.
But World War II, which lasted from December 1941 until the last Japanese commander came down from the hills in August 1945, was a national experience the reality of which was felt by every Filipino of every age in every inhabited region of the archipelago.
How did World War II affect the Filipinos, and how have the effects of war influenced Philippine life and civilization in thereafter?
Note: this essay was commissioned for The Philippine Century: 1900-2000, published by the Philippines Free Press
Memories of a martial law minor
By Charlson Ong
I was twelve when Martial Law was declared. Too young for activism but old enough to have followed Ronnie Nathanieslz’ live updates on demonstrations in Plaza Miranda over radio; to have read Pete Lacaba’s scintillating reportage on the ‘Battle of Mendiola;’ to have been fascinated by my elder brother’s accounts of teach-ins at the Ateneo and the U.P.; to be intrigued by the presence of firearms and Maoist literature at our neighbor’s bodega; and be captivated by Ninoy’s eloquent put downs of Marcos on TV.
If I were older and in college, I too might have been caught up in the romance and rage of the times, gone to the hills when the time came to choose or settled down eventually to a comfortable mid-life with memories of the ‘First Quarter Storm’ and the ‘Diliman Commune.’ As it is I must contend myself with listening to the reminiscences of the ‘veterans’ of those days, feeling oddly that I had missed out on the most exciting period in this country’s post war history by a few years and increasingly convinced that our generation had been denied its place in history, had in fact become the subject of a most comprehensive, if not cynical, social experiment.
Still, I remember Damian Sotto, large and swarthy, cursing to high heavens, spewing venom, fouling up the airwaves with his diatribes against all and sundry. His every other adjective would likely be bleeped off today’s language sensitive primetime TV. We were never clear on his politics or advocacies, it was simply fascinating to listen to an adult using such language on TV that would have earned for us kids a dressing down from parents and teachers.
There was Soc Rodrigo and his Kuro Kuro, sober and thoughtful, his Tagalog sublime. There was Ninoy, clean cut and chubby, showing us scenes from a fast growing Taiwan, saying how this country could similarly take-off once his Liberal Party assumed power. There was Eddie Ilarde on Student Canteen, Orly Mercado on Radyo Patrol, Akong on Kwentong Kutsero. There was my father staying up to the wee hours hoping to catch the x-rated flicks that communists propagandists were supposedly broadcasting clandestinely as part of their destabilization campaign. There was Yvonne centerfolded in Pic magazine, another publication whose early demise we truly mourned. There was the Quintero expose and the Jabbidah Massacre. There was Rossana Ortiz, Jessica, Saging ni Pasing all at the mini-theatre along Recto. There was Bayside, Wells Fargo, the Flame, and other joints along Roxas Blvd. where my elder siblings and uncles went to for booze, roulette and slot machines. Rock was heavy and grass was cheap. It was crass, vulgar, decadent and exciting.
And then it ended. Not at once but sudden enough to catch the best of them off guard. I remember the tension that pervaded our household. The older people cautioned against discussing politics over the phone. School was suspended indefinitely and the streets, empty. Downtown Manila became a ghost town. The world had ended while we slept through the night of Sept. 22-23, 1972.