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The January 26 Confrontation: A Highly Personal Account
Jose F. Lacaba
February 6, 1970–IT WAS FIVE MINUTES PAST FIVE in the afternoon, by the clock on the Maharnilad tower, when I arrived at Congress. The President was already delivering his State of the Nation message: loudspeakers on both sides of the legislative building relayed the familiar voice and the equally familiar rhetoric to anyone in the streets who cared to listen. In front of the building, massed from end to end of Burgos Drive, spilling over to the parking lot and the grassy sidewalk that forms an embankment above the Muni golf course, were the demonstrators. Few of them cared to listen to the President. They had brought with them microphones and loudspeakers of their own and they lent their ears to people they could see, standing before them, on the raised ground that leads to the steps of the legislative building, around the flagpole, beneath a flag that was at half-mast. There were, according to conservative estimates, at least 20,000 of them, perhaps even 50,000. Beyond the fringes of this huge convocation stood the uniformed policemen, their long rattan sticks swinging like clocks pendulums at their sides; with them were the members of the riot squad, wearing crash helmets and carrying wicker shields.
I came on foot from the Luneta, which was as far as my taxi could go, and made straight for the Congress driveway. A cop at the foot of the driveway took one look at my hair and waved me away, pointing to the demonstrators beyond a row of white hurdles. When I pointed to the special press badge pinned to the breast pocket of my leather jacket, he eyed me suspiciously, but finally let me through the cordon sanitaire. The guard at the door of Congress was no less suspicious, on guard against intruders and infiltrators, and along the corridors it seemed that every man in uniform tightened his grip on his carbine as I passed by, and strained his eyes to read the fine print on my press badge.
The doors of the session hall were locked, presumably to prevent late entrances from disturbing the assembly listening to the Presidents message. A clutch of photographers who had arrived late milled outside the session hall, talking with some men in barong Tagalog, pleading and demanding to be let in. The men in barong Tagalog shook their heads, smiled ruefully, and shrugged; they had their orders. I decided to go out and have a look at the demonstration.
Among the demonstrators it was possible to feel at ease. None of them carried guns, they didnt stand on ceremony, and there was no need for the aura of privilege that a press badge automatically confers on its wearer. I took off the badge, pocketed it, and reflected on the pleasurable sensation that comes from being inconspicuous. It seemed awkward, absurd, to strut around with a label on a lapel proclaiming ones identity, a feeling doubtless shared by cops who were even then surreptitiously removing their name plates. Also, I was curious. No joiner of demonstrations in my antisocial student days, I now wanted to know how it felt like to be in one, not as journalistic observer but as participant, and I wanted to find out what treatment I could expect from authority in this guise.
I found out soon enough, and the knowledge hurt.
At about half past five, the demo that had been going on for more than four hours was only beginning to warm up. The colegialas in their well-pressed uniforms were wandering off toward the Luneta, munching on pinipig crunches and dying of boredom. Priests and seminarians lingered at one edge of the crowd, probably discussing the epistemology of dissent. Behind the traffic island in the middle of Burgos Drive, in the negligible shade of the pine trees, ice cream and popsicle carts vied for attention with small tables each laden with paper and envelopes, an improvised cardboard mailbox and a sign that urged: Write Your Congressman. In this outer circle of the demo, things were relatively quiet; but in the inner circle, nearer Congress, right below the mikes, the militants were restless, clamorous, chanting their slogans, carrying the streamers that bore the names of their organizations, waving placards (made out of those controversial Japanese-made calendars the administration gave away during the campaign) that pictured the President as Hitler, the First Couple as Bonnie and Clyde.
There were two mikes, taped together; and this may sound frivolous, but I think the mikes were the immediate cause of the trouble that ensued. They were in the hands of Edgar Jopson of the National Union of Students of the Philippines, the group that had organized the rally and secured the permit for it. The NUSP dubbed its demonstration the January 26 Movement; its chief objective was to demand a nonpartisan Constitutional Convention in 1971. Demonstrations, however, are never restricted to members of the organization to which a permit has been issued. They are, according to standard practice, open to all sympathizers who care to join; and to the January 26 Movement the veterans of countless demos sent their representatives. Swelling the numbers of the dissenters were youth organizations like the Kabataang Makabayan, the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan, the Malayang Pagkakaisa ng Kabataang Pilipino, the Kilusan ng Kabataang Makati; labor groups like the National Association of Trade Unions; peasant associations like the Malayang Samahang Magsasaka.
Now, at about half past five, Jopson, who was in polo barong and sported a red armband with the inscription J26M, announced that the next speaker would be Gary Olivar of the SDK and of the University of the Philippines student council. Scads of demonstration leaders stood with Jopson on that raised ground with the Congress flagpole, but Olivar was at this point not to be seen among them. The mikes passed instead to Roger Arienda, the radio commentator and publisher of Bomba. Arienda may sound impressive to his radio listeners, but in person he acts like a parody of a high-school freshman delivering Mark Anthonys funeral oration. His bombast, complete with expansive gestures, drew laughter and Bronx cheers from the militants up front, who now started chanting: We want Gary! We want Gary!
Arienda retreated, the chant grew louder, and someone with glasses who looked like a priest took the mikes and in a fruity, flute-thin voice pleaded for sobriety and silence. We are all in this together, he fluted. We are with you. There is no need for shouting. Let us respect each other. Or words to that effect. By this time, Olivar was visible, standing next to Jopson. It was about a quarter to six.
When Jopson got the mikes back, however, he did not pass them on to Olivar. Once more he announced: Ang susunod na magsasalita ay si Gary Olivar. Olivar stretched out his hand, waiting for the mikes, and the crowd resumed its chant; but Jopson after some hesitation now said: Aawitin natin ang Bayang Magiliw. Those seated, squatting, or sprawled on the road rose as one man. Jopson sang the first verse of the national anthem, then paused, as if to let the crowd go on from there: instead he went right on singing into the mikes, drowning out the voices of everybody else, pausing every now and then for breath or to change his pitch.
Olivar stood there with a funny expression on his face, his mouth assuming a shape that was not quite a smile, not quite a scowl. Other demonstration leaders started remonstrating with Jopson, gesturing toward the mikes, but he pointedly ignored them. He repeated his instructions to NUSP members, then started acting busy and looking preoccupied, all the while clutching the mikes to his breast. Manifestoes that had earlier been passed from hand to hand now started flying, in crumpled balls or as paper planes, toward the demonstration leaders perch. It was at this point that one of the militants grabbed the mikes from Jopson.
Certainly there can be no justification for the action of the militants. The NUSP leaders had every right to pack up and leave, since their permit gave them only up to six oclock to demonstrate and they had declared their demonstration formally closed; and since it was their organization that had paid for the use of the microphones and loudspeakers, they had every right to keep these instruments ot themselves. Yet, by refusing to at least lend their mikes to the radicals, the NUSP leaders gave the impression of being too finicky; they acted like an old maid aunt determined not to surrender her Edwardian finery to a hippie niece, knowing that it would be used for more audacious purposes than she had ever intended for it. The radicals would surely demand more than a nonpartisan Constitutional Convention; they would speak of more fundamental, doubtless violent, changes; and it was precisely the prospect of violence that the NUSP feared. The quarrel over the mikes revealed the class distinctions in the demonstration: on the one hand the exclusive-school kids of the NUSP, bred in comfort, decent, respectful, and timorous; and on the other hand the public-school firebrands of groups like the KM and the SDK, familiar with privation, rowdy, irreverent, troublesome. Naturally, the nice dissenters wanted to dissociate themselves from anything that smelled disreputable, and besides the mikes belonged to them.
Now the mikes had passed to a young man, a labor union leader I had seen before, at another demonstration, whose name I do not know.
It had happened so fast Jopson was caught by surprise; the next thing he knew the mikes were no longer in his possession. This young labor union leader was a terrific speaker. He was obviously some kind of hero to the militants, for they cheered him on as he attacked the counter-revolutionaries who want to end this demonstration, going on from there to attack fascists and imperialists in general. By the time he was through, his audience had a new, a more insistent chant: Rebolusyon! Rebolusyon! Rebolusyon!
Passions were high, exacerbated by the quarrel over the mikes; and the President had the back luck of coming out of Congress at this particular instant.
WHERE THE DEMONSTRATION LEADERS STOOD, emblems of the enemy were prominently displayed: a cardboard coffin representing the death of democracy at the hands of the goonstabulary in the last elections; a cardboard crocodile, painted green, symbolizing congressmen greedy for allowances; a paper effigy of Ferdinand Marcos. When the President stepped out of Congress, the effigy was set on fire and, according to report, the coffin was pushed toward him, the crocodile hurled at him. From my position down on the street, I saw only the burning of the effigy a singularly undramatic incident, since it took the effigy so long to catch fire. I could not even see the President and could only deduce the fact of his coming out of Congress from the commotion at the doors, the sudden radiance created by dozens of flashbulbs bursting simultaneously, and the rise in the streets of the cry: MARcos PUPpet! MARcos PUPpet! MARcos PUPpet!
Things got so confused at this point that I cannot honestly say which came first: the pebbles flying or the cops charging. I remember only the cops rushing down the steps of Congress, pushing aside the demonstration leaders, and jumping down to the streets, straight into the mass of demonstrators. The cops flailed away, the demonstrators scattered. The cops gave chase to anything that moved, clubbed anyone who resisted, and hauled off those they caught up with. The demonstrators who got as far as the sidewalk that led to the Muni golf links started to pick up pebbles and rocks with which they pelted the police. Very soon, placards had turned into missiles, and the sound of broken glass punctuated the yelling: soft-drink bottles were flying, too. The effigy was down on the ground, still burning.
The first scuffle was brief. By the time it was over, the President and the First Lady must have made good their escape. The cops retreated into Congress with hostages. The demonstrators re-occupied the area they had vacated in their panic. The majority of NUSP members must have been safe in their buses by then, on their way home, but the militants were still in possession of the mikes.
The militants were also in possession of the field. Probably not more than 2,000 remained on Burgos Drive some of them just hanging around, looking on; many of them raging mad, refusing to be cowed. A small group defiantly sang the Tagalog version of the Internationale, no longer bothering now to hide their allegiances. Their slogan was fight and fear not, and they made a powerful incantation out of it: Ma-ki-BAKA! Huwag maTAKOT! They marched with arms linked together and faced the cops without flinching, baiting them, taunting them.
Pulis, pulis, titi matulis!
Pulis, mukhang kuwarta!
Me mga panangga pa, o, akala mo lalaban sa giyera!
Takbo kayo nang takbo, baka lumiit ang tiyan nyo!
Baka mangreyp pa kayo, lima-lima nang asawa nyo!
Mano-mano lang, o!
NOTHING MORE CLEARLY REVEALED THE DEPTHS to which the reputation of the supposed enforcers of the law has sunk than this open mocking of the cops. Annual selections of ten outstanding policemen notwithstanding, the cops are generally believed to be corrupt, venal, brutal, vicious, and zealous in their duties only when the alleged lawbreaker is neither rich nor powerful. Those who deplore the loss of respect for the law forget that respect needs to be earned, and anyone is likely to lose respect for the law who has felt the wrath of lawmen or come face to face with their greed.
The students who now hurled insults at the cops around Congress differed from the rest of their countrymen only in that they did not bother to hide their contempt or express it in bitter whispers. In at least two recent demonstrationsone at the US Embassy on the arrival of Agnew, the other at Malacañang to denounce police brutality and the rise of fascismstudents had suffered at the hands of the cops, and now the students were in a rage, they were spoiling for trouble, they were in no mood for dinner-party chatter or elocution contents.
In the parliament of the streets, debate takes the form of confrontation.
While the braver radicals flung jeers at the cops in a deliberate attempt to precipitate a riotous confrontation, the rest of the demonstrators gathered in front of the Congress flagpole, listening to various speakers, though more often outshouting them. Senator Emmanuel Pelaez had come out of Congress, dapper in a dark-blue suit, and the mikes were handed over to him. Despite the mikes, his voice could hardly be heard above the din of the demonstrators. Because Pelaez spoke in English, they shouted: Tagalog! Tagalog! They had also made up a new chant: Pakawalan ang hinuli! Pakawalan ang hinuli! Pakawalan ang hinuli! Not after several minutes of furious waving from student leaders gesturing for quiet did the noise of the throng subside.
Pelaez made an appeal for peace that received an equal amount of cheers and jeers. Then he made the mistake of calling MPD Chief Gerardo Tamayo to his side. The very sight of a uniformed policeman is enough to drive demonstrators into a frenzy; his mere presence is provocation enough. The reaction to Tamayo was unequivocal, unanimous. The moment he appeared, fancy swagger stick in hand, an orgy of boos and catcalls began, sticks and stones and crumpled sheets started to fly again, and Pelaez had to let the police chief beat a hasty retreat.
With Tamayo out of sight, a little quiet descended on the crowd once more. Speeches again, and more speeches. The lull, a period of watchful waiting for the demonstrators, lasted for some time. And then, from the north, from the Maharnilad side of Congress, came the cry: Eto na naman ang mga pulis!
Thunder of feet, tumult of images and sounds. White smooth round crash helmets advancing like a fleet of flying saucers in the growing darkness. The tread of marching feet, the rat-tat-tat of fearful feet on the run, the shuffle of hesitant feet unable to decide whether to stand fast or flee. From loudspeakers, an angry voice: Mga pulis! Pakiusap lang! Tahimik na kami rito! Huwag na kayong makialam! And everywhere, a confusion of shouts: Walang tatakbo! Walang uurong! Balik! Balik! Walang mambabato! Tigil ang batuhan! Link arms, link arms! Ma-ki-BAKA! Huwag maTAKOT!
The khaki contingent broke into a run. The demonstrators fled in all directions, each man for himself. Some merely stepped aside, hugging the Congress walls, clustering around trees. The cops at this time went only after those who ran, bypassing all who stood still. Three cops cornered one demonstrator against a traffic sign and clubbed him until the signpost gave way and fell with a crash. One cop caught up with a demonstrator and grabbed him by the collar, but the demonstrator wriggled free of his shirt and made a new dash for freedom in his undershirt. One cop lost his quarry near the golf course and found himself surrounded by other demonstrators; they didnt touch him. Nag-iisa yan, pabayaan nyo but they taunted him mercilessly. This was a Metrocom cop, not an unarmed trainee, and finding himself surrounded by laughing sneering faces, he drew his .45 in anger, his eyes flashing, his teeth bared. He kept his gun pointed to the ground, however, and the laughter and sneers continued until he backed off slowly, trying to maintain whatever remaining dignity he could muster.
The demonstrators who had fled regrouped, on the Luneta side of Congress, and with holler and whoop they charged. The cops slowly retreated before this surging mass, then ran, ran for their lives, pursued by rage, rocks, and burning placard handles. Now it was the students giving chase, exhilarated by the unexpected turnabout. The momentum of their charge, however, took them only up to the center of Burgos Drive; either there was a failure of nerve or their intention was merely to regain ground they had lost, without really charging into the very ranks of the police.
Once again, the lines of battle were as before: the students in the center, the cops at the northern end of Burgos Drive.
In the next two hours, the pattern of battle would be set. The cops would charge, the demonstrators would retreat; the demonstrators would regroup and come forward again, the cops would back off to their former position. At certain times, however, the lines of battle would shift, with the cops holding all of the area right in front of Congress and the students facing them across the street, with three areas of retreatnorth toward Maharnilad, south toward the Luneta, and west toward the golf course and Intramuros. There were about seven waves of attack and retreat by both sides, each attack preceded by a tense noisy lull, during which there would be sporadic stoning, by both cops and demonstrators.
Sometime during the lull in the clashes, two fire trucks appeared in the north. They inched their way forward, flanked by the cops, and when they were near the center of Burgos Drive they trained their hoses on the scattered bonfires the students had made with their placards and manifestoes. Students who held their ground, getting wet in the weak stream, yelled: Mahal ang tubig! Isauli nyo na yan sa Nawasa! Other demonstrators, emboldened by the lack of force of the jets of water, came forward with rocks to hurl at the fire trucks. The trucks hurriedly backed away from the barrage and soon made themselves scarce.
At one student attack, the demonstrators managed to occupy the northern portion the cops had held throughout the battle. When the cops started moving forward, from the Congress driveway where they had taken shelter, the demonstrators backed away one by one, until only three brave and foolhardy souls remained, standing fast, holding aloft, by its three poles, a streamer that carried the name of the Kabataang Makabayan. There they stood, those three, no one behind them and the cops coming toward them slowly, menacingly. Without a warning, some cops dashed forward, about ten of them, and in full view of the horrified crowd flailed away at the three who held their ground, unable to resist. The two kids holding the side poles either managed to flee or were hauled off to the legislative building to join everybody else who had the misfortune of being caught. The boy in the center crumpled to the ground and stayed there cringing, bundled up like a foetus, his legs to his chest and his arms over his head. The cops made a small tight circle around him, and then all that could be seen were the rattan sticks moving up and down and from side to side in seeming rhythm. When they were through, the cops walked away nonchalantly, leaving the boy on the ground. One cop, before leaving, gave one last aimless swing of his stick as a parting shot, hitting his target in the knees.
The cops really had it in for the Kabataang Makabayan. The fallen standard was picked up by six or seven KM boys and carried to the center of Burgos Drive, where it stood beside another streamer, held up by members of the Kilusan ng Kabataang Makati, bearing the words: Ibagsak ang imperyalismo at piyudalismo! When the cops made another attack and everybody in the center of Burgos Drive scattered, the KM boys again held their ground. The cops gave them so severe a beating one of the wooden poles broke in half.
I had taken shelter beneath the Kilusan ng Kabataang Makati streamer during the attack; we were left untouched. The KM boys had to abandon their streamer. One of them, limping, joined us, and when the cops had gone he asked me, probably thinking I was another KM member, to help him pick up the streamer. I thought it was the least I could do for the poor bastards, so I took hold of the broken pole and helped the KM boy carry the streamer a little closer to the Congress walls. There I stood, thinking of the awkwardness of my position, being neither demonstrator nor KM member, until a few other guys began to gather around us. I handed the broken pole to someone who nodded when I asked him if he belonged to the KM.
About this time, or sometime afterwards, Pelaez was down on the street, surrounded by aides and students all talking at the same time, complaining to him about missing nameplates and arrested comrades. He was probably still down there when the cops advanced once again. Panic spread, and I found myself running, too. In previous attacks I had merely stepped aside and watched; but I had already seen what had happened to the KM boys who refused to flee, and I had seen policemen, walking back to their lines after a futile chase, club or haul off anyone standing by who just happened to be in their way, or who seemed to have a look of gloating and triumph on their faces; and I realized it was no longer safe to remain motionless. I had completely forgotten the press badge in my pocket.
Meanwhile, it seemed that certain distinguished personages trapped inside the legislative building had grown restless and wanted to get on to their mansions or their favorite night clubs or some parties in their honor, but cars were parked up front. At any rate, some cars started moving up the driveway to pick up passengers. The sight of those long sleek limousines infuriated the demonstrators all the more; the sight of those beautiful air-conditioned limousines was like a haughty voice saying, Let them eat cake. Cries of Kotse! Kotse! were followed by Batuhin! Batuhin! Down the driveway came the cars, and whizz went the rocks. Some cars even had the effrontery of driving down Burgos Drive straight into the lines of the demonstrators, as though meaning to disperse them. All the cars got stoned.
One apple-green Mercedes-Benz, belonging to Senator Jose Roy, screeched to a stop when the rocks thudded on its roofs and sides. The driver got out and started picking up rocks himself, throwing them at the students. A few cops had to brave the rain of stones that ensued to save the poor driver who had only tried to defend his masters car. The demonstrators then surged forward with sticks and stones and beat the hell out of the car, stopping only when it was a total wreck. Sunugin! rose the cry, but by then the cops were coming in force.
The demonstrators had hired a jeepney in which rode some of their leaders. It had two loudspeakers on its roof, was surrounded by students, and inched its way forward and backward throughout the melee. The cops, seemingly maddened by the destruction of a senators Model 1970 Mercedes-Benz, swooped down on the jeepney with their rattan sticks, striking out at the students who surrounded it until they fled, then venting their rage some more on those inside the jeepney who could not get out to run. The shrill screams of women inside the jeepney rent the air. The driver, bloody all over, managed to stagger out; the cops quickly grabbed him.
When the cops were through beating up the jeepneys passengers, they backed away. Some stayed behind, trying to drag out those who were still inside the jeepney, from which came endless shrieks, sobs, curses, wails, and the sound of weeping. It was impossible to remain detached and uninvolved now, to be a spectator forever. When the screams for help became unendurable, I started to walk toward the jeepney, and was only four or five steps away when, from the other side of the jeepney, crash helmet, khaki uniform, and rattan stick came charging at me. The cops hands gripped his stick at both ends. O, isa ka pa, lalapit-lapit ka pa! he cried as he swung at me. I stepped back, feeling the wind from the swing of his stick ruffle the front of my shirt. In stepping back I lost my balance. Before I realized what had happened, I was down on my back and the cop was lunging at me, still holding his stick at both ends. I caught the middle of the stick
with my hands and, well, under the circumstances, I dont think I can be blamed for losing my cool. Putangnamo, I shouted at him, tutulong ako don, e!
I jumped to my feet, dusted myself off angrily, and glared at my would-be tormentor. If my eyes had the gift of a triple whammy, he would be dust and ashes now. We stared at each other for a few seconds, but when I dropped my glance down to his breast, to see no nameplate there, he turned his back and slowly walked away. I had no intention of doing a Norman Mailer and getting arrested, so I let him go. By this time, the jeepneys passengers had decided, screaming and swearing and sobbing all the while, to abandon their vehicle with its load of mimeographed manifestoes and various literature, and to look for a safer place from which to deliver their exhortations to their fellow demonstrators.
On two other occasions, I found myself running with the demonstrators. Once I jumped down with them to the golf course and got as far as the fence of the mini-golf range. Behind us, the cops were firing into the air. When it was the students turn to charge, I found my way back to the street. Another time, running along the sidewalk down rows of pine trees toward the Luneta, I saw a girl a few meters away from me stumble and fall. I stopped running, with the intention of helping her up, when whack! I felt the sting of a blow just below my belt and above my ass. When I turned around the cop was gone; he was swinging wildly as he ran and I just happened to be in the way of his rattan. The girl, too, was nowhere to be seen; there was no longer anyone to play Good Samaritan to.
As I stood there, rubbing that part of me where I was hit, I heard more screaming and curses from the golf course. A boy and two girls, who had decided to sit out the attack on a mound, had been set upon by the cops. People inside the mini-golf enclosure were yelling at the cops, shaking their golf clubs in helpless fury. Tena, tulungan natin! cried one demonstrator; but the cops had retreated by the time we got to the trio on the mound. The two girls were cursing through their tears; the boy was calm, consoling them in his fashion. This is just part of the class struggle, he said, and one girl sobbed, I know, I know. Pero putangna nila, me araw din sila!
IT WAS NOW EIGHT OCLOCK. The battle of Burgos Drive was over, Burgos Drive was open to traffic once more. I decided it was time to go to the Philippine General Hospital for a change of scene. Crossing the street, on my way to Taft Avenue, I saw for the first time, on the Luneta side of the traffic island, a row of horses behind a squad of uniformed men.
At the PGH, confusion reigned. More than thirty demonstrators with bloody heads and broken wrists had been or were being treated along with three or four policemen hit by rocks. Other students kept coming, looking for companions, bringing news from the field. The battle was not over yet, they said, it had merely shifted ground. The cops were chasing demonstrators right up to Intramuros, all the way to Plaza Lawton; were even boarding jeepneys and buses to haul down demonstrators on their way home. There was a rumor that two or three students had been killed did anyone know anything about it? (It proved to be a false alarm.) Even NUSP members were at the PGH. Some of them had called up Executive Secretary Ernesto Maceda, and he came in a long black car, mapungay eyes, slicked-down hair, newly pressed barong Tagalog, and all, accompanied by a photographer and scads of technical assistants or security men.
The next day came the post-mortems, the breast-beating, the press releases, the alibis.
We maintain, said MPD Deputy Chief James Barbers, that the police acted swiftly at a particular time when the life of the President of the Republic and that of the First Lady was being endangered by the vicious and unscrupulous elements among the student demonstrators. One can just imagine what would have resulted had something happened to the First Lady! Barbers did not bother to explain why the rampage continued after the President being protected had gone.
Manila Mayor Antonio J. Villegas commended Tamayo and his men for their exemplary behavior and courage and reportedly gave them a day off. Then he announced that Manila policemen would henceforth stay away from demonstration sites. I’m doing this to protect Manila policemen from unfair criticism and to avoid friction between the MPD and student groups.
The night of January 26, said UP president S.P. Lopez, must be regarded as a night of grave portent for the future of the nation. It has brought us face to face with the fundamental question: Is it still possible to transform our society by peaceful means so that the many who are poor, oppressed, sick, and ignorant may be released from their misery, by the actual operation of law and government, rather than by waiting in vain for the empty promise of social justice in our Constitution?
The faculty of the University of the Philippines issued a declaration denouncing the use of brutal force by state authorities against the student demonstrators and supporting unqualifiedly the students exercise of democratic rights in their struggle for revolutionary change. The declaration went on to say: It is with the gravest concern that the faculty views the January 26 event as part of an emerging pattern of repression of the democratic rights of the people. This pattern is evident in the formation of paramilitary units such as the Home Defense Forces, the politicalization of the Armed Forces, the existence of private armies, foreign interference in internal security, and the use of specially trained police for purposes of suppression.
From the Lyceum faculty came another strongly worded statement: Above the sadism and inhumanity of the action of the police, we fear that the brutal treatment of the idealistic students has done irreparable harm to our society. For it is true that the skirmish was won by the policemen and the riot soldiers. But if we view the battle in the correct perspective of the struggle for the hearts and minds of our youth, we cannot help but realize that the senseless, brutal, and uncalled-for acts of the police have forever alienated many of our young people from our society. The police will have to realize that in winning the battles, they are losing the war for our society.
While he deplored the abusive language he read in some of the demonstrators placards, Senator Gil J. Puyat said, I regret the use of unnecessary force by the police when they could have used a less harmful method.
IF the police had kept their cool, said Senator Benigno Aquino, there would have been no violenceit takes two to fight. Senator Salvador Laurel said he had witnessed with my own eyes the reported brutalities perpetrated by a number of [police officers] upon unarmed students, some of them helpless women. Senator Eva Kalaw warned: The students set the emotional powderkeg that may become the signal for wave upon wave of unrest in the streets, in the factories, on the campuses, in our farms.
Students, said President Ferdinand Marcos, have a legitimate right to manifest their grievances in public and we shall support their just demands, but we do not consider violence a legitimate instrument of democratic dissent, and we expect the students to cooperate with government in making sure that their demonstrations are not marred by violence.
Some of the students began talking of arming themselves the next time with molotov cocktails and pillboxes, of using dos-por-dos as placard handles, of wearing crash helmets. Everyone agreed that the January 26 confrontation was the longest and most violent in the history of the Philippine student movement.
And then came January 30.
Note: in an email on the Plaridel e-mail list, the author provided the following historical notes:
Maharnilad is what the Manila City Hall was called back then. Congress, not far from Maharnilad, was a single building that housed both the Senate and the House of Representatives; it now houses the National Museum.
Edgar Jopson, better known as Edjop, derided by radicals as a reformist during the First Quarter Storm, ended up in the martial-law period as a leading member of the underground Communist Party of the Philippines; he was killed in Mindanao in 1982.
November 29, 1969
How Lopez Won
by Edward R. Kiunisala
A YEAR AGO, he was probably the most underrated among the administration’s high elective officials. Not a few considered him a political jalopy, if not electoral junk. ready to be mothballed or fit only to be jettisoned. Some well-meaningPalace advisers thought that he was too old, too weak and colorless for the rough-and-tumble, no-holds-barred political game.
Earlier, rumors had it tha President Marcos was casting about for a younger and charismatic running mate. There was Rafael Salas, the new darling of Western Visayas, and Senator Emmanuel Pelaez, the political charmer from Minadanao. Either of the two, it was argued, would make a good Vice-President and would bolster the administration’s chances for another mandate.
It seemed then that Fernando Lopez’s political stock was at its lowest ebb. A possible reason was his lackluster performance in the 1965 elections when he beat his opponent, Gerardo Roxas, by an uncomfortably slim margin of only 26,500 votes. Added to this was his celebrated friction with the President on forestry matters, which almost led to an open break.
One thing about Lopez — he is no yes man. He may not have the eloquence of a Jovito Salonga, but he has the temper of a Manuel L. Quezon and the single-mindedness of an Elpidio Quirino. When he believe he is right, he will defy anyone except, perhaps, God and his brother, Eugenio. But there’s nothing personal about Lopez’s defiance. Prove him wrong and your alternative right — and he will cooperate with you to the limit.
It is this particular trait that made Lopez vulnerable to intra-party intrigues. And the intrigues almost succeeded in splitting the Marcos-Lopez partnership. What saved it was Marcos’s sense of fairness and Lopez’s political bahala na attitude. He knew he had served the people well. Not a taint of scandal marred his name. Even his bitterest critics believed in his honesty and integrity in public service.
Long before the party convention in June, Lopez was ready to give up politics if that was will of the party. After all, unlike most politicians, public office, to him, meant a life of dedication and sacrifice. Few high elective officials in the country today can honestly say that they are, like Lopez, in politics to serve. Rare is the politician who, like Lopez, has remained a gentleman.
But if Lopez was ready to hang up his political gloves, his close friends were dead set against it. When the chips were down, they including President Marcos, rallied behind him, and the Nacionalista Party finally chose him as the vice-presidential standard-bearer. But despite the party’s unanimous choice, only a handful gave Lopez a chinaman’s chance against his youthful opponent, Genaro Magsaysay, an indefatigable campaigner and reportedly the idol of the masses. For one, Magsaysay was many things that Lopez was not – he was much younger, he was a better speaker, more energetic and charismatic than Lopez. He was full of political tricks and had in fact been campaigning for years. He had been to practically every barrio in the country. He certainly had more exposure than Lopez and, what’s more, he had the 600,000 Iglesia votes in his pocket.
In the matter of logistics, it was a tossup between the two, though many believed Lopez had the edge. Some, however, swore Magsaysay could match Lopez’s campaign fund peso for peso. During the LP convention, Magsaysay surprised everyone with his ready cash. His delegates were billeted in first-class hotels. In fact, it was bruited around that he was financially ready for a presidential contest.
But Lopez had what Magsaysay didn’t have — an efficient machine, performance, sincerity and good taste. While “Carry On” Gene overacted, Toto Nanading simply acted himself. Soon, the electorate saw through Gene’s overacting and recognized him for what he was. The Magsaysay cult lost much of its appeal and the Iglesia Ni Cristo was shown to be less potent politically than it was billed to be.
As of the last OQC count, with only about 500 precints left unreported, Magsaysay was trailing behind Lopez by almost 2,000,000 votes. If the Iglesia had not helped Magsaysay, Magsaysay would have been worse off. But what is more significant is that even if the Iglesia votes for Magsaysay were doubled, Lopez would still emerge the decisive winner.
Lopez’s victory over Magsaysay has blasted the myth of Iglesia political power. Bishop Eraño Manalo may still receive the homage of political jellyfish, but no longer will he be taken seriously by responsible politicians. What Joseph Estrada started in the local elections of San Juan, Rizal, Manalo’s own homegrounds, Lopez completed in the last national elections.
We sought out Lopez again last week for an interview. He was relaxed, smiling and, as usual, garrulous. He had just been to church and a group of well-wishers had gathered to congratulate him. It was the same Lopez we had seen three weeks before the elections. He had not chnaged. One had expected his well-earned victory to cause him to puff up a bit.
“Well, I made it,” he said rather shyly.
“What made you in, Mr. Vice-President?”
“I believe my performance. Yes, it is my performance, I think so. Gene’s public record is practically zero. And I repeat, he has no personal friends worked for me even without my knowledge. Frienship is an investment, yes. It pays dividends.”
“But Mr. Vice- President, Gene has a powerful personal friends – Bishop Manalo….”
Lopez perked up. We had never heard him so eloquent and grammatical before. On the subject of Iglesia Ni Cristo, he was the expert, the master coversationalist. he has debunked Iglesia political power, he said, adding that he did so with the help of responsible voters. The recent elections meant two things to him: first, the Iglesia political balloon was deflated and second, dedicated public service is still highly valued by the people.
The best politics, according to the Vice-President, is still good public service. A politician who wants sincerely to serve the people does not have to kowtow to any vested political group to win. All he has to do to get reelected is to discharge his duties as best he can. In the past, candidates for national office paid homage to the Iglesia to win. He has proved, he said, that the so-called solid Iglesia vote cannot frustrate the will of the intelligent electorate.
“Do you know that the Iglesia had been abusing? It wanted to have so many public postions for its members – it even wanted to dictate as to who should occupy this or that cabinet position. Not only that. It even wanted to have say on what kind of laws we are going to have. Sobra naman sila. i would rather lose than surrender to them. Ti, abi, I still won.”
But Lopez admitted that he won because of President Marcos. The President, he said, carried him in Northern Luzon and in many other areas of the country. Marcos really worked hard for him, said Lopez, and he, too, spared no effort to get the President reelected. It was a team effort — there was no double-crossing, no junking.
“You saw how I campaigned in Western Visayas. You were with me. You can testify. I campaigned mainly for the President. An that was what the President did in Ilocos. He campaigned hard for me. The votes he got in Ilocos, I got, too. In the Western Visayas, he did not get the votes I got — because, you know, for one thing, Serging’s wife is from there. But another thing. They are really matigas ang ulo. They didn’t even vote for Jose Yulo against Macapagal.
“That’s why you see, i promised not to take my oath of office if I won in Western Visayas and the President lost there. Now, I can still take my oath of office. The President won in Western Visayas. Of course, I have helped the President also. But I am not ashamed to say that he has helped me more. I do not know how I can thank the President for it.”
The Vice-President reserved his “most hearfelt gratitude” to the First Lady. “I owe a lot to her — ay, she really campaigned for me. She won a lot of votes for me. I do not know how to repay her. You know that it was the First Lady who told me to work hard because I was behind. She showed us the survey and she told us that i was not doing so well. If she did not want me to win, she would have remained silent.”
Indeed, early last July, Lopez was running a poor second to Magsaysay, though Marcos was already ahead of Osmeña, according to an administration survey. Informed of it, Mrs. Marcos called Lopez’s key leaders to Malacanang. Alfredo Montelibano, Eugenio Lopez, Jr., Undersecretary Raul Inocentes and a communications expert met with the First Lady in the music room. The First Lady gave Montelibano and Company the lowdown on the Vice-President’s chances.
It was a lonf talk – the First Lady wanted Lopez to put up his own political machinery. Though Lopez was nagging behind, the large number of uncommitted votes could turn the tide in Lopez’s favor. The First Lady wanted a Marcos-Lopez victory, not just a Marcos triumph. Mrs. Marcos pointed out to the Montelibano group where Lopez was weak and what should be done to boost the Vice-President’s campaign.
The Montelibano group immediately got in touch with the Vice-President. If Lopez was discouraged, he did not show it. After all, he had had 24 years of political experience. He was no political tyro. If another campaign organization was needed, it would be put up. At the time, the Vice-President’s brother, Eugenio, was in his U.S. residence in Seacliff, San Francisco. The Vice-President rang up his brother by overseas phone.
Eugenio Lopez, Sr., apparently gave the green light for the setting up of a campaign machine for the Veep. For in less than 30 minutes, the political mobilazation of the Lopez business empire was under way. In an hour, top communications experts, political analysts, researchers, idea men, statisticians, had been tapped for the Lopez machine.
Alfredo Montelibano, Sr., became top strategic aviser. All policies had to be cleared with him. Eugenio Lopez, Jr., was in charge of logistics. Ike Inocentes served as liaison between the Vice-President and the new political machine manned by top communications experts. Antonio Bareiro handled radio-TV while Ernesto Granada supervised the print medium.
The first thing the Lopez organization did was conduct a survey. The results showed that Lopez, although more popular than his opponenet in urban centers, was weak in many rural areas. In the overall, however, the survey showed Lopez leading Magsaysay by about 3%. However, it was noted that the uncommitted votes – 17% of the voting population – were mostly in the rural areas.
So the Lopez machine concentrated on the rural areas. The communications media came out with a lot of materials depicting Lopez as the friend of the farmer, the worker and the common man. His leaflets carried the picture of the vice-President holding up rice stalks. The Lopez machine worked to buikd up the Vice-President’s image as Marcos’s top performance man in rice production.
Meanwhile, radio and television commentators all over the country were supplied with Magsaysay’ record as a public servant. The idea was to debunk Magsaysay’s claim that he was the idol of the masses and to portray him as a demagogue with no solid achivements to his name. On the other hand, the communications experts in the Lopez’s performance as an executive and a legislator.
It was at this time that political candidates went out of their way to win the Iglesia support. Some pragmatic Lopez advisers suggested the Veep take a crack at the Iglesia votes. And he got mad, spewing yawa and sonamagun. He would not pay homage to Manalo merely to win the Iglesia support. If the sect voted for him, they were welcome, but he wouldn’t go out of his way to woo the INC.
Manalo reportedly got wind of Lopez’s reactions and he decided to teach Lopez a lesson or two in practical politics. The INC boss directed his followers to go all out for Magsaysay. Some NP congressional bets were told to junk Lopez in exchange for Iglesia suppor. Others were even asked to surrender their sample ballots, it was reported, to the Iglesia so that Lopez’s name could be replaced with Magsaysay’s.
Ateneo priests and Catholic lay leaders who heards of the Iglesia political ploy to down Lopez were scandalized and angered. They decided to band together behind Lopez. They put up two headquarters silently worked behind the scenes. They got in touch with no fewer than 30,000 Catholic leaders all over the country and pleaded with them to vote for the Marcos-Lopez team.
Other religious setc, too, didn’t like the way Manalo was wielding political power – and they, too, got into the act. Two Aglipayan bishops and one Protestant sect came out openly for Lopez. It was a silent religious-political war. The Îglesia versus the Catholics and other religious sects. In a sense, Manalo’s support of Magsaysay proved to be a kiss of death – it served to unite other religious elelments against him.
Early in October, the Lopez machine made another survey – and the result was encouraging. lopez was leading by about 400,000 votes over Magsaysay. When informed about it, Lopez could hardly believe it. But instead of being complacent, Lopez worked even harder. Working closely with the NP machine, the Lopez machine proved effective. A few of its key people were able to infiltrate the opposite camp and discover Magsaysay’s political sttrategems, some of which were below the belt.
Lopez’s technopols wanted the Veep to pay back Magsaysay in kind, but Lopez put his foot down. He did not believe that Gene would resort to foul trickery. Perhaps Gene strategists, but not Gene, said Lopez. Even when news broke that Gene allegedly tried to finance a student organization to demonstrate against the Lopez interests, the Veep still gave Gene the benefit of the doubt.
Meanwhile, the entire Lopez clan fanned out to rural areas to help Toto Nanding. Mrs. Mariquit Lopez, fondly called Inday Mariquit by her friends, campaigned with the Blue Ladies. Even Mrs. Eugenio Lopez, Sr., went to the hustings to plug for her brother-in-law. Mrs. Eugenio Lopez, Jr., too, joined Mrs. Marcos’s Blue Ladies.
All the Veep’s children, except who is abroad, campaigned for their father, Albertito usually went along with his father in Luzon. Mila also accompanied her father throughout Western Visayas. Fernando, Jr., and Bobby helped entertain political leaders in the Veep’s Iloilo mansion.
Even the sons of the Mr. Eugenio Lopez, Sr., joined their uncle’s campaign trail. Eugenio Jr., took charge of finances while Manolo and Oscar put up the Friends of Lopez Kami (FOLK) organization. Manolo, too, organized his own version of Blue Ladies and Blue Boys, with the latter composed mainly of junior executives in their 20’s.
Meanwhile, the Lopez machine suceeded in putting up an organization which reached down to the town level and, in sesitive areas, down to the precint level. All these served as nerve cells of the vast Lopez political machine. Information was sent to the Lopez coordinating center in Quezon City where it was compiled, analyzed and acted upon. A group of creative writers made up the Lopez Machine Think Tank.
Lopez expressly directed his technopols to stress the performance theme. Not once was it ever a Lopez machine for Lopez alone. It was a Marcos-Lopez team campaign all the way, though the bulk of the campaign was directed at the areas where Lopez was supposedly weak. In Cebu and Iloilo, Osmeña-Lopez groups for some mushroomed. But Lopez ordered his men to plead with these groups to disband. It was found that these groups were LPs who could not stomach Magsaysay.
In Iloilo, one NP congressional bet reportedly campaigned lukewarmly for Marcos and the congressional candidate got a tongue-lashing from the Veep in front of the many people. In Sulu, despite the advice of some Muslim leaders not to campaign for Marcos, Lopez batted for Marcos all the way. At one time, he even asked the Muslims not to vote for him if they would not vote for Marcos, too.
By the first week of November, another survey showed that Lopez was ahead by about 700,000 votes. he couldn’t believe it. He had thought he would win over Magsaysay by only about 200,000 0r 300,000 votes. But he assumed that even if the survey had mistakenly counted 500,000 votes in his favor, he would still win th balloting by a comfortable margin.
But when the votes were counted, Lopez was the most surprised of them all in many precints, even in so-called Magsaysay stronghlds, Lopez got twice more votes than Magsaysay did. Lopez bested Magsaysay even in rural areas. In about 67 provinces, Lopez lost only in Zambales and Pampanga Greater Manila went all out for Lopez. Despite the Iglesia’s support of Marcos, Lopez got almost as many voted as the President..
Lopez was in Manila Tuesday night. He slept all night in his Forbes Park residence. Early Wednesday morning, he received reports that the NP won in the Western Visayas. After a dip in the pool and a mass in the San Antonio Church, Lopez motored to Malacañang. The President was asleep and Lopez exchanged pleasantries with other top NP leaders in the Palace.
When Mrs. Marcos emerged, the Veep kissed her hand and gave her a big buss. He owed much of his recent political success to Mrs. Marcos, he openly said. He would have been happy if he had won even by only 200,000, but a margin of 2,000,000 votes was beyond his wildest dreams. He promised to work harder to merit the people’s trust.
From Malacañang, Lopez went to his office in the Bureau of Lands Building. There, he received congratulatory messages from his friends and symphatizers. When the Lopez victory trend reached irreversible proportions, Lopez thanked all his supporters for their labor. He hastened to add, however, that he had not solicited any political financiers and was, therefore, not beholden to anyone but the electorate for his political victory.
His political fund, he said, came only from his brother and relatives. As Vice-President, he continued, he had granted many favors to many businessmen, industrialists and millionaire-agriculturists. But he did not ask any favor from any of them. This was because he did not want compromise national interests with the private interests of the political financiers.
In an interview, Lopez left to President Marcos what role the Veep should play in the next four years. But if he were to have his way, he would prefer to remain the concurrent Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “I know this job very well. I don’t have to study anymore. Besides, there are still many things that I have to do here.”
Lopez obsession now is to achieve self-sufficiency in meat and fish and to conserve the antional forests. His plan is to seed the country’s lakes and rivers with bangus and carps. He also wants to increase animal breeding stations throughout the country. The Veep believes that massive reforestations is necessary, if Philippine civilization is to be preserved.
The Vice-President started his public life when then President Sergio Osmeña, Sr., appointed him mayor of Iloilo. At that time, Iloilo City was no-man’s land. Criminality was rampant; nobody was safe after six in the evening. He accepted Osmeña’s challenge to clean Iloilo on condition that he be free to resign after three months. But public service got into his blood and three months became a lifetime.
Lopez’s honesty is almost legendary. While manager of his family’s bus company, he caught the conductress cheating by five centavos. Lopez sued the girl who was sentenced to 25 days in jail. But while the girl was in jail, Lopez supported her family and got her another job after she had served her sentence. in later years, this was to be the Veep’s code of conduct.
His employees still remembered how Lopez, some years ago, fulminated at one of his political supporters who asked him to help him with his customs duties. A call to the customs disclosed that this man was one of those blacklisted by customs. Lopez shouted at him, saying: “What? You want me to help you cheat the government? “You, sonamagan, I don’t want to see you anymore.”
And when the son of another political supporter asked the Veep to get him a job in the onternal revenue bureau even without pay, Lopez reddened: “Why you want to work without pay? Because you will steal? You want me to help you so you can steal? Get out! Get out!”
Lopez is an apolitical politician. he both loves and hates politics. His father, he said, a former Iloilo governor, was assassinated. To Lopez, politics summed up all that he disliked in htis world: dishonesty, double-dealing, and back-stabbing. Paradoxically, it was the only way by which he could help so many people he has helped while a politician has sustained his political career.
The Vice-President is married to the former Mariquit Javellana by whom he has six children, Yolanda Benito, Fernando Jr., Albert, Milagros and Manuel. In addition, they have 12 proteges, now all married, whom they have informally adopted as children. Every Friday, in the Lopez mansion in LaPaz, Iloilo, is a day for the poor to whom the Lopezes distribute cash and goods.
Mr. and Mrs. Fernando Lopez are devout Catholics. Wherever Lopez goes, his first stop is the church. He makes the sign of the cross every time he goes out of the car, helicopter or plane. Both Mr. and Mrs. Lopez are music lovers; she loves to play the piano and the Hammand organ; he loves to listen to Mendelssohn or Chopin.
Many have asked him where he will go from here. Will he run for presidency? To this, he displays shock. “Please, please, don’t ask me that. Thatis farthest from my mind now. All I want to do is work to be worthy of the people’s trust. you know, I am already old.”
But when reminded of his campaign slogan, “Matigas pa ito —ang tuhod ko,” Lopez would break into loud, unrestrained, plebeian laughter that endears him to his supporters. Just the same, he entertains no questions about his political future. This is no time to talk politics, he insists.
But whether Lopez likes it or not, he has to think about his political future. by national mandate, he is now, for the third time, only a heartbeat away from the presidency. His decisive political victory in the last elections has catapulted him to the forefront of his party’s presidential possiblitis. Next to Marcos, he is the people’s choice. If he doubted that in the 1965 elections, he doesn’t doubt it now.
Besides, Lopez cannot be running for Vice-President all the time. If he chooses to continue serving the people after his third term as the No. 2 public official, he deserves, by equity of the electorate, a promotion. Who knows, with the help of God and his brother, Eugenio, the three-time Veep, once an underrated administration high official, may pull another surprise and run away with the highest position a people whom he has served long and well can give him.
March 12, 1966
LAST week, Teodoro M. Locsin, president and editor of the Philippines Free Press, was invited to appear before the congressional committees on foreign affairs, national defense and appropriations, and give his views on President Marcos’ proposal to send an engineering battalion with combat security to the Vietnam war. The following account is based on a transcript of Locsin’s testimony and cross-examination by the committee members which lasted for more than three hours. Editing has been necessary for lack of space and love of English and in the interest of clarity. Some inaccuracies in Locsin’s extemporaneous (except for a few quotations) speech have been corrected (and comments inserted) in the final version.
LOCSIN: I would like to make it clear at the very start that I appear here not in representation of the Free Press but as just another citizen. A Filipino. I was not too eager about coming here because my views had already been published and I did not want to be repetitious, but one of you was quite insistent and so I must be repetitious. I must repeat what I said in a series of articles and editorials last year on exactly the same thing: the Macapagal proposal to send an engineering battalion with combat security to the Vietnam war. The opposition presidential candidate, Ferdinand Marcos, led the opposition to the Macapagal proposal. The Free Press opposed it then as it opposes it now, unlike Marcos who, having won and being now president, has made a complete turnabout.
Only fools, we are told, do not change their minds. What kind of an argument is that? Does it mean that if you change your mind, you are not a fool? Is changing one’s mind the test of wisdom? That would make the man who changes his mind every day the wisest man in the world. Only a fool does not change his mind no matter how circumstances change, that may be argued, but to change your mind when there has been no change of circumstances calls for an explanation. You must give reasons for changing your mind, and where the reasons you give are diametrically opposite to the reasons previously given by you, your motives for changing your mind are certainly subject to question. Revising history is not an acceptable reason for a change of mind but monetary consideration is an understandable reason. Black can be called white if the price is right. Only fools are fooled by the glib argument that only fools never change their minds.
I wish to call your attention to a Manila Daily Bulletin headline: “Marcos certifies Vietnam aid bill in return for $$, etc.,” by Jesus Bigornia. “President Marcos gave Congress leaders yesterday a peek into American package commitments to….” And so on.
PELAEZ: Mr. Locsin…
LOCSIN: Just a minute…
PELAEZ: I should like to say for Mr. Bigornia before he gets into trouble that he said he did not write the heading of that article.
LOCSIN: Correct. Very good. Perhaps, then, Mr. Menzi wrote it. (Laughter from the committees and the audience.) Now, let me call your attention to the interesting relationship between Mr. Menzi, the publisher of the Bulletin, and Mr. Marcos. Mr. Marcos is his commander-in-chief. Mr. Menzi is Mr. Marcos’ military aide, the alter ego, in a sense, of Mr. Marcos. I have a dirty mind and I believe that this was a deliberate leak to the press—which Mr. Marcos would afterward deny. Not only that, it has not been denied by the Manila Bulletin which is certainly very close to, if it is not the organ of, Malacañang.
And let me recall: Congressman Pendatun was with me early last month when the Free Press was given an award by the Confederation of Filipino Veterans for militant journalism and its contribution to Philippine progress. I was at the same table with Speaker Villareal and Congressman Pendatun. Mr. Villareal made a very impassioned speech about going to Vietnam to save democracy, then he sat down beside me and said to me, pointing in the direction of an American admiral and the American minister, Richard Service, who were at the same table with us: “Let them pay for it, Teddy.” Now, what the devil was he trying to tell me?
I came here to speak to you as a Filipino who refuses, who would oppose the sake of his country’s honor. If we must take up prostitution, however, let us take it up cold-bloodedly and collect first and afterwards bow our heads in shame. If we are going to war for a stabilization fund, let us not be suckers. Let us consider the economic cost. The P35 million we appropriate for sending Filipino troops to the Vietnam war would be the annual interest we would pay for the stabilization fund. (Not to mention, of course, the Filipino lives that would be lost.)
I came here in the belief that Congress would pass the Marcos bill. I came in resignation, in despair. I think that you will pass the bill although not as quickly as the previous Congress did—in a couple of days or almost as short a time as it takes to sign a voucher for unconstitutional allowances.
PELAEZ: Mr. Locsin, we have invited you because we want to deal with this question in an dispassionate a manner as possible. We have invited you knowing your stand on this. Now you tell us that the members of Congress will pass the bill. I don’t think there is anybody who can presume what each congressman will do. You may have reasons to believe that they will pass the bill but to assert that they will, I think that is not quite fair to all of us.
LOCSIN: I take it back. I hope you won’t.
PELAEZ: That’s better.
LOCSIN: I apologize.
PELAEZ: Each of us will try to decide on this, as far as I know, according to the best lights God has given us, regardless of the prostitution of other people. I myself am resolved to view this solely from the standpoint of national interest, of what’s good for our people. Whatever may be the feelings of anyone else will not and should not influence us.
LOCSIN: Thank you for reprimanding me. I have a terrible weakness—one of losing control over my feelings. I shall speak more dispassionately, gentlemen. If I have hurt anybody’s feelings, I am sorry. I let my feelings run away with me. Which is a very bad thing to do in a fight.
Now, let me begin. Why are Filipino troops being sent to the Vietnam war? Is it in fulfillment of a treaty obligation? You have heard Dr. Salvador Araneta on the subject. SEATO members that are closer to the battle have not sent troops. Nor is an act of war dictated by any defense commitment with the United States. The United States has not been attacked but is the one attacking. What can the Philippines do in Vietnam? Sending 2,000 Filipino troops there would not make any difference in the outcome of the war. The cost would be P35 million this year which could best be spent here for the building of roads and bridges which are so badly needed to bring agricultural produce to market and make the economy work. The United States has spent billions of dollars in Vietnam to little effect, I wrote last year. The communist-led Viet Cong control more and more of the country despite American money and military intervention. Nor has the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam had any noticeable effect on the South Vietnamese rebel will to fight. What can the Philippines really do in Vietnam? Why should Filipino troops be sent there? The South Vietnamese government has received all the necessary money from the United States to build all the roads and bridges and schoolhouses and hospitals required. The Philippine contribution would be insignificant.
There are two possible reasons for sending Filipino troops to the Vietnam war. One is monetary, the other, fear. I have spoken on the possible monetary consideration. Let me speak now on the matter of fear. If Vietnam falls, the United States, it is feared, may withdraw from the Philippines, leaving it defenseless against the Chinese Communists. Will the United States withdraw from Asia if Vietnam falls, leaving the Philippines—and Formosa, Japan, Australia, Malaysia, India and the rest of Asia—to face the Chinese Communists? Will the United States then withdraw into fortress, solitary fortress, America? (The New Republic observes: “However the war in Vietnam ends, this country plainly isn’t getting ready to pull out of the Far East, but intends spending billions more dollars on air bases and ports, in Vietnam itself, in Thailand, on Formosa and Okinawa, and in the Philippines.”) The fall of Vietnam would make the American position in the Philippines and the rest of Asia more essential than ever to American security. The United States is not in Asia for our health, you know.
The United States would rather, for its security, face a communist challenge in Vietnam, and, if Vietnam fell, in the Philippines and Formosa and Japan rather than in Hawaii, and if the Philippines fell, in Hawaii rather than in California. The farther away from the enemy, the better. But the reality of American power in Asia, the American pundit, Walter Lippmann, has noted, is not in any land force it may commit to the area but in its naval and air power. The fall of South Vietnam will not destroy U.S. naval and air domination in the Pacific. As for land power, Douglas MacArthur is quoted as saying, if I remember correctly, “It would be sheer folly for the United States to ever again commit U.S. forces in a land war on the Asian continent.” And here is former Congressman Miguel Cuenco on the proposal by then President Macapagal to send Filipino troops to the Vietnam war: “I have serious doubts about the efficacy of foreign military intervention in Vietnam to contain communism and keep that unfortunate country in democratic hands. Experience has shown that civil wars or internal rebellions—and I consider the Vietnam war a civil war—are better left to the nations concerned for their own solution. The experience of Burma is in point. Burma has an internal communist problem and she has a common northern boundary with China of about 900 miles long. For the last 17 years she has fought successfully communism without any foreign aid or intervention and she succeeded in concluding treaties with Chin for the determination of boundary. It is significant that in the treaty Burma concluded with Great Britain in the year 1948, Burma refused to join the British Commonwealth and it is clearly stipulated that Burma renounces any protection from Great Britain.
The Communist challenge or threat to the Philippines does not lie in any Chinese invasion of the Philippines. (Here is Newsweek: “And up to now, China’s leaders have shown that they are essentially cautious men. In Korea, Peking assiduously avoided getting drawn into the war until Gen. Douglas MacArthur led U.S. forces across the 38th parallel in a drive toward the Chinese border. In Tibet, Peking reasserted control over territory which has traditionally been subject to China. And in the 1962 Sino-Indian dispute, Peking was staking out what it considered to be its legitimate border. Says a British Foreign Office expert: They engaged in what one can best describe as an old-type imperial punitive expedition aimed at putting the Indians in their place. The fact is that the Chinese—Korea apart—have shown a marked reluctance to fight on other people’s territories.” What the Chinese promote are “wars of national liberation,” that is, internal conflicts, insurgency, revolution.) The Communists challenge or threat lies in social instability and economic depression and the failure of our democracy to work. Filipino Communists may hope to overthrow the “democratic” regime by appealing to the people with the promise of and to the landless and jobs for the jobless and the rest of the Communist line. Philippine security lies in a social order based on social justice, in economic progress, in less disparity between the rich who are so few and the poor who are so many, in increased productivity which calls for mobilization of all our resources. We have no financial surplus contrary to what Mr. Marcos and his secretary of finance would have us believe. We need all the money we can scrape up to build factories, implement land reform, irrigate and fertilize our fields, build roads and bridges—and make our democracy really work.
What can the Philippines do to save South Vietnam from communism that the United States has not already done? What is the United States really trying to do in South Vietnam? The United States is trying to get out of the Vietnam war without losing face. That is the long and short of it. It did not know what it was getting into when it went to Vietnam to fill the power vacuum created by the defeat of French colonialism according to the prestigious New Yorker magazine. As the situation deteriorated the United States found itself deeper and deeper in the mess with no means appropriate to its great power status to get out of it. Improvisation followed improvisation but the situation continued to deteriorate. Meanwhile, American opinion began to question more and more the wisdom of American intervention in Vietnam. There were demonstrations and heart-searchings by more and more Americans, “agonizing reappraisal” of what the United States was doing in that wretched place where we would join her.
“What is the root of all this swelling anti-Americanism among the Asians?” asks Walter Lippmann. “It is that they regard our war in Vietnam as a war by a rich, powerful, white, Western nation, against a weak and poor Asian nation, a war by white men against non-white men in Asia. We can talk until the cows come home about how we are fighting for the freedom of the South Vietnamese. But to the Asian peoples it is obviously and primarily an American war against an Asian people.”
And that is why the Americans want our flag there to join the flags of white Australia and white New Zealand and an American protectorate, South Korea. It is a shameful coincidence that even as the American congress appropriates more dollars for South Korea, the South Korean government is sending more thousands of its troops to fight( and die if necessary) for those dollars.
What are the possibilities of the Vietnam war? He United States has bombed North Vietnam. Suppose it escalates the war and bombs Hanoi. If the Americans should bomb the capital, North Vietnam would have no alternative but to turn its armed forces completely loose to join the South Vietnamese rebels. It would have nothing to lose then. That is why America hesitates over bombing China. Suppose the Americans were to bomb Red China. There are very few targets of nuclear opportunity in China. It is an underdeveloped country. There are few industrialized centers. After having used its atomic force on Red China short of exterminating 700 million people and standing indicted before all the civilized world for genocide, what could America do other than sending and landing an expeditionary force? Now, if 200,000 American soldiers (plus half a million South Vietnamese government troops) are having trouble with a hundred or two hundred thousand Viet Cong rebels in pajamas, what would happen to the American expeditionary force when it actually engaged Red China’s 3 million regular troops and 10 million “people’s militia”? The Americans will wander all over China like lost souls—and must forget all about the war against poverty at home. And the American action will introduce a new element into the relationship between Soviet Russia “confronting” each other now, but if the United States should bomb China, the Russians would say to themselves, and act accordingly, “Ah, after China, we next, maybe.”
Think further what will happen in a few years when China acquires not only the atomic bomb but the H-bomb. In a few years the Chinese should be capable of delivering the nuclear missile—not necessarily to the United states but here. China won’t need an intercontinental missile; she won’t need to hit America. All China has to say to the South Vietnamese is: If America gives us the atomic works, we will give you the atomic works unless you tell the Americans to get out, unless you withdraw your invitation, leaving America with no legal justification for intervening in Vietnam. (When that time comes, we must win the war against communism not by any brandishing of the American nuclear weapon to intimidate Communist China into good behavior. We must win then, as we must win now, each of us, our people to the side of democracy, and keep them there. A Chinese invasion would be out, then as now, but “wars of liberation,” that is, insurgency, internal revolt, would be the problem. And this problem is solved at home and not abroad.)
PELAEZ: Under your theory, we should tell America to get out of her bases in the Philippines—if we were to follow the consequences of your statement. In other words, we must change our foreign policy completely.
LOCSIN: We must reexamine our foreign policy then (and at all time) and we must not give provocation. What would be in the interest of Red China in attacking the Philippines, anyway, if the Philippines were not attacking or being used to attack Red China?
PELAEZ: And in the face of the fight between the two giants, you would perhaps think it better that we should be a neutralist country and not have American bases here.
LOCSIN: If the time ever comes when Red China with nuclear missiles and the United States with nuclear missiles should find themselves on a collision course from which they could not get away, let us keep out of the collision. (Let us not die with the Americans and the Chinese as a people. That is what nuclear war between the two would mean—if it ever took place. As a matter of fact, such a war will not take place, according to American military and political authorities, if the two governments do not go nuts, if they do not believe their propaganda against each other. As a matter of fact, even a conventional land invasion of China by the United States is held so unlikely “that the Pentagon has not even bothered to draw up plans for such a contingency,” according to Newsweek. There will be no nuclear war between the United States and Communist China unless they go crazy, and if they go crazy, God help us, that’s all.) In a nuclear war between the United States and Communist China, there will be few Asians left alive, communist or anti-communist.
PELAEZ: Precisely, the argument now of those who take the administration stand is that Vietnam is the testing ground whether Chinese expansionism can be stopped and that therefore the Philippines should make its modest contribution to stopping it, while you say that the Philippines can do nothing. The reason is advanced that if we can help in any way strengthen the morale of the South Vietnamese, that would help, hence, this proposal to us by the defense department that this engineering battalion will have for its specific mission the strengthening of the morale of the South Vietnamese by helping the South Vietnamese government construct public works. And this could mean something plus, of course, the show of flags that has been mentioned to us by Secretary of Foreign Affairs Ramos. And one of the previous witnesses said that Americans would also need some morale boosting to be able to continue fighting communist aggression to Vietnam.
LOCSIN: May I say that first of all, the wisdom of the American involvement in Vietnam and its extent and the nature of the American strategy there is being reexamined by Americans themselves. We must not take it for granted, because we are Filipinos, we must not accept automatically the American government line as correct. Americans themselves are raising questions. We can hardly do otherwise unless we would be less than Americans. (We must not act like “little brown Americans.” In the first place, we are not Americans.) We must think for ourselves.
PELAEZ: That is why we are here.
LOCSIN: That, I hope, is why we are here. I am glad. Meanwhile, with respect to the alleged morale-boosting effect of our troops in Vietnam, may I quote from a letter of Senator Tañada to President Marcos:
“The proponents of the Vietnam adventure claim that our engineers can be of great help to South Vietnam. The engineers of the United States Army, with all their know-how and their modern equipment, are there. After they have done their jobs what can one little Filipino engineering battalion do that would make so much difference in that unhappy land?
“They say it would raise the morale of the South Vietnamese if they saw their Filipino brothers fighting side by side with them. If South Vietnamese morale has not been sufficiently boosted by the sight of those magnificent American giants with their marvelous modern weapons and their inexhaustible supply of dollars and K-rations, then nothing and no one can lift their morale. Why then this American insistence on getting us involved in the war? The only answer is that our presence there is needed to dissipate the growing impression that this is an American war against Asians. Surely we can find better use for Filipino lives than to waste them in a vain attempt to repair the American image in the eyes of thinking men.” (Tañada went on: “We are now spending one million pesos a year for our civil action group in Vietnam. We must appropriate 34 million pesos a year if we send 2,000 Filipino soldiers, and the war may last indefinitely. Both the Viet Cong and the Americans themselves seem to expect a protracted war. Senator John Stennis, chairman of the U.S. Senate Preparedness Investigating Committee, said, ‘It is sad but true that many of the six-year-old youngsters who started going to school this year can expect some time in their lives to patrol the swamps and mountains of Vietnam.’ Can we afford to throw away hundreds of millions of pesos? Considering the state of our finances, I believe we cannot. We do not have enough money to pay on time the salaries of our government employees, to implement our land reform program, to maintain and repair our roads and bridges, to construct irrigation canals to increase our production of rice, to repair our schools and open new classes for our rapidly expanding school population.
“It would be a crime to spend money on destruction when we have so little for our own much-needed construction. Besides, for good or ill, we shall remain in Asia, having to live with Asian neighbors with whom we may or may not agree on ideologies, forms of government or economic systems. Should we not then, if for no other reason than self-interest, exercise some caution and foresight in dealing today with our fellow Asians? I sincerely believe we should.”)
Let us think, before we enter the Vietnam war, what happened to America when it did. First, the United States sent merely civilians, then military advisers, then special troops with orders if fired upon by the Viet Cong not to fire back. Meanwhile, on South Vietnamese government fell, then another, then another, then another…. You can’t help those who won’t help themselves. The various South Vietnamese governments were given all the money they needed and the most modern weapons b the Americans, the most modern weapons short of the H-bomb, and they kept on losing more and more areas to the rebels. From a few dozen Americans to a few hundred to a few thousand to 150 thousand to 200 thousand to perhaps half a million Americans this year…. We shall begin with 2,000. (With how many Filipino troops in the Vietnam war shall we end?) Our 2,000 Filipino soldiers—they won’t even be noticed among a million American and South Vietnamese troops.
Let us fight communism here.
You must be tired of my voice by now. I get excited and I can’t help it. I am pleading for sanity and I may sound slightly insane….
LOCSIN: Let me read to you from an article by Edgar Snow on the American situation in Vietnam. Snow is the only American correspondent that Chou En-lai would talk to, who would be allowed into Red China. He was formerly associate editor of The Saturday Evening Post, a conservative magazine, and is a correspondent of Look, another conservative publication. He is the author of Red Star Over China, a classic book on the Chinese Communist revolution written, if I remember correctly, while the Communists were living in caves into which they had retreated before the pursuing forces of Chiang Kai-shek and when few people outside China gave the Communists a chance of winning. That was before the Second World War.
Not only the forces of Chiang went after the Communists, noted Snow. The Japanese went after them, too.
“The result was that between 1937 and 1945 the Chinese Communists increased their forces from 40,000 to more than one million, armed with equipment captured from puppet and invading troops. At that time the Communists were blockaded in their rear by Nationalist Chinese forces. They had no foreign allies, and no bases except the villages and their population living behind nominally enemy-conquered territory.”
Snow goes on:
“How is it that American hawks never reflected upon that experience? Do they consider the Vietnamese in a worse position? The United States is a far more formidable enemy than Japan, and Vietnam is much smaller than China. But Vietnam is not a peninsula like Korea or Malaya, it is not Greece with a Tito ready to close its rear, and it is not an island like Santo Domingo. Its western flank cannot be closed, its bases are far more advanced than were those of the Chinese Communists in the earlier war, and its rear—with the support of a China militarily more powerful than the Japan of 1937—seems limitless.
“Under the favorable political conditions just described, Vietnamese revolutionary leaders can gradually unite most of the nation in a holy war for independence. For such a struggle 30 million people are their potential base. Behind them, the productive energies of 700 million Chinese can be mobilized along an open frontier. Only nuclear bombing could effectively interrupt Chinese supplies of vital materials—or men, if developments obliged that.
“South Korea is also vulnerable to anti-American political activity, as demonstrated by recent violent reactions to the American-sponsored Seoul-Tokyo rapprochement. If China is bombed into the war it would be logical to expect repercussions in Korea. There exist pro-Communist underground organizations in the South. Heavy reinforcement of the 50,000 Americans already in Korea would be required to cope with renewed civil war. Despite the Japanese government’s resignation to US policy in Vietnam, until now, popular antiwar sentiment might make American air and naval bases untenable in Japan if conflict spread to China and Korea.
“Can an adequate ‘position of strength’ be won by limiting American operations to a modest Vietnam sanctuary held inviolable by command of the air and by ground units connecting a perimeter with immensely superior fire power? That would give the People’s Liberation Front ever wider military initiative and complete their political control over the land. North and South together, Vietnam could maintain half a million regular troops and at least as many armed partisans free to roam. In a thoroughly hostile countrywide every prudent American would have to scan every peasant as his potential assassin.
“If an urban based army needs a ten-to-one superiority to prevail in a people’s war led by guerrillas alone—as we are told by experts—what will be the ratio where partisans are supported by disciplined regular armies, operating from secure bases, over an unlimited front in inconclusive battles of endless maneuver?
“Defense of occupied enclaves must require ever-expanding penetrations, ultimately reaching across all Indochina. Laos will eventually require more than bombing attacks, and effective occupation of it would likely involve Cambodia. Thailand is now providing Americans with bases used for the bombing of Laos and Vietnam, and must expect eventual retaliation. ‘Free Thai’ partisans are beginning to emerge in the North and might in time become Bangkok’s major preoccupation.
“Political advantages bestowed by the ‘American invasion’ enable Ho Chi Minh’s disciples now to permeate most of Southeast Asia, to bring maximum numbers of people under their organizational influence and party control. A patriotic war educates great numbers of natural peasant leaders, arms them, unites them, and gives them an exalted purpose. In this sense Mao Tse-tung was probably right when he predicted that ‘the American imperialists’ would become the ammunition-carriers, the teachers, and the makers of Vietnamese revolutionaries. Not if they can possibly avoid it are the Chinese likely to intervene to relieve Americans of their unhappy role as the ‘only’ foreign invader.”
LOCSIN (continuing): American operations in Vietnam are increasingly involved in contradictions and the Americans are searching for a way to get out of that mess without losing their status as a great power.
MEDALLA: Do you mean to tell the committees that there is a plan of the United States to withdraw their help from Vietnam?
LOCSIN: It is one thing to say that the United States wants to withdraw, another to say that it has a plan of withdrawal. Let me quote John Emmett Hughes, a columnist of Newsweek and speech writer of Eisenhower when the general ran for president, and a former member of the editorial staff of Life. According to Hughes, there is the official American line on the Vietnam war and there is the private opinion in Washington which would settle for a Communist Vietnam provided it would take an independent attitude toward Red China. Well, the American could have had this 10 or more years ago—a Titoist Vietnam. And they could have spared the Vietnamese people all that suffering if they had settled then for an independent Communist Vietnam. (They did not, hence, this continuing war and the continuing agony of the Vietnamese people.) What I am trying to say is that Americans, like other people, make mistakes. Let us examine everything they propose and adopt what we believe to be correct and reject what we think is mistaken.
Let us take a look at the charge of aggression against Red China. It is said that China invaded India when Chinese troops crossed the McMahon—if that is the name—line. Well, the Chinese justification is that the boundary was drawn by a former imperialist power. Great Britain, and was never accepted by China, whether Nationalist or Communist. The non-violent Indians themselves were not above using violence when they invaded the Portuguese enclave of Goa—in the Indian national interest. The United States itself invaded Cuba, using Cuban exiles as troops. The U.S. government acted on the basis of CIA information, which turned out to be wrong. The Cuban exiles, instead of being welcomed by the Cubans with open arms as expected, were repelled. Kennedy exclaimed, “How could I have been so stupid as to have relied on experts!” or words to that effect. He wept. Do not believe all that CIA agents in Manila tell you. The CIA has been wrong before. They were wrong only recently about the situation in Santo Domingo. (Because of wrong information, the U.S. government found itself in a hell of an embarrassing position in that country.) Some say that the late Adlai Stevenson died of a broken heart—because of U.S. foreign policy which he had to defend before the United Nations. (While he said something, his government would be doing the opposite, making him look and feel like an ass.) Let us not break our hearts, too. If we must make mistakes, let them be our own.
However, if we do not want an independent Philippines, if the challenge of independence is too confusing for a people like us, if we are not good enough for independence, let us apply for American statehood. Then, when America goes to war, we go to war with it—as Americans. (As second-class Americans, of course, but as Americans, anyway.) Then we can send our millions of unemployed to California where they will share in the benefits of Medicare, the war against poverty, unemployment insurance….
PELAEZ: Like the Puerto Ricans in New York.
LOCSIN: Yeah, like the Puerto Ricans in New York. Over the dead body of American organized labor let us send our unemployed to America. Assuming that the Americans are willing to further “pollute” their bloodstream with brown Filipino blood, let us become Americans. Let us die as first-class Filipinos, which we are not, anyway, not yet—let us die as theoretically first-class Filipinos and be reborn second-class Americans. Then we could join the Negroes in their civil rights struggle and we should “overcome”—in, say, a hundred years. (Laughter from a Negro in the audience.)
If not, let us think.
PELAEZ: You said in the beginning that Thailand, a member of SEATO, was not doing anything in Vietnam. Why, you argued, should the Philippines? But it is disclosed in Snow’s article that Thailand has proofs that there are Communist guerrillas in her northeastern region and that Thailand is allowing its airfields to be used by American planes attacking Vietnam. May I add that Thailand has been fighting in Laos since 1962. It has been fighting the Pathet Lao since 1962 in coordination with the Americans. Now I would like to bring that out because of the argument why are we going to Vietnam when Thailand is doing nothing there when in truth and in fact Thailand is very much involved in the war.
(Is it surprising, then, that the Communists are trying to subvert the Thai government? Who can say that Thailand is not giving provocation? Are their bases not being used to attack the Communists?—LOCSIN.)
PELAEZ (continuing): You are right when you say that fear is one of the considerations in passing the Vietnam war bill but I would not say that it is a case of fear to be concerned about the future security of our country. The dilemma is this: You say that the situation in Vietnam is hopeless, that whatever the Americans may do there will not make any difference, the other forces will triumph. We also know of the assault on Thailand. As Snow reveals, there are already Communist guerrillas in Thailand. In other words, the frontier of the Philippines is not now just the Philippines but Thailand, a member of SEATO. If Vietnam falls, the impact will be such, as the Department of National Defense people said here, there will be a resurgence of the Huk movement here and of communism in other Southeast Asian countries. On the other hand, we are told that by sending this engineering battalion we might help in a small way in trying to build up the morale of South Vietnam to resist aggression. And while you say that we cannot do anything, I am thinking of the saying that “for want of a nail, a shoe was lost, and for want of a shoe….” No matter how little our participation may be, it might lead to a chain reaction of morale building or somehow strengthen the resistance of the South Vietnamese to aggression.
LOCSIN: Speaking of nails, there are nails that save and there are coffin nails.
PELAEZ: There are.
LOCSIN: Let the nails not be used to close our coffin.
PELAEZ: What should we do in the face of this impending, let us say, triumph of Communist ideology here and China’s domination of Southeast Asia?
LOCSIN: That is a very difficult question to answer and we must answer as carefully as possible. Let us think, every step we take. First of all, China is there. Just as the United States cannot tolerate a Cuba that is hostile to it, no matter how small Cuba is, and we believe that America, or Americans would have us believe that what the United States did to Cuba was justified—well, put yourselves in China’s place. If there were Chinese Communist troops in Mexico, what would the United States do? Now, put yourselves in China’s place….
PELAEZ: Following that line, the presence of American bases in the Philippines is a provocation to China.
LOCSIN: It is a calculated risk as far as we are concerned, good only if there is no nuclear war, fatal if nuclear war comes.
PELAEZ: Would you then recommend that our policy be reexamined toward removing American bases here?
LOCSIN: I would recommend that we reexamine the conduct of those bases since everything done involving the bases affects us. As potential casualties we should be allowed to put in our two-cents’ worth. We must not let those bases be operated by the Americans unilaterally, as they please, without consulting us, because we might get hit.
PELAEZ: You would go so far as to advocate the removal of those bases?
LOCSIN: Not this year, not next year, but who knows—in 10 years. Only fools do not change their minds, they say.
PELAEZ: You are quoting that now.
LOCSIN: That is right, because conditions may change in 10 years.
PELAEZ: The terms of the lease have been shortened to 25 years.
AGBAYANI: I would like to raise one point….
PELAEZ: You said the United States is fighting on the mainland of Asia because it is defending itself, that the farther away the fight is, the better for it. The proponents of the troops-to-Vietnam bill are using precisely the same argument, that the farther away the fight is, the better. Why wait until the fight is on our shore?
LOCSIN: American thinks it can effectively stop the Viet Cong there. I happen to think the opposite. Certainly, our participation will not help significantly stop the Viet Cong. Of course, if America is fighting to lose, that’s another matter. It would be crazy, however.
PELAEZ: The United States is fighting to win.
LOCSIN: It believes it is fighting to win. Therefore, it has reason for fighting there—from the military point of view. But we know that our 2,000 troops would be lost among half a million South Vietnamese troops and, eventually, half a million American troops, so what would we be doing there? The expedition would cost P35 million this year and we need every centavo we have to make our democracy work here. Let us make no enemies where we can make no friends, to quote Recto. There is no doubt that Red China is there and that we, unfortunately, are here, in the position of Cuba with respect to the United States. Let us buttress our independence here. The Cubans are not sending an expeditionary force to Florida to fight an anti-American war there; they are fighting their anti-American war, their war of independence, in Cuba itself. Let us fight our anti-Communist war here. But you know very well why we are sending Filipino troops to the Vietnam war. Is it not for a stabilization fund?
PELAEZ: I think I speak for the members of these committees when I tell you that we don’t have any definite information as to that. Do you have any? Because we don’t.
LOCSIN: First of all, what is the secret reason that the President will not tell the people for sending us to war?
PELAEZ: The way the problem has been presented to us by the defense department, we are not going to be involved in any combat operations. The Philippine contingent will not be employed in combat or combat support activities. It will undertake engineering construction, rehabilitation and development activities, render assistance to government and civic enterprises engaged in public health, community work and other related socio-economic activities, undertake interior security and defense of installations, facilities and construction sites. The defense people have agreed to a proposal by committee members that if we should report out this bill, it would carry an express provision that these engineers and their security support would not be involved in combat operations. The question is whether such a Philippine contingent would constitute a provocation or an act of war and be against our national interest or whether it would enhance our national interest as the defense people and the administration tell us.
LOCSIN: Let us, therefore, ask ourselves the question and not beg it. Why are we sending those troops there and what good would they do and what harm? Why? What for?
PELAEZ: We have been trying to find the answer to that question and yesterday there was a hint of why. We were told that seven engineer battalions would be constituted here and properly equipped. Congress was asked to appropriate money. It was assumed that the United States would give the equipment and that all those seven engineer battalions, plus the three engineer battalions in existence, or a total of 10, would be sent to the rural areas to do rural development work.
LOCSIN: In the Philippines?
PELAEZ: In the Philippines.
LOCSIN: In other words, we are going to send Filipino troops to the Vietnam war for American economic aid here.
PELAEZ: I don’t know. I say it may be a hint.
LOCSIN: In other words, we are going to war for American money. All right, let us not fool the people. We are so poor that—what do they say? Beggars can’t be choosers. We are poor, so w send our soldiers to war for American economic aid. If that is it, that may be a practical proposition.
PELAEZ: That is why we are holding these hearings. We want the people to know that we are trying to reveal to them as much information as possible consistent with reasons of security.
LOCSIN: What will happen to us once our troops are there? The American congress appropriates a hundred million dollars or more for a Philippine stabilization fund—and everybody will know why we went to war: We were bought! And if the American congress does not appropriate any money, then we will be suckers! (Laughter.)
PELAEZ: If you will recall, in 1961, under the Nacionalista administration, the United States under Kennedy decided to withdraw military support from Laos and agree to the coalition government in which the Pathet Lao would be represented. Then President Garcia and then Secretary of Foreign Affairs Serrano protested and said that there was evidence, expert testimony, that Laos could be held, and that if the United States allowed a coalition government to take the place of American support, infiltration and subversion in Vietnam would increase because Laos would be mostly under the control of the Pathet Lao. And the administration under Macapagal under which I was foreign secretary took the same line and we warned the United States that the setting up of this neutralist coalition government in Laos would make our situation in Vietnam more difficult. And it seems that we have been borne out by the facts. And so we are being told by the Americans: “You told us before to commit ourselves more firmly in Laos while we were being criticized that we were not committed enough in Vietnam, now that we are committed to stay in Vietnam and we ask a little help from you, you say, ‘Well, you do the fighting and you do all the job and we will not help you in any way.’”
LOCSIN: I never criticized America for not committing itself more in Vietnam. In fact, some years ago, I had a conversation with an American and he asked me what I thought the United States should do in Vietnam. I replied: “Go home. More precisely, go home or tell Diem (or whoever was in power then) to win over the people by immediate social reforms or you Americans would walk out. You would have a perfectly good reason for walking out. You would not lose any face.” If the war was to be converted into a popular war against the Communist, give the people something to fight for instead of putting all oppositionists as Diem did in concentration camps. Well, that was not done. And America, instead of walking out of the war, got in deeper and deeper in support of more and more unpopular regimes. Now they are sorry for acquiescing in the assassination of Diem. For the present setup is worse, we are told, than the one eliminated.
PELAEZ: Precisely, we are told that since the Honolulu Declaration this other aspect of the fight against communism has been emphasized, that is, to win the hearts of the people. And we are being asked, according to the proponent of the Vietnam measure to participate in this.
LOCSIN: In winning the hearts of the people?
PELAEZ: In winning the hearts of the people by helping the Vietnamese government undertake these tasks which would strengthen their morale and give them reason to trust the government, to have some concern for the present government, plus the promise of future democratization. Too late, perhaps, but at least we are being told now that there are two phases to this war. The Americans will take care of the military aspect and we are being asked to help the government of South Vietnam win the hearts of the people.
LOCSIN: It is certainly late in the game trying after all these years to win the hearts of the people. And this promise of the military government that it would be more democratic—it is like a cigarette addict that swears off smoking, I would not rely on it. The first thing the military government should do to show some sign that it means what it says is to institute land reform on a massive scale. That is what John F. Kennedy and his brother Bobby preached all over South America. Be with the democratic revolutionary forces. Suppose we build 10 hospitals in Vietnam—will that influence the outcome of the war in any way? But institute land reform, implement it as we are not implementing our land reform. (Instead, we are subsidizing rice production under tenancy.) Implement land reform in Vietnam and the government will begin to win the hearts of the people with no help from Filipino troops. They won’t need us. They only need reform and only they can reform themselves. Nobody can reform you except yourself—short of beating you on the head or shooting you. Then there would be no need of reform.
Let the South Vietnamese military government institute democratic reform to win the hearts of the people and we shall know they are really serious about winning the war and we can begin to feel there is hope there. But don’t let us be sucked in. If we send troops this year, we cannot withdraw them next year, they will be there until the war is over. We will look like a bunch of cowards if we quit and they will say that the Filipinos want money from the Americans and the Americans are not coming across, that is why the mercenary Filipinos are leaving.
If we go to the Vietnam war, we shall be stuck in that war; if the war lasts for 10 years, we shall be stuck in the war for 10 years. We should make up our minds if we send troops to that war that they are going to be in the war for 10 years if not more and we must be prepared to pay the cost of a 10-year war—or let us send no troops at all. We have no draft here because there are enough jobless enlisting voluntarily in the armed forces, but what if the war goes on and on? I hope my sons and yours will not be drafted for the Philippine war in Vietnam 10 years from now. In America they are saying that six-year-old American boys will wind up in the jungles of Vietnam if there is no negotiated peace. You want our country to go to the war in Vietnam? Then, may God help you and me. Thank you, gentlemen.
PELAEZ: You have been testifying for over an hour. We do not want to impose upon you but would you care to continue this dialogue this afternoon?
LOCSIN: If you wish. But I am utterly exhausted and my blood pressure has gone up lately and I may well die before the Vietnam war is over.
PELAEZ: Could you possibly come over at 3 in the afternoon? Would it be too much of an imposition?
LOCSIN: Your wish, gentlemen, is my command.
PELAEZ: It is not a command at all.
LOCSIN: I shall be here.
PELAEZ: Gentlemen, the session is resumed. Before the questions, would Mr. Locsin care to make a further statement?
LOCSIN: Yes…. Once we have committed troops to the Vietnam war and they are fired at and fire back, once we are not only in but also at war, if I were to speak out and criticize the government’s position, I could very well be accused of treason. I could be accused of giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Once we are at war, civil liberties may well be suspended. We should all shut up, lest we be accused of demoralizing our forces.
When we go to the Vietnam war, let me repeat, we will be committing the Philippines to stay in the war until it ends. We cannot recall our forces until the war is over. And we shall commit more and more troops as the war goes on. The Americans began with a few civilian advisers, then sent special forces with orders not to fire back when fired upon, and now there are 200,000 American troops in the war and their number may be increased to half a million. How many troops will we wind up sending to the Vietnam war once we are in it?
And now, I shall be glad to answer your questions—while I may still speak freely without being accused of treason.
PELAEZ: Thank you, Mr. Locsin. I want to say that if anyone else of treason or try to curtail the liberty of any citizen on the technical ground that we are at war, I will be the first to offer my services to defend you—as I had in the past. But I don’t think we will arrive at that extreme. But if we do, you can be sure that all the members of these committees will be at your side.
LOCSIN: And yet, Mr. Congressman, it will be recalled that President Marcos when only a candidate for president accused then President Macapagal of trying to create a situation by sending Filipino troops to the Vietnam war to declare a state of emergency here and curtail all civil liberties. (The sending of Filipino troops to the Vietnam war would give Macapagal an excuse to stop all criticism of his regime, Marcos argued then. Won’t the sending of Filipino troops now give Marcos an excuse to stop all criticism of his regime?)
But I should not be the one here testifying against sending Filipino troops to the Vietnam war. The best witness should be Marcos himself. Now, you will say that he was a candidate when he declared himself against the proposition and everybody knows how candidates are, that’s politics, but once elected president, a man must consider all the angles in meeting the awesome responsibilities of the office. All right, let us just consider the words of Candidate Marcos by themselves, whether they are true or not, regardless of who said them.
“History shows that every nation that fell to communism owed its defeat not to foreign invasion but to disintegration from within through the failure of its leadership and its institution.”
If this was true in 195, is it no longer true in 1966?
“The sending of combat troops will commit our country to war without regard for the provision of our Constitution for a declaration of war, and in the face of the express mandate in which we renounce war as an instrument of national policy.”
Was this true in 1965 but is no longer true in 1966?
“The worst part of it is that our troops can hardly do anything to influence the tide of war.”
True in 1965 but no longer true in 1966?
“What South Vietnam needs is the will to fight, which cannot be exported.”
Was this true in 1965 but no longer true in 1966? How explain the desertion of one hundred thousand soldiers from the South Vietnamese army?
“It (Philippine-American friendship) will be served today and in the future by Filipino leaders who act with becoming dignity and maturity as well as true good will toward America, rather than those who miss no chance to yelp their loyalty and manifest a canine devotion which only results in embarrassing American no less than the Philippines before the whole world.”
What was “canine devotion” or the act of a dog in 1965 is now the act of free men in 1966?
Let us forget that Candidate Marcos said these words. Let us just consider the words by themselves. Are they not still true? Are we not stuck with them as Filipinos—if we would act as men and not as dogs?
Now, your questions, please.
PELAEZ: The gentleman from Pangasinan, Congressman Reyes.
REYES: Mr. Locsin, you read to us excerpts from a speech of then Candidate Marcos. I am not defending him, I am speaking objectively, but is it not possible that Candidate Marcos did not have all the facts then at his command while now, as president, he has, hence, his change of position, an understandable one?
LOCSIN: It is possible he has now new facts at his command, in which case we, the people, are entitled to be told those new facts, on the basis of which he would send the Philippines to war. As a matter of fact, his statements referred not to immediate facts but to history, which has not changed. At any rate, if there are new facts which would justify his change of position, let us have them.
REYES: But can we not say that history is capable of various interpretations? May one not change one’s interpretation?
LOCSIN: In which case, he should cite facts and figures to support his new interpretation of history.
Just in case you think that I am opposing the bill to send Filipino troops to the Vietnam war because I do not like President Marcos, I would like to make it a matter of record that last year then President Macapagal invited the Free Press staff members to dinner in Malacañang and kept them there until midnight in the vain attempt to convince me to change my position on the proposition. Among those who argued in favor of it were then Defense Secretary Peralta, Senator Rodrigo, an intelligence officer, a Colonel Hernandez, if I recall correctly, and, of course, the President himself. Letters sent from Washington by Ambassador Ledesma were read to make me change our minds. Finally, I said, “All right, Mr. President, have a brief prepared for sending Filipino troops to the Vietnam war and the Free Press will publish it in full—and I will answer it. Is that a fair deal?” “Yes,” Mr. Macapagal said. And the chief of staff, General Santos, was commissioned to do the brief and we published it and I answered it. So, you see, there is nothing personal in my opposition to the bill. My position has not changed. Only presidents have changed. (Laughter.)
PELAEZ: That may be the most important fact that caused the change of heart of the President.
LOCSIN: What’s that?
PELAEZ: The fact that he is president now and he believes there will be no deterioration of the local situation because under his leadership he can hold this country together.
LOCSIN: I hope he is right.
REYES: Mr. Locsin, I was not present this morning but I take it that you are against sending troops to Vietnam.
LOCSIN: That is right.
REYES: Do you agree with me that the war in Vietnam is an ideological one?
LOCSIN: It is “a war of national liberation” by communist-led rebels. If you call it an ideological war, all right. It is a civil war. The fact that there are intervening foreign troops does not make it less of civil war. (Are the North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam foreign troops? Are they not Vietnamese, too? But the American troops, Australian troops, New Zealand troops, South Korean troops—these are certainly foreign troops.) There were American, Russian, Italian and German troops in the Spanish civil war but that did not make it not a civil war. When the two principal belligerents are one people, the war is a civil war.
REYES: That is true. But, perhaps, the cause for which the Spanish civil war was fought was not as pronounced as it is today?
LOCSIN: What are we supposed to fight for in Vietnam? Democracy?
REYES: Among other things.
LOCSIN: Yet, according to former U.S. President Eisenhower, America could not affords self-determination, that is, democracy, in Vietnam, under the Geneva Agreements, because the Viet Cong would win. Why don’t you read Senator Salonga on the Vietnam war dilemma?
REYES: That is right, we are agreed on that. We are agreed that there is a civil war there, but over and above the civil war, don’t you agree with me that the fight there is one between two ideological forces—communism and democracy?
LOCSIN: Granting that, what then?
REYES: During the Crusades, almost every nation contributed to the cause it believed in. Don’t you think that now a nation should contribute its bit to the cause it believes in?
LOCSIN: In other words, should we send troops to Vietnam? I say we can’t afford to, and let us have democracy at home.
REYES: When we fought the Huks, was that not an ideological war?
LOCSIN: All right.
REYES: In the ideological war here against the Huks, the government spent billions of pesos. Should we not help in the war against the Communists over there? It is merely an extension of the war we fought here.
REYES: Why do you say that?
LOCSIN: Because if we are going to fight the Communists wherever they take to arms, we will be fighting them all over the world.
REYES: Did not foreign Communists give aid and arms to the Huks?
LOCSIN: The Huks got their arms by capturing them from the government troops, not from foreign sources. During the war, the Huks got American arms, of course, that were not taken by the Japanese.
REYES: I think the rural areas would know more about that.
LOCSIN: No Chinese arms have been discovered, nor Russian arms.
REYES: They have been discovered, according to Camp Crame, that is, the army authorities.
LOCSIN: I have not heard of it.
REYES: There were newspaper reports to the effect that landings were made during the fight against the Huks. Submarine landings were made to deliver foreign aid to the Huks—don’t you agree with me?
LOCSIN: All I can say is, “Don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers.” (Laughter.)
REYES: I know, but in some papers….
LOCSIN: …including the Free Press. (More laughter.)
REYES: If we fought against communism here, don’t you think we should fight against communism abroad rather than here where our families would suffer?
LOCSIN: Unfortunately, the war in Vietnam is not a war between democracy and communism but between feudalism and communism. The South Vietnamese authorities have never heard of democracy. They would shoot you if you put democracy in practice there. They had one election under Diem and one opposition leader got elected and they put him in prison.
REYES: Don’t you think we should help in informing them about democratic government because they know so little about it, then?
LOCSIN: Let us send them books on democracy (Laughter.)
REYES: Among other things. I may agree with you there.
LOCSIN: But you cannot help those who won’t help themselves. They have kept their country at war for how many years now because of their stupid refusal to reform, to give the people the beginning of democracy. And now, I think, it is too late. I may be wrong.
REYES: I may be wrong, too. That is why we are here to gather information the best way we can.
PENDATUN: I told Mr. Locsin this morning that I did not intend to ask him any question because it was very difficult for me to separate Citizen Locsin from Editor Locsin—to me he is Mr. Free Press Locsin—and I thought that newspapermen always have the last say. I did not want to place myself in a position where I would not be able to have the last say.
LOCSIN: If you like, we can keep your questions anonymous. I can just refer to you as “A Congressman.”
PENDATUN: But I don’t want him to have the impression that I do not respect the views he expressed here. Now, I would like to ask questions on the stand of Mr. Marcos during the election and his stand after he became president. When Mr. Marcos was a candidate and he opposed Mr. Macapagal’s proposal to send troops to Vietnam, Mr. Locsin agreed with Mr. Marcos.
LOCSIN: He led the opposition and I was one of the oppositionists.
PENDATUN: In other words, Mr. Marcos agreed with Mr. Locsin. (Laughter.) But after the election, Mr. Marcos found himself in the shoes of Mr. Macapagal and he found out the soundness, the urgency, the necessity to send this engineering battalion in answer to a request from a friendly country, a protocol state under SEATO. When he became president, Mr. Marcos realized that the position of Mr. Macapagal was the correct position for a president of the Philippines. Cannot Mr. Locsin appreciate the frankness of Mr. Marcos when he said on television that he would subordinate his personal prestige to the cause of national security….
LOCSIN: As I said, a man is entitled to change his mind, but he should explain why he changed his mind.
PENDTUN: And the explanation Mr. Marcos made on TV was not sufficient?
LOCSIN: I refer you to an editorial of the Free Press this week in which a citizen takes that television speech of Mr. Marcos and tears it to pieces sentence by sentence. If you still believe that the explanation of Mr. Marcos is satisfactory, if it is satisfactory to you, I hope it is also satisfactory to Mr. Marcos himself, and there is nothing more I can say.
PENDATUN: Frankly speaking, if I have to base my belief that Mr. Marcos is justified in changing his stand on that TV statement, that statement is really not sufficient to justify his stand. But unfortunately there are other important factors for changing his stand. And probably for reasons of his own he cannot reveal them now. But I would like to grant that history would prove Mr. Marcos right.
LOCSIN: I hope history will prove Mr. Marcos right because I have to live here. As for his secret reasons for sending us to war, I think the people are entitled to know what they are. Whether they are creditable reasons or not, that remains to be seen, but I think there is only one new reason and that reason is money. I hope I am wrong.
PENDATUN: I do not agree that sending an engineering battalion to Vietnam is sending the country to war. We are merely going to help a beleaguered country which is a protocol state under SEATO and it is our moral and legal obligation to do so.
LOCSIN: Do you believe there is a war going on there?
LOCSIN: Are you going there?
LOCSIN: Then are we not going to war.
LOCSIN: It is a war on an international scale, according to President Marcos.
PENDATUN: With due respect to President Marcos, I disagree with him when he says that because it is wrong.
LOCSIN: You know what modern war is. It is not just shooting at each other. Modern war is propaganda war. Modern war is building roads and blowing up roads and rebuilding the roads. Modern war is putting up hospitals for the wounded. Modern war is bombing cities and killing civilians and children. Modern war is total war and civil war is more total than most wars. That is what war is. And if we are going to war, let us not say that we are not going to war. Let us not go to war and pretend we are not going to war because we will kid nobody. If we believe we must fight (President Marcos was afterward to declare on board an American aircraft carrier: “WE WILL FIGHT” after saying that the mission of the engineering battalion with combat security he would send to the Vietnam war was non-combat), let us be candid, let Congress face the problem squarely and vote as required by the Constitution. I bet you can get the two-thirds vote required in the House anyway.
PENDATUN: Well, while we are constructing roads and buildings there and our people are attacked, it is our duty to fight.
LOCSIN: So, we are going to war, then. All right. But let us go to war with our eyes open—if we must go to war.
PENDATUN: How can you say we are going to war?
LOCSIN: Are we not sending troops to the Vietnam war?
PENDATUN: How can we be said to be going to war when we cannot declare war against anyone because we don’t know against whom to declare war?
LOCSIN: We can declare war against China, Hanoi and the National Liberation Front.
PENDATUN: China and Hanoi have found it very convenient to commit infiltration, subversion, aggression without declaring war.
LOCSIN: All right, let us declare war or let us not, but let us know what we are getting into, and what we are getting into is war. We are sending men in uniform, with guns. That is a show of force. Even if our men were merely draining swamps or building roads and schoolhouses, they would be relieving South Vietnamese who could then be sent to the front to fight. So, we would be in the war. We would be part of the war against the Viet Cong.
PENDATUN: The Communists have not declared war yet they are committing aggression against the democracies, and we would be helpless if we did nothing unless we declared war. We cannot declare war because that would be aggression.
LOCSIN: All right. Let us not declare war but let us know we are going to war. Is that all right?
TEVES: Mr. Locsin, I must admit that even if I had been in favor of this bill since last year, your argument this morning was quite telling and I am now in doubt as to the position I should take. But certain things disturb me. Among them is the fact that the United States and South Vietnam are asking our help in the form of a battalion of combat engineers. We are faced with a dilemma. If we don’t send, we might be accused of not being sympathetic to their cause, to the cause of democracy, while back in the United States there is a hue and cry for the American forces to pull out of Vietnam, and our action may give Americans further incentive to pull out. And should this happen, should the U.S. forces in South Vietnam pull out and should the 7th Fleet pull out, don’t you think we will be very vulnerable to the Communists, to communist ideology and communist aggression without the U.S. 7th Fleet helping us block communist movements?
LOCSIN: It is precisely the position of such men as Walter Lippmann that the United States should make a stand where they would not be involved in a land war on the mainland of Asia—a war against which such American generals as Eisenhower and MacArthur warned. The United States should make a stand where their naval and air superiority is unquestioned—in Japan, Formosa, the Philippines, Australia. If they lose Vietnam, they will hold on to the Philippines even more, in the same way that if they lose the Philippines, they will hold on even more to Hawaii. They will not think, in either case, of retreating into solitary Fortress American—that would be militarily stupid.
TEVES: Precisely, by our refusal to help the United States in the mess it got itself into, the United States may feel that if we do not join them in their hour of need they should not join us in our hour of need.
LOCSIN: The point I am trying to make is that, as many American political writers believe, the American war in Vietnam is the wrong war, it is the wrong place to fight….
TEVES: But even granting it is the wrong war….
LOCSIN: You mean, let us show them we love them so much that even if they are making fools of themselves in Vietnam, we shall make fools of ourselves there, too? That may be a point to be considered.
TEVES: It is a fact that they are committed….
LOCSIN: And we can tell the American people that against our better judgment we will join them in the war in Vietnam, we will be there with them through thick and thin, and we hope they won’t make us wait for 20 years to collect war damage if we are ever hit again.
MITRA: May I interrupt the gentleman on that point? I think there is an American writer who said that the situation of America in the Vietnam war is like a person who went into the water to fight the sharks. Mr. Locsin, I think, raises the question whether, if America wants to make a fool of itself by jumping into the water to fight the sharks, we should jump into the water and join the Americans in fighting the sharks.
LOCSIN: Maybe, to show them that we love them more than they have ever been loved by anyone before.
TEVES: It is not a question of love, it is a question of self-preservation.
LOCSIN: There is no question of self-preservation here because America will stay in the Philippines if it suits its interests and not because of anything we do. America has been nicer to its former enemies than to the Philippines. If we had bombed America, if we had bombed Pearl Harbor, we would have gotten more economic aid than we did, and with no strings attached.
TEVES: I have made mention of that, Mr. Locsin.
LOCSIN: That is the whole point. Why is America in Japan? Because Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, that is why America is in Japan. (Laughing) America is maintaining bases in Japan and will defend Japan against attack by Red China—why? Because the Japanese showed that they were with the Americans in their hour of need? No! The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and killed Americans and treated their American prisoners of war like animals. And that is how the Japanese gained the respect of America. Not with “canine devotion” but with a show of realistic appreciation of what are their interests.
TEVES: You say this is a fight among giants and we are such small fry we should not get involved in it because we have nothing to do with this fight between communism and democracy in South Vietnam. Do you want us just to fold our hands and let South Vietnam fall and if communism wins it is immaterial?
LOCSIN: History will take its course in Vietnam regardless of any intervention by us. What will happen there will happen there and there is nothing 2,000 Filipino troops, among half a million South Vietnamese government troops and eventually half a million American troops, can do to influence the course of events. Let us instead set our house in order for the day of reckoning, the moment of truth. Let us make our democracy work so that if there should ever be a confrontation with the Communists, we shall know what we are confronting them for. You cannot tell the people just to be against something. Let us do positive things for democracy here, and that would require our full attention. Once we are at war in Vietnam or in that war in a really significant fashion—if we would be in the war in an insignificant fashion, that would be stupid; why be in the war at all?—it will consume more and more of our national energy. Going to war is the last resort of bankrupt nations, you know. That is why Mussolini sent Italy to war in Ethiopia, because the Italian economy was bankrupt. The Germans took up fascism and war because German democracy did not work.
TEVES: But should South Vietnam fall under communist control, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos will follow. We will be the only democracy left and it will be very hard for us to stand, we will be vulnerable to aggression and subversion and infiltration. We had a taste of these before and we might have them again.
LOCSIN: And do you think that India and Pakistan and Burma and Cambodia are not considering these things, too? And yet they are not sending any troops to the Vietnam war. You know what the British are doing? The British pound depends on American financial support. Without it, the pound would collapse. But all that Johnson is getting from Wilson after twisting Wilson’s arm is words to this effect: “You are doing great. We are with you.” But the British are not sending any troops. The Chinese Nationalists have offered to send troops but the Americans have turned down the offer. The Americans don’t want Chinese Nationalist troops in the Vietnam war. They would create a dangerous situation. It appears that what is bad for the Chinese Nationalists is good for the Filipinos.
TEVES: The reason is the Vietnamese resentment of the Chinese, I understand.
LOCSIN: That is a possible reason. But the real reason, I think, is that the Americans don’t want the Chinese Nationalists to provoke Red China. Instead, let the Filipinos do the provoking—that’s the American policy. What are we? Children? Why does not Japan send troops to the Vietnam war? Japan sends only doctors. Japan can manufacture the atomic bomb, an absolute deterrent to communist invasion because any naval fleet the Chinese Communists might assemble against Japan would evaporate in an instant. Why has Japan (which could be so secure against Chinese Communist invasion) refused to send troops to Vietnam? But we—we will be so brave, we will send soldiers! We will be more militaristic than the Japanese. We, with our resources!
And think, if we provoke the Chinese Communists sufficiently, they will have the H-bomb in a few years, we are told, and they will not have to fire it at us from the mainland, they can load it in a torpedo and shoot it into Manila Bay. How would you like that? Those of us who don’t die from the blast will die from the fall-out….
AGBAYANI: Mr. Chairman, with your permission. First of all, I would like to establish some areas of agreement with Mr. Locsin and clarify some points. Would you agree with me when I say that that the issue here is not one of neutralism and that the opponents of the bill are not neutralists?
LOCSIN: Some may be neutralists but others are not. Neutralism is not an issue in the sense that some nations are allied wit the United States, yet they do not join the United States in all its wars. The British are allied with the United States, so are the Japanese, and France has an alliance with the United States, and so has Pakistan, and none of them has sent troops to join the Americans in Vietnam. India is neutralist.
AGBAYANI: I agree with you. Precisely, Great Britain, a signatory of the SEATO pact, has sent six advisory men and one professor in English in Quay University.
LOCSIN: I think we can send two professors and outdo the British. (Laughter.)
AGBAYANI: Are we all agreed that North Vietnam is communist-oriented?
LOCSIN: Its government is communist.
AGBAYANI: And the Viet Cong are communist led?
AGBAYANI: And that is why even the opponents of the bill sending troops to the Vietnam war who are not neutralists are in favor of giving aid in one form or another to Vietnam?
LOCSIN: I suppose you might say that.
AGBAYANI: Would you agree that under the SEATO pact we have a flexible commitment and sending medical aid would be a compliance with the commitment and we are not legally obligated to send troops or an engineering battalion?
LOCSIN: I believe we are free to do what we believe is wise. With or without the SEATO pact, we can send troops, if we want to, not only to Vietnam but to Africa. But we are not bound, under the SEATO pact, to send troops to Vietnam.
AGBAYANI: Would you not say that under the SEATO pact while we are not required to send troops or an engineering battalion, we are committed to increase our assistance to South Vietnam within our capabilities and consistent with our commitment elsewhere?
LOCSIN: I am not an expert on the pact but don’t you think the whole thing begs the question? We can say we are broke and whatever aid we are sending is consistent with our bankruptcy. We can say we cannot afford to send troops with an appropriation of P35 million this year. (The Philippines can increase its medical aid to South Vietnam, a Free Press editorial afterward observed, and fulfill its alleged commitment to increase aid.) There are commitments and commitments.
AGBAYANI: I have been saying all the time that we must know exactly what “commitment” means, especially what the U.S. commitment to us means. Is it your proposition that actually the United States, in signing the SEATO pact with us as well as the Mutual Defense Treaty, has a wide discretion in the kind of action it will take to help us?
LOCSIN: Whatever the United States does will be dictated by the military situation. The United States fought in Bataan and lost and took three years to return. Had it failed to come back, it could always have said, “Well, we did our best.” Suppose American cities are bombed in a future war—the United States would not have to send aid here and it would have a perfectly good reason for not doing so.
AGBAYANI: To say that an armed attack against the territory of one will be recognized as a threat to the safety and security of the other is to say actually what? I asked Undersecretary of Justice Teehankee whether he agreed with me that should he be attacked and I should consider the attack a threat to my safety and security, I should be justified in running away. Our people should not go into anything with their eyes closed.
LOCSIN: I would like to know if America has requested us to send troops to the Vietnam war.
PELAEZ: As far as the request is concerned, the request came from South Vietnam.
LOCSIN: So, there has been no American request?
PELAEZ: As far as we know, there has been no official evidence submitted to us that this has been requested by the United States.
AGBAYANI: I want to go into the issue of constitutionality. It is argued by the proponents of the bill to send troops to Vietnam that while it is true that the Constitution renounces war as an instrument of national policy, sending the engineering battalion would be a defensive war measure. What do you think?
LOCSIN: I suppose they can argue like that. The question is, “Is that a wise act of defense?” If the measure is unconstitutional, we should be against it, of course….
AGBAYANI: They can always argue that our Constitution is a dynamic one and may adjust its meaning to changing circumstances or situations. So, the question is, indeed, whether the measure is a wise act of defense or not.
LOCSIN: If the act is an act of war, whether wise or not, it would require a two-thirds vote in the House and a two-thirds vote in the Senate—of all the members.
AGBAYANI: We agree that the United States is our friend, but even as a friend it cannot love the Filipinos more than it loves itself and the best friends of the Filipinos are the Filipinos themselves.
LOCSIN: I would certainly agree with you on that.
AGBAYANI: According to the proponents of this measure, being friends of ourselves we must go to the defense of our country by fighting in South Vietnam.
LOCSIN: I would say that we can help our friend America not by encouraging it in a questionable if not downright foolish venture but precisely by setting our house in order and thus provide its bases here with greater security. I had a conversation with an official of the U.S. State Department some time ago and we talked about Philippine economic development. I said that if our economy were improved, there would be no anti-American threat here. As our economic problems multiply—we are producing so many babies and not enough goods—there will be a great outcry from the have-nots. Eventually, they will blame the Americans and create insecurity for American bases. “If you help us develop the Philippine economy for the Filipinos, you will be helping yourselves,” I said, “for your bases will be secure.” The United States will not need to fight, as it must in Vietnam, in defense of its bases in the Philippines.
At any rate, we have given the United States sites for its bases, rent-free. We have given it parity, free trade—until we went broke when all the dollars were gone, spent on American goods. What more do we have to give the United States?
AGBAYANI: Our friend the United States gives us aid but, as you have said, with many strings attached. As a matter of fact, I have sponsored a resolution in the House to investigate the NWSA deal involving about P79 million loaned to the Philippines through NWSA with about P18 million to be paid to American consultants. But, of course, we must not begrudge the Americans that for they love their own people—as they should.
But to go to another point, I say that with American forces in South Vietnam and the more than half a million South Vietnamese government soldiers, there is no danger of South Vietnam’s falling into communist hands.
LOCSIN: It may well be that they will have “permanent pockets” which they can defend militarily. But these pockets will leave the Viet Cong free, as Edgar Snow has pointed out, to roam all over the countryside as they please. Incidentally, part of the price of saving non-existent South Vietnamese democracy is about a million refugees from bombed-out villages. The question may well be raised: Is the liberation of Vietnam worth the price? Suppose we have a civil war here. Then some foreign power comes in, prolonging the war, and we have 20 years of civil war in the name of saving democracy (and we do have some democracy while they have none at all in South Vietnam) and our barrios are set on fire and our children burned alive, how would we like that? But that would occur only if there were insurgency and that is why the big thing is to prevent the possibility of insurgency. Once it starts, we will be in hell. It may last 10 years. And so, let us set our house in order first of all and we shall be safe.
AGBAYANI: If the United States can cope with the military situation in South Vietnam, why send a Filipino engineering battalion there? It may be argued. Do you believe the United States would have to bow down in defeat in South Vietnam eventually?
LOCSIN: If they can cope with the situation there, then there is no need for our troops. If they cannot cope with the situation, then we should not send troops. What can our troops do?
AGBAYANI: But the United States will probably triumph in South Vietnam. According to them, all they want is to preserve South Vietnam for the South Vietnamese. They have no military ambition, they are not going to cross the 17th parallel, they will withdraw afterward.
LOCSIN: What I know is that Eisenhower said in his memoirs that they could not afford a free election in South Vietnam because the Viet Cong would win. When can they afford a free election in South Vietnam in which the Viet Cong will not win?
AGBAYANI: Why are we sending troops to Vietnam? To save democracy when actually the South Vietnam government is not democratic? However, whether South Vietnam is a democracy or not is immaterial from the point of view of our own security. If the South Vietnamese government is with us, that makes it one more bastion of democracy, that is, it serves as a buffer state.
LOCSIN: The point is, the Americans have taken over the war. What are we trying to do? We are trying to help the hopeless?
AGBAYANI: You do not agree that America will most probably win the war?
LOCSIN: I don’t think Americans themselves are prepared to say that. They are hoping for a negotiated peace. If they prolong the war and keep on sending troops, the result will be a massive slaughter-house. That is what happened in Verdun in the First World War. The Germans would send more troops to the front and the French would send more troops while the casualties mounted. You know how many were killed. Rather than send troops to the Vietnam war, we should offer our services to bring about a settlement of the conflict and tell the Americans as some of their own people are telling them that they cannot bring about a settlement if they exclude their main antagonists from the conference table. How can they negotiate with the Viet Cong without talking things over with them?
AGBAYANI: But the negotiation is supposed to be with North Vietnam.
LOCSIN: That is the whole trouble. Why should North Vietnam tell the Viet Cong to stop fighting (The North Vietnamese government can apparently take American bombing of North Vietnam and how can it hit back at the Americans except through the Viet Cong?) As for Red China, it wants the United States to remain in the war. The greater the American concentration on the Vietnam war, the greater the dissipation of American resources.
AGBAYANI: But is it not a fact that the Viet Cong derive a large part of their strength from North Vietnam?
LOCSIN: Not as much as South Vietnam derives its strength from the United States. North Vietnam has not taken over the Viet Cong war effort in South Vietnam but the United States, let us face it, is doing most of the fighting now for South Vietnam. The Americans rely so little on the South Vietnamese that they withhold intelligence from them, resulting in a big foul-up on at least one occasion. The Americans believe that if they tell the South Vietnamese army everything, it will leak to the Viet Cong. As a matter of fact, without the Americans telling the South Vietnamese army everything, vital information leaks to the Viet Cong anyway, I have read.
AGBAYANI: I agree with Mr. Locsin that America will not go to the defense of the Philippines if it is not to the American interest to do so, and it does not matter whether we send troops to Vietnam or not. By the same token, the Chinese Communists will not attack the Philippines unless it is to their interest to do so, and it will make no difference whether we send troops to Vietnam or not.
LOCSIN: I suppose that is so. Since our troops will not determine in any way the outcome of the war in Vietnam, the Chinese Communists will not attack us just because we sent troops. You have a point there.
AGBAYANI: Thank you. Now, do we not agree that the Chinese Communists have a plan to conquer the Philippines, if not through external aggression, certainly through subversion, and we must therefore be on guard against the same within our country?
LOCSIN: To quote Mr. Marcos again, “history shows that every nation that fell to communism owed its defeat not to foreign invasion but to disintegration from within through the failure of its leadership and its institutions.”
AGBAYANI: Now there is a move among the committee members to amend the bill so as to limit the activity of the engineering battalion to construction and rehabilitation work and other civic action. It can then be argued that although they are Filipino troops wearing the uniform of our armed forces, they will not be going to war and our action will not be provocative of the Communists. Besides, it makes no difference because if it is in their time-table to conquer the Philippines, they will come in anyway.
LOCSIN: There is no evidence of any time-table for the conquest of the Philippines. But there are distortions of quotations, of statements of Chinese Communist officials by the Western press. I refer you to a book, A Curtain of Ignorance, by Felix Greene.
AGBAYANI: I cannot really say whether there is such a time-table or not but we do have proof that the Communists, whether Chinese or Russian, would try to take over the Philippines by subversion, so whether there is a time-table or not….
LOCSIN: Filipino Communists desire to gain power, of course, and take over the government of the country. So do the Liberals. So did the Nacionalistas last year. Our problem is to prevent communist insurgence here.
AGBAYANI: Going back to the bill to send troops to Vietnam, it is argued that they will not do battle but just participate in construction.
LOCSIN: How can we know what will happen once they are there? I beg you to remember that the commitment will not be for 1966 only. Once we are in the war, we will remain in Vietnam until the war is over. If there are casualties, they will be replaced. We will spend P35 million this year, P50 million next year…. Where will we get the money? From the stabilization fund? From the Americans?
AGBAYANI: Do you have any knowledge of a stabilization fund offer?
LOCSIN: There was talk of it even under Macapagal. Don’t tell me we are going to send our men there at the cost of P35 million this year, at least P350 million in 10 years if the war lasts that long, without expectation of monetary reward. That may be democratic but it is certainly expensive.
AGBAYANI: You mean to say we might as well know what we are getting for the blood of our soldiers?
LOCSIN: We should know what we are getting into and what we are selling our soldiers’ lives for.
AGBAYANI: What about the amendment to insert the word “voluntary” so as to have only volunteer troops to go to Vietnam?
LOCSIN: Volunteer soldiers or non-volunteer, they will still be Philippine government troops. I don’t see why we have to send an engineering battalion with combat security when South Vietnam needs doctors so badly. Why this insistence on troops? Because the United States wants the Philippines to be in the war, to make its Vietnam war a Filipino war, too. It does not really matter what Filipinos do in Vietnam so long as the Americans can tell the world that the war is not just an American war but an Asian one in which Filipinos are involved. What can we really do there? After so many years, we have not even been able to complete the Nagtahan Bridge and the Guadalupe Bridge…. What the Americans want is our military presence in the Vietnam war, that’s all.
AGBAYANI: For psychological purposes.
LOCSIN: That’s what they will pay us for.
PELAEZ: It is now five o’clock and under our rules we cannot hold committee hearings once the session starts. So we wish to thank you, Mr. Locsin, for the very helpful statements you have made and I am sorry if we have inconvenienced you. But I wish to assure you that everyone in the committees appreciates your active participation in the hearings.
LOCSIN: And I must thank the members of the committees, in spite of my initial reluctance to speak here, for listening to me as they have. If I spoke too passionately, blame it on my temperament but do not hold it against my arguments.
PELAEZ: Thank you very much.
“Ayos na ang Buto-Buto”
by Quijano de Manila
November 1963–THE cooked goose, the swung deal, the clinched victory, the mission accomplished have had rich utterance in street argot. Your ability to remember Arreglado na ang kilay will date you. Later gamier words for it are Kuarta na! and Yari na! The classic expression is Tapos na ang boksing, which will always sound unbearably sad to those who heard the great Recto saying it during the 1957 campaign.
This year’s campaign will go down in slang annals for broaching a new way to say curtains. The hot phrase wildfired through Manila during the last month of the campaign, is now to be heard wherever folk talk. Has the eighth passenger climbed into the A.C. jeepney? Ayos na ang butó-butó. Has the bingo emcee picked up that elusive number? Ayos na ang butó-butó. Has your girl finally agreed to a movie date? Ayos na ang butó-butó.
The literal meaning of it is: The voting’s over. The blossoming meanings are: It’s made, sewed up, completed, settled, on the way, in the bag, amen, fin, the end. The rites of politics required every candidate and his henchmen to claim cocksurely that, as far as they were concerned, the fight was over, the voting was over, long before the people stormed the polls. Now, as the two parties wrangle over who really won or lost, the people hurl back at them their own cry of pre-poll confidence. So what’s the use of post-poll wrangling? Ayos na ang butó-butó!
The birth of that byword was a major event of the campaign, which ended with a bang-bang-bang. The first bang was the War over the Mestizo. The second bang was the Apocalypse according to St. Robot. The third bang was the pair of avance mitings on Plaza Miranda. It wasn’t a dull campaign, and don’t let anybody tell you different. Funny things happened to the politicos on their way to public office.
The fun began with the assault on the mestizo. Just when people were thinking the NPs should be thrashed for conducting what can only be described as a hate campaign, the LPs, who had been behaving more primly, got their nice record spoiled for them by their own chief, the President, with his unhappy remark on the “mestizo arrogance” of Vice-President Pelaez. Though efforts were made to explain away the gibe, the general reaction was: Why bring up racism at all? But if that’s the point of the fuss, then the matter doesn’t end here, and the veep, too, must be haled in and declared just as guilty as the President in this matter of racism. Or maybe guiltier. The President’s tongue slipped only once; but the veep, in his campaign, at least in Bulacan, brought up the question of race in after speech, as all those who saw him campaigning can testify.
In Bulacan, the veep invariably began his speeches by denying, apropos of nothing, that he was a mestizo, or half-white. This was before anybody accused him of “mestizo arrogance.” He seemed to feel a need to explain away his European color and appearance, and his explanation was mystical: his mother had “conceived” him after St. Anthony. But though his skin was fair, his heart was kayumanggi. In other words, though he might look like a mestizo, he really was not a mestizo. Now this is equivalent to a Harlem Negro saying that, despite his looks, he’s really a Dutchman. Fellow Negroes could accuse him of being ashamed of his race. Fellow mestizos could complain that before the President is said to have insulted their breed, Pelaez had already done son, by gratuitously denying to be what he obviously is. Dark-skinned Filipinos may feel flattered that their vice-president is trying to pass for brown; but a man who’s embarrassed by the color of his skin, and apologizes for it, ultimately heightens our awareness of racial differences. Why bring up racism at all, we justifiably cry. And Pelaez is as bound to answer that question as his adversary.
Fortunately for the nation, before barricades could be put up by the chabacanos of Cavite and Zamboanga and the entresuelistas of Manila, the potential Battle of Birmingham in reserve got kicked off center stage by another act: the unturbanned magus called Robot with his clouded crystal ball. Robot’s revelations shook the local political earth. The Liberals would win the senatorial race by 5-3, or more likely by 6-2, with either Padilla or Roxas as topnotcher, followed by Tolentino, Diokno, Ziga, Climaco and Liwag. The eighth place would be contested by De la Rosa, Balao, Puyat and Cuenco, with the first two having “a slight edge over the others.”
As it turned out, the topnotcher berth was contested by Roxas and Tolentino, not Padilla and Roxas; Puyat, whom Robot placed almost outside the magic eight, landed in fifth place; De la Rosa, Balao and Cuenco ended way, way below eighth place; and the unmentioned Ganzon and Lim fought it out with Climaco for the tail end of the line.
The Robot findings, released to the press a week before election day, were published three days before the elections, and one day before the U.P. statistical center released its own poll survey, which also had the LPs leading, 6-2, with Padilla and Roxas in the first two places, followed by Tolentino, Diokno, Climaco, Ziga and Liwag, and the eighth place being contested by Balao and Puyat. As Robot, aggrieved, would later point out, the U.P. poll escaped the ire of the politicians, but Robot got it from both sides.
De la Rosa and Cuenco angrily questioned the accuracy of the poll. The NPs were, of course, even angrier. They denounced the poll as “part of the Liberal scheme to cheat” in the elections, “a smoke-screen to prepare the people’s minds to accept rigged election returns.” The Robot poll results had been “doctored” to produce a “bandwagon mentality” among voters, and their “premature publication” was an LP propaganda gimmick. The NPs insisted that they would either sweep the polls or get a clear majority.
The day after the elections, people were quipping that there was one sure loser: Robot. Its forecast had flopped.
Says Vice-President Francisco Lopez of Robot Statistics: “What we published was an estimate of the situation as of a given period of time: from late October to early November. It was not a forecast, it was not a prediction. If we had wanted to make a real forecast, we would have continued polling up to the eve of the elections.”
The trouble with this disclaimer is that Robot was using that very word, forecast, during the days it was frantically trying to decide whether or not to publish its poll findings ahead of the balloting, or wait, as it did in 1959, until the last ballot had been cast. One-upmanship finally prompted the “premature publication.” Robot feared to be one-upped by another poll organization, and decided to release its findings to the press a week before election day.
The other poll organization was Index, which had, in late October, begun publishing a series of reports on voter attitudes based on a survey. Robot felt sure that the series would be climaxed by a forecast of election results. The fear was unfounded; but Robot not only didn’t want to be beaten to a forecast but was afraid the poll figures it had been gathering month after month since the campaign started might be stolen and used.
On November 2, Robot invited three distinguished citizens—Father Francisco Araneta, Professor Ariston Estrada and Judge Pastor Endencia—to read its latest survey on poll trends. Copies of the survey were read and signed by the three men, and then locked up in a vault, as proof that Robot already had those figures at that time. One-upmanship is a nervous way of life in every branch of Madison Avenue.
This was on a Saturday. The following Monday, November 4, Robot, apparently still jittery about being beaten to the draw, assembled representatives of the four leading Manila newspapers and provided them with copies of the latest Robot poll results.
Explains Robot’s Armando Baltazar: “That was for their guidance only. We wanted them to know the real score. Their columnists were making predictions and might go off on a wild tangent. The publishers could keep their columnists from going out on a limb if they knew what the figures were. But we made it clear that we did not want any publication.”
Robot’s George Cohen modifies this: the poll figures were released to the press; it was up to the press to decide whether to publish them or not, and when. On November 8, Cohen dispatched a letter to the publishers:
“You will recall last Monday that Robot wished to impose an embargo on the release of its election estimates until the closing of the polls on election day when survey results could not possibly be accused of influencing events. Robot in fact does not believe that at this stage of the election campaign a release of its survey results now would significantly affect its outcome—if at all. However, Robot does not wish to be the first polling group to be releasing pre-election forecasts—but as a public opinion/marketing research organization it feels obliged researchers do. Thus please feel free to publish the results enclosed within red quotation marks if other polling organizations or research groups (exclude informal newspaper or magazine surveys) such as the University of the Philippines, Index, et al. have or are in the act of publishing national senatorial election forecasts. If not, Robot respectfully requests that you withhold publication until the polls have closed on election day.
“Finally we wish to remind that some 15% of the voters still do not know whom they will select for their senatorial choices on November 12. This figure constitutes a 4% increase over the ‘don’t know’ers’ since September, thus indicating considerable uncertainty on the part of the voters. Thus last minute shifts of preferences are possible even on election day—which could upset the above forecast. What the forecast represents is the best estimate of the state of the public opinion at a given point of time, 26 October to 6 November.”
Through the tangle of language, the publishers presumably saw permission to publish, since the U.P. was “in the act of publishing” its own forecast. But why did Robot’s “best estimate of the state of public opinion” fail to tally with actual public opinion as expressed in the elections?
Cohen and his colleagues say that they went by trends. When they began polling in July, Puyat, for instance, was in fourth place but kept slipping, slipping, until he was in seventh or eighth place. The Puyat trend was, therefore, downward: “But he didn’t slip as much as we expected him to. He caught it in time, arrested his decline.” Robot failed to catch that stoppage and went by the general Puyat trend—which is why the forecast had him still slipping off the tail end.
Another candidate whose trend was a downward slide. De la Rosa, was popularly believed to be a sure winner. Robot was a bit more accurate here, and surprised everybody by having De la Rosa just hovering over the edge of the eighth place: “If we had surveyed more, up to a few days before the elections, we might have caught him on his way out.” The U.P. poll did find De la Rosa already out.
The three fastest risers, according to Robot, were Roxas, Diokno and Liwag. Diokno started at 13th or 14th place, rose steadily, suddenly shot straight up during the last phase of the campaign. If graphed, his progress would be a long slanting line that ends in a steep curve. Liwag started at 16th, worked his way up to 7th in a more even manner. Most spectacular of all was Roxas, who started below the eighth place and rocketed to the top. Robot’s data indicate how effective propaganda can be when skillfully used, for Roxas, Diokno and Liwag had the smartest publicity machines in this campaign.
The candidates that really got Robot into trouble were Climaco and Ganzon. Robot estimated that Climaco would outpoll Ganzon in Mindanao, 2-1. The elections proved they had about even strength there—which, says Cohen, is inexplicable, since Climaco, after all, is from Mindanao. Cohen hazards the guess that Climaco’s drive against smuggling while in Customs turned the Moro vote against him.
To people who say that Robot took a beating in these elections, Cohen points out that his organization had a near-perfect score in the gubernatorial races, pinpointing the winners in 21 out of the 22 provinces it polled. (Robot, like everybody else, guessed wrong in Bulacan.) Cohen also claims that Robot scored almost 100% in its forecast of election results in the Manila area; it missed only one winner: the vice-mayor of Quezon City. But Robot saw the Manila vote as 4-4 in the senatorial election (the actual ratio was 6-2 in favor of the NPs) and 4-1 in the mayoralty contest (Villegas actually had only about a 2-1 lead over Oca). Cohen has two explanations for the increased figures in favor of the NPs: their miting de avance on Plaza Miranda was a major event of the campaign, giving the NP senatorial candidates, and Oca along with them, the benefit of maximum public exposure, and exerting a terrific influence on the undecided vote. Cohen’s other explanation is that Manila has a large floating vote: the squatters but still vote in the city. Because it polled only actual residents, Robot failed to get a picture of the total Manila vote.
Just how much do these forecasts affect voters’ decisions? In the U.S. not at all—or so they say. In the Philippines, such forecasts, Cohen admits, may sway votes, but only if published, say, ten days or two weeks before the elections. But a forecast published practically on the eve of the polls can have little effect on them. Cohen cites an instance. In 1961, just two days before the elections, Mayor Lacson, against Robot’s wishes, published the Robot poll survey that showed Garcia was losing. The forecast, according to Cohen, did not appreciably alter voting trends. But it did have one unexpected result that has passed into political legend. The story goes that money given to the leaders to distribute on election day was not handed out because, the leaders told themselves, Garcia was going to lose anyway. Failure to flood the polls with handouts may have helped Garcia lose.
The NPs, who are usually so zealous for freedom of expression, are currently up in arms against public opinion polls. Senator Primicias threatened to sue Robot for multimillion-peso damages and to have it investigated as a foreign agency interfering with Philippine elections. Robot says its capital is 90% Filipino, that the company is run by Filipinos, and that it is in no way subsidized by World Gallup Polls. One NP who doesn’t believe the Robot forecast was “rigged to please its client” (Robot says it had clients from both parties in this campaign) is Diokno. Robot tried to assess the situation as best it could, but, says Diokno, it failed to take into account an important “x-factor”: people’s fear of the administration. As Robot was not really undecided, was already for the NP, but preferred to keep mum and express itself only at the polling booths, for fear of reprisals.
The Robot forecast appeared the Saturday before election day. The NPs had their miting de avance on Plaza Miranda that Monday night; and Robot, the second favorite target, suffered the slings and arrows for outrageous fortune-telling. The crowd the NPs drew that night was unquestionably the hugest to assemble on Plaza Miranda since the time of Magsaysay.
Manileños who attended both the LP and the NP miting de avance could not but note the “visayanization” of their city, its utter conquest by the seafolk of the South. The LP crowd was still recognizable Manileño (Villegas’s yeba urbanites) though it’s significant that the speaker who made the greatest hit with the audience that Sunday night was Climaco of Zamboanga. The other “Star of the South,” Gerry Roxas, didn’t shine so bright that night, through no fault of his own. He was rising to speak when word came that the President had not yet arrived. It turned out that the President had not yet arrived; so Roxas preceeded to the mike. As he started to speak the stage and plaza buzzed again with he rumor that the President was already there. “I rushed through my speech,” recalls Roxas, “like a locomotive.” Had he been allowed to speak at his leisure he might have proved that the witching powers associated with his province now work as well on Plaza Miranda.
The following night, at the NP miting de avance, there was again no doubt that the crowd responded most fraternally to another Southerner, Senator Roseller Lim of Zamboanga—and this on the testimony of a Pampango-Manileño, Senator Puyat. A forecaster could indeed have read in the size and temper of that multitude on Plaza Miranda the great swing of the South to the Opposition that the next day’s polls would reveal. If the politicos want a new rule on Manila, here’s a possible one: As Manila goes, the South goes. Because Manila is now the biggest Southern city in the Philippines.
Puyat says he felt rather scared when the atmosphere became so charged with passion the miting turned into a mighty dialogue between speaker on stage and the crowd below.
SPEAKER: Ano ang gagawin kay Macapagal?
SPEAKER: Ano ang gagawin kay Macapagal?
“I felt,” says Puyat, “that if the speaker had shouted On to Malacañang! that mob would have followed—and I fear to think what would have happened there. We politicians carry a big responsibility.”
As one listened to Puyat’s account, one had the creepy feeling, too, that our political campaigns have gotten out of hand and are becoming sick.
But during those two pre-poll days, Sunday and Monday, it felt like fiesta, like New Year’s Eve, especially since the firecracker ban had apparently been lifted and the savage things crackled underfoot, along with the watusi, as massed marchers, as torrents of torches, surged up every street toward the town plazas and the mitings de avance. As the people marched shouting, fireworks lit up the skies to the thunder of rockets. The candidates held open house all day and all night; arroz caldo and pancit perpetually simmered in caldrons in the yards. Bus rides got pelted with showers of leaflets as if it was carnival time and this was the confetti. A blaze of electric bulbs framed the portraits of the candidates, full length, in full color, in action, in the style started by Lacson: the giant figures jutting right out of the frames, waving a hand, or pointing at the beholder, or striding forward into the air. Some billboards carried multiple portraits and a title: The Four Aces, The Magnificent 7. One rode through one gorgeous arch after another and pondered the thought that politicians are the only people in the world who build triumphal arches before they have triumphed. Ah, but it seemed so right then; everybody would win; we all shared in the excitement; the very air was festive. We were having a cold wave then, and the campaigners turned out in hats and jackets, in sweaters and mufflers. The country was supposed to have gone dry, but you could get a drink in almost any restaurant along the way. They served it in pitchers and you drank it from cups or colored plastic glasses.
After all that, election day itself was anticlimactic, very quiet in Manila. Mayor Villegas began the day with a mass, breakfasted at a leader’s house, had a haircut and a mud pack, holed up at the Army and Navy. Oca voted in San Nicholas, slept out the day at a friend’s house in Lavezares. Senator Puyat and his wife voted at the precinct on Mayon in Quezon City. Voting at the same time in the same place were Senator Padilla and his wife. Contrapartidos but good friends, Puyat and Padilla hailed each other, their wives merrily chatted. Right after the LP miting de avance, which ended at dawn, Roxas gave a thank-you breakfast for his campaign staff, then flew to Roxas City, where he stayed through election day. “That was,” he says, “the first time I went to Capiz in this campaign.” Diokno, too, departed for his home province, Batangas, right after the NP miting de avance, which ended only a couple of hours before the polls opened. He and his wife were among the first to vote in Taal. Riding back to Manila, they were stopped by so many well-wishers along the way it was noon when they reached home. Diokno fled to bed and slept till evening.
In Manila, few people stayed up all night to follow the counting; but the surrounding towns kept vigil and the winners started celebrating at dawn. In one suburban town, victory was proclaimed at four a.m. by a fire engine racing up and down the streets, siren a-wailing and bell a-ringing, while the people on it yelled: “Nanalo si Mayor!” For the losers, that was a bleak day, the caldrons in the yard now cold and empty, and out on the street, in front of their gates, the mocking music of the brass bands hired by the winners to serenade the defeated with the Marcha Funebre, a cute rite of Philippine elections.
The NPs were leading in the Senate race by 6-2, then by 5-3; and there was a rumor that Terry Adevoso was sneaking out of the country: someone had seen him getting a passport. Then the tide turned: the LPs briefly led by 5-3, then dropped to a tie with the Opposition; and the talk now was that Adevoso had changed his mind about leaving. Adevoso himself says, laughing, that he had really been scheduled to leave the day after the polls, to visit shipyards in Japan; but the trip was postponed for a few days so he could make a stop first in Hong Kong to attend the opening of the PNB branch there.
The Thursday after the elections, the NPs began muttering about the slow-down in election returns reportage. They assembled for an angry conference that night at Amang Rodriguez’s office in Congress, behind closed doors, but there are guesses as to what they decided to do. The LPs were suspected of withholding returns from the provinces they controlled so they would know if they had a big enough backload of votes to cover the NP lead. If they didn’t have enough, they would know just how many more votes they must conjure up to win. Or so the NPs suspected. So, the NPs replied to the LP slow-down with a slow-down of their own, according to observers, who say that returns from such NP bailiwicks as Rizal, Quezon, Batangas and Negros Occidental suddenly dwindled to a trickle, because the NPs were withholding their returns too, so the LPs wouldn’t know just how far ahead the Opposition was. Whether this battle of slow-downs is true or not, there was certainly a freezing of the 4-4 position through the weekend.
While the NPs were conferring that Thursday night, word was going around that Gerry Roxas was protesting Tolentino’s position as topnotcher. The next day, Roxas issued a denial that he had lodged any protest: “I have not even seen Johnny Bora (Comelec chairman), much less talked with him. I’m happy enough that I’m included in the win group.” But in private Roxas said that there was an already admitted mistake in the figures credited to Tolentino. The error amounted to over 70,000 votes, which, if cancelled, would erase Tolentino’s 20,000-vote lead over Roxas and put Roxas in first place. However, Roxas’s attitude was: “Comelec made the mistake, it’s up to Comelec to correct.” Gerry said he didn’t want people to think he was so greedy for glory that just winning was not enough for him, he had to be topnotcher too.
Comelec had made no revision of the senatorial standings when election week ended. Tolentino stayed in first, Roxas in second. The Senate race was still tied at 4-4. Adevoso was still waiting for the pieces of his jigsaw puzzle to fall into place, but now said that a “4-4 result would be satisfactory enough for us.” He stressed one point: when the campaign began back in July, a poll survey showed that only two of the LP candidates were among the top eight. By October, surveys were showing that five LPs had shot up to winning positions. The party machine had been tested, had acquitted itself. The final results might not come up to expectations. “But,” shrugs Adevoso, “1963 is just a laboratory year.”
Adevoso sees the administration in mid-term as “a sala in which the furniture is being rearranged.” Everything is helter-skelter. A visitor who walked in might get an impression of disorder, not knowing what was going on: “In the same way, a reform administration like this one is shakes up things. People who have been hurt, or think they have been hurt, are bound to be antagonistic. We cannot expect, in mid-term that everybody will understand that what has to be done is now what’s popular but what’s right.”
The LP “rearrangement of the furniture” has certainly shaken up the country’s political sala. If the 1963 elections are regarded purely as local elections, which is what they are supposed to be anyway, then the Liberals scored a sensational success, by winning some 70% of the provinces, including such NP domains as Bulacan and Iloilo. Adevoso says that of the country’s 12 biggest provinces only two were in Liberals hands before the polls. The elections gave them six more of the topnotch provinces: Pangasinan, Bulacan, Samar, Leyte, Cebu and Iloilo.
But if the LPs think a victory on the local level presages victory in 1965, they should ponder the recent history of the NPs, who likewise scored an overwhelming victory in the local elections of 1959 but found that their control of the provinces didn’t help them any in the presidential elections of 1961.
If, on the other hand, this year’s elections are regarded as a national contest between the President and the Opposition, which is how the campaign projected the fight, then the most that can be said, if the score says at 4-4, is that the NPs didn’t win it. Their basic argument was that the people should not, for their own good, give the President a majority in the Senate. It is, therefore, immaterial whether the LPs win by a sweep or by 5-2 or only end up in a tie. As long as the LPs get a Senate majority, even if only by one vote, then the NPs have lost, because the people will have given the President what he asked for and rejected the arguments of the Opposition.
Since all the other issues, from high prices to rice queues, got tied up with this question of whether or not it was safe to give Macapagal a Senate majority, the people, if they give it to him, can be said to have rejected all the other issues too, by giving the President a vote of confidence. For though 4-4 is hardly an impressive score, it must still be regarded as a vote of confidence, since it will mean that the people do not believe that an LP Senate, which they decree with a 4-4 score, will bring on the death of democracy, the horrors of dictatorship, harder times, higher prices, more rice queues and more ax murders—which is how the NP campaign line went.
But a mid-term election is also an assessment of the administration. The vote of confidence only means that the people do not believe the President will use the Senate to make himself a dictator; it does not necessarily imply approval of his performance so far. To gauge the people’s judgment of the New Era, this year’s score will have to be compared with the mid-term scores of previous administrations. Under Quirino, it was 8-0 against Quirino’s regime, a clear condemnation. Under Magsaysay, it was 7-1 for the administration, an accolade. Under Garcia, it was 5-3, a passing mark. A score of 4-4 for the New Era would mean that, at mid-term, the people assessed the New Era as much better than Quirino’s administration, far below Magsaysay’s, not as good as Garcia’s. The grade would thus be, not excellent, not good, and not bad, but merely fair. It amounts to a repetition of what’s becoming a cliché pronouncement on the New Era: suspended judgment.
Still another way of interpreting the senatorial election results is to disregard party tags and consider the winners as having bee elected for their individual qualities and attitudes. Diokno says that the top five winners—Tolentino, Roxas, Diokno, Puyat and himself—all have one thing in common: a reputation for being “uncontrollable” by Macapagal. The people, according to Diokno, expressed their disapproval of Macapagal by voting most heavily for men who are, in one way or another, anti-Macapagal.
There’s something to Diokno’s theory, but it collapses when we consider that he and Tolentino had heir most dramatic encounters with Macapagal last year. If the people were really voting against Macapagal, it would have been more logical for them to vote for the men whose battle against the President are still fresh in the mind, being recently in the headlines: Lim, for instance, because of his filibuster in the Senate; Cabangbang, especially, because of his defiance of the Palace; and Oca, too, because of his anti-administration strikes. Since all these much-headlined foes of the President lost, anti-Macapagalism can hardly be said to have been a strong factor in the elections.
The Stonehill case, on the other hand, which was being written off as an issue, now appears to have been a factor after all, since it can now be said to have helped Diokno and Liwag win, and to have killed off Lim, Balao and De la Rosa.
Whether the campaign of Pelaez was an important factor is still in question. The vice-president probably got a score of 4-4. The massing of the South behind the Opposition is undoubtedly partly due to him; but he failed to show a similar ability to sway the voters in Luzon. The test province here is Bulacan, which was a Nacionalista stronghold to begin with. Pelaez personally campaigned there, personally proclaimed and endorsed the local NP candidates. They mostly lost. Bulacan turned Liberal.
A main factor is party organization—but it, too, must be given a 4-4 rating. The Liberals placed utmost confidence in the value of a strong organization, a smooth party machine, a rigidly disciplined team—but the results don’t justify their faith. The Nacionalistas, with a creakier machine that lacked the oil of finance, did just as well, though hindsight now exposes their grave errors. They made Ziga a sure winner by not putting up a woman candidate to divide the feminine vote; and they chose as campaign manager a man who, it turns out, could not make his personal candidates win in his own province. Puyat thinks the NP machine will have to be completely overhauled. Politics, he says, is not just an election every two years. It’s not a sometime thing but an all-the-time thing. A party machine shouldn’t be left to rust in storage until just a few months before an election; it should be kept running all the time. “Right after one campaign is over,” says Puyat, “we should immediately start preparing for the next one.” Somebody has already been putting that idea to practice, in case the NPs haven’t noticed.
Puyat still had, last week, for campaign souvenir, the hoarseness of the candidate. The two “wonder boys” of these elections, Roxas and Diokno, were still vigorously audible. Both gallantly said that the big factor in their wins were their wives, who attended to campaign minutiae. Diokno added that his children (he has eight) were a big help too: “They didn’t fall sick!”
As for the country, it looked as if a skyful of trash had been dumped on it: collapsed arches, tattered streamers, rusting tin plates, and an autumn litter of brown leaflets scattering in the wind. Walls and posts looked leprous with the rot of stickers. Worse than teen-age naughtiness were the gross splotches with which politics defaced the land. No public surface, not even the paving of the streets, escaped the tar or paint of propaganda. The gaudy billboards still stood, no longer lit up; but whatever the words on them, they all now sadly or gladly said the same thing:
“Tapos na, pare, ang butó-butó!”
December 2, 1961
No. 2 Man
Pelaez is the first Mindanao politician to occupy the vice-presidency. He fought Magsaysay’s battles in congress. Together they minted the political credo: “What is good for the common man is good for the country.”
UP TO early December, 1960, Diosdado Macapagal was still in the throes of hunting for a running mate. On the political horizon there were only two outstanding anti-administration politicos who fitted the geographical requirement—a southerner with sufficient political charm and following. These were Serging Osmeña, Jr., and Emmanuel Pelaez. But both had turned down Macapagal’s offer.
Serging cast himself in the role of a political prima donna—noisily spurning the advances of Macapagal. Flushed with triumphal trips to the provinces soon after his sensational suspension from Congress, Osmeña disputed Macapagal’s right to wear the mantle of the opposition standard-bearer.
He would send away Macapagal’s emissaries with irreverent messages for the LP boss. “Tell your master,” he once told a Macapagal errand boy, “that his offer is ridiculous. It is I who should ask him to run as my vice-presidential candidate. It is unthinkable for me to run under him.”
Without funds and discredited by the NP vilification squad, Macapagal, in Serging’s estimate, would make a very shabby presidential candidate—a sure loser to the lord-almighty of the party-in-power. For Macapagal to fight the money and machine of the administration with a weak and impoverished Liberal Party was to Serging a quixotic venture. He let it be known that he had no intention to play Sancho Panza to the Pampango politico. He expected the LP leaders to see the light soon and come crawling to him to offer him the LP presidential nomination. Among the presidential possibilities outside of the party-in-power, he alone was reputed to have the financial capacity and the ready-made broad political base—the Cebuano and the Iglesia ni Cristo vote—needed to combat the administration candidates.
Pelaez, for his part, had other reasons for declining the vice-presidential offer. Still bearing the scars of the 1959 elections, when he ran on a third party ticket and lost, Pelaez was not ready to take any more chances. His wife, Edith, had asked him to swear off politics and wept when she learned that he was again involved in political conferences. Financially and politically, he couldn’t afford to lose again. he figured that if he ran for the Senate, he would be a sure winner. There would be eight positions at stake and he would be vying with 15 other candidates—some of them disreputable or amateur politicians.
It would be a more difficult feat to win the vice-presidential election as an opposition candidate. The fight would be much rougher. Along with the presidential candidate, he would be a target of the concentrated campaign of the party-in-power.
He frankly told Macapagal about his predicament and misgivings—and his decision to run for the Senate. He even went out of his way to persuade Serging to take the vice-presidential offer.
In the middle of December, 1960, Macapagal, chafing over Serging’s irritating rebuffs, decided to forget Serging and assert his leadership as bossed the aid of the Grand Alliance colleagues of Pelaez to pressure Pelaez into accepting the vice-presidential candidacy. In an emergency meeting the Grand Alliance leaders bluntly reminded Pelaez of their pact to abide by the decision of the group. There was not going to be a one-man decision. Raul Manglapus, Francisco Rodrigo, Manuel Manahan and Rodrigo Perez informed Pelaez that the group decision was that he should run for vice-president under the United Opposition. Pelaez was left no choice.
Serging Osmeña, in the meantime, had changed his mind. He sent word to Macapagal that he was after all amendable to his vice-presidential offer. it was too late. Macapagal, a shrewd politician, made no move to rebuff Serging’s belated bid. He told Serging to submit his name to the LP convention—largely to humor the Cebuano kingpin and consolidate the United Opposition.
Before the convention Macapagal lent Pelaez his full support. Despite this, Pelaez up to a week before the LP convention was still ready to yield the nomination to Serging, if his GA group would allow him. The rest is now history—the most reluctant vice-presidential candidate in our political history got elected and, because of his election, he may be on his way to become president of the Republic.
Pelaez’s reluctance had nothing to do with his personal qualifications for the post. He has stood in the national limelight since he got into the political big-time as a Mindanao congressman in 1949. He has elected etched out an attractive, alert and intelligent public image—a politician preoccupied with principles and possessed of a social conscience.
He was at the top of the political ladder during Ramon Magsaysay’s regime. The late President considered Pelaez his most trusted adviser and confidant; in fact, he had groomed him as his heir apparent. He had asked Pelaez to run for vice-president in 1957–precisely to set the presidential stage for Pelaez.
But for one of those inscrutable twists of fate, Pelaez might have been Macapagal’s opponent in the last election, instead of his running mate, and might now have been the President-Elect, instead of Macapagal–if Magsaysay had lived. Remember that RM’s term would have ended this year, assuming that he would have been re-elected in 1957.
Pelaez’s spectacular political career was no accident. From his father, the late Governor Gregorio Pelaez, who for years was the undisputed political boss of Misamis Oriental, he got his first schooling in the art of politics. he inherited the Pelaez charm–the easy grin winsome gestures, the soft, persuasive voice.
The young Pelaez, however, was not content with resting on the family laurels. In 1938 he topped the bar exams—a remarkable feat for a student who had worked himself through college. His father, a wealthy coconut planter, was hard hit by the economic crisis in the 1930’s. He let his son strike out on his own in the country’s capital. Soon after passing the bar, Pelaez became one of the youngest and best-known law professors in Manila.
In 1934, while in college, he worked as a P36-a-month clerk in the journal division of the old Philippine Senate. A year later he was a reporter of El Debate, an influential Spanish daily. Just before he finished college, he did a stint as a translator in the Court of Appeals.
He will be the second authentic former newspaperman to have occupied the No. 2 post of the country. The first was the late Sergio Osmeña, Sr., who was publisher and editor of a Cebu newspaper near the turn of the century. Pelaez, however, is the first son of Mindanao to have been elected to the vice-presidency, the highest position that a Mindanao politician has ever attained.
Pelaez won national recognition as a lawyer in 1949 when he was commissioned to prosecute them Senate President Jose Avelino, the respondent in a case involving the sale of surplus beer. Pitted against top lawyers in Manila, Pelaez displayed brilliant legal strategy and resourcefulness. Sprung to fame as the hard-driving prosecutor in the well-publicized probe, Pelaez was tapped to run for Congress in his home province in 1949 on the Liberal ticket.
His performance in the House of Representatives as a freshman solon was outstanding. his most memorable fight in the House was in defense of the Constitution and against his party bosses. President Quirino, anxious for more power, had demanded more and more from Congress—invoking the wartime emergency powers. The congressman from Mindanao refused to toe the party line and, worse, urged the repeal of existing presidential power statutes. His campaign against the bill forced the House to revise the original draft and settle for an emasculated version. In the end Pelaez scored a moral victory when the Supreme Court stripped the President of his emergency powers.
The party bosses could not forget the misbehavior of the upstart solon from Mindanao. To teach him a lesson, they plotted his expulsion from Congress. His comeuppance came in the form of a House Electoral Tribunal decision which ruled that the Mindanao solon for lack of residence was unfit to hold his congressional office. His own party colleagues were browbeaten by the big bosses into voting against him.
Pelaez refused to accept defeat, asked for a reconsideration of the verdict and carried his fight to the floor of Congress. He argued his case with such eloquence that he rallied the minority solons behind him, stirred up press indignation and even won the motion for reconsideration; and the majority party lost to the opposition the most popular congressman at that time.
Out of his fight to retain his seat in Congress Pelaez emerged as the undisputed leader of the ever-swelling “Progressive Bloc” in the House—composed of majority solons who took it upon themselves to fiscalize the graft-ridden Quirino administration.
When the 1953 elections drew near, it was Pelaez’s turn to work against the big boss of the LP. He was the chief architect of the political strategy that brought Ramon Magsaysay into the Nacionalista Party and paved the way for RM’s presidential nomination.
In their days in Congress together, Magsaysay and Pelaez were great friends. They were drawn to each other by a strong sense of idealism–a public philosophy that both shared. Both believed that the common tao in the rural areas was the forgotten in the man in our age; that the government’s first obligation was to better the lot of the rural tao; that social reform was the answer to Communist subversion; that a dishonest administration could not solve the social and economic ills of the country; that the rule of vested interests, landlords and the caciques had to go; and that a square deal must be inaugurated for the rural folk who composed three-fourths of the population.
Throughout RM’s term as president, Pelaez handled the delicate policy-making task of drafting his state-of-the-nation messages. RM trusted no one else. In one of the best-written messages to the nation, Pelaez summed up in one simple, succinct and memorable sentence the RM doctrine:
“What is good for the common man is good for the country.”
When Congressman Ramon Magsaysay was recruited for the Department of National Defense secretaryship at a time when the Huks were knocking at the gates of Manila, it was his good friend Pelaez who lined up votes for his request for funds with which to finance his anti-Huk campaign and program.
In RM’s bid for the presidential nomination under the Nacionalista banner, Pelaez was his adviser, campaign manager and spokesman. In RM’s behind-the-scenes negotiations with the NP old Guard, Amang Rodriguez, Claro M. Recto and Jose Laurel, Sr., all shrewd and seasoned politicos, he named Pelaez as his spokesman. Until the death of President Magsaysay, the NP Old Guard nursed secret resentment against Pelaez for spoiling their plans during those negotiations.
Having second thoughts about an “outsider” taking over the reins of the party, the NP Old Guard wanted to be sure that when he became president he would follow their signals. One of their moves to keep RM beholden to them was to get him to give the NP Old Guard a free hand in picking his Cabinet members. On the advice of Pelaez, Magsaysay put his foot down on the proposal. The Old Guard were outraged. But Pelaez’s estimate of the situation proved correct: The old bosses would finally knuckle down because they needed Magsaysay more than he needed them.
The same fateful elections of 1953 that swept Magsaysay into power also Pelaez in the Senate. Their bonds grew stronger, their teamwork smoother. Having more prestige in the Senate than he had in the House, Pelaez enjoyed new power. It was he who whipped up support for RM’s pet projects. It was not an easy task. Most of RM’s social reforms were strong medicine for the landlord-dominated Congress.
There was bitter resistance to RM’s land reform bill. It took a special session and threats of political reprisals for RM to get the measure through Congress.
The Anti-Subversion La which Pelaez valiantly sponsored on the Senate floor was almost derailed on the last days of session. A motion was sprung to send the bill back to its committee of origin for further study. Sensing the main strategy of the bill’s opponents, Pelaez maneuvered to meet the counter-thrust. He threw away the kid gloves. “Let’s face it,” he told them, “to remand the bill to the committee at this late hour would mean its death.” He dared the opponents to kill the measure on the senate floor so that the people would know those who did not want it to pass.
The opponents fidgeted and stalled, but finally retreated. The bill passed and is now a major deterrent to the spread of communism in the country.
When it was fashionable among congressmen to laugh off RM’s rural improvement program as a re-election gimmick of “a product of rural mentality,” Pelaez was among the few who took it seriously and fought for it right down the line.
Take, for instance, the budget for the PACD which ran RM’s community development program. During its first years of existence the PACD budget was cut or scrapped altogether by pork-barrel-minded solons. Invariably, it was Pelaez who would take up the fight for the PACD and get its budget restored.
Pelaez’s fondness for community development stems not only from a conviction that it is a good program but also from more sentimental roots. It was he who midwifed the birth of the program. At a time when “community development” was a vague term and “self-help” little more than a sonorous platitude, Ramon P. Binamira, now PACD chief, presented to Magsaysay his draft of the PACD program. RM was thoroughly skeptical. A man in a great hurry, he wanted a more drastic, more immediate aid program for the rural people.
Binamira, convinced of his program’s worth, sought the aid of Manny Pelaez. He carefully explained to Pelaez the mechanics and principles of the PACD. Pelaez took time out to study the draft and assess its merits. On the same day, late in the evening, Pelaez accompanied Binamira back to Malacañang to persuade Magsaysay to accept the program This time the President listened. The meeting lasted until midnight and ended with Magsaysay signing an executive order creating the PACD and sending away Binamira with his benediction.
It has since become an in controvertible fact: The PACD program is the best rural uplift program in this part of the globe—one which many Asian countries are now studying and adopting.
All through his term in the Senate, Pelaez defended, kept alive and gave flesh and meaning to RM’s program and ideals—even after RM’s death. Pelaez went on to author and sponsor the Barrio Charter, now known as the rural people’s Magna Carta. More aptly, it should be called the rural folk’s Declaration of Independence.
The Barrio Charter places in the hands of the barrio people the management of their affairs and the tools for their economic and political redemption. It provides for a barrio government whose officials the barrio people can assert and govern themselves, determine their needs and problems, raise taxes and retain them, and decide what projects to undertake. Into their hands is thrust the responsibility of carving out their own local destiny. Apart from the taxes raised through self-taxation, the barrio people, by virtue of the Charter, retain 10 percent of all real estate taxes collected by the national government within the barrio. To get this additional income, the barrio people need not go begging to the politicians or the national government.
Barrio home rule should help do away with the hand-out mentality, the overdependence on pork barrel, the indifference and lassitude of the barrio people—which are largely responsible for the snail’s pace of rural progress.
Possibly the most important piece of legislation in the last decade, the Barrio Charter sets in motion the mechanics of democracy at the grassroots level. It is a means of bettering the lot of the forgotten man in the barrio even as it makes of him a better citizen.
Since the death of Magsaysay, no piece of legislation has done more to accelerate what he liked to call “the peaceful revolution in the barrios”—or the revolution of rising expectations, as the economists and pundits put it.
The Barrio Charter may even have contributed to the rout of the administration candidates in the rural areas. Many barrios, it appears, are no longer so vulnerable to the political machine of the party in power. They have ceased to be the private preserves of the political bosses, the caciques, the landlords and the pork-barrel artists. Many rural people, through their barrio government, can now stand on their own feet and can do without political doles. They have declared their independence from their traditional masters.
In sponsoring and fighting for the passage of a law that would bring new hope and new life to the bulk of the population, Pelaez had his finest hour in his entire political career.
But a greater task awaits him. ALL indications are that despite his being a newcomer to Macapagal’s Liberal Party he has hit it off famously with the LP boss. Macapagal, shortly after the election trends pointed to an LP win, served notice that he would saddle the Vice-President-Elect with grave responsibilities. Pelaez was his first Cabinet appointee—as secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Pelaez himself originally wanted the secretaryship of the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources. he thought that as agriculture boss he could do more in pursuing the basic program of land reform, barrio-load building, irrigation, local autonomy, community development—all of which directly affect the lives of the rural folk. He had hoped to play a major role in unlocking the treasures of the land and providing prosperity for the nation by properly developing the country’s vast natural resources through local and foreign investments.
When he got word, however, that the President-Elect wanted him to take over the foreign affairs department in January, he had no complaint. In his first formal press interview Pelaez declared that he would mobilize the foreign office as an instrument for economic development of the country. His plans included a no non-sense foreign investment program and promotion of foreign trade.
He would request Macapagal to study the feasibility of placing the PACD–his old baby–under his department. After all, he said, the PACD is a joint P.I.-U.S. program and derives much of its fund from abroad. It would not be unseemly to put the office under him.
Pelaez says that he owes much of his election victory to the late President Magsaysay with whom he and his Grand Alliance group were closely identified. In voting for the RM men, the people voted for RM’s principles and policies. His men believe they owe it to RM to pursue these policies. Macapagal himself seems to realize the need for a peaceful economic revolution in the rural areas.
Insight into the thinking and personality of the new No. 2 man of the country may be found in his recent speeches. Here is the main theme that he has stressed.
“Our efforts to change the status quo and imbue our society with those attitudes and patterns of thinking that would promote economic progress should follow two main courses: first, by structural and institutional changes through public policy, social reforms, and decentralization of economic and political power; and secondly, by particularly of the young before they acquire traditional values and attitudes.
“We must concern ourselves with government and its procedures. For instance, the present attitude of basing almost all governmental actions on political and personal considerations must be replaced by a return to the moral concept that government exists for the satisfaction of the people’s needs. Decentralization of power must be carried out in order to promote participation of all citizens in governmental decisions and actions.
“Ability and excellence must be given the highest priority in appointments to government positions so that we may develop a corps of career men qualified to run its affairs competently and honestly.
“The second task requires radical changes in our social values and relationships. It can be done if all elements—the government, the Church, political parties, civic groups, officials and citizens—take part in the endeavor.
“The single most critical factor in meeting the responsibilities and challenges of the times is leadership of a high order—a leadership capable of understanding and integrating technical, social, economic and political forces and placing them behind the drive toward achieving the nation’s political and economic maturity…above all a leadership dedicated to the democratic faith and the dignity of the human individual. In a country like ours where the people are wont to look to the top for guidance national leadership[ of a high order is demanded if we are to transform this country into a modern democratic society.”
The Winners ’61
By Quijano de Manila
November 1961–VICTORY, the poll victors found out after the polls, is chiefly an overpowering, devouring drowsiness.
Happy eyes glaze over, the eyelids droop; ecstatic smiles freeze, the head nods. Hands held out to congratulators grope and falter; and the words of joy fatten into a yawn.
Making the rounds of victors’ houses three days after the polls, one found doorbells and telephones ringing in vain, crowds of visitors collecting and dispersing unreceived, blue telegrams piling up on doorside tables, while the winners hungrily slept, slept, slept.
Not applause, nor congratulations, nor the latest poll returns widening the margin of victory, could be sweeter than bed and darkness, pillow and sheet.
Maria Kalaw Katigbak stayed home only long enough to make sure she was among the select senatorial eight, then reportedly fled to Lipa—“to get some sleep.” Her husband, an immense man, winces when congratulated on his victory, is resigned to being introduced as “the senator’s husband.”
Soc Rodrigo’s wife Medy says she’s glad it’s all over: “Now we can get some sleep.”
Dragged up from bed in the late afternoon, her eyes still swollen from drowse, Edith Pelaez groaned: “I haven’t had a good sleep in a long time!” Manny Pelaez came home from Mindanao three days after the polls, stayed just to bathe and change clothes, then rushed off again. About all his wife can remember him saying (she was too sleepy to ask about Mindanao) was that he was sleepy too.
Like a somnambulist was Manuel Manahan’s wife Connie, barely awake as she moved around her workshop, finally giving up and crawling home to bed, muttering that she felt she was coming down with the flu. For the Manahans, this victory is more poignant than previous defeats. Mrs. Manahan lost a baby (her eleventh child, eighth boy) two months before the elections, was up and campaigning for Manny two weeks after her confinement. “I’ve had disappointments,” she told friends, “but this is the one that hurt most.” Her baby lived only two days; she never even saw it.
Connie Manahan says she felt surer this time her Manny would win but never dreamed he would get the second place in the tabulation: “We had no funds at all for propaganda materials. I saw other candidates spending money right and left and I told Manny, ‘We just can’t compete.’ “All they had were stickers and sample ballots. Six weeks before the polls, friends of Manny put up a billboard for him in Quiapo: it was his biggest single publicity display. But he had learned to speak Tagalog fluently, and that helped.
For Raul and Pacita Manglapus, this triumph is, of course, the Victory of the Voice—of both their voices. Whenever Raul ran out of words, or of breath, wife Pacita stepped forward and sang. Her friends say her singing was as big a hit with voters as her husband’s gift of tongues. Not even sleeplessness could dull his oratorical, her lyrical, magic.
Also sleepless during the tense days before and after the balloting was the grande dame of the Liberal Party, Doña Trining Roxas, who sought bed only when victory was certain. The sleeping dowager was thus unable to attend the first public expression of Liberal triumph: the rites in honor of Elpidio Quirino on November 16, his 71st birthday.
The rites began with mass at the San Marcelino church, where Vicky Quirino Gonzalez found the Old Guard massed around her but nary a sign of the United Opposition. The Macapagals could not come, Manny Pelaez was still in Mindanao, the erstwhile rah-rah boys who had caused Mr. Quirino so much pain were at Comelec or Camp Crame, exultantly counting, or in bed, hungrily sleeping.
Nevertheless, the Old Guard Liberals were in festive mood. After mass, the gay hubbub on the patio seemed a single refrain: “We’re back! We’re back! We’re back!” Sunshine glinted from faces once so current in Malacañang, notably of the ladies who were the Apo’s favorite partners at Palace balls: Nila Syquia Mendoza, Chedeng Araneta, Angela Butte, Carmen Planas. Ever the holy terror, Mameng Planas mockingly distributed cabinet portfolios among the Old Guard: this one was to be finance secretary, that one secretary of foreign affairs. Moving from one merry group to another, causing astonished pauses, like a ghost at a party, was Ambassador Romulo, come to attend this reunion of old friend. His offer to resign before the elections had, say the Liberals been a good omen for them: it had meant Mr. Romulo smelled a change coming.
From the church the Old Guard repaired to the South Cemetery, where the Man of the Hour, Macapagal, laid a wreath on the grave of the Apo. That noon, there was a banquet at a restaurant in Quezon City, and gathered for this happiest hour of the Liberals in a decade were more of the old familiar faces; Vicente Albano Pacis, Johnny Collas, Fred Mangahas. But when a speaker addressed the gathering as “Fellow Liberals,” there were objections: this was a gathering of the Friends of Quirino, not all of whom were Liberals. Unspoken was a parallel thought: that not all of today’s Liberals, especially the very new ones, had been Friends of Quirino.
While yesterday’s Liberals reminisced on the past and the Apo, today’s Liberals were already plotting the future. Slumber had not felled all the victors; still wide awake were Diosdado and Eva Macapagal. Drowsiness showed in her only in narrower eyes, in him only in paler cheeks and a tic in one eye. He said he could go without sleep for a month; she said she had been dozing on and off during the long wait. Whenever she awoke she would ask: “Well, how is it going now?” And her unsleeping husband would cry: “We’re winning!”
For Eva Macapagal, this triumph vindicates feminine intuition. “I am,” she says, “a person of strong presentiments.” She had had a presentiment of victory, had told her husband before the elections: “I think you’re going to win. I feel again as I felt in 1957.”
Macapagal himself had never had any doubts. His campaign to win the presidency was, he says, “methodical and scientific.” There could be only one outcome. In the light of his victory, his campaign, which we all regarded as an aimless wandering from barrio to barrio and a futile shaking of hands, does assume the look of a great design, of carefully planned military strategy. Nothing had been aimless; everything adds up. Each sortie into the wilds had made straighter route to Malacañang. And we now wonder why we failed to see what now seems so clear.
Invisible in the speckled forest because of its spots, the leopard stalks its prey, weaving round and round on velvet paws, in ever narrowing circles. Only when it closes in for the kill is it suddenly beheld in all its might and majesty: this sleek sly creature that blends into the light and dark of the forest, that had seemed to be wandering around in aimless circles.
Macapagal had been invisible to many, a nondescript personality (“negative” was how the NPs loved to describe him), a compulsive hand-shaker, a mousy little man going round and round in circles. Alas for those who could not spot the leopard for its spots! The coloring was protective, the circlings followed a route.
A cry has rent the political jungle.
The leopard has sprung.
The hackneyed thing to say is that Macapagal’s triumph is like Magsaysay’s. Both men undertook a barrio-to-barrio campaign; both toppled an unpopular regime accused of being graft-ridden—but here the resemblance stops.
Magsaysay was expected to win; Macapagal was not.
Nobody was really surprised when the Magsaysay vote began to assume the proportions of an avalanche; the surprise would have been if it didn’t. But the day after this month’s elections, astonishment that Macapagal should be leading at all was so great everybody felt the lead couldn’t last. What one heard on all sides was: “Yes, of course he’s leading, but only on the Manila vote. Just wait till the NP votes start pouring in.” When the lead was maintained the chorus became: “Oh, that’s only the Manila and Luzon vote. Wait till the votes from the South come in.” Finally, when the nationwide trend became unmistakable, those who cautiously conceded that Macapagal might win quickly added that his margin of victory would be slim.
Actually, Macapagal polled a bigger popular vote than Magsaysay.
President Garcia can hardly be blamed for not conceding defeat at once; he, too, just couldn’t believe that Macapagal was winning and, but not conceding, was merely expressing a general astonishment and incredulity. It seems now that everyone who voted for Macapagal did so with no great hope that he would win. Each pro-Macapagal voter must have felt solitary, one in a hundred. So many people who had expressed disgust of the Garcia regime had followed denunciation with despair: “But how can one vote for Macapagal?”
This is in sharp contrast to the atmosphere in 1953, when everyone who voted for Magsaysay felt quite sure that everybody else was doing the same.
The doubts about a Macapagal triumph were indicated by all the pre-election forecasts, even those that had him leading. The pollsters in general detected a trend in his favor but apparently questioned the strength of the trend. Those who gave him the lead carefully stressed that the lead was very small. In fact, the last poll survey to be made public just before the elections, the U.P poll, flatly declared that Garcia and Macapagal were running even, any edge in favor of the latter being so slight as to be “insignificant.”
When the returns started coming in, the public literally couldn’t believe its eyes.
Why was Macapagal, even when given the edge to win, so underrated?
The prime reason is that there was no visible evidence of his popularity, save those reports from the field of the large crowds he was attracting—and we have learned to be cynical about large crowds. And the belief that he was a “colorless” figured seemed to have been proved by his inability, even during the climactic period of the campaign, to arouse fervor where fervor would show. Unlike Magsaysay, he had failed to inflame the imagination or capture the sympathies of those elements of society which create glamour figures.
Into his Great Crusade, Magsaysay had drawn the press, the intelligentsia, the businessmen, the Church, and a lot of people previously indifferent to politics—a motley mass that ranged from college boys and society girls to writers and movie actors, each group forming a movement that helped swell the following, not to mention the finances, of the crusade.
But Macapagal had been unable to make a similar crusade of his campaign. The intelligentsia was actively hostile; the press was cool; the businessmen were wary; the Church was, happily, more mute than during the Magsaysay crusade; and the political dilettantes who had cooed over the Guy found Mac a sad sack. The most influential foreign group in the Philippines, the Americans, had made no bones of being behind Magsaysay; but in this year’s campaign, rumors of American support for the LPs were popularly believed to have been circulated, not by their nationalist rivals, but by the LPs themselves, and that they should feel the need to do so implied American unwillingness to do it for them. One eminent columnist assured his readers that the Americans—the thoughtful ones, that is—would rather have the NPs remain in power. Finally, when that bogey of Philippine politics, the Iglesia ni Kristo, also declared itself against Macapagal, his cause seemed lost indeed.
Yet he took his cause to the common folk and won.
His victory is more impressive than Magsaysay’s, having been achieved against greater odds and without the fancy trimmings of the Great Crusade. Far more than Magsaysay, he can be said to have been carried to triumph by the masses, and only by the masses. And since there were none to glamorize him, since his very foes deny he had any of the Magsaysay charm and magic, since no fringe movements helped swell his finances or the tide of his popularity, he can now claim to have won on sheer skill, intelligence, industry, and the faith in him of he people. He could not become a glamour figure, so he became a folk hero.
And such has been the success of his solitary campaigning that every Philippine politician will, from now on, have to ponder the methods of Macapagal the campaigner.
Poetry got Diosdado Macapagal into politics. Before 1949, his future had seemed to lie in the foreign service. He had risen to the fourth ranking position in the foreign affairs department; President Quirino, obviously grooming the young Pampango for a diplomatic career, sent him to the United States, to broaden his outlook. Macapagal was second secretary of the embassy in Washington.
Then, in 1949, the congressman for Pampanga, Huk-elected Amado Yuson, announced his intention to run for re-election. President Quirino was then engaged in a campaign to topple all Huk-elected officials. But Yuson had a special strength: he was recognized as the poet laureate of Pampanga, a province that loves its bards. Yuson drew crowds not as a politician but as a poet; at his mitings he did not deliver speeches, he improvised verses. Quirino saw it would take a poet to lick a poet.
He had Macapagal recalled from Washington and bade him run against Yuson. The platform was practically who was the better poet. Macapagal had had no experience in politics but did have renown as a bard. In his youth he had composed about a hundred poems, and they had established him as a public figure in his native province, important enough to be invited to address school convocations and crown fiesta queens.
The 1949 campaign in Pampanga turned into a poetic joust. Macapagal trailed his rival from plaza to plaza. Had Yuson delivered a particularly lovely poem in a certain town? The very next night, or a few nights later, Macapagal was in that town, delivering an even lovelier poem. He says he finds it easier to improvise in verse than in prose.
Because he had no campaign funds to use to publicize his candidacy he was forced to adopt a person-to-person approach, to go into every nook and corner of the province to introduce himself to the populace. Thus began, long before the Great Crusade of Magsaysay, the barrio-to-barrio campaign. For Macapagal, such a campaign was inevitable because he felt surest of himself among his own kind.
“Until I ran,” he says, “politicians in Pampanga came from the propertied class. I was the first poor candidate there.”
He not only won against Yuson but topped the congressional winners, which included Magsaysay, in second place. Then came another surprise. It was the custom among Pampango politicians, because they were wealthy, to go off to Baguio or Hong Kong after an election, to rest. But a few days after the 1949 polls, the barrio folk of Pampanga were astounded to find their winning candidate again in their midst. Macapagal had no money for a Baguio or Hong Kong vacation, and he thought that elegant custom silly anyway. Instead, he traveled all over the province again, to thank in person whose who had helped him win. This, cried the Pampangos, was something new in politics.
That first campaign established the style of Macapagal the campaigner; his next major campaign—for the Senate in 1955—disclosed an ability to project himself n a nationwide scale. He was, till then, regarded as a small-time, strictly local politician. Though he regularly made the lists of top congressmen of the year, his name was unknown outside Pampanga. In 1955, he was running with name politicians: Osias, Peralta, Magalona and Geronima Pecson. He was the expendable one on that list, merely followed the others on the regular campaign routes.
Then, in Pototan, Iloilo, came the revelation.
The LPs were waging a futile fight and they themselves knew it: their campaigning was lackadaisical. Macapagal, too, had prepared only one speech, which he used over and over again. One night—that night in Pototan—he finally got so sick of his own clichés he threw the speech away and began to talk as he pleased. It was raining anyway; there were few to listen. He could think aloud, could speak from the heart. He recalled the misery of his childhood, the squalor of his youth. He had almost, though the valedictorian, not attended his grade school graduation because he had no clothes and no shoes to wear. He had almost not gone to high school because there was no money for tuition fees; his mother had raised pigs, his grandmother had worked as a midwife, to send him to high school. All his dreams were one: to end poverty, because he had known how cruel poverty could be. He could not bear the thought of other children going through what he had gone through.
He was practically speaking to himself and was hardly aware that his audience, though the rain was falling harder, had drawn closer around him instead of running to shelter. When he stopped speaking, there was tumultuous applause. Mrs. Pecson stepped forward to speak but could not do so because the crowd kept on applauding and shouting: “Macapagal! Macapagal!” The congressman from Pampanga had to leave his seat and speak to the crowd again.
The following night, in another town, he discarded his prepared speech again and spoke extemporaneously: of his life and hard times, his struggles and dreams. Again he had a rapt audience, again he got tumultuous applause. Macapagal realized he had a larger appeal than he had thought.
This year, when he campaigned in Pototan, he told the people there; “Pototan is not merely a town to me. It is a landmark. For here I discovered I had a message for the nation.”
Macapagal lost in the 1955 senatorial race but topped all the Liberal candidates, though they were better-known than he. His colleagues in the party saw that he was no longer a small-time politico and a stop-Macapagal movement started. The party hierarchy was reorganized and Macapagal was ousted as vice-president for Central Luzon. But it was too late to stop his rise: the public already knew him as “Mr. Liberal.”
After his defeat in the polls, his wife said to him: “It seems your Divine Providence failed you this time. Had you won, you would have been minority floor leader in the Senate and the undisputed leader of the Liberal Party.”
Said Macapagal: “God answers our prayers in his own way. I have faith in his own design in my defeat.”
The design, as he sees it now, was victory in 1961: “Had I won in 1955, my party would have made me run for president in 1957, and I would surely have lost. Garcia had been president only nine months and voters would be inclined to give him a full term to show what he could do. Because I lost in 1955, I was good only for vice-president in 1957, and I had time to prepare to run for president n 1961 and win.”
The vice-presidential nomination was offered to him by a dying man: Speaker Eugenio Perez. Late one night, while the House was discussing the budget, the Speaker, pale and feeble, suddenly appeared in the chamber. Al the solons started up from their seats as if they had seen a ghost, for Perez was supposed to be on his deathbed: the doctors had given him up. Dragging his feet, he shuffled toward Macapagal. “I want to talk to you,” he said.
When they were alone together, Perez said to Macapagal: “The party is putting up Mr. Yulo for president because it has no money, but Mr. Yulo will be attacked. We need someone to run with him whose integrity cannot be questioned. The party has been good to you; not it’s your turn to help the party. If we only had money I would put you up for president. But I tell you: you will be president someday.”
Macapagal says he would have preferred to play it safe and just run for Congress again—but how could he refuse the plea of a dying man?
When he got home that night he woke up his wife to confess that he had made a decision without consulting her: he had agreed to run for vice-president.
“What are your chances?” she asked.
“And what will you do afterwards?”
“I’ll teach and practise law.”
The very next day, he went to the University of Santo Tomas to arrange a teaching contract, so sure was he that his election as vice-president was improbable. But when the NPs put up Laurel junior as their veep candidate and the NCPs selected Tañada, Macapagal began to think that he could win. Laurel junior was manifestly unpopular, and Tañada would divide the Tagalog vote.
But again there was the problem of finances. Macapagal had no money, and neither did the Liberal Party. All the funds came from Yulo and: I don’t think Mr. Yulo ever liked me,” says Macapagal.
Into the picture stepped Amelito Mutuc, an old acquaintance who had married into a wealthy family. Mutuc offered to direct Macapagal’s campaign.
“Can you raise two thousand pesos?” he asked Macapagal.
Macapagal borrowed two thousand from his wife; with the money Mutuc rented a building in Manila, bought a couple of typewriters and set up a Macapagal campaign headquarters.
Says Macapagal: “I had not a centavo for my first campaign. When I ran for the Senate I had about five hundred pesos. And I ran for vice-president on two thousand pesos.”
There were, however, the transportation expenses, which the LP candidates were apparently expected to shoulder themselves. The campaigners had been divided into teams; Macapagal noticed that he was not included in Mr. Yulo’s team. He was told to go to Mindanao and campaign there. But how could he go when he didn’t even have the fare? Instead, he looked up Yulo’s itinerary. He discovered that Yulo was in a certain Visayan town. Macapagal suddenly showed up there, during a rally, and when he spoke he praised Yulo to the skies. Delighted, Yulo told him: “You better come along with my group.”
“And that,” grins Macapagal, “was how I got through the campaigns without any funds. I just joined Mr. Yulo’s party.”
Though Macapagal polled more votes than Garcia, his victory was dismissed as a fluke. The popular view was that he had won on the strength of “negative” votes cast, not really for him, but against Laurel junior.
Macapagal was still “invisible” to many, though he had pulled up quite a feat: had won against the party in power at the height of its power.
President Garcia, it is said, had originally regarded the large popular vote for Macapagal as a directive from the people to make Macapagal serve in the government: there were hints from Malacañang that the vice-president would be appointed secretary of foreign affairs. But after a consultation with his council of leaders, Mr. Garcia decided not to give Macapagal a job.
“From that moment,” says Macapagal, “I decided to build up and strengthen the Liberal Party, to begin campaigning for the presidency, and to beat Garcia in 1961.”
He started campaigning during his very first year as veep, circled the country three times during his term: “It took me a year the first time, two years the second time, a year the third time.”
At first President Garcia allowed him to use a navy cutter, the Ifugao. Macapagal started with the most inaccessible areas: Palawan, the isles of the Badjaos, the Turtle Islands. He had, while still in the foreign affairs department, negotiated the return of the Turtle Islands to the Philippines, had raised the Philippine flag there. On his second trip, he covered the isolated areas on the Pacific coast. When he submitted his schedule for his third trip, which was to have included Batanes, President Garcia smelled what the vice-president was up to and forbade his further use of the Ifugao. Undaunted, Macapagal used inter-island steamers.
“It was a blessing in disguise,” he says. “On the steamers I met more people.” He ate with the third-class passengers, surprised them by cleaning up his plate, though the food was staler than most people could stomach.
In his wanderings, Macapagal reached places where the last government official people remembered having seen was Governor-General Leonard Wood. “I think,” says Macapagal, “that Wood was the one government official who tried to reach every place in the country.”
Macapagal was not always the politician in his four-year odyssey: he has an eye for the odd and the beautiful. In a coastal town in Samar he saw a man who was said to be 150 years old: “He was like a mummy, he looked dead already, but he could still talk.” Macapagal becomes lyrical when describing the brooks in Camiguin: “They are the most beautiful brooks I ever saw—water flowing over white stones. If I were an artist I would paint those brooks.”
At the same time that he was trying to reach every place in the country, he was building up his party. He saw the need for uniting the opposition but saw no hope for union as long as the Progressives clung to two ideas of theirs: first, that the Liberal Party was rotten to the core and could never return to power and, second, that they, the Progressives, could win by themselves. When negotiations for union in 1959 lagged, Macapagal abruptly ended them: “I saw it was useless to negotiate until I had proved to the Progressives that we could win in an election and that they couldn’t.” The Progressives tried to reopen the negotiations but Macapagal firmly repulsed them: “I just told them that we had already lost a month of the campaign. After all, I felt that union in 1959 was not important. What was important was union in 1961—and I could get that only by proving myself right in 1959.”
Then Ferdinand Marcos, who had been made to run for the Senate, got cold feet and wanted to withdraw. Marcos felt that Macapagal was courting disaster by deciding that the Liberal Party was to run alone, without any coalition with the Progressives. But Macapagal was willing to stake his political reputation and his presidential chances on that decision. He had more to lose than Marcos but was less apprehensive. He said to Marcos: “You not only will not lose but you will get first place.”
During the counting of the returns, the Progressives who had seemed at first to be winning, all dropped out, but three Liberals remained steady on the winning list, and Marcos did top it. The victory, says Macapagal, was not a random one; he had carefully engineered it. He had pinpointed the areas from where came the votes that had swamped the LPs in previous elections; during the campaign he concentrated on those areas. These were, he says, the “pockets” that had to be pushed back so that his “military line” would hold straight and steady. Having eliminated those “pockets,” Macapagal, after the balloting, sat back and waited confidently for the returns. His fellow Liberals nervously awaited the usual NP avalanche of votes to sweep them away—but Macapagal told them there would be no avalanche, and there was none.
Says Marcos: “That is why we respect Macapagal—because he makes decisions even against our will. Afterwards we find that he was right.”
Macapagal was proved right, too, about the Progressives. When Soc Rodrigo was quoted as saying, after the 1959 polls, that the Grand Alliance would continue, Macapagal said: “If there is one man who has no choice now but to join the Liberals, it is Soc Rodrigo.”
Then he sent Senator Estanislao Fernandez to ask Rodrigo if he was ready now to join the Liberals. Said Rodrigo: “What else can I do?”
“And that,” smiles Macapagal, “was what I had been saying all along.”
Again Macapagal had done the impossible: he had turned a discredited and disheartened LP into a winning party and he had united the opposition. If there be still doubts about his capacity for leadership, he points to the diverse personalities he was able, for this campaign, to bring together and organize into a team: Marcos, Manglapus, Lacson, Manahan, not to mention Roger de la Rosa.
“Each one a strong personality,” he sighs, “and all of them stars!”
What Macapagal did in 1959 he repeated in 1961. He circled the country a third time but concentrated on the new “pockets” revealed by the 1959 polls. The very first province he stormed this year was Batangas, where the LPs had always lost heavily. He campaigned there for a week, then moved on to Quezon, and then, to everybody’s amazement, returned to Batangas and campaigned through it all over again. The Batangueños said to him: “You are the first presidential candidate to campaign here twice.” The politicos predicted a Macapagal loss in Batangas, but he carried the province.
He went wherever the LP was weak, however remote the region. Everybody thought him crazy to go to the Davao town of Manay, which is a Nacionalista stronghold and almost inaccessible. Boats dock far off; passengers must plunge into neck-deep water and wade ashore, for small boats would be dashed by the strong waves against the rocks. On reaching the shore, the Manay-bound must still climb a steep rocky slope to reach the town. Though it was past midnight when his ship reached the place, Macapagal plunged into the water, waded ashore through the darkness, climbed up over the rocks, and found the townspeople of Manay still waiting for him. The mayor told him: “This is a Nacionalista town, but because you came here you will win here.”
The intrepidity Macapagal displayed during the campaign may well turn into legend. He crossed, on a frail fishing boat, that point of the San Bernardino Strait which folk in the vicinity regard with horror, because four currents converging there create a maelstrom. The crossing was pure agony; Macapagal got across without being sucked into the maelstrom—“but,” he shudders, “I don’t think I could do it again.”
Batanes had become an obsession with him ever since his scheduled trip there, in 1957, had to be cancelled with the Ifugao was forbidden him. Three subsequent attempts to sail to Batanes were thwarted by bad weather. Then, late in the last month of the campaign, he decided he just had to get there. He hired a fishing boat and set off. Halfway across, he noticed that the boat was slapping against the water: “That’s when it’s dangerous—not when a boat is rocking but when it’s slapping.” He said to the skipper of the boat: “Puede ba? If it’s possible, let’s go on. If not, let’s return.” Said the skipper: “We had better return.”
But there was no stopping Macapagal now. He wired his wife in Manila that he needed two planes. “To think that it was I who arranged that trip!” she wails now. Macapagal finally reached Batanes by plane, but the return trip was made with one engine dead.
Why had he risked his life to reach a place that had but a handful of voters? He says? “I wanted to show that it was not the votes that mattered to me. Besides, I had covered the entire country except Batanes. And when you say except, you remove the impact.”
The Sunday before the polls, Macapagal addressed the LP miting de avance on Plaza Miranda. He had not campaigned at all in Manila but the multitude he drew was epochal. “I felt,” he says, “that the people there had already made up their minds. They had not come to be convinced but just to be there.” Manny Pelaez nudged Mrs. Macapagal and whispered: “Just watch. The crowd will applaud your husband whatever he says.” “And,” says Mrs. Macapagal, “it was true. The people applauded even in the middle of a word!”
On the eve of the elections, Macapagal conducted a “talkaton” that lasted all night, answering questions from all quarters, demonstrating, for all to see, how quickly his mind worked. The invisible man was finally emerging as quite a dynamic chap. It was dawn when he went home, but not to sleep. He and Mrs. Macapagal immediately motored to his home town of Lubao, to vote. When they got there, at seven in the morning, the streets were already full of people impatient to vote.
The Pampangos had a cardinal, now they wanted a president.
That night, the poll returns began to paint an astounding new image of Macapagal. The man described as “colorless” had turned out to be a phenomenon.
Luck is still on his side. He is fortunate to become president when people are just beginning to see him clearly. Magsaysay became an idol too soon; adulation reached a peak during his campaign: there was nowhere else to go but down. So much was expected of the Guy he could not but disappoint. Barely two years after he assumed office there was already a marked chill in the air.
But Macapagal assumes office amid general incredulity rather than expectation, amid a growing curiosity rather than love. Because he was so underrated, anything he does now will have the quality of surprise. Because nothing was expected of him, he cannot disappoint. The way for him is still up. He is not yet entangled in a myth of himself; idolatry has still to becloud his eyes with incense. He should be able to accomplish more, since he has to earn the people’s love rather than justify it.
He comes to us practically unknown: an ambiguous figure, half light and half dark, moving toward the presidency and wresting it away with a few arms, though the dragons of power and propaganda stood round about.
Of his feat he says: “It was difficult, it was impossible, but we did it. Now, the job ahead is even more difficult, ten times more difficult. But I am read for it.”
The death of The Guy
by Quijano de Manila
His Death Was Not His End But A Transfiguration –From Folk Hero To Folk Myth.
March 18, 1961–HE HAD skipped a friend’s party the night before to attend a sudden conference; and coming home from the party, to which she had gone ahead, alone, Mrs. Magsaysay found him in his bedroom looking so tired and worried she didn’t press her inquiries as to why he hadn’t followed.
But when he woke up the next morning he was his old self again, jaunty and jovial. They had breakfast together, and talked of the trip he would make to Cebu that day. He was leaving at noon. She urged him to rest all morning. When she looked for him later, he had vanished. He was nowhere in the Palace. She called up this place and that and finally located him in a house within the Palace compound. He had been visiting his in-laws, the Corpuses.
She reproved him when he came back: “I thought you promised to rest all morning?”
He said he had been rehearsing his speeches for the Cebu visit and couldn’t do so in the Palace, with people popping in and out all the time.
She watched while he had a haircut in a hall off his bedroom. Standing behind him, she could see his face in the mirror, his eyes restless as a little boy’s over this enforced moment of stillness.
“Will you see me off at the airport?” he suddenly asked, meeting her eyes in the mirror.
“If you want me to.”
“Yes, do come.”
She was rather amused at the request. A despedida for an overnight trip? In the bedroom, the two valets who were to perish with him were busy packing. He kept telling the barber to hurry up. She always paid the barber for him, had a ten-peso bill ready in a pocket.
They had lunch with a young nephew. The children were in school or in their rooms. Teresita, the eldest, just engaged, was sewing her trousseau. Jun, the the only son was at his classes. Mila, the younger daughter, had a stove in her room and liked to cook meals for her gang. Whenever she prepared a special dish, she sent a portion to the presidential table with instructions that her father was to sample the dish and give his comments on it. He always sent back word that it was delicious, whether he had found it too tough or too salty.
The family got together only on Sundays, when it was the rule that the children were to come to table for breakfast, lunch, and supper. In the evening, they gathered in his room, just the five of them. Teresita gave him a neck massage. Mila strummed a uke. Jun played the hi-fi, putting on his father’s favorite records. His father and mother had a special favorite that summer: Que Será, Será —the song to which they had danced on their last wedding anniversary. Only afterwards would she realize the significance of that song’s gaily grim lyrics. The children complained that Sunday was the only time they could have their Daddy to themselves.
So, on this March day, a Saturday, his last day in the Palace, he did not have his children with him as he lunched with his wife, his last meal with her. He told her about the movies he had ordered for showing at the Palace that night: a Tagalog picture and a Hollywood drama for her, an action movie for himself. He always asked for one, whether he was there to see it or not. He loved action pictures and before he became president, dragged his wife to small neighborhood cinemas where the audience was as rowdy as the folk on the screen and where he could stomp and shout unashamed during chases and fist fights.
“Three movies for tonight,” he told his wife now, “but don’t sit through all of them. You may be cross-eyed when I come back.”
She smiled drowsily. She had been feeling drowsy all through lunch, could hardly keep her head up, her eyes open.
He finally laughed at her: “No, you better not see me off at the airport. You’re sleepy. Go take a nap.”
But she accompanied him down the stairs to the car, her arm around his waist. She told him his waist was slimmer.
He patted his belly proudly: “Yes, no more paunch. I must keep it this way.” When they reached the car he said: “If you’re asleep when I arrive, I’ll wake you up.”
“Even if you didn’t,” she cried very sarcastically, “I would wake up!”
He had never learned to move quietly, on tiptoe, with stealth. She always knew when he was in: the floor seemed to shake with his movements. He was, she says, “pagpag,” very heavy-footed. He didn’t walk, he strode. He didn’t open a door, he burst it open. He didn’t enter a room, he stormed into it.
He laughed now at her sarcasm, kissed her and got into the car. It was about half-past noon. That was the last time she ever saw him. He was wearing slacks, one of his gaudy polo shirts and a jacket; and his brown face, after some three years of the presidency, looked almost as lean as the face of that very thin, very tall mechanic she had fallen in love with some 25 years before.
After he had gone, she had her nap. Then she drove to Tagaytay with a group of friends and spent the afternoon in a cottage on a hilltop. In the group was Chiming Hernández, whose husband, Gregorio Hernández, the education secretary, had also gone on that trip to Cebu. Mrs. Magsaysay noticed that her friend Chiming was moody, almost melancholy. She sat at a window, chin propped on hands, watching the sunset on Manila Bay.
“The sun is so red,” she kept saying. “Why is the sun so red?”
Mrs. Magsaysay said the sun didn’t look unusually red to her. Driving back to the city in the evening, she saw the skies radiant with moonlight and fleetingly thought it would be a safe night for flying.
After supper, she sat down for the picture show but did not, as her husband had advised, sit through all the movies. Before retiring, she took a spoonful of a tranquilizing liquid. Nevertheless, she could not fall asleep at once. Annoyed, she rose and, this time without bothering to use the spoon, gulped down the tranquilizer from the bottle. “Now,” she thought, “I should be able to go to sleep.” But her slumber that night was troubled, though she had not been worrying about her husband’s safety.
In the South
He had arrived at the airport at around one in the afternoon, had changed into gray trousers and a pastel blue barong before boarding the Mount Pinatubo. At two minutes past one, his plane took off for the South. There were 27 persons aboard and he had to sit on a bunk. When his guests complained of the heat in the plane, he said he had had the air-conditioning removed from the presidential plane to avoid public criticism. “We’ll all just have to sweat it out,” he said. He added that he had named the plane after the highest peak in Zambales, where he had operated as a guerrilla during the war.
At a quarter past tree, the plane landed in Cebu City and, to the roar of guns and of a multitude burned black by the March sun, he descended and began the ten-hour tour of Cebu City that was to be his last public appearance.
His first words to the Cebuanos were about corn, for the South was then suffering from a shortage of its staple cereal. He promised them that 20,000 tons of corn were arriving from America to relieve the shortage.
Then he drove through packed streets decored with festive arches to the house of the elder Osmeña, to salute the former president and his wife. From the Osmeñas’ he went to the archbishop’s palace. After a chat with Archbishop Julio Rosales, he prayed in the chapel. The pictures taken of him there show him looking strangely pensive, though the strangeness may only be because we are so used to seeing him in action. People with him noted that he tarried, on his knees, in the chapel long after the others had risen and that there was an odd look of peace, of relief in his face when he emerged –as of “a man who had moved from darkness into light.”
At five that afternoon, he was at the University of the Visayas, to be made an honorary doctor of laws. It was dusk when the ceremonies started. Suddenly the lights went out and stayed out for a quarter of an hour. He stood in the darkness, on the platform, and no one came to lead him away. Afterwards the superstitious would say that they had felt it as ominous: that sudden darkness at a moment of glory.
Then he went to another school, the University of Southern Philippines, to speak on parental love and against neutralism. He still looked fresh but his baro had wilted and he hurried to the residence of a labor leader to change into a suit with tie and to eat supper. He was delighted with the menu: vegetables and dried fish, and his host gave him a pabaon: a package of the dried fish he had enjoyed so much. The dried fish would later be found scattered over the wreckage of his plane.
At eight that night, he was at the University of San Carlos, where he had the biggest audience of all during his Cebu City speaking tour. About two hours later, he was at the house of Governor Manuel Cuenco, for a brief chat. Then he proceeded to the residence of Serging Osmeña, then mayor of the city, with whom he was to have dinner, the last one of his life. As he sat down to eat, someone noted that there were 13 at the table.
He still had two engagements: at the Patria Recreation Hall, which was being inaugurated, and at the Club Filipino, which was holding a veterans forum. It was past midnight when, escorted by the two Osmeñas, he returned to the airport to take the plane back to Manila. He declined their invitations to stay the night in the city; he said he had an important conference in Malacañang in the morning.
As the list of passengers was read out, it was noted that he was No. 13. He grinned, shrugged his shoulders, said goodbye to the Osmeñas and boarded the plane. At about a quarter past one, Sunday, March 17, the Mount Pinatubo took off for Manila carrying aloft 26 very tired and sleepy people, only one of whom would reach the city alive. Ahead, just ten minutes away, a dark bulk in the moonlight, soared one of the most tragic mountains in Philippine history: Mount Manúnggal.
Manúnggal is a mountain range curving like an arm just north of Cebu City. It’s such an obscure mountain, Cebuanos themselves say they had never heard of it until the accident put its name on the front pages. Its peak rises about 3,000 feet above sea level. The lower slopes have been deforested by kaingins; the upper slopes are steep, ending not on sharp peaks but on rough plateaus. From the center of the range springs a river, the Balamban, which winds all around the mountain and its base and then flowds through the western part of Cebu island into the sea.
Ten minutes after it left Cebu, the Mount Pinatubo confronted Mount Manúnggal and was flying toward the central plateau of the range, which is the source of the Balamban. The plane had lost altitude –from “metal fatigue,” according to investigation– but could have cleared the mountain and flown safely beyond it but for a giant tree standing on the summit.
The tree, an ibalos, is about fifty feet tall. The plane must have been flying about 45 feet above the summit, high enough to clear the mountain range –if that ibalos tree had not been standing right in its path. And it was against that tree, not the mountain, the the Mount Pinatubo crashed.
As plane and tree collided, the passengers inside were hurled against or out of their seats and the tree sliced off one of the plane’s wings. This wing was found near the foot of the tree. The crippled plane itself dropped much further down, about a hundred feet down the slope, which explains survivor Nestor Mata’s sensation of “hurtling down a black bottomless pit.” When the plane hit the ground, it exploded and burst into flames.
The fire –so intense it melted metal and fused bodies into an almost solid lump of coal– raged most fiercely nearest the fuselage but spared the tail and cockpit. The passengers seated nearest the fuselage –there were apparently seven of them, including the President– were burned beyond recognition, were turned into a single mass of charred flesh. The President was identified only by a wristwatch and ring embedded in the black mass.
About 14 other bodies, also horribly burned, were thrown out of the plane by the explosion and scattered lower down the hill. A few feet away was another group of bodies that had been only partially burned.
Two of the pilots, General Benito Ebuen and Major Florencio Pobre, were apparently hurled forward, still strapped to their seats, against the engines. The first had his skull broken; the second had his head ripped off. A security officer, Major Felipe Nunag, seems to have survived the crash, though wounded in the head, and to have crawled out of the wreckage and some distance down the slope, quite a trip for a man who was dying and must have known it. His was one of the few bodies found intact.
The only survivor, reporter Nestor Mata of the Herald, may owe his luck to the fact that he was thrown out of the plane at the very instant it hit the ground. He had been dozing, was jolted awake by a flash –“like thousands of flashbulbs popping at one time” –felt himself flying, and heard the deafening boom of an explosion. He blacked out. When he came to, he found himself lying under tall trees, among twisted bits of metal. He smelled burning flesh and saw in the distance the awful conflagration and the bodies strewn around it. But it may have been his own flesh he smelled, for he had been burned from head to foot.
Several people dwelling on the mountain looked up that night and saw its peak ablaze: a splash of red in the white moonlight. Some had heard an explosion. But the hero of the rescue operation, Marcelino Nuya, who lives near the peak, only some 800 feet from the crash site, neither heard the explosion nor saw the mountain top on fire that night. All he had noticed was that the droning of a plane overhead late that night had suddenly stopped.
Marcelino Nuya, in his early 40s at the time of the disaster, was born in the lowland town of Compostela but has lived most of his life on the heights of Manúnggal. He was then the teniente of the mountain’s topmost barrio, though barrio is hardly the word for settlements of bamboo and cogon huts separated from one another by long lonely stretches of hillside, only patches of which are cultivated. Nuya’s house is more substantial than the others; its roof is of cogon but it has wooden walls and flooring. The house is 2,000 feet above sea level and beside it is a mountain spring that yields cold water.
Nuya is short and stocky and, though unschooled, has the courtesy and percipience of people who live close to nature and have studied it. That March night, he and his wife had sat up waiting for their eldest daughter, who had gone to a barrio dance. Up in the mountains, too, young people go dancing on Saturday night. When the daughter arrived, she had friends with her and they sat around a while longer chatting. It was long past midnight before Nuya and his wide got to bed. Before they fell asleep, they heard a plane roaring directly overhead. It sounded very close, as though it were flying very low. Suddenly the roaring stopped. In the stillness, Nuya and his wife wondered what had happened. “Maybe it fell,” she said. He listened but heard no crash, no explosion. So he went to sleep.
He was aroused from sleep early the next morning by a neighbor crying that the mountain top was on fire. Nuya went out to look and saw that the blaze was not a kaingin. He decided to climb at once to the peak. With him were his two sons and the neighbor. They were followed by Nuya’s white dog, whom he called Serging, after the mayor of Cebu City. The press would later discreetly change the name of the dog to Avante. It was the dog’s barking that lifted Nestor Mata from despair, giving him the strength to push himself up from the ground, lean against a tree and cry out, “Tao! Tao!”
The dog ran toward the voice, followed by Nuya and his companions, who had to hack their way through the thick foliage and the undergrowth. On an old clearing now covered with cogon, huddled against a tree, they saw something that looked hardly human, hardly alive. It was black and bloated from head to foot, with monstrous ears and denuded skull and wounds that reeked of the grave’s corruption. As they stared in horror, it limply lifted one black arm and gestured toward the burning plane and from its black mouth came sounds that seemed to them gibberish. Mata was talking in English and Tagalog, strange tongues to these mountain folk.
Yet they understood when he cried: “Help me, I’m in pain!”
Nuya spoke to the neighbor and the neighbor lifted the burned man and heaved him over his shoulder. The swollen flesh crushed like fruit and foul juices streamed out.
“Put me down! Put me down, please!” screamed the agonized Mata.
All that day they carried him down the mountain, on a hammock, to a village where passed the buses for Cebu City. In the village were newsmen who knew Mata well, but when they saw the heap of carrion in the hammock they could only gape aghast and ask, “Who are you?”
Late that night, the lone survivor reached Cebu City and the nation at last knew what had happened to the plane that left Cebu at past one that morning and seemed to have completely disappeared in the skies.
The Long Wait
Mrs. Magsaysay had risen early that morning, to prepare for mass. As she combed her hair at her dresser, she glanced at the newspaper that had been slipped under her door. On the front page she could see a large picture of her husband with garlands of flowers around his neck. She thought happily that he had had a nice welcome in Cebu and she said to herself: “The Osmeñas persuaded him to stay the night.”
She went down to the chapel with her children. During the mass, she noticed that someone had approached one of the Palace aides and was whispering in his ear. The aide rose and left the chapel. When he showed up again, she was having breakfast with the children. He said there were people who wanted to see her: the Pelaezes, the Manahans, the Manglapuses. When they were shown in they all looked so solemn she at once felt sure they were going to ask a very big favor.
“Have you people heard mass already?” She asked. “Have you had breakfast?”
She ordered more coffee for the visitors. Manny Pelaez sat down beside her and thoughtfully stirred his coffee.
“Well, what was it you wanted to see me about?” she prompted.
“It’s so hard to say,” he said.
“Nothing’s hard if you try,” she laughed. “Say it –and I’ll let Monching know.”
At last he got it out: “The President’s plane was due back at half-past three. It’s long overdue.”
Her eyes flew to the clock on the wall; it was almost nine.
“So he did leave Cebu City last night?”
“Yes, at about one.”
“Maybe he stopped off somewhere.”
“Maybe. There’s really no cause for alarm yet.”
She saw her children silently rising from the table and going off to their rooms. Raul Manglapus approached her. “Let’s go and pray,” he said. Suddenly she began to weep but allowed herself to be led to an altar in another room. But she could not concentrate. She looked around and said, “This is not my room. I want to be in my own room.”
During the next four days she would not eat or drink anything and would lose four pounds. There was a cruel rumor that afternoon that the plane had been found, that the President was safe, and she would emerge from her room looking hysterical with joy. But that night the grim news arrived from Cebu: Nestor Mata had said the plane had crashed and that, as far as he knew, there were no other survivors. By then, a great crowd had collected on the Palace grounds and the cry went up: “We want the First Lady.” Mrs. Magsaysay was told she would have to make an appearance, to instil hope in a populace that still refused to believe her husband was dead. She went out to them and told them that she, too, like them, was still waiting for him.
And many, though four years have passed, are still waiting for him. Even as the news of his death was being flashed to the nation, the word was already going around that the Guy was not dead, that he was merely hiding himself for a while, but would eventually come down from the mountain to lead his people anew. The holocaust on the mountain top was bound to kindle the popular imagination, for mountains and folk leaders are closely associated in folklore. One thinks of Moses vanishing into the smoke and fire of Sinai until his people believed him dead; of Elias disappearing from Mount Carmel on a chariot of fire; of Bernardo Carpio, whom an earlier generation of Filipinos believed to be hiding on a mountain, too, from where, in the fullness of time, he would descend to led the people out of bondage. Today, four years after he died, the Magsaysay legend has attained the stature of myth and may in time become for us Filipinos what the Lincoln myth is for Americans.
In spite of the news from Cebu, Mrs. Magsaysay and her children stubbornly clung to the hope that rescuers sent to the crash site would find survivors, the President among them. That night, Jun Magsaysay kept vigil at his mother’s bedside. She had been given one injection after another to put her to sleep until she rebelled and cried out: “I don’t want to be put to sleep! I want to be conscious! I want to know!” And, anyway, the injections eventually had no effect. They could jab her arm till it bled; no kind sleep blacked out her grief.
So she lay sleepless that night and heard her son walking back and forth, back and forth, crackling his knuckles and moaning, “Daddy, Daddy — what happened to you? What happened to you?” She called to him and bade him lie down at her side. “No, I can’t sleep,” he said. “Just lie down,” she told him, “and rest.” But the boy refused to lie down, continued to pace the floor, crackling his knuckles and groaning.
Of his sisters, the younger one, Mila, had collapsed and was being kept in bed by her friends. The elder sister, Teresita, had gathered all her young relatives and the household help in the chapel and had been leading them in prayer all day and night.
Hope died out the next day when a younger brother of the President was flown to the crash site and identified the remains. A report was wired to the Palace and Jun Magsaysay was delegated to break the news to his mother. The moment he entered the room, biting his lips and pale with shock, she knew what he was going to say.
Before he had finished speaking, she flung her hands to her head and uttered a scream that rang through the Palace and froze the blood of all who heard it.
“Monchi-i-ing!” she cried –and fell backward as her son ran to catch her.
Her daughters were summoned to her room. Mila rose from bed but had to be carried back to it before she reached her mother’s room. Teresita, an image of fortitude, came up from the chapel, rosary in hand, dark glasses shrouding her eyes. She strode into her mother’s room and closed the door behind her. When the two of them were alone together and she had been told that her father’s body had been found, she unclenched her hand before her mother’s eyes. The girl had been gripping the rosary so hard she had crushed the beads.
Suddenly her face twisted. “I have lost faith in God!” she cried, hurling the rosary at a mirror. The mirror broke. Shocked, Mrs. Magsaysay ran toward her trembling daughter, but the girl broke away from her mother’s arms and fled to her room.
Mrs. Magsaysay forgot her grief. She went out of her room to seek out a cousin of hers, a Jesuit priest, whom she sent to her daughter. When the priest returned, he told Mrs. Magsaysay there was nothing to worry about. Teresita was merely suffering from shock and was already aghast at what she had done. “The girl,” said the priest, “was expecting a miracle.”
The remains arrived and were at the Palace for three days, but the widow and her children were never alone, even for a moment, with their dead. Day and night, lying in her bed, Mrs. Magsaysay heard the tramping of feet and felt the old house shaking as the masses stampeded up the stairs to bid farewell to their Guy. “Abah, we may crash,” she thought as the Palace swayed with the weight of the people.
She could not weep anymore. “I found out then,” she says, “that you can run out of tears too.” But not to be able to weep can be more terrible than weeping. The unshed tears hurt like stones under one’s eyelids.
During the funeral, all he could think of was that it was most uncomfortable, on such a hot day, to be wedged between two people. She was in the presidential car, seated between President and Mrs. Garcia. “Why can’t I be with my own family?” she asked herself peevishly, and herself answered the question: “Protocol! Protocol!” Then she wondered why she couldn’t be sitting in front beside the driver, instead of that aide. “It would be so much cooler there,” she thought, and idly noticed that the aide’s hair needed cutting. She glanced sideways at President Garcia sitting so still and stolid. She glanced at Inday Garcia quietly eating boiled eggs. She looked out the window at people running between cars, hurrying after the bier. “Won’t they get run over?” she wondered. Finally she concentrated on her husband’s horse, marching with such dignity just before their car, the empty saddle and boots on its back. On that hot crowded day, that horse alone looked cool and poised and whole. “It died a year later,” says Mrs. Magsaysay, “People wanted me to sell it but I said no. Then it fell sick. We had it operated on but it was no use. It died.”
At the graveyard, as the cannon boomed and the bugle sounded taps and the hot sun beat down on the multitude, what had felt like stones under her eyelids loosened at last and tears mercifully came streaming again from her eyes.
Mrs. Magsaysay says she used to dream a lot about her husband: “But since we moved to this new house of ours, I have dreamed of him only three or four times. The dreams are rather odd. He is wearing his old polo shirts. But he is never talking to me; he is always talking to somebody else, just like when he was alive.”
About ten months after the disaster, two groups of priests climbed Mount Manúnggal to the site of the crash. They found the plane’s wreckage still there and said mass on the spot. For congregation, they had the mountain folk, who live so far from church many of them had never heard mass until that day. On the spot where the body of the Guy was found somebody had placed a makeshift marker: a round piece of paper framed in bamboo. There had been an inscription on the paper but it was illegible when the priests got there.
On the site of the crash now stands a rough-hewn chapel which the mountain folk also use as an assembly hall.
April 6, 1957
The political jungle
The political calendar
It is now 1961 as far as the politicians are concerned. The death of President Magsaysay has speeded up political time. The old calendar restrained ambition; those who would be president must bide their time; they must wait until it was not possible, constitutioanlly, for Ramon Magsaysay to run again. They must wait until 1961, when his second term would come to an end; his reelection would be prohibited by the supreme law of the land. They would be free, then, to run for president; they would have chance.
So absolute was Magsaysay’s domination of the political scene that men who should have fought him did not dare. The sugar bloc, which hated his economic policies, placed discretion above valor; better a live coward than a dead lion. The hacenderos of Negros cried that they were being ruined by the no-barter policy of the government, but Magsaysay was their “Guy.” They hated his guts, but they played ball. They had to be practical. They could not afford to fight a sure winner.
Recto, who had the courage – if that is the word for it – to run against Magsaysay, could not find a running mate. Nobody would be his vice-presidential candidate. The politicos would have nothing to do with Recto. Not while RM was around.
The Liberals, who were supposed to constitute the official opposition, betrayed the cause of the two-party system, so essential to democracy, by crawling to Malacañang and pledging the President their abject support. So a Liberal, Primitivo Lovina, viewed the action of his colleagues; another Liberal, Tony Quirino, called it “prostitution.” Anyway, the Liberals, too, were being realistic. If you couldn’t fight RM, join him – if he would have you.
Now he is dead.
Before that fatal Sunday when Ramon Magsaysay boarded an army plane at about one in the morning with 26 others – against every rule of presidential security – his reelection was held as certain as – as death and taxes. Sen. Jose P. Laurel, who had run for president in 1949 and was cheated of victory and who steeped aside for Magsaysay in 1953 because he would have been cheated again if he had insisted on running, because it was the practical thign to do, was asked by Recto if he, Laurel, was interested in running for the presidency in 1957. If Laurel was running, Recto would give way and give him support, like a good Batangueno. If Laurel was not running, well, he, Recto, was, and he expected Laurel to support him, again like a good Batangueño…. Laurel was not running; at the same time, he would not come out in support of Recto; instead, he called for “unity,” whatever that meant.
Besides, Laurel was reportedly a sick man; he had high-blood pressure. If he were to run, even if he won, the presidency would be too much for him. He was bent on retiring, for his own good and the good of the nation. A sick president is something the nation could not afford – assuming Laurel could win.
Laurel would not fight RM; the Liberals pledged RM their support; Recto could not find a reputable political figure to run wih him; the opposition, official and otherwise, had only one thought: to play ball. Everybody must wait until 1961. Then came “Sunday.” There was a new political calendar: 1957 became 1961.
Anybody could be president.
As a matter of fact, the President is not just anybody; he has a anme and a good political record; he is Carlos P. Garcia. Only a hearbeat separated him from the presidency, we wrote a month ago. “…the president may wake up one morning and find himself the chief excutive. All men are mortal…. Anything can happen.” Now, Garcia is president.
Yet, a month ago, he was not even sure of his party’s renomination for the vice-presidency. Sergio Osmeña, Jr., a new Nacionalista, had been elected head of the league of governors and city mayors; this gentleman was being mentioned as the man most likely to wrest the vice-presidential nomination from Garcia in the Nacionalista convention. Garcia was “good old Charlie” to his fellow-Nacionalistas, nothing more. Even President Magsaysay was reported not too enthusiastic about him.
But Garcia was a bridge. A bridge is something on which everybody walks to get to other side. Garcia was a bridge between the Nacionalista Old Guard and President Magsaysay. Garcia had his uses. His renomination would symbolize the unity of the party; there was no break between the Old Guard and the Young Turks, it would proclaim. The Old Guard had run the party pretty much as they pleased; every Nacionalista senator was interested in reelection; they all needed the President’s help to insure it. but the President had his own men. These were called, somewhat irreverently, one must say, the “rah-rah boys.” Whatever the President did, they cheered. The President was grateful and some of them hoped that he would show his gratitude by getting them nominated for senator. Election was certain.
On the one hand, there was the desire of old Nacionalistas to hold on to office, to run for reelection, and on the other the desire of “rah-rah boys” to replace some of the old Nacionalistas, who always felt superior, intellectually and otherwise, to the chief executive. If there was to be no break in the party, it was obvious that one set of ambitions must be sacrificed at the altar of the other set.
The Old Guard must hang together or hang separately. Hence, the proclamation of the principle of priority for reelectionists: Nacionalista senators and congressmen would like to remain in office should be nominated by the party instead of others; they had a prior claim! The President’s endorsement of Garcia as the party’s candidate for vice-president again would be an endorsement of the Old Guard’s general position. Every relectionist should be encouraged to run.
Hence the importance of being – Garcia. That is, of Garcia’s renomination for the vice-presidency. That would be the test of whether the President was prepared to break with his party or not. The Old Guard would sink or swim with garcia. If the President did not want Garcia, he could not want any of the Old guard. If he was not for him, he was against them.
The renomination of Garcia, then, was the bridge that would make political communication possible, or continue it, between the Old Guard and the President, between the Senate, which the Old Guard dominated, and Malacanang, the habitat of the “rah-rah boys” or Young Turks. If the President would be certain of congressional cooperation for his program the next four years, he had ho alternative but to give in to the Old Guard, and endorse old Nacionalista reelectionists, including Garcia.
Now, Garcia does not need the support of the President. He is the President.
The political forces
Recto once dismissed the size of the crowds that greeted President Magsaysay wherever he went as sheer illusion. The people did not go to meet RM because they really wanted to; they went because they were forced to; he was the President. The whole welcome was a rigged-up affair. Actually, they were angry with him; they lived better under the previous regime.
The general sense of irreparable loss at the death of Ramon Magsaysay, the tears of millions, the national feeling that the best was gone – even recto must admit that he was wrong. He was wrong about the “unpopularity” of the late President. The people, foolishly or not, loved him. Now, Recto is the heir of their grief over the passing of the man in whom they believed; he had attacked and attacked Magsaysay.
The feeling however, may pass…
What about Laurel?
If Laurel was a sick man before Magsaysay died, that does not mean that he is sick permanently. He may recover sufficiently to answer the call of duty. Already, there is a clamor, by Batanguenos and others, for drafting him for the highest office in the land. If the Nacionalista Party should nominate Laurel, how could he turn his back on the nomination? Laurel probably knows as much about economics as any man in public life; he has written a book on the subject. The main problem of the country is economic; Laurel, believe it or not, is an economist. He would cure the country’s ills! The sick man, assuming he is sick, would bring the republic economic health.
But how would Garcia feel about it?
In the struggle for power, the race for the presidency, a Nacionalista whom most Nacionalistas like – some because they owe him money – the head of the party, the president of the Senate, Eulogio Rodriguez, may come out as a dark horse. If Laurel should decide to run for prsident and Garcia insist on remaining as one, well, how better to preserve party unity than by nominating Rodriguez? Laurel might not like it, and Garcia would, of course, be furious, but what could “Amang” do? He must keep the party together, and the only way to do that would seem to be to run in place of Garcia or Laurel. A compromise is always better then a break. Truce is preferable to war.
Who would be “Amang’s” running-mate? Why not Sen. Emmanuel Pelaez, President Magsaysay’s fair-haired boy? More than once, the late idol of his people had expressed the hope that Pelaez, or a man like Pelaez, would succeed him. An “Amang” – Pelaez ticket would represent the greatest compromise of all; it would mean the wedding of the practical and the idealistic, people would say. The old and the young would be together; the Old Guard and the Young Turks would no longer be at war.
But a Rodriguez-Pelaez team must expect the bitterest opposition from Garcia. Who do they think he is: vice-president? For the information of all Philippines. Why should he stop being one? Why should he step aside for anybody? If he did not watch out, they would be proposing a Rodriguez-Garcia team as a compromise, with the President running for vice-president. Can anything be more painful, not to say ridiculous?
The Mayor of Manila, Arsenio H. Lacson, has indicated his availability for the presidency. He will run – if he can get anybody to nominate him, that is.
The Liberals have, doubtless, their own plans, or are cooking up one. The name of Jose Yulo, Quirino’s running-mate in the last presidential election, comes up now and then. He has money; election campaigns are expensive things. The Liberals need him, financially. Who else could pay their bills? But he is enjoying his retirement. Why take a chance?
The position of Garcia
Carlos Garcia is the President of the Philippines. Why should he let anybody else be? He became president because of an accident. The unexpected death of Roxas made Quirino president; when Avelino, who was much more popular in the Liberal Party than Ilocano, thought that Quirino should step aside for him—well, we know what happened to Avelino.
It is true that Garcia has only a few months to consolidate his new power, while Quirino had two years. But the opposition today is weak. Quirino faced the Nacionalists, whom the people thought the champions of good government; the Nacionalistas would save them from Quirino! Yet, Quirino won – no matter in what fashion – against Avelino and against the Nacionalistas. Quirino won, with a divided party, in spite of being probably the most unpopular man in the Philippines. He was the President, and the President has, behind him, all the power of the government.
Today, the opposition is confused, opportunistic, and nominal. The position of the Prsident remains what it was: a position of overwhelming strength. His party needs Garcia as muchas if not more than Garcia needs his party. The necessity is mutual. Who is the Nacionalista who will volunteer to tell Garcia not to run for president, to be a good boy and let Laurel, or “Amang,” be president in his place?
Garcia may be a poet; he isn’t crazy. Or, to put it another way, he wasn’t born yesterday. To ask Garcia to step aside for Laurel or Rodriguez or what-have-you would be equivalent to the attempt to get the late President Magsaysay to agree to six-year term without reelection when he was certain of two full terms, or a total pf eight years as president. It would be to insult the intelligence.
Garcia, as president, has the following advantages:
- The powers of the office.
- The venality of politicians.
- The need of the party.
- The weakness of the opposition.
Nacionalista reelectionists need the help of the President to feel sure of reelection. The Constitution has mane the President too powerful, constitutionalist like to complain. Well, the President is indeed powerful, and his party needs his cooperation if it would be certain of winning.
Pork barrel funds are released – upon order of the President. Who would vote for a Nacionalista if he had no pork barrel? Who would vote for a Liberal, for that matter? The pork barrel – that is decisive. And the President is sitting on it.
The opposition is weak. There is no need for an extraordinary political team to defeat it. if Garcia is a”non-descript” politician, as the magazine Time called him, he will do; what is decisive is not his personality but his position. He is sufficient unto the day, politically speaking. Nobody can beat him. If his own collegues in the party, that is, do not start rocking the boat. Even then….
“If you don’t want me, I don’t want you, Garcia could very well tell too-ambitious Nacionalistas. “If you hurt me, I will hurt you. And I can hurt you. If I go down, you go down. Well?”
If the Nacionalista Party does not nominate Garcia for president, what is to prevent Garcia from using the full strength of the government to make a non-Nacionalista candidate win? He could go over to Recto, in desperation. A deal could be made with the Liberals and Democrats. Having lost his party’s nomination for president, President Garcia would have nothing to lose, whatever he might do. He would be a dead duck, politically, if he stayed a good, because obedient, Nacionalista. But he could make trouble for his party – and perhaps, come out ahead.
Whatever happened, Garcia would have what the world of the duel would call “satisfaction.”
Jackals and Hyenas
Mayor Lacson of Manila, recovering from an operation for sinusitis, observed, on the death of Magsaysay:
“The jackals and hyenas will now fight and snap at each other for the privilege of devouring the country’s entrails.”
We do not know whether the Mayor was referring to all those who would be president of the Philippines, but we do know politics is a jungle. Anybody is fair game. There may be honor among thieves, but anything goes with politicians. Present company, of course, always excepted. There are men of honor in politics, we have no doubt. The fact remains that the rule in politics is: Each man for himself, and the Devil may take the hindmost. He who does not think of himself first will find himself subordinate to another. One man’s loss is another man’s gain, one man’s demotion another man’s promotion. There is no morality, only expediency, no friends, only followers.
It is better to be loved than to be feared, if all men were good, as Machiavelli once said. In the jungle of politics, it is better to be feared than loved – as one walks among the tigers and lions, if not jackals and hyenas, of that world.
Today, Garcia walks alone. It is better, if he would stay where he is, if he would not get hurt, to be feared by those who would take his place; meanwhile, it would do no harm if, while being feared by the ambitious, he manages to win the love of the people.
He has only a little time to do it.