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Year Ender and Men and Women of the Year

That was 1967 By Quijano de Manila (1967)

Men of the Year: Joseph Estrada and Chavit Singson (2000) By Manuel L. Quezon III

Corazon Aquino: Person of the Century By Manuel L. Quezon III (1998)

The Survivor: Man of the Year (1987)

Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. Man of the Year By Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. (1971)

Gaudencio Antonino, Man of the Year (1966)

Ferdinand E. Marcos, Man of the Year (1965) By Napoleon G. Rama

Diosdado Macapagal: Man of the Year By Napoleon G. Rama (1962)

Trinidad Legarda: Civil Leader of the Year: (1953) By Quijano de Manila

Ramon Magsaysay: Man of the Year By Leon .O. Ty (1951)

Osmeña: Man of the year By James G. Wingo (1940)

Joaquin Elizalde: Man of the Year (1940) By James G. Wingo

Manuel L. Quezon: Man of the Year (1933) By James G. Wingo

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Perception is king, May 17, 2004

Philippines Free Press
May 17, 2004

Perception is King
by Manuel L. Quezon III

IN the Philippines, perception is king, and plausibility is queen. If things are perceived to be, then they are, regardless of reality. At the same time, if something is plausible, it is viewed as probable –again, regardless of reality.

The reality is that the counting isn’t over, and only the counting will reveal what is true. But until the counting is done, the battle over perception and the campaign to enlist plausibility in aid of the campaign continues.

This early on, however, certain trends can be deduced from the recently-concluded national elections.

The first is the return of the importance of machinery, and an accompanying crisis of confidence in media driven campaigns. The failed campaigns of Ramon Mitra, Jr. in 1992, and of Jose de Venecia in 1998, convinced many observers that the era of the party machine had passed. Succesful campaigns, it was thought, would succeed or fail based on a combination of media savvy and shrewd back room operations (including dirty psychological warfare tricks). The campaigns of Fidel V. Ramos and Joseph Estrada were supposed to bear this out.

On the other hand, the dizzying success of Joseph Estrada’s 1998 campaign brought to the fore the importance of show business and personal charisma. The concept of effective communication being essential to a campaign is as old as politics itself: but the fact that Estrada was an actor seemed to indicate something new. The result was that the 2004 campaign suffered from the perception that popularity, in particular show-biz popularity, would rule the roost. This was a particularly dangerous delusion to suffer from on the part of the opposition, but it also put the administration in a demoralized position at the start of the campaign.

What everyone forgot was that the Estrada campaign had succeeded because it combined the old and the new; it had its own machine and its candidate (Estrada) spent as much time cultivating his media image as he did on doing the rounds with provincial kingpins to enlist their support. In that fight, his opponent had machinery but no charisma, and so, all things being equal, electoral success was actually determined by the tried and true electoral formula, “politics is addition.” The candidate with charisma and popularity could do well if he had a serviceable machine; the candidate with machinery alone, however, wouldn’t be able to sustain his momentum in the face of charisma.

The administration carefully cultivated the impression it had all the machinery, when in fact, had the opposition paid more attention to its own machinery, it could have seriously wrecked the administration efforts. The President was viewed not only as a party outsider, but an unpopular one, at that. But when the hustlings began, she did what her opponent failed to do: assiduously court the support of local kingpins. They could not wait in the wings forever. By imposing her personality on her campaign leaders, the president showed more inclinations to act as a leader who understood the rules of the game, thereby becoming palatable to local leaders. She did not shrink from the traditional role national leaders play in elections, which is to act as broker and referee in closely-contested local races. She therefore created a political infrastructure while being careful to give the impression it was there all along, even while she was cobbling it together.

The opposition’s main contender, on the other hand, either refused, or was unable, to play the game, and alienated local support. He stood to inherit the Marcos political machine as reinvigorated by Estrada. Instead, he squandered his opportunities by ignoring local leaders and refusing to mediate their various quarrels. Leadership for him was a zero sum game in a system in which the leader who can dole out the most gravy to everyone comes out ahead.

Fernando Poe, Jr. and his handlers bet on showbiz glitz and bet big. Not even Estrada had done so. When the President, having consolidated her machinery, then took the fight into the very field Poe’s people assumed was theirs for the taking, real trouble began. Taking the fight to Poe’s home ground points to the next trend observable in this election.

The second trend is a generational shift in national, and even local, politics, with interesting implications for the future. The strength of Poe was anchored on his ruling the showbiz roost. But as the campaign dragged on, his kingship was seen to be a titular one. The showbiz elite, in general, it is true, answered his call. Out of loyalty or fear, the majority of the powers that be gravitated to his campaign. But his command was eventually exposed as limited, not all-pervasive. In the first place, while only a small minority of showbiz personalities openly defied him, showbiz insiders did whisper that a significant number of actors and directors and producers kept a discreet silence. More significantly, the minority that did dare to go against him tended to come from the ranks of younger celebrities. Celebrities who, it must be remembered, had already demonstrated their capacity to eclipse Poe at the box office. Such was the case with Ai Ai de las Alas, whose “Tanging Yaman” had killed Poe’s “Pakners” at the box office, and whose own following was mobilized through her endorsement of President Arroyo. Raul Roco and Bro. Eddie Villanueva, too, had their own cast of showbiz supporters, generally young, generally more in tune with the audiences whose votes were being courted.

That audience –the electorate- it must be remembered, is predominantly young, and speaks a different language from its elders, whose rhetoric it despises. Poe’s fans are increasingly aging; his political lieutenants political dinosaurs; his machinery, aging as well. His opponents were more vigorous, and perhaps, more ruthless –certainly, more creative. The class-based rhetoric of Poe belonged to an earlier age, and was somewhat ineffective in light of a less rural, more mobile, and more sophisticated citizenry which had already rejected the two past masters of fostering class divisions, Marcos and Estrada. The numbers to whom this kind of rhetoric appeals, it is true, is significant, but still, a minority. And that minority, which could have spelled overwhelming victory if it had been nurtured, was disgruntled by their candidates inability to put up a strong fight. Those really wanting an iron-fisted leadership clung to Lacson, while those who disliked the incumbent, but also disliked her predecessor, either supported Villanueva or Roco. The President, fairly young herself, and surrounded by more young people than Poe, was better able to entice the young.

The third, and final, trend, is a longer, more strategic view of campaigns on the part of certain candidates. New forces have been unleashed, for whom the 2004 campaign was merely a prelude for 2007 and 2010. These include first time voters, and those slightly older, but for whom their first political experience was the Estrada impeachment. They include a new class of younger entrepreneurs and the remnants of the middle class, who want strong, even authoritarian leadership. And it includes those who have rejected traditional religious institutions, becoming, instead, born again Christians. The Roco, Lacson, and Villanueva campaigns were the most creative and demonstrated the inroads alternative machineries can make in traditional politics. Their techniques will have an impact on the techniques of their more traditional colleagues. Their electoral failure must be balanced by the surprising cohesion of their supporters, and their remarkable showing in the polls. They have tasted blood, so to speak, and their thirst for more will be hard to quench. They will, to a significant degree, affect the lay of the political land for some years to come.

Whatever the surveys say, the campaign was a closely contested one, and the eventual outcome still holds some surprises. The battle for perception continues, because try as they might, the two leading contenders weren’t able to conjure up the perception of an overwhelming, or at least, inevitable, victory. At present the administration is trying to preserve its gains, but the closely contested national contest is being replicated in enough local contests to offer the opposition the opportunity to raid the squabbling local groupings of the administration, some of whom may be desperate for help, any help, to bring them victory. Therefore, the administration is busy guarding its machinery to ensure it doesn’t break down, while the opposition, back against the wall, is ruthlessly attempting to deny the administration a plausible victory.

The surveys prior to the election, and immediately after, offered the administration the chance to declare its victory plausible. But the manner in which the Commission on Elections bungled the voting, in particular the disenfranchisement of voters estimated by the Social Weather Stations to have reached 900,000 individuals, offers the opposition the chance to declare that enough people couldn’t vote to put the results of a close race in doubt. The collapse of the Namfrel quick count, too, places its efforts as an antidote to cheating –or the perception of cheating- in doubt. Monkeying around with the results on both sides becomes that much more plausible. The result is the denial of the administration of the perception of the inevitability of its victory, and affords the opposition a second wind –one coming at the heels of its blitzkrieg effort in the closing 10 days of the campaign, when its candidate finally came out swinging in a blizzard of ads. The effects of those ads, it seems, can be directly correlated with the closeness of the race. Smart money remains on a victory by the President. But in the continuing battle for perception and plausibility, the opposition is showing a startling resilience.

Too early the birds of prey, January 13, 2002

Free Press cover story

January 13, 2002 issue

Too early the birds of prey

by Manuel L. Quezon III

 

MAKING an ass of one’s self should be a basic human right, if only politicians could be denied this right because of the problems it causes other politicians and most of all, the public. To put matters in historical perspective, of the past presidents of this country, two were reelected to office (Manuel L. Quezon and Ferdinand E. Marcos), and only two former presidents ran for the position of president after having served as head of state: Emilio Aguinaldo, who went down in grumpy defeat in 1935, and Jose P. Laurel in 1949, though Laurel was the nobler in at least telling his supporters, who were as angry as Aguinaldo’s had been, not to mount a revolution.

Yet in the case of Aguinaldo and Laurel, there were extenuating circumstances in the cases of their candidacies. Aguinaldo was a political enemy of Quezon from 1922 to 1941, and was pushed by his supporters to run as a symbol of the aspirations of the Revolution; Laurel ran as much to vindicate his name as to achieve a mandate, never having been directly elected by the people to a position he served as a well-meaning head of a puppet government -indeed, it is interesting to note that both Aguinaldo, who ran in the first national presidential elections in 1935, and Laurel, who ran in the elections of 1949, were haunted by a desire to achieve what they never had when they were president: a genuine national mandate at the polls.

But one must consider, on the other hand, the cases of the only two presidents reelected: Quezon in 1935 and 1941, and Marcos in 1965 and 1969. Both tarnished their reputations by clinging to power beyond the terms allowed them by the Constitution under which they were elected. To this must be added the inevitability in the minds of many that had Quezon lived, he would have stepped down for a brief 2 years in order to run again in 1946 to be the first president of the independent Republic, and that Ramon Magsaysay would have run —and won— again, after his first term (and there are even those who suspect that Magsaysay, who imitated Quezon in so many ways, would have found a way to stay in office as long as possible as well). But fate decreed Quezon’s death in large part because of the strain of his final battle with Sergio Osmeña to cling to power, and fate had it in the cards that Ramon Magsaysay, like Manuel Roxas, would die before his first term ended, leaving Ferdinand Marcos to make every liberty-loving and democratic Filipinos’ nightmare come true: scrapping the Constitution, ignoring the laws, setting up a dictatorship that only fell when a country regained its dignity and courage and threw the man out of Malacañang.

Now to these negative examples add the examples of past presidents who could have run for office after the Constitutional limitations passed, and yet did not: the list is long. Sergio Osmena; Elpidio Quirino; Carlos P. Garcia; Diosdado Macapagal; Corazon Aquino. Except for Aquino, all the rest suffered defeat in their quest for reelection to a second term, yet had an opportunity (at least in the cases of Osmena, Garcia and Macapagal) to run for president again if they wished. But they never wished to. None of them ever fully retired from politics; they preferred to be consulted as elder statesmen; two of them, Garcia and Macapagal, chose to run for, be elected delegates to, and then presidents of, the 1971-73 Constitutional Convention. But the presidency, having been denied them in the past, was something they never sought again as a political prize.

The fact is that it should be enough for a former president to have had the honor and privilege of serving the country once, or in the old days twice, and end it at that. The exemplar of how a former president should conduct himself after leaving office is of course, Sergio Osmena, who represented many of the political virtues of the country, anyway; to a lesser extent, there are the examples of Aguinaldo and Laurel, the former reconciling himself to playing elder statesman, the latter choosing to serve in the senate as long as he could and even serve other presidents. There are the examples, too, of Garcia and Macapagal: the former went into quiet retirement until the ConCon and then died 24 hours after being sworn in as president of the convention; Macapagal, after a checkered experience with presiding and eventually losing control over the ConCon at least followed Aguinaldo’s path and quietly learned to enjoy the role of elder statesman; poor Elpidio Quirino lived too briefly after leaving office to accomplish much more than begin his memoirs and reach a touching reconciliation with his erstwhile protégé, Magsaysay.

Enter Fidel V. Ramos, former and, to the minds of too many, including quite possibly the mind of Mr. Ramos himself, future President of the Republic of the Philippines. Enter Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, present president and, almost indubitably, candidate for the position in 2004. What of them?

Of Fidel Ramos, one should note immediately what has been whispered about town almost from the moment he left office -the man has never grown accustomed to not wielding the reins of power. He wanted to amend the Constitution to allow himself either two more years in the manner of Quezon, or transform the country to a parliamentary system which was the original Marcos plan to perpetuate himself in power. This grand design failed in the face of the intransigence of Corazon Aquino (former president who seems not to miss being president at all), Cardinal Sin, a multitude of Filipinos, and one Joseph Ejercito Estrada who would be damned if his sure election to the presidency would be postponed even for a minute by a man he loathed.

Result? A lost kibbitzer, which Mr. Ramos is of the first order, as proven by his most unpresidential behavior during Joseph Estrada’s inauguration at Barasoain. The man tried to steal the limelight every moment he could, and then loftily proclaimed that under Estrada, he would be pleased to play the role of Elder Statesman in an official capacity, much to the amusement of everyone who head Ramos say these things. However, neither public derision, or skepticism, or outright hostility has ever deterred Mr. Ramos from doing what he pleases, and it has pleased him to use the time in between his never-ending globetrotting to keep himself in the limelight, including first, playing a lecturing uncle to Estrada, and then supposed pillar of the opposition when Estrada grew impatient with his “advice,” and now, gadfly and thorn in the side of Mrs. Arroyo. Perhaps Mr. Ramos feels that if Cory Aquino can bring down one government after stopping the attempts at charter change of two other presidents dead in their tracks, he has similar powers.

Perhaps. Although if this is the case, then it only proves that the man has an axe to grind against the woman who broke tradition to attend his inauguration (for perfectly legitimate symbolic reasons, the inauguration of Ramos was the first democratic handover of power since 1965) and put country ahead of her having given him her previous blessings in firmly saying “no” to his obvious desire to prolong his stay in office. One is forced to wonder if Fidel Ramos is not only ungrateful when it comes to Cory Aquino, but whether he actively dislikes her now -which would make him a petty, mean, and small-minded man.

Or could it be Fidel Ramos simply is getting old and too dense to realize the reason Cory Aquino can be an influential ex-president and Fidel Ramos may be influential, but not popular, and lacks what he seems to crave: a nation, on bended knee, begging him to return to Malacanang? Were this the case, then at least one can conclude Fidel Ramos is not petty, mean and small-minded but suffering from well-intentioned delusions: of being an irreplaceable man, of believing as gospel truth the insincere flattery of the sycophants that surround any politician, and the quite human refusal to recognize his own mortality and accept being put out to political pasture, since he is by no means, ancient. The reason Cory Aquino has the influence and respect she has, and Ramos does not, is that she is the only president in our history to say one term is enough, I’ve had it, and left Malacanang without looking back and probably murmuring “good riddance” the whole time. In short, she has what Fidel Ramos has never, ever, had in his life or career: moral ascendancy.

Fidel Ramos is too fidgety, too eager the attention-seeker, too enthusiastic the opiner, too happy the meddler, to be respected or have moral ascendancy of any sort. This is not to say he does not have influence, for he does; this is not to say he does not have political supporters, for he does; but it is to say that as far as the public is concerned, Fidel Ramos is history and had better accept the fact that he belongs to the past and not the future. One need only listen to the verbal abuse he was subjected to by the great unwashed at Edsa III to recognize this; and aside from the usual businessmen who value the illusion of Fidel Ramos being “Steady Eddie,” and who crave a man who will be content to go on junkets and turn a blind eye to anything so long as he gets the perks (a bad executive habit he shared with Joseph Estrada except in comparison to Estrada’s being uncouth about corruption, even Ramos’s most vicious detractors give him credit for being suave when it came to the corruption they are convinced he was a party to  during his term).

To be a president or past president is, of course, not to be divine; which means Fidel Ramos is as likely to fall prey to illusions as much as the next man. He probably thinks the can still do good for the country, that the country needs him, and if the country were only given a chance it would fall to the ground in gratitude and kiss his feet were he to have the chance to be president again. This explains the never-ending and, really, tiring controversy of the day, which is the alleged rift between President Arroyo and former president Ramos over an election two years away. Fidel Ramos already suffers from the perception too widely held that he at one point pulled all the strings in the new Arroyo administration, or tried to, which made him as much the object of the poor’s equally deluded wrath in May 2001, as President Arroyo herself. And as for President Arroyo, she suffers from two insecurities: the fact that she was elevated to the presidency by succession and not election, and under the most confused of circumstances at that; and that she is the first child of a president who seems to have a chance to break the long curse, it seems, that has afflicted the children of past presidents -none of them ever make it to Malacanang although the senate and Vice-Presidency have been proven to not be beyond their reach.

For a politician and a businessman and even a soldier, and even for certain members of our uncivilized civil society, Fidel Ramos has the virtue of exuding an aura of dynamism, of calm, of precise, methodical working habits and discipline. How close perceptions are to the truth only those truly close to him can answer; but the fact is that there are those with influence and money who believe there exists a Steady Eddie and wouldn’t mind Ramos back. For the same politicians and businessmen, the problem with President Arroyo is that even if she is equally hard working, she happens to be frugal, as hot-tempered as Ramos but far from being his peer in hiding the fact, and she is a woman who suffers from the idea she has nothing to lose by actually giving the country as honest an administration as is possible given our society’s limitations. That, and the fact there is that onus on presidential children and that they might get stuck with her for nine uninterrupted years. The ramifications of a fairly clean, competent, and hard-working government are simply too frightening for these people to contemplate.

And thus the need to at least obtain leverage on Mrs. Arroyo by way of using Fidel Ramos as a threat. After all, Mr. Ramos is willing and able to be used as such a tool, indeed he may have thought up the idea of using the bogey of a Ramos for President campaign in 2004 as a potential spoiler to exact concessions from the administration, which has enough of a problem on its hands with fulfilling its promises, neutralizing its enemies, and keeping the country together during tough times.

Fidel Ramos would never win another presidential election even if Mrs. Arroyo dropped dead and a way was found to make monkeys run against Ramos the way Marcos engineered his farcical martial law presidential elections. What can happen is Fidel Ramos could ensure that if he can’t win, neither can Mrs. Arroyo, but it wouldn’t be in the interest of either to give away the election in 2004 to the opposition, which is indeed vicious, ruthless, has many axes to grind, and much dirt to dish out against the two.

Hence the view of this writer than Mr. Ramos is either extremely delusional or out to keep himself in the political loop and be a powerbroker of sorts, if not an actual shadow president (the best of both worlds). The fact that Joe de Venecia, who has the biggest chance of being Prime Minister for life were we to go parliamentary, is as usual going out of his way to get into trouble trying to patch things up between former president Ramos and President Macapagal, is no surprise or mystery. De Venecia is simply too nice, too compleat the politician, to give the opposition ammunition when things could all be quietly smoothed out to his party’s advantage.

The spoiler of course is Mrs. Arroyo’s determination not to be anyone’s patsy; she may have, as all presidents have done, tried to pay her dues in the early part of her administration, but she can clearly see, if she has half a brain (and no one doubts she has not just half but quite a complete one), that she needs a mandate, a real mandate, and that her political destiny must be played out as her father’s was -either to a happier conclusion by way of election in 2004, or defeat, as her father endured in 1965. But she has no other option but to stay the course and fight.

That having been said, this is all, then, a testing of the waters. The West Pointer in Ramos is probing the defenses of the administration, looking for its weaknesses. His archskeptics are under the impression his real aim is to simply be done with a Constitution that he could not amend to satisfy his ambitions, and be called upon to trot out on a white horse and restore the lost era of Philippines 2000. No one with any intellectual honesty can deny that Mr. Ramos’s actions to date, down to calling a radio station to muse on the need to file a test case to figure out if he’s entitled to run legitimately in the next election, only serve to reinforce the worst perceptions that exist of the man. Nor can anyone deny the political and even personal imperatives that would drive Mrs. Arroyo to seek election in 2004 come hell or high water, if only to prove her critics wrong, and be remembered not as a woman who inherited the presidential mantle, but who earned it in her own right.

So Fidel Ramos says he is not running —period, period, period. Though the country is used to his three periods being the ellipse that leads to a pregnant pause that leads others to begin to have paranoid attacks (which Ramos surely enjoys). The President, on the other hand, truthfully says she is too busy worrying about the here and now to fuss over 2004, though even in that she is being disingenuous -but then which president entitled to reelection, with the exception of Cory Aquino- ever was anything but disingenuous about the possibility of their running again? Even Cory Aquino, who was not bound by the term limitations of the Charter approved during her term, kept her options open if only to keep from becoming a lame duck. The only president in our history who ever committed political suicide was Joseph Estrada and neither Ramos nor Arroyo are Estrada. There is no surer way to commit political hara-kiri than to say you have no intention of running for reelection when you can -and be believed.

The whole non-issue then boils down to a rift between the Lakas-NUCD people who grew fat and soft under Ramos, and who aren’t pleased that they are expected to stay relatively lean during the Arroyo New Era Part 2. The whole issue is that having abandoned the Liberals, and never having established a cohesive hard-core party of loyalists of her own, Mrs. Arroyo is not in full control of the party she is putatively the chief of, but which recalls its salad days as having been under Fidel Ramos. Ramos may be circulating offering them a chance of reliving the good old days when boys could be boys, businessmen could do business under a regime that was all light and sound, and not hard work as it is at present.

Pie in the sky, Ramos-style, versus the drudgery of the dirty kitchen, Arroyo-style. Were you a politician you would at least give pause to the thought that life would be tough under another six years of Arroyo, and positively miserable if not dangerous to life and limb under a Ping Lacson regime: so why not, indeed, a return to steady Eddie.

We shall have to see who has the last wink. Or who raises her eyebrow last in satisfaction as her opponent folds.

The May Day Rebellion, May 12, 2001

The May Day Rebellion
by Manuel L. Quezon III

May 12, 2001

IF politics, even the politics of a rebellion, is addition, then we must begin with doing the math. At the height of the gathering of the masses at the Edsa Shrine, three million Filipinos gathered in a shared hatred for the administration, the Church, so-called “Civil Society” and their allies in government. A source speculated that of these, roughly a quarter were paid to attend, another third went of their own volition, and the rest either attended out of obedience to the religious allies of Joseph Estrada, or simply out of curiosity and to join in the “fun”. Using these estimates, which are as good as any, this means at its height, the allies of Joseph Estrada, if not his family itself, managed to pay 750,000 Filipinos to go to the shrine; and a full million went there because they sympathized not only with Estrada, but with what speaker after speaker bellowed on stage: resentment and hatred of the prelates of the Church, of Civil Society, of the President, of the politicians and the pervasive nature of the poverty they felt was the fault of big business and their Leftist and intellectual allies.

Reduce, if you will, the crowd to a million, which may have been at the Edsa Shrine on the fatal early May Day morning when the crowd’s patience finally cracked and they either spontaneously decided to stop agitating and actual rise up, or were told to storm the Palace, and the numbers still astound: 250,000 paid hacks, close to 340,000 convinced individuals; and of these, perhaps a hundred thousand dared to actually begin the march to storm the Palace though accounts vary as to whether 50,000 or less actually made it to Mendiola and J.P. Laurel. Government itself said it had to fight off ten thousand of its countrymen in what the media -which suddenly had the courage to dodge rocks and risk bullets, face being lynched and otherwise face the loss of life and property it dared not risk the previous six days- christened “the battle of Malacañang.”

This is the story of the days that led to that battle. A battle which was won by the government but which only in retrospect could be said was one government could inevitably win. At the time, as the Americans put it, it was too close to call. The reasons for the defeat of the mobs at Edsa are obvious: not only the superior firepower of the AFP which backed up the truncheons of the police, the firmness of the President in the face of adversity, but the cowardice of those behind the rebellion and thus, the lack of any cohesive leadership on the field.
(more…)

Men of the year, December 30, 2000

Free Press Cover Story
December 30, 2000

Men of the Year

Once and future heroes
by Manuel L. Quezon III

FOR their foolishness, their greed, their quarreling, and the consequences the end of their friendship has entailed for the Filipino people -pushing the nation to the brink of political chaos and submerging it into economic peril- Joseph Ejercito Estrada, president of the Philippines, and Luis Singson, governor of Ilocos Sur, are the FREE PRESS’s Men of the Year for 2000.

Theirs is the story of a friendship built on wine, women and song, on politics and plunder, a camaraderie that was the personification of traditional small-town ideas of fellowship based on shared vices; it is, most of all, the story of a friendship gone sour, and fatally so. Both for their respective political careers, and for the fortunes of the country they both claim to serve.

One must go back to the wild, wild west years before martial law to trace the origins of Joseph Estrada’s and Luis “Chavit” Singson’s famous friendship. According to Singson, their friendship began when then-actor Estrada used to go to Vigan on location for movie projects; the then- Vigan chief of police of with budding political ambitions became exposed to the man with whom he would become closer and closer: they discovered a common affinity for packing pistols and gambling high stakes, even as they drank and feasted and caroused with women. As the years progressed, each man climbed the ladder of political advancement: not in a leisurely, gentlemanly way, but with the sort of steely, iron-fisted determination that is essential for success in small-town and provincial politics. Singson, becoming governor of his province, and Estrada mayor of the municipality of San Juan, each facing challenges both legal and more sinister. Both would find security of tenure by making themselves fixtures of the martial law government, their positions ensured by their continued support for the dictatorship, and their seeming sinecures ended only by the upheaval that was the Edsa Revolution.

Like so many suddenly unemployed politicians, Estrada and Singson had to seek new employment and a vindication of their names by way of a new mandate. Singson would successfuly be elected as a Congressman representing his province while Estrada achieved election to the Philippine senate; after that, Singson would resume the governorship of his province while Estrada would rise even further and become Vice-President of the Philippines.

It is at this point that narrative must give way to reflection; for it would seem that it was in their very vindication by an electorate they they didn’t need during martial law, but to whom they turned with the restoration of democracy, that the seeds for the destruction of both their friendship and the reputation of the Estrada administration would be sown. If any lesson was meant to be taught by the removal of martial law-era local officials, it was a lesson easily ignored by the ability of the very same politicians to seek election and rise to even higher positions. Their personal fortunes intact, their power base threatened but not destroyed, and having had experience in premartial-law politics, there was no reason why the experience of the past could not be used to ensure their continued political future. And that is what the two men.

Unrepentant, with a new mandate, there seemed no reason to think that old tricks would be as useful in the newly-restored democracy of Aquino as it was in the Old Society and New Society of the various Marcos terms; everything would be business as usual. Singson would resume being a political kingpin in Ilocos Sur, and dynastic considerations taken care of in San Juan, Joseph Estrada, having refreshed the memories of voters with an anti-bases propaganda film, went on to the Vice-Presidency and was poised for capturing Malacanang.

Enter, once more, according to his own account, Chavit Singson, who played an active role in the Estrada presidential campaign. The election of Fidel Ramos in 1992 had already conditioned politicians and voters to calculate victory not in terms of building a formidable and overwhelming mandate, but in cobbling together enough resources to engineer a plausible plurality. Fidel Ramos himself had ridden to victory not because of some nation-wide bandwagon, but because his people were clever enough to do enough damage to his opponents to enable him to squeak through; indeed it would even be claimed that his accomplishment was to steal the election “fair and square.” The large number of presidential candidates in 1992 was matched by a mushrooming of “presidentiables” in 1998; with the crucial difference that while in 1992, the plausibility of Fidel Ramos was enhanced by suspicions of the mercurialness of his leading opponent in 1992, six years later the opponents of Joseph Estrada had to contend with the seeming inevitability of an Estrada victory based on predictions in the surveys.

Against Joseph Estrada his opponents hurled every possible defamation possible. But how could the charges hurled against him -of womanizing, of gambling, of fast and high living- be made to count in the already morally-debased atmosphere of the last years of the Ramos presidency? the Ramos administration had been plagued with its fair share of scandals involving graft; it had a terrible record as far as peace and order were concerned, a record not helped by the administration’s inability to either control Estrada in his role as crimefighter or play crimefighter itself; and Ramos himself seemed to be cursed with a genetic (because of his being related to the late dictator) Marcosian predisposition to keeping himself in power regardless of what the Constitution might say: not to mention the futility of accusations of womanizing being hurled against the Vice-President of a President whose supposed mistress had made herself a power broker and a leading figure in Manila’s always morally-ambivalent high society.

In such an atmosphere of naked ambition and moral indifference, the presidential ambitions of Joseph Estrada, which seemed so remote in 1987, the year he was expelled from the mayoralty of San Juan, not only seemed inevitable, but also appropriate. After a little over of six years of sincere, piously Catholic, but at times muddled and naive administration under Aquino, and another six years of an energetic, self-pleased, but crass, clever but fatally weak Ramos administration, enough of the electorate was convinced that it had nothing to lose under a President who didn’t hide his vices, who didn’t pretend he was clever, and whom everyone knew was a tough guy. After the bland corporate-style leadership of Ramos, the country seemed ready for a rejuvenating populism; and it was this populism which told the electorate that here was a man with all the defects of the Filipino masses writ large,  in contrast to his opponents who had all the defects of the Filipino patriciate writ large, who deserved their votes.

If all elections involve myth-making, then the election of Joseph Estrada involved myth-making on a truly, well, mythical scale. The heroes of Edsa were tarnished; so why not turn to a folk hero? The so-called old rich were against him; so why not glory in his being a self-made millionaire surrounded by other self-made millionaires? Here was a small-town leader prepared to provide small-town style leadership after 12 years of elite rule; here was a man who spoke the language of the people and who could claim that he could eat with his hands and swagger down the street, in a way that hadn’t been seen since Magsaysay. Here was the underdog who could be a winner.

And he won, without having to steal the election, thanks to ten million votes that were enough to negate the tens of millions of other votes divvied up between his opponents, none of whom had his charisma and rapport with not just the masses, but even the middle and upper class. His supporters crowed that he received the largest number of votes in Philippine history, while ignoring the uselessness of this statistic in a nation that has an ever-growing population -for his percentage of the votes, while respectable, only served to underline the fact that 6 out of 10 voters had been against him.

Still, the myth had endured; it had been added to. And in true small-town style, there would be no magnanimity in victory. The Estrada of bacchanalian tastes would be the President Estrada who would exact revenge, Roman in zest if not in scope, on his enemies. And reward, in equally determined fashion, his friends and benefactors.

Enter, once more, Chavit Singson, Estrada’s point man in negotiating alliances with Singson’s fellow governors. With Estrada’s victory would come what he and Singson perceived as approval of their attitude toward governance and the conduct of not just their public, but private lives. Like their political revivals after Edsa, Estrada’s victory in 1998 would come to be seen as a referendum, overwhelmingly approved, on Estrada the man: how often would he be quoted by insiders as saying, in response to any criticism, “They voted for me, let them adjust to me”. The slogan of the new administration might be “Erap para sa mahirap,” but as more and more would complain, the real guiding principle of the administration seemed to be the gambler’s view that the winner takes all.

The defects of Estrada’s larger-than-life personality, while perhaps a strength on the hustings, proved to be the defects of his administration. Everything was done apparently on a whim; a country used to mercurial presidents suddenly found itself with a president both mercurial and without a strong work ethic. The President would be, as all presidents with strong characters tend to be, the fountain of all patronage; but it was patronage dispensed without rhyme or reason, purely, it was whispered, on the basis of who could whisper into the President’s ear while he caroused and sank karaoke until the early morning. Much has been written about the Estrada administration being an administration within an administration. But what concerns us here is the role Chavit Singson played in what has come to be known as the “midnight cabinet”.

Having placed his bets on his friend Estrada, and with Estrada having taken the biggest gamble of his life -and having won big- it was time for Chavit Singson to cash in his chips and collect his share of the winnings. Singson was to have his cut: and he was given it. That cut was control -call it “supervision”- of jueteng. The story of how Singson was given his racket, and peddled influence both to serve his own interests and that of the President, has been discussed at length elsewhere. What is important to consider, however, is how Singson was among the most important among the hardy crowd of drinkers and gamblers and womanizers that surrounded the President. People whose continued influence was dependent not on what they could offer the President by way of skills in government, but simply by virtue of their sharing the tastes and physical endurance of the President.

If Chavit Singson was the loyal courtier, then the President, at least according to his enemies and friends, held office in the manner that the Aga Khan: his attitude that tribute and lavish gifts were his right and due because of the position he held. The coming rift between Singson and the President could be traced to this attitude, which became offensive even to his closest friends and more intimate allies; this was a man who had forgotten two crucial “Asian values”: gratitude and face.

Machiavelli wrote that it is better for a prince to be feared than loved, and woe to the prince who tries to be both feared and loved but fails to achieve either. The story of the souring of the Estrada-Singson friendship is the story, at least as told by Singson, of a President who liked to throw money and privileges at his friends while reserving the lion’s share of both for himself. And whose caprices and appetites repeatedly led him to discarding the friends who could not pay the President the tribute he felt he deserved. Having been rewarded with the supervision of the illegal numbers racket, Singson was tasked with ensuring the President received his cut. It was the tried-and-true Marcosian manner of handing out monopolies in order to delegate the amassing of illegal wealth while giving cronies a cut of the action. However, where Marcos had operated subtly and cunningly and with attention to detail, Estrada, at least as Singson has described it, acted in the grand manner, without thought of the consequences of his decisions, and without caring how things were done, as long as Estrada got his cut: and while Marcos would skim here and there, the President would insist on more and more, the quicker the better. And while Marcos would, upon seeing an ally becoming ineffectual or acting suspicious, allow the preservation of a small racket or too to enable the once-useful ally to save face, Estrada, again according to Singson, would simply lose interest and turn over what was once a particular cronies’, lock stock and barrel, to another one.

If there is the truism that in politics there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests, then Chavit Singson should not have been surprised to reach the point where his once close friend would decide he had outlived his usefulness. What he did find surprising, and perhaps doubly so because of their being contemporaries who had seen Marcos at work, was the way President Estrada apparently thought he could deprive his friend of a monopoly and leave him no other racket by way of a face-saving compensation. Upset over the way Atong Ang had not only eclipsed him, but seemed bent on reducing him to political impotence and even financial danger, Singson appealed to the President’s sense of friendship, fairness and amor propio -and found himself the target of presidential indifference and hostility. Faced with the humiliating circumstances surrounding his fall from grace, it was not surprising in turn that Singson decided to reward a betrayal with a betrayal of his own. A betrayal that, having begun as a last-ditch face-saving threat, became the cause for a vendetta when Singson saw himself targeted for liquidation. For when Singson saw that as far as the President was concerned, a useless friend was no longer even a friend, but someone expendable, he decided to make true his threat to go public and make a dramatic expose of the inner workings of the administration.

It is important to note that by his own confession, Singson viewed going public as his last card; he gave the President every chance to reach an accommodation that would enable Singson to save face and retire quietly to the sidelines. Emissary after emissary from the President came to Singson but could not offer him anything beyond an offer to liquidate Atong Ang, the President’s ambitious Chinese chum who was the cause of Singson’s fall from favor. However, the elimination of Ang would not solve Singson’s pressing needs -such as how to cover up the missing millions Singson said he filched from provincial funds and passed on to the President- and did nothing to undo the humiliating farming out of gambling license concessions in Singson’s own province to his political opponents. Singson said he was constrained to refuse; and such was the bad faith of the President or his people that Singson would soon after only narrowly escape assassination.

It was the attempt on his life that convinced Singson that he had to burn his bridges with the administration and go public. If seeking the Presidency was the greatest gamble of Joseph Estrada’s life, the attempt on Singson’s life would, in turn, lead Singson to taking the biggest gamble of all: providing the ammunition the President’s ever-growing number of opponents needed to disgrace him and shove him out of office.
When Chavit Singson went to town and told the public that he had been in league with the President in tolerating and using illegal gambling, he became the first prominent person close to the President who, for whatever reason, had finally dared to do what so many have been hoping would be done: point a finger at the President and call him a crook, a liar, and a thief.

That a man so close to the President should have been driven to doing what he did, served as the gravest and most damning indictment of the President himself. A good man, a good President, an honest and sincere Chief Executive would not be reeling from accusations of the sort Singson began hurling about, simply because people would have know, instinctively, that such charges were ludicrous.

But when Singson started talking to the press, the public’s reaction was the opposite of what it should have been if the President was everything the Palace spokesmen and the President claimed was the case. The fact was that people believed Singson. They believed Singson, more or less, because what he said seemed so plausible. And this is the reason why the President henceforth was always to be on the defensive: the Estrada of many weaknesses had already been seen, in less than two years, to be an Estrada of enormous appetites and an even vaster ego. When Singson said he had pleaded for a way out, a little consideration, and had received none, instead inviting a gangland-style rubout upon himself, the picture he painted of Estrada was one people had gotten all too familiar with. The very appetites that had once been considered strengths were now revealed as what they were: flaws and liabilities in every respect.

A remarkable transformation took place in the political landscape; it was as if Singson had abandoned the field in a crucial moment of the battle, and thereby started a rout. Seemingly overnight, far fewer people were frightened of Estrada. What had been whispered was now freely discussed in the press and by the public. The President flinched when he saw businessmen, journalists, the middle class, intellectuals and even the ordinary man on the street, not to mention churchmen, all of whom, as individual sectors he had managed to either bully or appease into an uneasy acceptance of his administration, suddenly declare him morally unfit for office. He could scoff, as he did scoff, that they were being hypocrites; but it was he who began to be viewed as the bigger hypocrite. For his flaws, though public, had never been connected with criminality and contempt for the law; his tastes, while known to be lavish, were always seen as fueled by his own personal fortune, gainfully made; now the Presidential fortune, it was alleged, was the fruit of crass and demeaning graft and corruption and gangsterism: no President, however crooked, had ever deigned to accept money from illegal gambling. Now here was the President of the Republic taking the dirtiest of dirty money, for it came from the small-time wagers of the very poor he said he had come to free from misery.

What would ensue was the transformation of Chavit Singson into the good crook; the crook who, staring death in the face, decides he might as well redeem himself by confessing his wrongdoings. His motivations of revenge and resentment over losing face and his longtime friend, the President showing no gratitude, Filipinos readily understood and sympathized with. While known as a typical crooked politician, he became the politician who was willing to blow the whistle; and the country gloried in his every lurid revelation.

In contrast, the Joseph Estrada who had been seen as a tough guy with compassion for the poor was seen to be a man who didn’t even have compassion for his partners in crime; the accusations of widescale graft and corruption in his government only served to underline the disparity between the administration’s rhetoric and what was going on in secret; and the President’s tactical mistakes -his silence, marred by occasional sallies on radio and television that became the despair of his lawyers because of the way he refused to keep to the script they prepared for him, and then the perception he refused to face his accusers, preferring, instead, to hide behind his frustrated lawyers- eroded the image of Estrada the straight-talking, blunt and courageous man. If his image and popularity were built on the myth that here at least was a politician who was unashamed of his weaknesses and compensated for them with courage and conviction, then the revelations of Singson quickly and effectively dispelled that myth.

An ironic reversal of roles thus took place. Where once Singson was a not particularly respected and indeed, notorious official, he became a hero; and where once Estrada was hero to many, he was suddenly seen as a poor caricature of his mentor, Ferdinand Marcos. Where once no one was afraid to call the President’s bluff, Singson ended up calling the President’s bluff -and the President folded. Just as he had folded time and again every time he tried to bully his opponents into submission, over giving Marcos a heroes’ burial, amending the Constitution, and muzzling the press. Here was a man standing up to the President, and hundreds of thousands rushed to his aid.

It would be Chavit Singson who would manage to steal the role that had successfully catapulted Estrada to the presidency. Chavit Singson, henceforth, would be the underdog, the maligned man fighting for his survival. It would be Estrada who would now be painted as the villain with immense wealth and power using every means, fair or foul, to get rid of his enemy and humiliate him. This turned out to be a reversal of roles incomprehensible to Joseph Estrada, action star. He had never played the role of a villain, on or off camera. Yet here he was, now, being demonized by his opponents.

Like Ferdinand Marcos, too long used to commanding and getting his way, Estrada would refuse to accept that the public’s perception of him had changed, perhaps irrevocably. He continued to sally forth, pleading that he was misunderstood, maligned, slandered; and yet the old lines didn’t work anymore. The more he protested innocence, the harder his supporters worked to prevent what he himself said he wanted: a chance to vindicate himself. And the more his supporters failed to derail the attempts to impeach and try the President, the hollower the rhetoric sounded, and the more admirable Singson became in the eyes of the public.

The result is that, as the year 2000 draws to a close, President Estrada finds himself being cast in a role he was never prepared to play, all the while insisting he is still the Asiong Salonga, the Filipino robin hood of the slums, that made him famous. But it is Chavit Singson who has adopted that role; the President finds himself reduced to the role of the old mafia don screaming for revenge as his hit men stumble over each other in confusion. All the while, protesting to the a press he once bullied, and a civil society whose moderate conventions he had defied once too often and too flagrantly, that he was still a good, well-meaning yet highly misunderstood man.

Yet it is the President who does not understand himself; and it is Singson, strangely enough, who has revealed a better understanding of the psychology of the Filipino, than Estrada the so-called man of the masses. Estrada, history may come to judge, placed all his eggs in one basket, ignoring the need to cultivate enough support to at least keep sectors that might mobilize against you, divided. Sector upon sector has united in defiance of the President, in support, whether moderate or enthusiastic, of the President’s accuser; leaving the President only his vaunted masses to cling to.

What the masses will do still remains to be seen; the daily round of revelations in the impeachment court, however, have been closely followed by the masses; and where once they were disposed to give the President the benefit of the doubt, it may turn out more and more are inclined to believe the allegations of his accusers. For Chavit Singson’s new role as underdog  has been strengthened by a supporting cast of witnesses who have gained the public’s admiration for standing up to the administration. An administration, no one should forget, personified by the President.

they rose up together, they could have enjoyed six years of eating, singing, gambling and wenching together; instead, after less than three years, the party has come to an end, the friendship is gone, and only one man, either President Joseph Estrada or Luis “Chavit” Singson, will remain standing when the crisis comes to an end. As Singson has said so many times, there was no reason for things to come to this. The President had a chance to settle matters, but he preferred to kick his friend when he was down. As so many Filipinos have discovered, from all walks of life, that is one thing you never do to someone you used to call a friend. The man who knows your weaknesses is the man best able to turn that knowledge into an instrument of revenge.

Erap brings home the bacon, August 3, 2000

Free Press cover story

August 3, 2000

 

Erap brings home the bacon

By Manuel L. Quezon III

 

IT wasn’t very fatty, in fact it was rather lean, but contrary to expectations President Estrada will be able to say, upon his return from his visit to America, that he’s brought home the bacon. Of course he wouldn’t have gone home at all if he hadn’t been sure of being able to brag about being able to bring back something in the first place; but a hundred refurbished trucks, eight second hand helicopters, and prospects of a much-needed addition to the Philippine navy’s fleet (and spare parts to boot, for the “new” second-hand largesse of Uncle Sam as well as for the PAF’s grounded Hercules transports) in this day and age aren’t anything to sneeze at. But the biggest piece of bacon of all was one no one expected: the President made a decent impression abroad.

Questions of timing were what had hounded the President right up to the moment of his departure for America. Why a trip now, of all times, when Bill Clinton is as lame a duck as a lame duck president can get, and when the Democratic party is too busy worrying about the candidacy of Al Gore? The President’s critics questioned the usefulness of a trip that had been earnestly wished for, but which now seemed destined to reap few benefits, if at all. In the end, what had been lobbied for from the start of Estrada’s administration only became possible now; that was all there was to it. It was now, or perhaps, never. Besides which, Filipino leaders have always had a feeling they do better with Democratic administrations, and far better to get a little from a sympathetic Democratic administration in office than possibly nothing from the next, possibly Republican, administration.

One thing is sure: Joseph Estrada is a lucky man; and all questions on the timeliness of his trip became academic when the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks collapsed at Camp David and Bill Clinton found himself with nothing better to do than play host to the President of the Philippines. Instead of being overshadowed by larger, geopolitical concerns, President Estrada became more of an honored guest than one just sort of squeezed in between other, more pressing appointments.

What was supposed to be a paltry 15 minutes with Bill Clinton became 20 minutes shy of a three hour session with the American President.

In typical Filipino style, Mr. Estrada arrived at the White House late; delayed by his visit to the Arlington National Cemetery.

He was  immediately whisked off  to hold a one-on-one meeting with Clinton at the Oval Office. This was followed by an extended bilateral meeting with legislators and Cabinet officials, government-speak for a quick run through a reception line.

The press further reported that Clinton and Mr. Estrada emerged from the Oval Office at 12:20 p.m., passing through the Rose Garden, to have lunch in the residence wing of the White House. The President said he enjoyed the “very modest lunch” of  just salad and chicken, though he did note he managed to gobble up two drumsticks.

Then came more photo opportunities, with Estrada being able to brag that Clinton “virtually became my tourist guide at the White House.”

The two emerged on the front lawn of the White House at 2 p.m. Clinton shook hands with our President near the door and went back in as Mr. Estrada walked to a podium to give his statement.

The result was a President Estrada so brimming-over with delight that he ended up burbling to reporters that he was “on cloud 9” after having been to the White House.  Or, to be precise, Estrada said, “I didn’t expect it to be like that…when I left the White House, I felt like I was walking on clouds.” The President continued  to regale reporters with ecstatic sound bites that sounded like reviews of films: sort of Joseph Estrada rating his latest tour de force, “Erap goes to Washington.”

In the lingo of showbusiness, the Presidents’ reviews of his own performance were what can only be called raves: “It was more than I expected”… “ most meaningful official visit I have ever had since I became president” … “Indeed, this is a significant way to start the third year of my presidency,” Siskel and Ebert could not have outdone our President on that day in lavishing praise on himself.

There were good words for his co-star, as well: “I was so impressed with the warmth and hospitality accorded me by the president of the most powerful country in the world,” President Estrada told representatives of the Fil-Am groups.  And like a good Hollywood extra, Philippine Ambassador Ernesto Maceda couldn’t help but provide his own thumbs-up:

“All the purposes of the visit had been achieved,” he gloated to the press. And, for that deliciously attractive human interest angle, Maceda even managed to recount that “They were like soul mates,” with Clinton noting that he and Mr. Estrada were both left-handed.

“President Clinton said that according to a brain doctor, the most intelligent people in the world are the left-handed,” Maceda said, thought whether or not he told this story with his tongue in his cheeck the press was unable to detect, just as Maceda’s noting the two Presidents immediately hit it off by talking about golf and basketball “among others” included the sort of things the rest of the public (American and Filipino) considers among the prime interests of their presidents.

But what did the President get, besides the usual military hand-me-downs? $20-million food aid for Mindanao, for one; and expanded health and medical benefits for Filipino war veterans, or at least promises of efforts for such, was another, to the extent of Clinton’s assurance that he would support the  lobbying going on for the passage of a bill filed by US Rep. Robert Filner for additional benefits for the Filipino war veterans. Estrada even got a promise from Clinton that the United States would try to live up to the expectations of their little brown brothers vis a vis the thorny issue of toxic waste in the former US bases in the Philippines.

Most significantly of all, Estrada was able to say that the United States was foursquare behind the government’s efforts to fight the Abu Sayaf in Mindanao. As the President’s jolly official version put it, “We considered the situation in Mindanao, [and] I informed President Clinton of the Philippine government’s commitment to peace. [Clinton] assured me of America’s support for our peace process.” President Estrada managed to condense things and make his summary of American policy toward Philippine policy in Mindanao even more concise later on: “He was happy about it and I told him we are opening talks again. He was very happy about it.”

How lucky can a Philippine president get?

 

And Estrada’s luck continued to hold; the threats of virulent protests by environtalists, both Filipino and American, either didn’t push through, or fizzled out altogether.

Nothing too embarrassing happened at home, except for the usual coup rumors that sprout whenever a President leaves home. And every single thorny issue –veterans’ benefits, the environment, Mindanao- that his critics thought Estrada would either not address or would find a frosty reception in the White House ended up being both discussed and supported by William Jefferson Clinton.

The President’s trip was a lobbying effort in the tradition of similar trips undertaken by Filipino leaders since the 1920s; indeed, Clinton’s enthusiastic support for veterans’ benefits and the resolution of the toxic waste issue are the sort of things lame duck presidents gladly say to visiting leaders: Clinton’s much earlier predecessor Woodrow Wilson unequivocally announced support for immediate Philippine independence in the closing days of his own lame duck administration.

Which means whatever Clinton has promised that’s not written down remains nothing but a feel-good statement of potential political benefit to himself and to Joseph Estrada; but nothing that should be considered binding on his successor, Republican or Democratic. But Joseph Estrada knows that, he is a player, too. The end of the matter –and what should be said of the President’s trip, is this: it went well, with hardly a hitch, and the bacon was delivered. That is good enough by any President’s book. There are more trips to look forward too, including that still-coveted State visit.

The rest? It’s like the movies. Look at the pictures accompanying this article and see our President at his best. Amiable. Affable. Smiling; even, despite his girth, looking rather dashing.

 

 

 

 

The First Gentleman of Cebu, July 15, 1999

The First Gentleman of Cebu

By Manuel L. Quezon III

IN many respects, he was a modern-day Jose Yulo. A gentle, self-effacing and accomplished man, privileged to have served in all three branches of government, and in two of them with distinction. For like Jose Yulo, Marcelo Fernan had the distinction of not only heading a chamber of the legislature, but of becoming the Chief Justice of the land. Yulo became Speaker of the National Assembly after serving in the cabinet, and then became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; Mercelo Fernan, after being in the puppet Assembly of the Marcos regime, became Chief Justice and then ended his career as a senator who had become Senate President.

Marcelo Fernan, too, was compared to the man Free Press readers used to call the “Private Citizen No. 1″ during his long retirement from active politics: Sergio Osmeña. Indeed, in his many years as the most prominent politician from Cebu, Marcelo Fernan did all he could do keep the memory of that exemplar of the gentleman-politico alive. Fernan would help establish the Sergio Osmeña memorial lectures. And like Osmeña, Fernan, while being considered an accomplished politician in his own right, was primarily considered by his peers to be something much more special: a kind, considerate gentlemen who was not too obsessed with power and privilege. And while he did not obsessively seek honors, honors sought him out. At the time of his death his walls were covered with plaques and citations and awards, both for his political achievements and for what he did as a private lawyer, educator, and loyal son of the Church.

Born in 1927, he belonged to the generation that found its childhood cut short by the war; he was even detained by the Japanese. Returning to school after peace was restored, he would tell his friends he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his uncle, Manuel Briones, one time senator, failed candidate for vice-president, and then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In one sense the ambition he confessed to his friends would find fruition: he would be all that his uncle was, and more. He became Senate President.

Fernan succesfully took the bar (he graduated from the University of the Philippines and yet bring more honor to his alma mater than that other famous Upean, Ferdinand Marcos),and became a succesful lawyer, making himself an honest and comfortable living. He began to teach; he married; he became a father and life was prosperous.

In 1959, Fernan’s political career began with his succesful candidacy for for membership in the Cebu City Planning Board. In 1962 he would run succesfully for membership in the Cebu Provincial Board. In 1971, he declared his candidacy for the position of delegate to the Constitutional Convention and won.

It was as a member of the ill-fated Con-Con that he would achieve greatness.

When, in 1973, cowed, bribed or deluded delegates meekly voted to approve the Marcos charter, Marcelo Fernan became one of only 16 delegates who did not succumb to the temptation to sell out, in the hope of preferment from the dictator or the pious hope that having voted for the charter, they would be in a position to convert Marcos back to the ways of democracy. Fernan voted “no” to the Charter; so many others voted yes. Years later, when delegates led by Diosdado Macapagal would try to undo what they had gamely acceded to previously by reconvening a rump Convention and declaring the 1973 Constitution null and void, Fernan could repeat what he said of the Marcos charter: “I did not sire it; it’s not even my bastard.” That dubious distinction would haunt the other delegates to their graves. He was not greedy, and so he could not be bribed; he was not that ambitious, and so he did not sell his vote for the chimerical expectation of a seat in the Interim National Assembly. He was not so short-sighted as to think that his countrymen would forget which way he voted when the roll call was called.

The greatness Fernan achieved in the moment he voted against the Marcos Constitution was never sullied by his eventually joining the ranks of the dictator’s party machine. He participated in the elections of 1982 and became a member of the rubber-stamp Batasang Pambansa €“but as a member of the opposition, becoming minority floor leader. His good friends the Osmenas reduced to political impotence, he alone at time represented the old guard of the anti-Marcos opposition in Cebu. And when the time came for him to do his part to add to the final push that toppled the dictatorship, he did so. It was as a member of that dubious assembly that Fernan participated in the efforts to expose Marcos’s attempts to rig the 1986 snap elections. And unlike so many members of the Batasan, when it was quietly dissolved, Fernan went quietly. He was never one to hold on to a position at the expense of his dignity.

A grateful President Aquino elevated him to the Supreme Court. In three short years he found himself the 19th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines. And under his watch the Supreme Court maintained its newly-restored independence. He did not leave elective office in order to become a toady. Indeed, the Fernan Court handed down decisions that irked the Aquino administration; and yet it gained the respect of that administration precisely because of the Fernan Court refusing to succumb to any political pressure, real or imagined. And when, in 1989, Fernan was offered the titular leadership of a Junta to be established by the putschists, Fernan turned them down just as he had turned down an offer by Ferdinand Marcos to put him in the Supreme Court. Fernan would be loyal to his Republic: he did not fight Marcos, he declared on national television, only to be a party to the destruction of consitutional government by the military.

As Chief Justice, Fernan was proud of having established the system of having continuous trials which, if it did not radically improve the quality of justice that was dispensed, at least caused the wheels of justice to grind less slowly.

But in 1991 Fernan relinquished the supreme magistracy of the land in order to porsue an altogether different ambition: to be president, or, if he would not be president, to be vice-president. He would, in the end, become neither. He had agonized too long over the question of resigning from the Supreme Court; he had been too slow to answer the call of ambition. And when he did, he found himself outspent and outfoxed, even when he decided to accept the nomination for the vice-presidency instead. There he found himself pitted against the unbeatable Joseph Estrada. He lost.

Like Sergio Osmena, he accepted the will of the people and returned to the practice of law, focusing on giving legal assistance to those who needed it most: the poor.

1995 and the senatorial election in that year found him given a new breath of political life, this time as a member of the Philippine Senate. He was elected on the Lakas-Laban ticket. It would turn out to be the last position of public trust to be given him by an admiring people. In the Senate, he became Assistant Majority Leader and sponsored his share of legislation. Three years later, on July 27, 1998, he was elected Senate President, succeeding Neptali Gonzalez.

As senator and Senate President, Marcelo Fernan would again achieve greatness, but not because of any particular political act on his part, but because of who he was. While his very elevation to the position of Senate President had less to do with his clout as a senator and more to do with his seniority and lack of ambition making him a soothing paterfamilias for the fractuous Senate- as Senate President he demonstrated what his life was all about: courage, dignity, duty.

Shortly after becoming Senate President, Fernan was diagnosed as having a lesion in the lung; he went to the United States to have it removed. But the cancer was metastizing too fast. This was one battle he could not win; but like other battles he fought, Fernan decided that it was not winning that mattered; it was how one fought. He decided he would stick to his post as long as he was able, and do the job the people had elected him to do. But he would do little to disguise the toll the cancer was taking on his health and appearance.
Always a dapper man, he caused a stir when he acknowledged in public what his nemesis Marcos had so earnestly tried to hide from his people: Marcelo Fernan admitted he was ill and showed the signs of his ailment, although he and his family would remain mum on the subject of what his illness actually was.

But the public knew, and the public sympathized with the sight of a chemotherapy-ravaged Senate President being wheeled to the podium to preside over tedious sessions.

Under his watch, the Senate found its debates reach a low point during the deliberations on the Visiting Forces Agreement; but what would be of consequence was not the actual vote on the VFA, but the quiet courage of the man who almost single-handedly tried to maintain the dignity of the chamber he presided over. Indeed the Senate passed no distinguished legislation while Fernan was Senate President, save for the VFA and one law that will go down in history as significant: the decision, by the Senate, to relinquish its pork barrel, a bold move that the lower house did not approve of.

And then it was time to go. And Marcelo Fernan did go, not stubbornly holding on to the position he had achieved to the bitter end as others might have done and so many expected. His battle with cancer lost, the time had come to make peace with his maker, and this he did. He resigned the Senate presidency, though not his position as senator, and the next thing the public knew, he was gone.

With his passing the country paused to take stock of the career of a man who represented something that will not be seen again: the seasoned politician who never forgot what it meant to be a gentleman. He was good, kind, studious and refined; most of all, he had principles.

He was like Sergio Osmeña, he was like Jose Yulo; and like the peers of those two men, his contemporaries were found by the public to be wanting in the characteristics that evoke the gratitude of a people. Even as Fernan faced death, his fellow senators began the bruising and humiliating battle for the Senate that resulted in a Solomonic solution that made no one happy, and which necessitated the intervention of the President: something against the most cherished traditions of the chamber Fernan once headed. Fernan did not bow to Marcos when in the Con-con, he did not bow to Marcos when he was in the Batasan, he did not bow to Aquino in the Supreme Court and he did not bow to Ramos and Estrada when he was in the Senate. But as he lay dying, it was not to his fellow senators that those fighting over his mantle as Senate chief ran to; it was to the President. And it was the President, as the Free Press suggested, who weighed in and decreed the new leadership in contravention of conventional wisdom: Old Marcos hand Blas Ople got the Senate presidency, while Franklin Drilon, who did so much to foster the impression he was Fernan’s anointed, was told to cool his heels until his time would come. And all the while, as Fernan lay dying, the Senate too was giving up the ghost on whatever pretentions to independence it still had. When Blas Ople and Franklin Drilon took turns orating before Fernan’s bier, paying him the unprecedented honor of holding his necrological service during the session, they were bidding farewell not only to a rare individual, but to one of the most cherished —and most often lost, if not often regained— pretentions of the chamber they belonged to: its independence from the Palace.

How quickly can the meaning of a life be forgotten by those who claim to have admired it.

Marcelo Fernan, near the end of his life, mused to a writer that his final illness had taught him that political power and official positions were as nothing in the larger scheme of things. He saw what too few of his fellow politicians have come to realize; the pity is that with his death there will be no more like him, capable of realizing such humbling truths.

How Lopez won, November 29, 1969

November 29, 1969

How Lopez Won

by Edward R. Kiunisala

A YEAR AGO, he was probably the most underrated among the administration’s high elective officials. Not a few considered him a political jalopy, if not electoral junk. ready to be mothballed or fit only to be jettisoned. Some well-meaningPalace advisers thought that he was too old, too weak and colorless for the rough-and-tumble, no-holds-barred political game.

Earlier, rumors had it tha President Marcos was casting about for a younger and charismatic running mate. There was Rafael Salas, the new darling of Western Visayas, and Senator Emmanuel Pelaez, the political charmer from Minadanao. Either of the two, it was argued, would make a good Vice-President and would bolster the administration’s chances for another mandate.

It seemed then that Fernando Lopez’s political stock was at its lowest ebb. A possible reason was his lackluster performance in the 1965 elections when he beat his opponent, Gerardo Roxas, by an uncomfortably slim margin of only 26,500 votes. Added to this was his celebrated friction with the President on forestry matters, which almost led to an open break.

One thing about Lopez — he is no yes man. He may not have the eloquence of a Jovito Salonga, but he has the temper of a Manuel L. Quezon and the single-mindedness of an Elpidio Quirino. When he believe he is right, he will defy anyone except, perhaps, God and his brother, Eugenio. But there’s nothing personal about Lopez’s defiance. Prove him wrong and your alternative right — and he will cooperate with you to the limit.

It is this particular trait that made Lopez vulnerable to intra-party intrigues. And the intrigues almost succeeded in splitting the Marcos-Lopez partnership. What saved it was Marcos’s sense of fairness and Lopez’s political bahala na attitude. He knew he had served the people well. Not a taint of scandal marred his name. Even his bitterest critics believed in his honesty and integrity in public service.

Long before the party convention in June, Lopez was ready to give up politics if that was will of the party. After all, unlike most politicians, public office, to him, meant a life of dedication and sacrifice. Few high elective officials in the country today can honestly say that they are, like Lopez, in politics to serve. Rare is the politician who, like Lopez, has remained a gentleman.

But if Lopez was ready to hang up his political gloves, his close friends were dead set against it. When the chips were down, they including President Marcos, rallied behind him, and the Nacionalista Party finally chose him as the vice-presidential standard-bearer. But despite the party’s unanimous choice, only a handful gave Lopez a chinaman’s chance against his youthful opponent, Genaro Magsaysay, an indefatigable campaigner and reportedly the idol of the masses. For one, Magsaysay was many things that Lopez was not – he was much younger, he was a better speaker, more energetic and charismatic than Lopez. He was full of political tricks and had in fact been campaigning for years. He had been to practically every barrio in the country. He certainly had more exposure than Lopez and, what’s more, he had the 600,000 Iglesia votes in his pocket.

In the matter of logistics, it was a tossup between the two, though many believed Lopez had the edge. Some, however, swore Magsaysay could match Lopez’s campaign fund peso for peso. During the LP convention, Magsaysay surprised everyone with his ready cash. His delegates were billeted in first-class hotels. In fact, it was bruited around that he was financially ready for a presidential contest.

But Lopez had what Magsaysay didn’t have — an efficient machine, performance, sincerity and good taste. While “Carry On” Gene overacted, Toto Nanading simply acted himself. Soon, the electorate saw through Gene’s overacting and recognized him for what he was. The Magsaysay cult lost much of its appeal and the Iglesia Ni Cristo was shown to be less potent politically than it was billed to be.

As of the last OQC count, with only about 500 precints left unreported, Magsaysay was trailing behind Lopez by almost 2,000,000 votes. If the Iglesia had not helped Magsaysay, Magsaysay would have been worse off. But what is more significant is that even if the Iglesia votes for Magsaysay were doubled, Lopez would still emerge the decisive winner.

Lopez’s victory over Magsaysay has blasted the myth of Iglesia political power. Bishop Eraño Manalo may still receive the homage of political jellyfish, but no longer will he be taken seriously by responsible politicians. What Joseph Estrada started in the local elections of San Juan, Rizal, Manalo’s own homegrounds, Lopez completed in the last national elections.

We sought out Lopez again last week for an interview. He was relaxed, smiling and, as usual, garrulous. He had just been to church and a group of well-wishers had gathered to congratulate him. It was the same Lopez we had seen three weeks before the elections. He had not chnaged. One had expected his well-earned victory to cause him to puff up a bit.

“Well, I made it,” he said rather shyly.

“What made you in, Mr. Vice-President?”

“I believe my performance. Yes, it is my performance, I think so. Gene’s public record is practically zero. And I repeat, he has no personal friends worked for me even without my knowledge. Frienship is an investment, yes. It pays dividends.”

“But Mr. Vice- President, Gene has a powerful personal friends – Bishop Manalo….”

Lopez perked up. We had never heard him so eloquent and grammatical before. On the subject of Iglesia Ni Cristo, he was the expert, the master coversationalist. he has debunked Iglesia political power, he said, adding that he did so with the help of responsible voters. The recent elections meant two things to him: first, the Iglesia political balloon was deflated and second, dedicated public service is still highly valued by the people.

The best politics, according to the Vice-President, is still good public service. A politician who wants sincerely to serve the people does not have to kowtow to any vested political group to win. All he has to do to get reelected is to discharge his duties as best he can. In the past, candidates for national office paid homage to the Iglesia to win. He has proved, he said, that the so-called solid Iglesia vote cannot frustrate the will of the intelligent electorate.

Added Lopez:

“Do you know that the Iglesia had been abusing? It wanted to have so many public postions for its members – it even wanted to dictate as to who should occupy this or that cabinet position. Not only that. It even wanted to have say on what kind of laws we are going to have. Sobra naman sila. i would rather lose than surrender to them. Ti, abi, I still won.”

But Lopez admitted that he won because of President Marcos. The President, he said, carried him in Northern Luzon and in many other areas of the country. Marcos really worked hard for him, said Lopez, and he, too, spared no effort to get the President reelected. It was a team effort — there was no double-crossing, no junking.

“You saw how I campaigned in Western Visayas. You were with me. You can testify. I campaigned mainly for the President. An that was what the President did in Ilocos. He campaigned hard for me. The votes he got in Ilocos, I got, too. In the Western Visayas, he did not get the votes I got — because, you know, for one thing, Serging’s wife is from there. But another thing. They are really matigas ang ulo. They didn’t even vote for Jose Yulo against Macapagal.

“That’s why you see, i promised not to take my oath of office if I won in Western Visayas and the President lost there. Now, I can still take my oath of office. The President won in Western Visayas. Of course, I have helped the President also. But I am not ashamed to say that he has helped me more. I do not know how I can thank the President for it.”

The Vice-President reserved his “most hearfelt gratitude” to the First Lady. “I owe a lot to her — ay, she really campaigned for me. She won a lot of votes for me. I do not know how to repay her. You know that it was the First Lady who told me to work hard because I was behind. She showed us the survey and she told us that i was not doing so well. If she did not want me to win, she would have remained silent.”

Indeed, early last July, Lopez was running a poor second to Magsaysay, though Marcos was already ahead of Osmeña, according to an administration survey. Informed of it, Mrs. Marcos called Lopez’s key leaders to Malacanang. Alfredo Montelibano, Eugenio Lopez, Jr., Undersecretary Raul Inocentes and a communications expert met with the First Lady in the music room. The First Lady gave Montelibano and Company the lowdown on the Vice-President’s chances.

It was a lonf talk – the First Lady wanted Lopez to put up his own political machinery. Though Lopez was nagging behind, the large number of uncommitted votes could turn the tide in Lopez’s favor. The First Lady wanted a Marcos-Lopez victory, not just a Marcos triumph. Mrs. Marcos pointed out to the Montelibano group where Lopez was weak and what should be done to boost the Vice-President’s campaign.

The Montelibano group immediately got in touch with the Vice-President. If Lopez was discouraged, he did not show it. After all, he had had 24 years of political experience. He was no political tyro. If another campaign organization was needed, it would be put up. At the time, the Vice-President’s brother, Eugenio, was in his U.S. residence in Seacliff, San Francisco. The Vice-President rang up his brother by overseas phone.

Eugenio Lopez, Sr., apparently gave the green light for the setting up of a campaign machine for the Veep. For in less than 30 minutes, the political mobilazation of the Lopez business empire was under way. In an hour, top communications experts, political analysts, researchers, idea men, statisticians, had been tapped for the Lopez machine.

Alfredo Montelibano, Sr., became top strategic aviser. All policies had to be cleared with him. Eugenio Lopez, Jr., was in charge of logistics. Ike Inocentes served as liaison between the Vice-President and the new political machine manned by top communications experts. Antonio Bareiro handled radio-TV while Ernesto Granada supervised the print medium.

The first thing the Lopez organization did was conduct a survey. The results showed that Lopez, although more popular than his opponenet in urban centers, was weak in many rural areas. In the overall, however, the survey showed Lopez leading Magsaysay by about 3%. However, it was noted that the uncommitted votes – 17% of the voting population – were mostly in the rural areas.

So the Lopez machine concentrated on the rural areas. The communications media came out with a lot of materials depicting Lopez as the friend of the farmer, the worker and the common man. His leaflets carried the picture of the vice-President holding up rice stalks. The Lopez machine worked to buikd up the Vice-President’s image as Marcos’s top performance man in rice production.

Meanwhile, radio and television commentators all over the country were supplied with Magsaysay’ record as a public servant. The idea was to debunk Magsaysay’s claim that he was the idol of the masses and to portray him as a demagogue with no solid achivements to his name. On the other hand, the communications experts in the Lopez’s performance as an executive and a legislator.

It was at this time that political candidates went out of their way to win the Iglesia support. Some pragmatic Lopez advisers suggested the Veep take a crack at the Iglesia votes. And he got mad, spewing yawa and sonamagun. He would not pay homage to Manalo merely to win the Iglesia support. If the sect voted for him, they were welcome, but he wouldn’t go out of his way to woo the INC.

Manalo reportedly got wind of Lopez’s reactions and he decided to teach Lopez a lesson or two in practical politics. The INC boss directed his followers to go all out for Magsaysay. Some NP congressional bets were told to junk Lopez in exchange for Iglesia suppor. Others were even asked to surrender their sample ballots, it was reported, to the Iglesia so that Lopez’s name could be replaced with Magsaysay’s.

Ateneo priests and Catholic lay leaders who heards of the Iglesia political ploy to down Lopez were scandalized and angered. They decided to band together behind Lopez. They put up two headquarters silently worked behind the scenes. They got in touch with no fewer than 30,000 Catholic leaders all over the country and pleaded with them to vote for the Marcos-Lopez team.

Other religious setc, too, didn’t like the way Manalo was wielding political power – and they, too, got into the act. Two Aglipayan bishops and one Protestant sect came out openly for Lopez. It was a silent religious-political war. The Îglesia versus the Catholics and other religious sects. In a sense, Manalo’s support of Magsaysay proved to be a kiss of death – it served to unite other religious elelments against him.

Early in October, the Lopez machine made another survey – and the result was encouraging. lopez was leading by about 400,000 votes over Magsaysay. When informed about it, Lopez could hardly believe it. But instead of being complacent, Lopez worked even harder. Working closely with the NP machine, the Lopez machine proved effective. A few of its key people were able to infiltrate the opposite camp and discover Magsaysay’s political sttrategems, some of which were below the belt.

Lopez’s technopols wanted the Veep to pay back Magsaysay in kind, but Lopez put his foot down. He did not believe that Gene would resort to foul trickery. Perhaps Gene strategists, but not Gene, said Lopez. Even when news broke that Gene allegedly tried to finance a student organization to demonstrate against the Lopez interests, the Veep still gave Gene the benefit of the doubt.

Meanwhile, the entire Lopez clan fanned out to rural areas to help Toto Nanding. Mrs. Mariquit Lopez, fondly called Inday Mariquit by her friends, campaigned with the Blue Ladies. Even Mrs. Eugenio Lopez, Sr., went to the hustings to plug for her brother-in-law. Mrs. Eugenio Lopez, Jr., too, joined Mrs. Marcos’s Blue Ladies.

All the Veep’s children, except who is abroad, campaigned for their father, Albertito usually went along with his father in Luzon. Mila also accompanied her father throughout Western Visayas. Fernando, Jr., and Bobby helped entertain political leaders in the Veep’s Iloilo mansion.

Even the sons of the Mr. Eugenio Lopez, Sr., joined their uncle’s campaign trail. Eugenio Jr., took charge of finances while Manolo and Oscar put up the Friends of Lopez Kami (FOLK) organization. Manolo, too, organized his own version of Blue Ladies and Blue Boys, with the latter composed mainly of junior executives in their 20’s.

Meanwhile, the Lopez machine suceeded in putting up an organization which reached down to the town level and, in sesitive areas, down to the precint level. All these served as nerve cells of the vast Lopez political machine. Information was sent to the Lopez coordinating center in Quezon City where it was compiled, analyzed and acted upon. A group of creative writers made up the Lopez Machine Think Tank.

Lopez expressly directed his technopols to stress the performance theme. Not once was it ever a Lopez machine for Lopez alone. It was a Marcos-Lopez team campaign all the way, though the bulk of the campaign was directed at the areas where Lopez was supposedly weak. In Cebu and Iloilo, Osmeña-Lopez groups for some mushroomed. But Lopez ordered his men to plead with these groups to disband. It was found that these groups were LPs who could not stomach Magsaysay.

In Iloilo, one NP congressional bet reportedly campaigned lukewarmly for Marcos and the congressional candidate got a tongue-lashing from the Veep in front of the many people. In Sulu, despite the advice of some Muslim leaders not to campaign for Marcos, Lopez batted for Marcos all the way. At one time, he even asked the Muslims not to vote for him if they would not vote for Marcos, too.

By the first week of November, another survey showed that Lopez was ahead by about 700,000 votes. he couldn’t believe it. He had thought he would win over Magsaysay by only about 200,000 0r 300,000 votes. But he assumed that even if the survey had mistakenly counted 500,000 votes in his favor, he would still win th balloting by a comfortable margin.

But when the votes were counted, Lopez was the most surprised of them all in many precints, even in so-called Magsaysay stronghlds, Lopez got twice more votes than Magsaysay did. Lopez bested Magsaysay even in rural areas. In about 67 provinces, Lopez lost only in Zambales and Pampanga Greater Manila went all out for Lopez. Despite the Iglesia’s support of Marcos, Lopez got almost as many voted as the President..

Lopez was in Manila Tuesday night. He slept all night in his Forbes Park residence. Early Wednesday morning, he received reports that the NP won in the Western Visayas. After a dip in the pool and a mass in the San Antonio Church, Lopez motored to Malacañang. The President was asleep and Lopez exchanged pleasantries with other top NP leaders in the Palace.

When Mrs. Marcos emerged, the Veep kissed her hand and gave her a big buss. He owed much of his recent political success to Mrs. Marcos, he openly said. He would have been happy if he had won even by only 200,000, but a margin of 2,000,000 votes was beyond his wildest dreams. He promised to work harder to merit the people’s trust.

From Malacañang, Lopez went to his office in the Bureau of Lands Building. There, he received congratulatory messages from his friends and symphatizers. When the Lopez victory trend reached irreversible proportions, Lopez thanked all his supporters for their labor. He hastened to add, however, that he had not solicited any political financiers and was, therefore, not beholden to anyone but the electorate for his political victory.

His political fund, he said, came only from his brother and relatives. As Vice-President, he continued, he had granted many favors to many businessmen, industrialists and millionaire-agriculturists. But he did not ask any favor from any of them. This was because he did not want compromise national interests with the private interests of the political financiers.

In an interview, Lopez left to President Marcos what role the Veep should play in the next four years. But if he were to have his way, he would prefer to remain the concurrent Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “I know this job very well. I don’t have to study anymore. Besides, there are still many things that I have to do here.”

Lopez obsession now is to achieve self-sufficiency in meat and fish and to conserve the antional forests. His plan is to seed the country’s lakes and rivers with bangus and carps. He also wants to increase animal breeding stations throughout the country. The Veep believes that massive reforestations is necessary, if Philippine civilization is to be preserved.

The Vice-President started his public life when then President Sergio Osmeña, Sr., appointed him mayor of Iloilo. At that time, Iloilo City was no-man’s land. Criminality was rampant; nobody was safe after six in the evening. He accepted Osmeña’s challenge to clean Iloilo on condition that he be free to resign after three months. But public service got into his blood and three months became a lifetime.

Lopez’s honesty is almost legendary. While manager of his family’s bus company, he caught the conductress cheating by five centavos. Lopez sued the girl who was sentenced to 25 days in jail. But while the girl was in jail, Lopez supported her family and got her another job after she had served her sentence. in later years, this was to be the Veep’s code of conduct.

His employees still remembered how Lopez, some years ago, fulminated at one of his political supporters who asked him to help him with his customs duties. A call to the customs disclosed that this man was one of those blacklisted by customs. Lopez shouted at him, saying: “What? You want me to help you cheat the government? “You, sonamagan, I don’t want to see you anymore.”

And when the son of another political supporter asked the Veep to get him a job in the onternal revenue bureau even without pay, Lopez reddened: “Why you want to work without pay? Because you will steal? You want me to help you so you can steal? Get out! Get out!”

Lopez is an apolitical politician. he both loves and hates politics. His father, he said, a former Iloilo governor, was assassinated. To Lopez, politics summed up all that he disliked in htis world: dishonesty, double-dealing, and back-stabbing. Paradoxically, it was the only way by which he could help so many people he has helped while a politician has sustained his political career.

The Vice-President is married to the former Mariquit Javellana by whom he has six children, Yolanda Benito, Fernando Jr., Albert, Milagros and Manuel. In addition, they have 12 proteges, now all married, whom they have informally adopted as children. Every Friday, in the Lopez mansion in LaPaz, Iloilo, is a day for the poor to whom the Lopezes distribute cash and goods.

Mr. and Mrs. Fernando Lopez are devout Catholics. Wherever Lopez goes, his first stop is the church. He makes the sign of the cross every time he goes out of the car, helicopter or plane. Both Mr. and Mrs. Lopez are music lovers; she loves to play the piano and the Hammand organ; he loves to listen to Mendelssohn or Chopin.

Many have asked him where he will go from here. Will he run for presidency? To this, he displays shock. “Please, please, don’t ask me that. Thatis farthest from my mind now. All I want to do is work to be worthy of the people’s trust. you know, I am already old.”

But when reminded of his campaign slogan, “Matigas pa ito —ang tuhod ko,” Lopez would break into loud, unrestrained, plebeian laughter that endears him to his supporters. Just the same, he entertains no questions about his political future. This is no time to talk politics, he insists.

But whether Lopez likes it or not, he has to think about his political future. by national mandate, he is now, for the third time, only a heartbeat away from the presidency. His decisive political victory in the last elections has catapulted him to the forefront of his party’s presidential possiblitis. Next to Marcos, he is the people’s choice. If he doubted that in the 1965 elections, he doesn’t doubt it now.

Besides, Lopez cannot be running for Vice-President all the time. If he chooses to continue serving the people after his third term as the No. 2 public official, he deserves, by equity of the electorate, a promotion. Who knows, with the help of God and his brother, Eugenio, the three-time Veep, once an underrated administration high official, may pull another surprise and run away with the highest position a people whom he has served long and well can give him.