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Note: this essay was commissioned for The Philippine Century: 1900-2000, published by the Philippines Free Press
Memories of a martial law minor
By Charlson Ong
I was twelve when Martial Law was declared. Too young for activism but old enough to have followed Ronnie Nathanieslz’ live updates on demonstrations in Plaza Miranda over radio; to have read Pete Lacaba’s scintillating reportage on the ‘Battle of Mendiola;’ to have been fascinated by my elder brother’s accounts of teach-ins at the Ateneo and the U.P.; to be intrigued by the presence of firearms and Maoist literature at our neighbor’s bodega; and be captivated by Ninoy’s eloquent put downs of Marcos on TV.
If I were older and in college, I too might have been caught up in the romance and rage of the times, gone to the hills when the time came to choose or settled down eventually to a comfortable mid-life with memories of the ‘First Quarter Storm’ and the ‘Diliman Commune.’ As it is I must contend myself with listening to the reminiscences of the ‘veterans’ of those days, feeling oddly that I had missed out on the most exciting period in this country’s post war history by a few years and increasingly convinced that our generation had been denied its place in history, had in fact become the subject of a most comprehensive, if not cynical, social experiment.
Still, I remember Damian Sotto, large and swarthy, cursing to high heavens, spewing venom, fouling up the airwaves with his diatribes against all and sundry. His every other adjective would likely be bleeped off today’s language sensitive primetime TV. We were never clear on his politics or advocacies, it was simply fascinating to listen to an adult using such language on TV that would have earned for us kids a dressing down from parents and teachers.
There was Soc Rodrigo and his Kuro Kuro, sober and thoughtful, his Tagalog sublime. There was Ninoy, clean cut and chubby, showing us scenes from a fast growing Taiwan, saying how this country could similarly take-off once his Liberal Party assumed power. There was Eddie Ilarde on Student Canteen, Orly Mercado on Radyo Patrol, Akong on Kwentong Kutsero. There was my father staying up to the wee hours hoping to catch the x-rated flicks that communists propagandists were supposedly broadcasting clandestinely as part of their destabilization campaign. There was Yvonne centerfolded in Pic magazine, another publication whose early demise we truly mourned. There was the Quintero expose and the Jabbidah Massacre. There was Rossana Ortiz, Jessica, Saging ni Pasing all at the mini-theatre along Recto. There was Bayside, Wells Fargo, the Flame, and other joints along Roxas Blvd. where my elder siblings and uncles went to for booze, roulette and slot machines. Rock was heavy and grass was cheap. It was crass, vulgar, decadent and exciting.
And then it ended. Not at once but sudden enough to catch the best of them off guard. I remember the tension that pervaded our household. The older people cautioned against discussing politics over the phone. School was suspended indefinitely and the streets, empty. Downtown Manila became a ghost town. The world had ended while we slept through the night of Sept. 22-23, 1972.
by Edward R. Kiunisala
September 4, 1971–SATURDAY, August 21, at about 9:15 p.m., barely seconds after the Liberal Party candidates for Manila’s elective posts had been officially proclaimed on jam-packed Plaza Miranda, two fragmentation, combat grenades suddenly exploded in what proved to be the most villainous, outrageous and shameful crime in the annals of local political violence. It was a night of national tragedy and infamy as democracy—Philippine style—bared itself in all its terrifying ugliness.
For one dark, demented, damning moment of history, time stopped as tens of thousands of televiewers all over the country watched in utter horror the mass slaughter at Plaza Miranda. Miraculously, all top Opposition leaders who were there managed to cheat death. But not one of the eight LP senatorial candidates escaped injury. Sen. Jovito Salonga, as of this writing, is still fighting for his life, although the others were already pronounced “out of danger.”
Also on the critical list is Sen. Sergio Osmeña, who declined to seek reelection to pursue his electoral protest against Pres. Ferdinand E. Marcos.
Sen. Gerardo Roxas, LP president, and his wife, Judy, were badly injured.
So were Constitutional Delegate Salvador Mariño, chairman of the Manila LP chapter, and Ramon Bagatsing, LP mayoralty candidate for Manila.
LP senatorial candidates Edgar Ilarde and John Osmeña were badly wounded. Their damaged legs nearly had to be amputated. Ilarde may not be able to walk for from six months to one year while Johnny may be bedridden for about four months. Ilarde’s right leg was severely fractured while John’s leg’s artery was severed and his leg bones splintered.
Rep. Ramon Mitra, another LP senatorial aspirant, suffered multiple leg and body injuries. A splinter went through his left breast muscles, ripping off flesh. But he is now out of danger along with the rest of the LP Senate bets—Eva Estrada Kalaw, Melanio Singson, Salipada Pendatun and Genaro Magsaysay, who all suffered various degrees of injuries.
But others on Plaza Miranda that night were not so lucky. Slaughtered were nine persons, including Manila Times photographer Ben Roxas. Some were mangled beyond recognition while others were dead on arrival at the hospital. The latest count showed that 96 others were injured that night.
Ramon Vecina, Free Press photographer, was also seriously wounded in that bloody night of the LP proclamation meeting.
“I am holding President Marcos personally responsibly for the brutal and senseless carnage that took place on Plaza Miranda,” muttered the LP boss, Sen. Roxas in his hospital bed.
“The Plaza Miranda incident has illustrated beyond doubt that there is not a safe place in the country where people may express their views without having to face the perils of assassination.
“I have only one message to leaders, followers and the electorate: Nothing will deter the LP nor dampen its determination to win the mandate of the people this election. We shall continue to fight for the right of our citizenry. I am grateful to the Almighty for those of us who were fortunate to have been spared.”
The gory incident happened so quickly no one among the victims knew what hit him. It took Manila police officers some two hours to know what went off on Plaza Miranda that night. The instant suspicion was that a bomb had been planted under the stage or had been lobbed in its direction from somewhere. Only after the grenade levers and pins were found did the authorities know the cause of the outrage.
Tragedy was farthest from the minds of the LP leaders when they ascended the Plaza Miranda stage that Black Saturday night on August 21. Of course, they were somewhat apprehensive of their safety, but such misgivings were not uncommon in public exposures in an election campaign. Sen. Benigno Aquino, Jr., LP secretary-general, Congressman Mitra and aides of Senator Osmeña had received threats over the telephone early that day, but all of them dismissed the threatening phone calls as the work of a crank.
Just the same, the LPs did not take any chances. Bagatsing sent his aides to secure the Plaza Miranda stage. Cesar Climaco, Manila’s new “garbage czar,” ordered the cleaning of Plaza Miranda that afternoon. Meanwhile, LP security officers kept an eagle eye on the stage to prevent sabotage. By about seven o’clock that night, a large crowd had already gathered on Plaza Miranda.
Former Sen. Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo was originally requested to emcee the LP proclamation meeting, but he declined, so, Mariño took over. The local candidates were given three minutes each to deliver their speeches. An oppositionist crowd applauded each speaker thunderously. At about 9:10 p.m., all the local candidates had already spoken and the National Anthem was played.
The next part of the program was the proclamation of the LP’s local candidates in Manila. Roxas stood up and approached the battery of microphones. The photographers spread out to get a good view. FP photographer Vecina moved back from the stage, about five heads away to get a vantage shot. It was a great moment for the LP local candidates as Roxas, “by virtue of the powers” vested in him as head of the Liberal Party, proclaimed the official LP candidates for Manila’s elective positions.
As the local candidates, their hands raised high, beamed and smiled and acknowledged the lusty cheers of the audience, fireworks bathed the Plaza Miranda crowd with incandescence. There was a festive atmosphere as the pyro-technics burned and crackled. The local candidates happily returned to their seat and emcee Mariño started to speak again. But before he could finish the sentence, a fist-sized solid object hit the edge of the stage. Meanwhile all eyes were glued to the fireworks display. Somewhere, someone shouted, “Ibagsak ang mga tuta ni Marcos!” Almost simultaneously, the solid object which had hit the stage went off, ripping the wooden planks and blasting the people near it. FP photographer Vecina winced and fell and was buried by falling bodies.
At that moment, Mitra, who was talking to Roxas, felt shrapnel pierce his breast muscles. Recalling the threatening phone call, he ran. John Osmeña, seated to the right of Singson, embraced Singson and they both fell behind Salonga, who remained seated. The other LP senatorial aspirants dove for the floor. Roxas tried to run; his aide jumped on him to cover him.
Before Mitra could reach the stairs of the stage, another blast came, hitting Mitra from behind, throwing him off the stage to the ground near a six-by-six vehicle. All hell broke loose. Those on the stage scampered in all directions as did those on the ground. It was survival of the fittest! The weaker ones fell and were trampled underfoot.
In a matter of seconds, Plaza Miranda was empty; except for police officers and plainclothesmen—and the wounded and the dead. John Osmeña tried to sit up but later fell on the floor unconscious. Aides and bodyguards of top LPs along with police officers rushed to the stage and carried the wounded to places of safety. Rattan chairs were stacked up in heaps to make way for vehicles which would bring the victims to the hospitals.
Senator Osmeña and Singson were rushed to the FEU hospital.
Mitra and Salonga were brought to Medical Center Manila and Roxas and his wife to Makati Medical Center.
John Osmeña and Magsaysay were rushed to the Manila Doctor’s Hospital while Ilarde was brought to the Singian Clinic.
Senator Kalaw was taken to the De Ocampo Hospital and later that night transferred to the Chinese General Hospital.
Pendatun limped his way to an ABS-CBN truck which brought him to ABM Sison Hospital.
Other wounded victims were brought to PGH and De Ocampo Hospital.
About 10 minutes after the Plaza Miranda bloodbath, Climaco arrived and brought a semblance of order. Along with the police, he helped carry wounded onlookers and the dead to waiting vehicles to take them to hospitals. Our Vecina was unearthed from a pile of blood and dying persons. Recovering consciousness, Vecina, bleeding and weakened from loss of blood, clambered back to the stage and took some more shots. Exhausted, he asked to be brought to Medical Center Manila. While there, he took pictures of some of the Plaza Miranda victims. Then he again lost consciousness and was taken to the operating room.
Back at Plaza Miranda, MPD Chief Gerardo Tamayo arrived. With Climaco, Tamayo investigated the incident, at the same time ordering his men to look for clues. He also sought the help of bomb disposal experts from the army. About an hour after the blasts, Metrocom troops came and helped in restoring order and looking for clues. An hour and forty-five minutes later, President Marcos signed the order suspending the writ of habeas corpus and blaming the Communists for the bombings.
Police investigators found two grenade pins at a distance of two and a half meters from each other, with both pins about 17 meters from the stage. Two grenade levers were also found on the plaza. Outside of the levers and pins, no other clues were found. Sometime later, however, police officers found a witness who testified that he saw a man pull out a solid object from a bag and hurl it in the direction of the stage.
Since the time-lag between the blasts was only three seconds, the police theorized that two men, not just one, threw the grenades. It is impossible for one man in a sardine-packed crowd to throw two grenades in three seconds, said Tamayo. But the police were in no position to identify the criminals. First they thought a mad man did it, later they junked the idea.
If two men committed the heinous crime, the police theorized, then it was a planned criminal act. The timing of the grenade-throwing with the display of the fireworks indicated planning. The type of the grenades used, used for combat in Vietnam, and the way the grenades were thrown showed that the criminals were professionals, doing a professional job.
Meanwhile, media men, after a round of hospitals, sped to Malacañang where they were met by the First Lady, who reportedly showed them a report of a certain disgruntled major who said that something bad was going to happen that night. At that time, the President was closeted in his study room, preparing a statement on the Plaza Miranda tragedy. Little did anyone know that Marcos was readying the ground preparatory to the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.
When pandemonium broke loose at Plaza Miranda, American Ambassador Henry Byroade was in his bedroom about to retire. His staff rang him up to inform him of the incident. Meanwhile Sen. Benigno Aquino, who had attended a party at the Jai Alai, was on the way home to get his bullet-proof vest. He was scheduled to speak at the meeting at about two o’clock the following morning. On the way home, Aquino heard the tragic news on the radio. He sped home, grabbed a pistol, put on his bullet-proof vest and a combat jacket on top of it, then told his driver to take him to the hospitals where his wounded colleagues were confined. Aquino went up the Medical Center Manila, pistol in hand. Interviewed on the air, Aquino said that he hoped the criminal or criminals behind the Plaza Miranda carnage were mad men or demented persons because otherwise the Plaza Miranda crime meant the death of democracy.
For others throughout the country, it was a sleepless night. Lights were on in many homes in Greater Manila. People stayed glued to their radio or TV sets, listening to the latest developments. Salonga and Osmeña were on the critical list, Pendatun and Eva Estrada were already pronounced out of danger. Radio reports captured the screams and agonized cries of victims in emergency wards.
Of the LP senatorial candidates, Salonga got it worst of all. He had no time to run after the first blast. The second one caught him sitting down, with the grenade going off only a few meters away. Salonga’s left cheek was shattered and a shrapnel imbedded itself in his left eye. His right arm was broken, with three of his fingers cut off. Shrapnel went through his left leg. All told, Salonga suffered some 30 wounds of various sizes and depths all over his body.
Senator Osmeña, too, was critically wounded. After the first blast, Osmeña turned around to duck, but the second blast came too soon and he suffered wounds in the back and the left arm. Shrapnel went right through Serging’s lungs. He was bleeding profusely when his aides picked him up. Upon arrival at the hospital, Osmeña’s heart stopped. The doctors had to massage his heart to revive him.
Singson, who sat beside Salonga, was lucky. When John Osmeña embraced him, he fell; John got most of the shrapnel from the grenade blast.
After the first blast, Ilarde tried to sprint for safety but the succeeding blast caught him in the leg and he fell unconscious. Mrs. Kalaw dove for the floor but shrapnel hit her right ankle and another got imbedded in her back.
Of the Manila local candidates, Councilor Ambrosio Lorenzo got it worst. The first blast came while he was on the way to his seat. The second blast hit him while he was trying to find out what hit him and he fell on the stage floor. Shrapnel saturated his body; one hit his left eye. As of this writing, Lorenzo, like Salonga, is still fighting for his life. A police major picked him up sprawled on the floor, stunned and bleeding.
Manila LP mayoralty candidate Bagatsing was hit on the left cheekbone and in the right heel. He also suffered several shrapnel wounds in his left side and back. He was under sedation for three days. His doctors have taken him off the danger list.
Other Manila local candidates were luckier—they had gone back to their seats about three rows behind when the first blast came.
National shock followed the Plaza Miranda bombings.
The question uppermost in the minds of the people was, of course: Who committed the crime?
Some blamed student activists; others, lunatics. President Marcos was quick to put up the blame on “subversives” who received “moral and material support from a foreign source, guided and directed by a well-trained, determined and ruthless group.”
Later, Marcos charged Senator Aquino with coddling and financing the “subversives.” The Marcos blast against Aquino created suspicion that Aquino might be behind the Plaza Miranda tragedy but people refused to believe in the innuendoes against Aquino. If Aquino had known what was going to happen on Plaza Miranda that night, he would surely have tipped off Senator Kalaw, who is his first-degree cousin.
In an interview, Senator Kalaw denounced the President for shifting the blame for the Plaza Miranda outrage to Aquino. The President’s move, she said, worked to deflect attention from the real perpetrators of the crime. A social work expert, Kalaw could not understand why Marcos was more concerned over shifting the blame to Aquino than looking for the real criminals. The President’s actuations, said Kalaw, were simply not fitting for the President, who should act as the father of the nation and not like Marcos.
Former Congressman Singson argued against the possibility that the Huks or the New People’s Army was behind the Plaza Miranda massacre. The revolutionaries, he said, anchor their hope of reforms on the Opposition. If they wiped out the Opposition, they would be doing a disservice to their cause. It just doesn’t stand to reason!
But whoever are the perpetrators of the horrible crime at Plaza Miranda, they have done a professional job. Which means that an intelligent mind was behind it. Climaco theorizes that two trained teams undertook the Plaza Miranda bombings. The two grenade throwers, he said, were encircled by their accomplices to give them elbow room to hurl the grenades. In other words, he said, the Plaza Miranda crime was the result of a team effort.
As of this writing, the Manila police are still in the dark as to identities of the Plaza Miranda criminals. But whoever and wherever they are now, the death of nine innocent persons and the injury to 96 others will haunt their conscience for as long as they live—if they have any conscience at all. They not only killed nine of their countrymen and wounded close to a hundred others, but also inflicted an irreparable injury on Philippine democracy.
It will take a long time before Plaza Miranda, the symbol of free expression, will be as it used to be. No one will ascend the Plaza Miranda stage again without fearing for his life. How much of the militancy, the courage, the national pride and the spirit of the Filipino people have gone that Black Saturday at Plaza Miranda?
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.
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 CHURCH UNDER ATTACK
May 5, 1956
There is a new outburst of anti-clericalism as Catholic politicians denounce the Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to the bill requiring Filipino students to read the two controversial novels of Rizal
By Teodoro M. Locsin
NOT for a long time has the Catholic Church, or, at any rate, the Catholic hierarchy in the Philippines, been subjected to such attacks as it has for the last two weeks. Archbishops, accustomed to having high government officials kiss the ring of their office, were mocked and ridiculed, were called enemies of freedom, to great applause. Catholic political leaders led the attack….
Did the hierarchy expect the attacks when it issued the pastoral letter objecting to the Senate bill which would make the two novels of Rizal required reading in all public schools—novels the hierarchy considered impious and heretical? If it did, and went ahead just the same and registered its objection, it could only be because of an overriding concern for the safety of the Faith; to read Rizal is to endanger it. A temporary embarrassment is nothing in the light of eternity; the Church is 2,000 years old; it will still be standing when the supporters of the bill are no longer around. The Senate, as it is presently composed, will not prevail against it. Thus, perhaps, wen the thought of the churchmen. It was a calculated risk.
It was all very surprising. A month ago, one could not have imagined a Filipino politician speaking in any but the most respectful terms of the prelates of the Church; he would have considered it political suicide to express himself critically of them. Now all caution seems to have been thrown to the wind. Anything goes. There is a new freedom, or, to put it another way, license.
The Church has grown in power and influence since the days immediately following the Revolution. Then every other Filipino leader seemed to be the critic if not the enemy of the Church. Many had lost their faith; even among those who retained it, there were not a few who were, in some degree, anti-clerical. The women were pious but the men were something else. During Mass, when the priest turned around to deliver a sermon, the men would walk out of the church; when the priest was done, they would come back. “Do what I say, but don’t do what I do,” the men would say, referring to the man of God.
In time, many Filipino leaders returned to the Church, abjuring Masonry as in the case of the late President Quezon; they became quite devout. It no longer seemed queer to be a priest or to listen to one. The Church grew in prestige. When a Protestant, Camilo Osias, made known his intention to run for president, he was told he couldn’t win; he was not a Catholic. He could be a senator; he was. He could never be president. He must face the facts of political life. When he wouldn’t, and bolted to the other side, he couldn’t even get elected as senator.
If Ramon Magsaysay is president of the Philippines today, it is due not a little to the help of the Church. The hierarchy, reluctantly coming to the conclusion that the perpetuation of the Quirino administration through electoral fraud and terrorism would eventually drive the people into Communism, urged the faithful to keep the elections free. Free elections would mean the defeat of the Quirino administration. The Church couldn’t help that. The elections were free, and there was a new administration.