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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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New additions, December 14-15, 2012

The Defiant Era, January 30, 2010

The Defiant Era

By Manuel L. Quezon III

Forty years ago, the First Quarter Storm rocked Manila, which had not seen anarchy on this scale since the Pacific War. A look back at the movement, where it failed and where it succeeded

 

January 30, 2010-THE thrilling thing about the year “was that it was a time when significant segments of population all over the globe refused to be silent about the many things that were wrong with the world.” “And this gave the world a sense of hope that it has rarely had, a sense that where there is wrong, there are always people who will expose it and try to change it.”

That was Mark Kurlansky writing in his marvelous book 1968: The Year That Rocked the World. From Cuba to China to Czechoslovakia, France, Mexico, Poland and the United States, young people began to rebel against the establishment. Kurlansky believes the postwar generation was prepared to do so, ironically because of the relative security and comfort they enjoyed and their having been born after the privations and traumas of World War II. And so young people in communist countries challenged party dictatorship while their counterparts in the democratic world turned leftward to challenge the bourgeois certainties of their elders, for it was in that year, too, here in the Philippines, that an elite family celebrated a wedding anniversary with heedless ostentation.

Filipinos born after the war, who had no memory of that period or the succeeding era of the Huks, came to share the restlessness and iconoclasm of their counterparts around the world: students demonstrated against the Vietnam War (it was the year of the T?t Offensive), and for social reforms in the Catholic Church and in the schools.

In that year, Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr. published a commentary in the American publication Foreign Affairs, describing the country as “a land consecrated to democracy but run by an entrenched plutocracy. Here, too, are a people whose ambitions run high, but whose fulfillment is low and mainly restricted to the self-perpetuating elite. Here is a land of privilege and rank – a republic dedicated to equality but mired in an archaic system of caste.” Aquino was writing in response to the massacre of Lapiang Malaya ralliers on May 21, 1967. Democracy had survived the Huk rebellion; and yet, even the beneficiaries of the relative stability of the mid-Fifties to mid-Sixties left an increasingly better-educated and cosmopolitan urban middle class in discontent.

The First Quarter Storm came two years after the rest of the world was convulsed by student rebellions in 1968. By all accounts, 1969 was the year in which protesting in the style of the civil rights movement in the United States – peaceful, nonviolent, reformist – gave way to more militant protests and bluntly revolutionary aspirations among the youth, along with the flag hoisted with the red field up.

Ferdinand Marcos won an unprecedented full second term as president toward the end of that year. In those days, when presidential terms began on December 30, a newly elected president delivered his annual State of the Nation at the opening of Congress in January. In 1970, that address to Congress was scheduled on a Monday, January 26. A mere four weeks had passed since Marcos’s inaugural as the [Third] Republic’s first reelected president.

Recalling the era for The Philippine Century, an anthology of writings published in the Free Press, veteran journalist Dan Mariano writes: “Outside the Legislative Building, hundreds of moderate student activists were demonstrating to urge the government to call a constitutional convention.” Jose F. Lacaba, in “The January 26 Confrontation: A Highly Personal Account,” the first of his articles on the First Quarter Storm for this magazine, writes that student leader Edgar Jopson, who was then a moderate, had his group’s microphones kept away from radical student leader Gary Olivar, and the radicals wrangled with the moderates just as Marcos had finished his speech and was stepping out of the Legislative Building.

It was then, Mariano’s account continues, that “a paper mache crocodile (representing government corruption) and a makeshift coffin (symbolizing the death of democracy) flew” in the direction of Marcos and his wife, Imelda. “Security aides quickly hustled Marcos into his waiting limousine and sped away from the angry mob. Moments later, Manila police armed with truncheons and rattan shields attacked the student demonstrators who fought back with empty soft-drink bottles, rocks and the wooden frames of their placards.”

The moderates tried to pacify by means of speeches the radicals, among them the Maoist Kabataang Makabayan. But the radicals, as Lacaba reports, were “spoiling for trouble” with the cops and were “in no mood for dinner-party chatter and elocution contests.”

From the battleground that was the vicinity of the Legislative Building on Burgos Drive, the demonstrations that now launched the First Quarter Storm moved on to the premises of Malacañang, after a relative lull of three days in which student groups still took to the streets to denounce the government. Then came Friday, January 30 – “so far the most violent night in the city’s postwar history,” as Lacaba writes in retrospect about these events.

The radicals were demonstrating again in front of the Legislative Building, as the moderates went to Malacañang for an audience with Marcos that turned into a tense confrontation. By the end of that meeting, the radicals had trooped as well to the Palace. As Lacaba reports in “And the January 30 Insurrection,” “[w]hat specific event precipitated the battle that spread out to other parts of the city, and lasted till dawn the next day, may never be known. The students who came from Congress claim that, as they were approaching J. P. Laurel Street, they heard something that sounded like firecrackers going off. When they got to Malacanang, the crowd was getting to be unruly. It was growing dark, and the lamps on the Malacanang gates had not been turned on. There was a shout of ‘Sindihan ang ilaw! Sindihan ang ilaw!’ Malacañang obliged, the lights went on, and then crash! a rock blasted out one of the lamps. One by one, the lights were put out by stones or sticks.”

Firefighters arrived at the scene, literally to extinguish the political conflagration at the Palace gates, but the hose they aimed at the protesters yielded a “sputtering spurt,” then the comical became tragic as the protesters ran after and roughed up the fleeing firefighters, then rammed the fire truck into Malacañang’s Mendiola gate. The very center of power suddenly became a tear-gassed arena, as the presidential guards at once engaged the protesters who were lobbing Molotov cocktails into the Palace grounds.

Amid the blaze of a parked vehicle that had been set on fire, the presidential guards managed to drive out the mob, and the battle shifted again to downtown Manila where, this time, not just cops, but “constabulary troopers” confronted the protesters, reports Lacaba. There were also looters among this defiant crowd, who exploited the situation, smashing shop windows and spiriting away “jewelry and shoes.” Soon enough, “the soldiers started firing with Thompsons into the ground,” the dreadful staccato intended as warning, and yet some protesters were hit by shrapnel. Lacaba himself became caught up in the frenzy of rushing some of the injured to the nearby hospitals, and it is remarkable, going by his account, that not a few residents in the area helped hide the protesters who, fleeing from their pursuers, had wandered into the maze of Manila’s dark alleys.

By dawn, the revolution of January 30 was quite over, hundreds had been arrested and an eerie, smoke-filled silence was restored in the city. But this was just the beginning of the Storm. Marcos did not immediately issue his infamous dire warnings – his threats to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and declare martial law. He still maintained that air of equanimity, as opposed to the spitefulness attributed to him since. Nevertheless this period became his transition to authoritarianism. Vice President Fernando Lopez resigned from the Cabinet the next day.

These events were chronicled by the Free Press writers in what has since been widely acclaimed as “literature in a hurry.” Lacaba’s articles for this magazine and Asia-Philippines Leader remain in print in a book titled Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage: The First Quarter Storm and Related Events, which harks back to a time when protesting in front of the US Embassy was daringly new and not the ossified ritual that such actions became since; when communism and socialism were daring new thought and not bogged down in debates over whether they’re old cant; when the established social order was besieged and a generation of Filipinos thought it was possible to push it to the wall so that it would either reform or suffer destruction through revolution.

In contrast to Lacaba’s reportage, Kerima Polotan, sympathetic to Marcos where Lacaba was brilliantly antipathetic, recounted the same events but with hardly any sympathy for Marcos’s critics, whether old or young. Instead, she wrote of those in whom the radicalism of the youth inspired not admiration but fear.

“Right or wrong, one had kept one’s children off the streets all their lives, a canon, one had warned them clearly, they were not to break while they lived under one’s roof,” went Polotan’s “The Long Week,” published alongside Lacaba’s accounts of the January 26 and 30 riots in the Free Press of February 7, 1970. “They went to school and then came home. They had duties and chores, and tonight, while the police chased some other mothers’ children down below, one’s own young were at home getting supper for the small ones, washing the dishes, and locking up the kitchen before turning to their books – altogether not a popular kind of activism, not any kind of activism at all, not modern, but one’s personal, though passage, idea of parenthood. Parents surrender quickly these days and pay for their easy abdication with the broken skulls of their sons and the crushed legs of their daughters.”

Lacaba’s book recaptures the ferment, the freshness, of a period of agitation that resulted, alas, in dictatorship and in a generation robbed of their chance to lead. Yesterday’s FQS protesters are today’s middle-aged baby boomers with grown-up children of their own, often ensconced in the establishment, either in business or government. Yet the historical verdict seems clear: Lacaba’s articles have survived, Polotan’s, forgotten; youthful idealism continues to be honored; the New Society generally acknowledged to be a sham.

To read Lacaba’s book is to be able to answer a crucial question about that generation: Have yesterday’s activists-turned-today’s fat cats been able to totally jettison their radical youth, or is there something in them ingrained by that period that bears watching as they now handle the levers of power? I would argue that those FQS veterans now in high places cannot avoid a radically different outlook, with its quiet but perceptible impact on how power is wielded in the present day.

Reading eyewitness accounts of great events also points to the depressing reality that some things never change. The reactionaries remain so; the reformists stuck, too, in a rut of self-doubt; and the radicals in a time warp. And, indirectly, Lacaba’s book raises a question no one has ever been able to answer in a satisfactory manner. Did the agitation of idealistic and romantic youth in the late-Sixties and early-Seventies make dictatorship more appealing? For the shameful fact is that martial law was greeted with relief by a majority of Filipinos, at least from the upper and middle classes, who rejoiced in the curfew, in the cutting of hippie hair, not to mention the padlocking of Congress and suppression of liberties. For, if so, the Filipino may be innately reactionary – with all that such a conclusion shockingly implies.

Recalling that eventful first quarter of 1970, Dan Mariano writes, “Although the country had more roads, bridges, dams and irrigation systems than ever before, the economy had begun to nose-dive. The peso underwent a 100 percent devaluation, with the exchange rate going from P2.00 to P4.00, then P8.00. The prices of basic commodities rose out of the reach of the working population, whose wages were not allowed to keep up with inflation.”

By April that year, a general strike was held protesting against increases in oil prices and transportation costs. The next year saw the Diliman Commune, the revolt by University of the Philippines students in February. But the sign of those times was not the Diliman Commune itself, which continues to throb gloriously in the memories of FQS veterans, but a parallel effort overlooked because it’s inconvenient. As students barricaded the campus and broadcast a recording of the President’s postcoital croonings to Dovie Beams, some residents in the area banded together and hunted down the radical students in the defense of order and their property rights.

And it was Ferdinand Marcos, the last product of the American educational system, but a mutant one in that his political maturity took place during the confused, corrupt and corrupting circumstances of the Japanese Occupation, who gambled on form trumping substance. So long as the trappings of legitimacy were maintained, the upper and middle class would embrace his “Revolution from the Center” and tolerate, if not actually accept with enthusiasm, his “New Society.”

The Plaza Miranda bombing took place on August 21, 1971. Two days after, 20 people were arrested as Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus. Martial law followed a year and a month later, restoring order on the surface but fueling the already underground radical movement that Jopson himself would at last join and sacrifice his life for. Yet, when revolution finally came, it wasn’t what the young radicals dreamed of in 1970. It was an entirely different creature, what came to be known as People Power in 1986, and Velvet Revolutions elsewhere since.

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.
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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.

The poet, the fighter, the Locsin of memory, February 5, 2000

The Poet, The Fighter, The Locsin of Memory

(Cover Story in the commemorative issue of the Philippines Free Press, February 5, 2000)

By Manuel L. Quezon III

In his library
Alone with dead men’s thoughts
Listen to him singing.

—“Solo,” Teodoro M. Locsin

IN the end, all he could communicate with were his eyes. There seemed little pain expressed in them but there was anger: indignation over being taken from his home, confined to a hospital bed, violated by a breathing tube, punctured by IV drips.

Anger at life: he had lived it well; he had no apologies to make; it was time to go —so why was he being detained? His heart would not let him go. It kept pumping life, refusing to surrender, refusing to let go.

Those eyes: piercing, probing, stoic. How they shone with a sardonic humor when he would be approached. You see me an old man and show me respect, they seemed to acknowledge. And yet, as you greeted him his eyes would seem to say —what? His eyes would communicate a message, a poem, his own:

Let me think of you
When you were young and without guile
And foolish
Not a wise old man
Waiting to die.

But how can one ever think of him as having ever had guile —or been foolish? He was a man who had no time or patience to waste on fools. He had nothing but contempt for guile, for deceit, the weapons of the weak. Only the frontal attack, the formal duel for him. In his last years, the contempt, the rage still smoldered. What have you done to my country? his eyes seemed to say.

An image: Teodoro M. Locsin Sr., sitting on a chair, scanning the newspapers, a glass of iced red wine on the table before him. A young writer, in awe, watches his every move. He looks up, gives the paper in his hand a little shake, and says, “God damn it!” His eyes flash.

God damn it, indeed. Reams and reams of paper, on them hundreds of thousands of words-half a century and more of words, angry words, eloquent words. Years of pounding them out on a typewriter to explain the wrong and convey the outrage, to educate the ignorant, to exhort the decent not to surrender to what was convenient and wrong. But for what?

Fools stayed fools. The crooked got clever and completely unscrupulous. “It was different in my time,” he tells his daughter-in-law. “Even the crooks were decent, knew limits. Now they are just plain shits. They observe no rules, no rules should be observed them.”

The good and the well-meaning caved in to tyranny and shrugged off injustice, feigning contempt when what they felt was abject fear. He saw this. Tried to shrug it off as life. Hadn’t he written that the just deserts of slaves is slavery? Let them be slaves. He would not, And yet —“God damn it!” They did not have to be. And the anger boiled over again.

The Jesuits, under whom he had been educated, and who produced a man in the mold of Rizal -a man who valued his conscience above the easy consolations of a facile faith and the rewards of a material society- would have called it righteous anger. The faith of his teachers taught that God reserved his most awesome wrath and retribution for those sins that cried out for vengeance: the oppression of widows and orphans, the weak, defenseless and meek.

But Teodoro M. Locsin Sr. would not leave to heaven the justice we can mete out here and now if we but had the fortitude. And what was faith most of the time but pious words? He had better: fighting words. Indignant words. Wounding, merciless words that humbled the proud, drove back the oppressor, exposed crime to retribution and pointed out with embarrassing clarity what was lacking and what needed to be done.

At what point in his life did Teodoro M. Locsin, privileged lover of books, a man with a gift for writing, who had been to the manor born, decide that submission would never be his condition, that slavery would never be his lot? His own words give us a clue.

His journal entry for December 23, 1941:

“The war reveals the parasite, the nonessential man self-confessed. He who does not produce is regarded, with suddenly clear eyes, as an enemy. In peacetime he often occupies an honored position, being then only a thief who lives lawfully on what his neighbor makes.

“The war leaves us with only human values to go by. It is not very comfortable. It either shoes a man or shows him up. Out of this new revelation may come a new society, a true society.

“There are economic problems because there are rich men and poor men. There are wars because there are economic problems. Let us, simply, eliminate the rich men?”

He answers his own questions in his entry for December 29, 1941:

“The rich and the influential are the pitiful ones. They have so much to lose! They shake for their lives, they shake for their office, they shake for their bank accounts. They read all the literature on the established methods of avoiding death and damage by bomb, bullet and gas. They sit in a circle all day and worry over every rumor and report of disaster. They scan every threat to their security with the passion of scholars poring over a newly recovered line from the Greek Anthology.

“The war freshly illumines a paradox:

“One may be casual about one’s life but rarely over one’s property.

“In high good humor the people are compiling a list of dishonor. With infinite malice they treasure each new story of how their lords and masters have disgraced themselves.”

Though he came from the class of “lords and masters,” he also belonged to the elite of intellectuals. He would not disgrace himself. His thought is not unique. Throughout Europe, in farm houses and attics, basements and empty warehouses where the resistance met, men placed their hopes of a corrupt society’s self-destruction on the elite’s betrayal of their countries. There would be no need for a revolution from the streets to overturn the established order. That would self-destruct in shame. When Europe was finally free of the Nazis-the Philippines of the Japanese-they would also be free from their corrupt and compromised elites. It would not happen.

In the same journal he marveled at the coming of war, giving him time to catch up with his reading, even as he noticed his reading being drawn to the philosophers instead of the crime writers he had favored in the past. Yet this was no longer the time for sitting down to read or even worrying about the fate of his library.

“To everything there is a season.” He read that in a fine edition of Ecclesiastes he would keep through the war. It was the time to fight. He joined the resistance.

Besides what else was there to do? The Free Press had been shut down. Writing for the pro-Japanese Philippine media was out of the question.

Writing shortly after the war, he would explain with the exceptional clarity that would always be his hallmark, what the choice he had made-to fight-had been all about. It was not a romantic choice; it was a choice rationally made.

“Collaboration or resistance -all of us were captives of war. War was a prison; some cells were bigger than the others but the walls were there. We were all hemmed in -those in the cities and towns, and those in the jungles. In the ‘free’ areas, communication was possible with the outside world, and breaks from the prison for a few by submarine; that was all. The resistance may be compared to rioting in  prison…

“No, that is not quite accurate. The resistance undermined the power and authority of the warden; even if it did not succeed in taking him prisoner, it made the opening of the prison and the release of the prisoners easier, the liberators did not lose so many men. When the resistance in Negros flashed the move of the Japanese fleet before a battle, that was more helpful, surely, to the cause of freedom than collaboration.”

He had nothing but contempt for the collaborators. Even before he joined the Free Press, he had returned to being a journalist, founding Free Philippines with, among other writers, Philip Buencamino. (He would turn his back on his communist comrades in arms in the anti-Japanese resistance when they ambushed the Quezon family and killed Buencamino, and join Magsaysay for the final solution to the Huk challenge.) He said of himself, during the time, that “I thundered and shrilled —that is, I wrote editorials.” Journalism during the heady —and for many, vengeful— days of liberation involved “jumping on a man,” as Locsin described it. Sobriety and balance were for other practitioners of the craft.

Then the Free Press resumed publication, and star writer of the publication was he. A division of labor became evident: Filemon Tutay and Leon O. Ty were to prowl about and keep their ears to the ground; theirs were the scoops and big exposés. To Locsin was given the task of the probing interview, the devastating revelation of his subject’s hubris and idiocy. And the serious, reflective pieces, the essays on society, sovereignty and liberty: those were reserved for Locsin.

Were these early days the days of “foolishness” and “lack of guile” that he alludes to in his poem? Heady days, indeed: and perhaps, to him, in looking back, days of naiveté. If they were, they were not to last long.

Days of Liberation flowed into the early days of Independence, then a new war, against the Huks, and though he always gave them their due for their bravery against the Japanese, he saw little romance in what they were doing to a country crying to recover from an earlier war. Then they crossed the line and murdered his friend.

The Fifties were years of exposing the cruelty of the military and the communists both, though his words were particularly harsh against the communists. Not just because of what they had done to his friend, but because he knew, from their implacability, what they held in store for his country if they triumphed. Once again, the freedom of the prison yard, the security of the barbed-wire fence.

And hadn’t he resolved never to be a slave?

Then came the Sixties. His time to be at the helm had come. The passing of “Mr. Dick,” founder of the Free Press, who had made Locsin his heir, saw the transformation of Locsin from staff member to publisher and editor in chief. He was in command now. He built the Free Press up, made it bigger, richer and far better equipped, giving it the most modern printing facilities in the country. The Free Press had become a battleship with only one mission: putting out a single issue a week to perfection. He would not allow the Free Press facilities to be used for any ancillary business, even printing comic books like his friend Don Ramon Roces had started to do, just in case newspapering became too dangerous. His machines were so fast they turned out the second-biggest print run in the industry in a few hours. The rest of the week was devoted to cleaning the machines, oiling them, buffing them to a sparkling finish, like a dreadnought.

It would be 20 years of steady, relentless campaigning: for land reform, against logging, against the criminal and exponential growth of the population, against a supine foreign policy that would involve us, “the showcase of democracy in Asia,” in an unjust colonial war in Vietnam, against creeping militarism, the coming of martial law.

This is how he would conduct his campaigns. He would call in his editors and writers, he would farm out the different aspects of the campaign, and then he would relentlessly pursue it. Giving them their cue in his editorials. His fingers would pound away at the keys of his typewriter; the Free Press would pound away at the enemy.

Against landlords and for real, not naive, solutions: “A sentimental approach will not do; hearts bleeding for the poor are not enough. Too many congressmen and landlords or tools of landlords -from whom they get campaign funds, retainers, etc.- for emotion to prevail in the Senate and the House. And the Mexican experience has shown that it is not enough to give land to the landless if they do not know what to do with it, if they are not provided with the necessary credit facilities for increasing production. A poor landowner is still a poor man.”

And against “tutas” — whether of the Americans or Malacañang, whether by omission or commission:

“Dogs are dogs. Their canine behavior should surprise no one; for them to act with the dignity of human beings would be unnatural. But there are parliamentarists who are so from conviction. Their arguments in favor of the parliamentary system are, however, arguments articulated in a vacuum. Without the adoption of a Ban-Marcos or Ban-the-Marcoses provision in the new charter, they would be acting-objectively, judging from the results of their action, not their intention-no differently from the professional tuta of Malacañang… Parliamentarists would be the same dog, with a different collar. Whatever the intentions, they would be paving the road to hell.

“By their fruits should you judge them.”

And the Free Press would pound away against loggers and reactionary princes of the Church.

For 20 years he led the fight; he would deny his countrymen the privilege of pleading ignorance to their eventual enslavement.

There would be a bitter interlude before the climax of the fight: a rebellion within the walls. Society —the same society whose defects he had so clearly seen, so eloquently pointed out, so vehemently condemned— and its evils were projected on his person by his own people in the Free Press —supported by his enemies in the Palace. He was called an oligarch; oppressor of the working man who gave 14th-to 16th-month bonuses because he believed that a company he kept completely free from debt should distribute its excess wealth —a throwback to his days in the anti-Japanese communist resistance. His comrades in arms tried to seize control of the Free Press, he showed them the door: leave. They left. All his old friends, his drinking companions, the men whose talents he had encouraged, whose reputations he had built up with more care than his own.

He would continue to fight, harder than ever with a handful of his former complement. The Free Press was now in the trenches against the coming dictatorship and soon it was over the top. Challenging the Palace to do its worst. And it did.

Darkness fell and then the morning came when he was taken away by the military. The heir of the editor in chief arrested by the Japanese was under arrest by order of the president he had helped get elected because it was preferable to have a murderer from the Ilocos who had feigned resistance to the Japanese to an enthusiastic collaborator from Cebu.

When Ferdinand Marcos, in gratitude for his support, offered him the portfolio of the Department of National Defense, Locsin declined, joking, “It isn’t right for the secretary of defense to limp in review past the troops because he has gout. He would really look like a lame duck.” The position, in a few years, would go instead to Locsin’s jailer. Locsin had no regrets for, had he accepted, he would have been arrested anyway or he would have to arrest his best friends— Soc Rodrigo, Ninoy Aquino, Chino Roces, the others.

The sons of the soldiers by whose he had fought to liberate the Republic from the Japanese and then to save it from the communists, now padlocked the Free Press. Philippine Marines took on the role last taken up by Japanese imperial troops. Locsin was kept in detention in Fort Bonifacio, and given a choice.

He had written the response to the choice he was given a decade before: journalism without freedom was not journalism. Marcos, thinking he had in his hand all the aces, gave him the devil’s option: keep what you have, only publish.

Publish, under such circumstances? Never. He would not even deign to bid on Marcos’s hand. Very well then, if Locsin would not play his game, Marcos would take everything. And he did: a forced sale-confiscation. If Locsin would not publish the Free Press, the Marcos would take it away. The physical plant, the assets —they  would go to a crony, for a song. The most modern printing plant in the country.

Locsin’s own son would recall what that crony told Marcos: it is better to kill him than take his life’s work away. But that was what Marcos was all about: he knew how to hit a man where it hurt.

Years of seclusion followed. The betrayal of his own people in the Free Press was nothing to the cavalier way his countrymen took the loss of their liberties. Locsin had done his part, his countrymen now had to do theirs. Few cared about the silencing of the Free Press -very well, he would be silent since anyway he could not be heard.

Years spent writing stories and poems—things dear to his heart, which had been set aside because there were more mundane but pressing things to attend to. Now, as in the first weeks of the war, he had time to be with his books, a respite from journalism in a hurry. Years in which to attend to his craft. Years of rest, though still of rage. The slave deserves slavery. But what man can abide slavery?

He took up his journalistic pen when his countrymen showed they were ready to break their chains. The Free Press returned; the byline of Teodoro M. Locsin was back. From him, however, flowed no words of congratulation, essays to encourage the smugness felt by those to whom democracy had been given back on a silver platter, for not a drop of blood had been shed except that of his friend, Ninoy Aquino.

Locsin was back, on his own terms, and with a mission still left to fulfill. He began where he had left off: it would be the same causes, the same warnings, the same criticism, the same lack of pity for the foolish and the same intolerance of crooks and tyrants, petty or big, fascist or left-leaning.

As for the Free Press, did he get it back? He had it for the asking from Mrs. Aquino. But that would have been the height of bad taste. In a sense he was in power, which he had never been: his son was in Malacañang. He chose to file a lawsuit to recover what had been taken from him only after Mrs. Aquino had stepped down. The result, thus far, has been predictably grim.

He was in the field again, fighting. Would his causes be defeated again? Would his words be again in vain? From 1985 to 1994, he would write and publish. But for what?

In 1986 he wrote, “Defeat it usually termed ignominious unless one fights to the end, against overwhelming odds, then it is called honorable. Thus, Spartan mothers told their sons setting forth to war to return with their shields or on them.

“But there is another kind of defeat, and it’s a rare one. Rare in history and most rare in political history, for politics seems to bring out only the worst, the meanest in men. It’s more than just honorable, it’s glorious, and that is defeat from self-denial: to lose when one might have won, out of a sense of high purpose.”

Was there such a thing as victory for a man who fought with words?

If in politics, which he keenly observed throughout his life, victory was only the pretext for a new round of corruption, did Locsin ever seek a victory? Or simply to state the case for right?

He wrote for hopeless causes -hopeless in that even the victory of his causes meant their distortion, their rhetorical triumph and substantive defeat. He would get an award for his singular championship of land reform from the man who buried it in a flood of rhetoric and empty promises —Ferdinand Marcos.

His words were the raging of the just, of the righteous. And yet if justice was finally achieved it had still to be maintained. The struggle would never end.

Teodoro M. Locsin as Sisyphus —condemned, not by the gods but his own heart —a heart that would not give up.

The enigma of a life. What is left but to find solace in a poem, his own, “Past Midnight”:

The music is ended
The hall is deserted
all the dancers are gone
Drink to the empty chairs.

He had called his column “The Uneasy Chair.” To the end, he was restless: he could not come to terms with the causes of his anger. And so, anger never left him. You could see it in his eyes.

He left behind his books, and the words he wrote. He left behind his anger, too —for others to feel. And having felt, perhaps to do as he did —fight.

Corazon Aquino: Person of the Century, December 30, 1999

Philippines Free Press Person of the Century:
Corazon C. Aquino

By Manuel L. Quezon III

December 30, 1999–YEAR after year, for nearly three generations, the Philippines FREE PRESS has bestowed the distinction of Man or Woman of the Year on the Filipino who has had the most influence on the country for the year in question. Over the past 91 years of its existence, this magazine has seen leaders come and go; it has seen them rise and fall; and it knows, as no other institution can, which leaders have made a positive difference in the destiny of the Philippines and its people. Having covered leaders, having seen them up close -faults, foibles, virtues and all- the FREE PRESS knows that the leaders (and the leadership) that counts is what the American writer Garry Wills defined as “Trinitarian”: not just the push and pull between a leader and his followers, not merely the stories of people who have had great numbers either pushing them forward or being hectored onward by them, but rather the leaders who mobilized “others toward a goal shared by leader and followers.” As Wills points out, “one-legged and two-legged chairs do not, of themselves, stand. A third leg is needed. Leaders, followers, and goals make up the three equally necessary supports for leadership.”

Of the leaders entitled to consideration as the Philippines Free Press’s Person of the Century a short list of six comes to mind: Manuel L. Quezon, Sergio Osmeña, Ramon Magsaysay, Claro M. Recto, Ninoy Aquino and Corazon Aquino. All of them were leaders, successful in their political careers and admired by their contemporaries; they had followers and they had goals which their followers shared. All of them have been both hailed and lambasted in the pages of this magazine over the years. And yet, time and again throughout its long history, the FREE PRESS has always returned to these leaders as exemplars of positive leadership –in contrast to that other Filipino, Ferdinand E. Marcos, who affected our lives and our history completely negatively: he was, after all, a leader, and had followers; but his goals, many of them achieved only at gunpoint, were rejected by the majority of his people.
(more…)

Raul Manglapus: Pied Piper of Democracy

Raul Manglapus: Pied Piper of Democracy
By Manuel L. Quezon III

NO one sings “Blue Eagle the King” anymore, and no Atenean belonging to the martial law baby generation knows his music at all; but of the many songs he composed, one lives on: “Mambo Magsaysay,” the anthem of the Age of the Bakya and to this day, the song of those who believe that democracy can work in the Philippines.

Raul Manglapus, the composer of the Magsaysay campaign song, was born in Manila on October 20, 1918. A noted student orator, he became one of the best-known alumni of the Ateneo de Manila. He represented a generation that came of age during the War (Manglapus would suffer imprisonment at the hands of the Japanese because of his guerrilla activities) and which attempted to reinvigorate the politics of their country so as to wrest it from the clutches of the ward heelers.

After the war, Manglapus was a journalist – he was present at the Japanese surrender on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay- and a professor. Together with Manny Manahan and other Magsaysay die-hards, Manglapus (appointed Assistant Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and then Secretary of Foreign Affairs in 1957 by Magsaysay) found himself in the corridors of power – corridors from which it was hoped the tayo-tayo politics of the past had been banished. But the era of good government proved all too fleeting; the death of Magsaysay returned the control of Malacanang to the old hands that had inspired the revulsion that made people like Manglapus enter politics in the first place. He was catapulted to the Senate in 1961 as the symbol of a new generation that hoped to bring back the principles of politics a la Magsaysay. And Manglapus, together with so many others, would find himself dedicating the rest of his life to the return of honest governance to the people.

In 1965 Manglapus thought that he would be the man to do just that, as president. Instead, he helped divide the electorate between himself and Macapagal, handing the presidency to Ferdinand Marcos. He would try to do his part in the Constitutional Convention in 1971, and yet was mercifully spared arrest because he happened to be abroad when martial law was imposed.

He lived far from splendidly in exile, leading the decimated ranks of the politicians who did not succumb to the blandishments of Marcos. When so many of his peers, so many of his countrymen, avidly embraced the dictatorship, he was among the very few who opposed it from the start. And while it is true he did not starve in exile, neither did he live in luxury or dissipation. For speaking out when so many embraced Marcos, he deserves the nation’s thanks. He spent 13 years as a political refugee, lobbying in Washington against the dictatorship.

The return of Freedom brought the return of Manglapus, who, once more, was returned to the senate in 1987, only to resign his position to serve President Aquino. As Aquino’s secretary of foreign affairs he found his own words to be his biggest liability as a public servant; he played an instrumental part in the botched attempt to extend the RP-US Bases agreement which led to the expulsion of those bases.

When his President departed from office, he agreed to serve the next one.

The less said about Manglapus’s service during the Ramos administration, the better. By then, anyway, he was more of a figurehead put out to pasture.

Manglapus was a learned and polished man, one of the last of the romantics when it came to politics. He genuinely believed in reform, and yet found it too distasteful to engage in the sort of ruthless politics that is necessary to achieve the power necessary to initiate genuine reform. And so he found himself politically frustrated at every turn. In retirement, he returned to writing, and to playing music with old friends. He would not be, as he had so earnestly hoped, become the pied piper of democracy. But he tried his damndest to be just that.

What the nation must recall is the young Atenean with the golden tongue and a musical gift, who spoke out for the common tao before Word War II, and who fought the Japanese. He deserves recognition for being part of the Magsaysay revolution and for keeping lonely vigil during the dark days of martial law. Those are achievements enough for any man.

I remember three faces of Manglapus. In exile in Washington, he was a little dark man bundled up in an overcoat, hat and scarf, dignified but it seemed, so very grim: a man carrying the shame of a subjugated nation on his shoulders. As Aquino’s foreign Secretary he was cultivated and urbane, a man of many languages who dreamed of an Internationale of Newly-Restored Democracies. There was an amused twinkle in his one good eye, as if he wanted to say to all those who saw him that he had trodded the path of power once before and was not too impressed with it the second time around.

Then there was Manglapus the elder statesman, beholden to no one, free to speak his own mind, esconced in his position as titular head of the ruling party. This was the Manglapus who, apropos of constituional amendments for President Ramos, pointed out that what Ramos was trying to do had been done before, so what was the big deal? This was the Manglapus of the Malacañang-dispensed sinecure who bothered his long-time admirers to distraction: but perhaps it was because the young firebrand had mellowed with age, and now had the experience and -shall we say wisdom?- to say the truths that his followers still found hard to believe.

Raul Manglapus was a man with a formidable intellect and so many gifts, all of which he unhesitatingly offered to his country. Others have said that he was too far ahead of his time in espousing many of the dreams he cherished; or perhaps it is better to say that he will always be ahead of his time, and that his dreams belong to men who themselves are good, and connot believe that their countrymen cannot be good as well.

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.

The National Centennial: Who cares? August 30, 1998

August 30, 1998

The National Centennial: Who cares?

Filipinos will have nothing to celebrate but every reason to curse the government for yet another great waste of taxpayers’ money

by Manuel L. Quezon III

ITS logo can be seen everywhere: a stylized red, white and blue ribbon forming the number 100, surmounted by three gold stars and bearing the legend “Freedom, wealth of the nation” underneath. You can see this logo emblazoned on the aircraft of Philippine airlines, on vanity license plates, on stickers and in advertisements on television and newspapers.

The logo is that of the National Centennial, which Filipinos will be celebrating in 1998. Well, some people in government at the very least.

Befuddled.

The Centennial and the patriotic events leading up to it are the concerns of the National Centennial Commission, headed by Salvador H. Laurel, an honest and decent man who, obviously, is not much of an executive. The commission over which he presides with well-meaning good humor is attached to the Office of the President. In keeping with the nature of the administration under which it was created, and to whose largesse it owes its existence, the centennial commission has found itself the subject of criticism for such things us fact-finding missions to observe the Tournament of Roses parade in the United States, for saying some very nice things that are then made a mockery of by its actions, and for generally allowing itself to be dragged into controversies as a result of the President’s tendency to unilaterally announce hare-brained schemes without warning his subordinates that they should expect some heat. In other words, the centennial commission is a characteristically Philippines 2000 institution, headed by people who have their hearts in the right place but who end up befuddled by the shady politicking that swirls around the administration.

The vague nature of the centennial commission’s mandate is at the root of the impression many people have that Laurel’s agency is adrift, and thus incapable of focusing its energies, much less mustering the popular support needed to make the Centennial meaningful.

Laurel’s commission is supposed to come up with programs and events to commemorate the Centennial. But what the Centennial actually is remains unclear. At first, sensibly enough, the commission said that the Centennial, which will take place on June 12, 1998, is no less than the hundredth anniversary of the proclamation of Philippine independence from a window of the Aguinaldo mansion in Kawit, Cavite.

Sounds clear enough. But every Independence Day since the creation of the commission—that is, the five June 12th’s celebrated since President Ramos took his oath of office—featured enormous placards and billboards proclaiming that June 12th to be the 94th, 95th, 97th, 98th, or 99th anniversary of independence.

Distinction.

Now there is very clearly a difference between commemorating the anniversary of the proclamation of independence and observing the anniversary of actual independence. The first is the anniversary of the particular moment in time when, with flags waving, bands playing and people cheering, Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed that the Philippines and the Filipinos were, and ought to be, free. The second is the ritual commemoration of a reality that began at a certain point and has continued existing up to the present without interruption.

So which is it? Will we, in 1998, be commemorating the proclamation of our nation’s freedom, or will we be joyously celebrating four generations’ worth of emancipation from colonial rule?

To commemorate the former would be justified and grand; to commemorate the latter would be a self-induced deception and a lie. And yet, after the simple and lucid definition of purpose made when Laurel’s commission was created, it has done nothing to clarify this issue.

And this issue is vital. If the commission cannot even figure out its true mandate, how can the nation be expected to have a sense of purpose? A nation and a people should not be made to expend their energies in a nationwide fiesta celebrating an ambiguous state of affairs. One doesn’t need a degree in Philippine history to realize that our country has been independent for only two generations, that is, since July 4, 1946. In fact, a serious case could be made for dating our independence to an event as recent as the removal of the US bases. To assert that we have enjoyed the blessings of freedom uninterruptedly since 1898 is to go against the experience of the generation that fought the Japanese in anticipation of the independence promised—and fulfilled—in 1946. A generation whose members are still very much around to challenge any claims to a century of freedom.

There’s more. Apparently unsure of its true purpose, lacking the will to grapple with the problem, content with trying to please everyone and thus alienating almost everyone, the commission has spent the past five years on the defensive, trying to wriggle out of controversies instead of taking up the initiative. It has devoted its time to planning colorful events that have fallen flat because they were extravaganzas without a crucial component: the Filipino people.

With less than a year to go before the grand finale of the Centennial effort, it would be useful to look into the other reasons why the Centennial effort has been an unqualified flop.

The master plan hinged on the commemoration of a series of events, particularly the centennial of the beginning of the Philippine Revolution and the martyrdom of Rizal.

In both of these great anniversaries, the commission immediately handicapped itself by placing too much importance on the descendants of those who participated in the Philippine Revolution, among them the relatives of Rizal and ardent Rizalists. Not that the descendants of our freedom fighters should have been ignored; far from it. It is both necessary and proper that their patriotic legacies should be honored. But in settling for organizing reunions among the families that formed Kaanak and similar organizations, the commission set itself up in a position for which it was manifestly unqualified: arbiter among the factions that started to squabble over star billing in the Centennial celebrations.

The descendants of the Katipuneros from Tondo began to fight with the descendants of the fighters from Cavite; Magdiwang and Magdalo divisions sprang up once more with a ferocity intensified by a century of familial resentments. The commission, sensibly enough for a body tasked with focusing its attention on the proclamation of independence at Cavite, featured a number of descendants and sympathizers of Emilio Aguinaldo. Only to find itself being taken to task by admirers and relatives of Andres Bonifacio. To complicate things further, contending ideological points of view that have already been boiling since the 1960s, the last time the nation focused its attention on the revolutionary heroes, come to the forefront once more. The commission accused of being cozy club of ilustrados who were pointedly playing down the importance of the proletarian revolution led by Bonifacio.

The enormous amount of energy and media attention focused on these intramurals diverted attention from the fact that other than the Aguinaldistas and Bonifacionistas, the Caviteños and the Department of History of the University of the Philippines, no one else seemed to give a damn about what was going on. This marked the derailment of the Centennial effort from what should have been its primary purpose: to excite the majority of Filipinos who cannot trace their family trees to a veteran of the Revolution so that they will be inspired to proclaim that while they may not be able to trace an ancestor to the fight for freedom, they are prepared to exult in the fact that they are around today to enjoy that freedom.

In yet another example of how close the commission came to fulfilling its greatest task—only to swerve away from it—it got as far as proclaiming 1996, the year in which Bonifacio’s revolt and Rizal’s sacrifice were commemorated, the “Year of Filipino Heroes.” This took the spotlight away from personalities and finally gave recognition to the legions of heroes whose names have been lost to us. The commission’s lack of focus made the proclamation an empty slogan.

Folly.

To make things even worse, the commission ended up holding the bag for the President, who decided he wanted a tower erected in Rizal Park ostensibly in commemoration of the Centennial but actually to glorify his incumbency. The resulting furor from artistic circles, gleefully echoed by the media, alienated the commission further from the very people in the best position to help it achieve its aims. Things went downhill from there. A convocation of scholars from around the world was held in Manila to tackle the significance of the Philippine Revolution. It ended up being a convention of Rizalists who delivered papers on every subject conceivable, except on the Philippine Revolution, and, most of all, Andres Bonifacio. Which further alienated the groups already convinced that the August 1896 anniversary was deliberately being turned into a nonevent, a suspicion confirmed on the centennial of the start of the Revolution when the deputy prime minister of Malaysia was made a Knight of Rizal in an official, face-saving gesture to make up for the embarrassment inflicted by Malaysia when it convened a conference on Rizal ahead of the Philippines.

Creating a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Knights of Rizal was the least the admirers of our national hero and the government could do to thank Malaysia for its friendly interest. But it was absolutely the worst thing anyone could do as far as slighting the admirers of Bonifacio was concerned. The commission became a party to this highly undiplomatic act undertaken in the name of diplomacy, which achieved nothing internationally while making enemies of a significant section of the already small number of people who cared about the Centennial in the first place.

The commemoration of the martyrdom of Rizal was accomplished with a little more success and less bruised feelings, something owed to the long-standing cohesiveness of the admirers of Rizal than to any effort of the government, whose single strike of genius was to put the ceremonies under the direction of Zeneida Amador, who managed to pull off a moving reenactment of Rizal’s final moments.

Since the storm and stress of 1996, things have been quiet, almost comatose, as far as the Centennial front is concerned. The most newsworthy Centennial-related event was a negative one—a tongue-lashing from a fuming Ramos offended by the apathy of the tiny audience that listened to his proclamation of the Centennial theme for this year. (What’s the theme for 1997? Can anyone remember? Anyone?) A presidential scolding that Laurel mercifully missed because he was out of the country.

The good news this year is courtesy of the Armed Forces, which raised the funds for the purchase of the house where the Tejeros Convention took place. The happy event was negated, however, by the scandal associated with the “restoration” of the Malolos Cathedral.

Patriotism and nationalism cannot be conjured from people’s hearts at the drop of a hat. All the balloons and brass bands in the world will never be able to evoke feelings of pride in one’s country, of solemn appreciation for the long and bloody history of our struggle for freedom. A people must understand that a nation’s history, like our lives is a combination of the sacred and the profane, the noble and disgraceful, the silly and the sublime. Instead of fostering understanding and an appreciation of our past and its contradictions and unifying themes, what was sown was division and discord. Instead of reaping public support, the commission has found itself subjected to derision and active opposition. It has provoked discord among intellectuals and factions, without achieving the mobilization of the majority of citizens as part of the effort to render homage to our heroes.

Saddest of all, all along it has meant well.

The hollowness, the emptiness of the Centennial effort is best demonstrated by an event that was reported to have taken place recently when a new monument to Andres Bonifacio was unveiled in Manila.

A few news reports mentioned that during the unveiling ceremonies, the descendants of Andres Bonifacio and the descendants of Emilio Aguinaldo came forward and publicly declared that they were putting an end to the animosity and resentment between their two clans as a consequence of the execution of the Supremo. And that they were calling on all their friends to forgive and forget in the name of national unity.

Pathetic.

This declaration should have been an occasion for national rejoicing. In another era, it would have been reason for a Te Deum to be sung at the cathedral. For the declaration marked one of the noblest, most admirable, and meaningful events of the Centennial period.

And yet, no further mention of it was made in the papers. NO effort was made to propagate this joyful news in the media. The commission did not say a word.

Why not? Because the event took place at a ceremony under the auspices of Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim? Perhaps. A pathetic, petty reason, if true. Reason enough to understand why the Filipino people will not be filled with pride and awe on June 12, 1998. What will they have to celebrate? Pomp and circumstance at a scandalous cost, of no relevance to themselves and their loved ones, and of no consequence for a country that will be witnessing one more example of official extravagance.

To understand why no one cares about the Centennial is to understand why no one cares about the government, save those who directly benefit from it. It does not belong to the people. It belongs to a different world that feeds off us.

The reader may be tempted to ask, at the end of this catalogue of lost opportunities and squandered resources, if such an analysis isn’t counterproductive, leading to a feeling of cynicism that does nothing to salvage what must surely be one remaining opportunity to sort things out in time for the Centennial.

The answer would be: It is precisely to try to salvage something out of this sad state of affairs that harsh criticism such as this need to be made in public.

If it is important—and most people will agree it is important—to commemorate the anniversary of the proclamation of our independence, on the eve of the birth of the Malolos Republic, then we cannot leave such an important event in the hands of elected officials. It would be as futile as waiting for reforms from Spain in the time of the Propagandists. It is up to ourselves to make the Centennial meaningful just as it was up to ourselves to wrest our freedom from Spain and cajole it back from the hands of the Americans.

The Centennial of the beginning of our Revolution against Spain (which, incidentally, was the centennial of our first declaration of independence, reiterated in Kawit two years later) resulted in a marvelous musical, 1896, staged by Peta and which owed nothing to official support. It was a triumph in all respects, and lifted the hearts of the young and old, without glossing over the more sordid aspects of our freedom struggle. Watching it, one experienced in an hour and a half the exhilaration, the tearful pride, the compassion, the joy, anger and resolve that well all should feel when we think of the Revolution and the Centennial Feelings made possible by the songs and acting of a small group of young men and women. One saw what a true love for our past combined with dedication to make it mean something for people here, today, could accomplish.

Legacy.

So let those whose hearts and minds are in the right place take over. Stop waiting for the parade. Seek those who are doing the things that count and make people think.

As for the National Centennial Commission, its only legacy to us, besides the millions of pesos in taxpayers’ money wasted on its account, will be a concrete and ignoble one: the alteration of our flag.

On flagpoles everywhere, a new and different flag is masquerading as the emblem of our country. The color of its blue stripe is a neither-here-nor-there shade of blue lighter than that of the flag that three generations had honored; its red stripe is different, too. The proportions of the white triangle, with its sun and three stars, however, continue to be those of the flag specified by executive order during the Commonwealth, making this new flag neither a restoration of the slightly different proportions of the flag raised at Kawit nor a complete abolition of the flag we all know. These, without any enabling law, without public consultations, without even bothering to inform the very people who swear allegiance to it every morning.

The bastardized flag may owe something to the flag that went down in defeat under Aguinaldo, but it also harks back to the same flag raised at the inauguration of the Puppet Republic in 1943, and a variation of which was inflicted on a subjugated nation under Marcos. A flag dishonored through association, and whose legitimacy was long supplanted by the flag Filipinos fought for in Bataan, raised in triumph in 1946, borne at Ninoy Aquino’s funeral, waved at EDSA, and finally raised over the former US bases in 1992.

This is not the sort of legacy Salvador H. Laurel should want to leave us.

End