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Mid-term and other elections as reported by the Free Press

hhc-campaigns for rej:acc

May 2013 is a mid-term election. The classic chronicle of a mid-term, and particularly interesting as it reported trends that have become par for the course in modern campaigns, is Nick Joaquin’s Ayos na ang Buto-Buto, November, 1963:

This year’s campaign will go down in slang annals for broaching a new way to say curtains. The hot phrase wildfired through Manila during the last month of the campaign, is now to be heard wherever folk talk. Has the eighth passenger climbed into the A.C. jeepney? Ayos na ang butó-butó. Has the bingo emcee picked up that elusive number? Ayos na ang butó-butó. Has your girl finally agreed to a movie date? Ayos na ang butó-butó.

The literal meaning of it is: The voting’s over. The blossoming meanings are: It’s made, sewed up, completed, settled, on the way, in the bag, amen, fin, the end. The rites of politics required every candidate and his henchmen to claim cocksurely that, as far as they were concerned, the fight was over, the voting was over, long before the people stormed the polls. Now, as the two parties wrangle over who really won or lost, the people hurl back at them their own cry of pre-poll confidence. So what’s the use of post-poll wrangling? Ayos na ang butó-butó!

The birth of that byword was a major event of the campaign, which ended with a bang-bang-bang. The first bang was the War over the Mestizo. The second bang was the Apocalypse according to St. Robot. The third bang was the pair of avance mitings on Plaza Miranda. It wasn’t a dull campaign, and don’t let anybody tell you different. Funny things happened to the politicos on their way to public office.

Four elements of the present day are there: the slang of the day; questions of ethnicity, class, and race; controversies about surveys; the ole-fashioned speeches, stumping and rallies.

But other features of campaigns past are long gone: while party-switching is still there, the era of the party convention as a process that mattered, is history, consider this relict of things past in It’s Up to You Now! from 1953:

The Filipino people know that the presidential nomination was not handed to Magsaysay on a silver platter. He had to go to the provinces, campaign among the NP delegates. For one who had just joined the party, it was not an easy task to enlist the support of the men and women who were to pick the Opposition standard-bearer at the coming national convention. Magsaysay’s task became harder because he was to face a man who had done much for the party—Camilo Osias.

There was talk that Laurel, Recto and Rodriguez would double-cross Magsaysay at the convention; that certain arrangements would be made in order to create a deadlock between Osias and Magsaysay; and that once this deadlock existed, Laurel would then be railroaded by the conventionists, thereby making him the party candidate for president.

Magsaysay would then be drafted for the Senate under the NP banner. Thus, the Opposition senatorial slate would be stronger with Monching heading the list. Left no other choice, the best Cabinet member Quirino ever had would accept the senatorial nomination, whether he liked it or not.

The prophets of gloom were all wrong. Laurel, Recto, Rodriguez and Tañada had no such plans; they were motivated by good faith and the best of intentions when they invited Magsaysay to join them in a crusade for a clean and honest government under a new regime—an NP regime.

That era –when parties actually mattered, because leaders had to cultivate loyal party followers– preserved in time, so to speak, as seen in other articles, from the height of one-party rule in United behind Quezon, July 15, 1939 to Why Garcia won, November 23, 1957; but as parties withered, new-style politics would take its place. See Nick Joaquin’s In this corner: Lacson, May 11, 1957, for a profile of the new-type of leader; and in The Winners ’61, Nick Joaquin quoted Macapagal describing how a campaign begins a long time before the official campaign period starts:

President Garcia, it is said, had originally regarded the large popular vote for Macapagal as a directive from the people to make Macapagal serve in the government: there were hints from Malacañang that the vice-president would be appointed secretary of foreign affairs. But after a consultation with his council of leaders, Mr. Garcia decided not to give Macapagal a job.

“From that moment,” says Macapagal, “I decided to build up and strengthen the Liberal Party, to begin campaigning for the presidency, and to beat Garcia in 1961.”

He started campaigning during his very first year as veep, circled the country three times during his term: “It took me a year the first time, two years the second time, a year the third time.”

At first President Garcia allowed him to use a navy cutter, the Ifugao. Macapagal started with the most inaccessible areas: Palawan, the isles of the Badjaos, the Turtle Islands. He had, while still in the foreign affairs department, negotiated the return of the Turtle Islands to the Philippines, had raised the Philippine flag there. On his second trip, he covered the isolated areas on the Pacific coast. When he submitted his schedule for his third trip, which was to have included Batanes, President Garcia smelled what the vice-president was up to and forbade his further use of the Ifugao. Undaunted, Macapagal used inter-island steamers.

“It was a blessing in disguise,” he says. “On the steamers I met more people.” He ate with the third-class passengers, surprised them by cleaning up his plate, though the food was staler than most people could stomach.

In his wanderings, Macapagal reached places where the last government official people remembered having seen was Governor-General Leonard Wood. “I think,” says Macapagal, “that Wood was the one government official who tried to reach every place in the country.”

Macapagal was not always the politician in his four-year odyssey: he has an eye for the odd and the beautiful. In a coastal town in Samar he saw a man who was said to be 150 years old: “He was like a mummy, he looked dead already, but he could still talk.” Macapagal becomes lyrical when describing the brooks in Camiguin: “They are the most beautiful brooks I ever saw—water flowing over white stones. If I were an artist I would paint those brooks.”

At the same time that he was trying to reach every place in the country, he was building up his party. He saw the need for uniting the opposition but saw no hope for union as long as the Progressives clung to two ideas of theirs: first, that the Liberal Party was rotten to the core and could never return to power and, second, that they, the Progressives, could win by themselves. When negotiations for union in 1959 lagged, Macapagal abruptly ended them: “I saw it was useless to negotiate until I had proved to the Progressives that we could win in an election and that they couldn’t.” The Progressives tried to reopen the negotiations but Macapagal firmly repulsed them: “I just told them that we had already lost a month of the campaign. After all, I felt that union in 1959 was not important. What was important was union in 1961—and I could get that only by proving myself right in 1959.”

And there is the story of how every election brings with it an innovation, a raising of the ante. There’s the rise of the celebrity candidate, exemplified by matinee idol Rogelio de la Rosa. Nick Joaquin’s classic The “Untimely Withdrawal” of Roger de la Rosa from November, 1961 shows the first steps of a phenomenon that has become part of the political landscape today:

The Yabut broadcast started a run on the bank. From noon of November 3, the bakya-and-salakot crowd began storming Roger’s house, wanting to know if his slogan—“We Shall Return To Malacañang With Roger De La Rosa As President”—had indeed shrunk to a starker notice: “No Returns, No Refunds.”

His henchmen say they were afraid there would be trouble that night, so ugly was the temper of the idol’s fans. The early-evening crowd, mostly from the suburbs, eventually dispersed; but by two o-clock in the morning another crowd, from more distant hinterlands, had formed in front of the senator’s gate and was demanding to be let in. These indignant visitors were admitted and staged what practically amounted to a sit-down strike in the large nipa house on the senator’s lawn.

“Let us not move from here,” said they, “until he himself comes and tells us what he really intends to do.”

Noon came, and they were still there, squatting inside the nipa house and along the driveway, but their leader had still not appeared to them.

Only a few of them were allowed inside the senator’s residence, and there they found not Roger but his brother Jaime, who, when asked about Roger, replied with a scathing attack on the administration.

One thing must be said for Roger: he really drew the peasant crowd, for the faces one saw on his lawn that morning had the look of the Philippine earth: burned black by the sun and gnarled by misery. The men were in cheap polo shirts, the women in shapeless camisolas. It was obvious they had dressed in a hurry. One heard that this one had come all the way from Quezon, that one all the way from Cagayan; a man said he had flown in from Mindanao. All had a common complaint: why did they have to learn about this from Yabut? Why hadn’t Roger taken them into his confidence? They all claimed to be volunteer workers who had used their own money to spread Roger’s cause. If Roger backed out, they would lose face. How could they return to their barrios if they had lost face?

They all clung to the hope that all this was but more “black propaganda.” Their boy had not withdrawn; or if he was thinking of doing so, they would persuade him to continue the fight: let him but appear before them.

A cry rose up:

“Matalong lumalaban, huwag matalong umuurong (To go down fighting, not to go down retreating)!”

Had he lost heart because he had run out of funds? There was still some money they could scrape up among themselves; one man said he had already contributed P3,000 and was willing to contribute more; after all, there were only ten days left of the campaign. It didn’t matter if Roger was a sure loser.

“Let the votes we cast for him,” cried a bespectacled woman from Binangonan, “be a clear picture for 1965!”

The cheers that greeted this seemed to indicate that the Roger extravaganza would, by insistent public request, be extended for another ten days. Poor deluded rustics who did not know that the decision had already been made! They could cheer and argue and weep all they wanted; they were standing outside a closed door. Their fate was being settled, without their knowledge, in other rooms of other houses behind other doors, while they offered their very blood to the cause.

But as the day climbed toward noon and no Roger showed up, hope became feebler, the mutterings became darker. Inside the nipa house and all over the driveway, angry knots of disciples debated what to do.

Some said they would still vote for Roger, even if he had withdrawn, even if their votes should be “nulo.” Others cried that Roger could commit himself but not them to another candidate. The angriest spoke bitterly about the quality of Pampango blood and swore that they would, in protest, go over to the Garcia camp. A few still wistfully hoped that Roger would come and tell them that the show would go on.

By five that afternoon, the hope was dead. Roger had appeared on TV, with Macapagal; the withdrawal had been announced, the change of stand had been made.

That night, Roger’s house stood dark and silent. Gone were the noisy folk who had filled the lawn all day. The angry ones made good their threat and went over to the Garcia camp that very night. The undecided ones crept back to their barrios, wondering how to save face. The trip back must have been agonizing: whichever way they looked they saw that handsome face smiling from posters, from billboards, from streamers hung across roads, promising Malacañang to all these pathetic folk who had hitched their carretelas to a star.

In Winding it up, November 1, 1969, Nick Joaquin reported how the helicopter made its entry into campaigns:

The Helicopter has become today’s campaign symbol, as the jeep was in the ’50s, the railroad before the war. It is an apt symbol. When the man-made cyclonew appears in the air, turning and turning in a narrowing gyre, things fall apart, mere anarchy is loosed, the ceremony of innocence drowns in a tide of dust, and the blinded crowd leaning to the whirlwind gropes in sudden darkness to greet the good who lack conviction or the bad who reek of passionate intensity.

It’s pentecostal scene. First that crowd gathered round an open space, hot and bored from waiting. Then a faint whirr in the sky. Heads lift eyes squint exclamations become a roar, children jump up and down pointing to the tiny gleaming spiral in the air, to the swelling windmill, to the violent cross abruptly, deafeningly, overhead, blotting out the light. And suddenly a mighty wind plunges into earth and explodes into whirled fog, a typhoon of dust. The crowd falls apart, screaming. People stagger, crouch, press hands to eyes; but even those who have run to cower behind wall or tree cannot escape the hot blast of wind or the clattering fallout of soil. All at once the pall of dust lifts, the wind sinks, and people gray with dust from head to foot straighten up and slap at their clothes, looking foolish..

Meanwhile, the arrived candidate, himself immaculate, descends on his ravaged welcomers, is garlanded, poses for pictures with the local satraps, is escorted to the transportation. The crowd surges after him. Sweat has turned the gray of dust they wear into trickles of mud on face and neck.

Left behind on the field is the helicopter, now looking too small and innocent to be capable of the tornado it stirred, that moment of unloosed anarchy, dark and dangerous as a election campaign, disrupting the ground and leaving on the body of the people a film of filth. Centuries of stony sleep now vexed to nightmare every two years.

“The Helicopter,” says President Marcos, “has completely revolutionized campaigning. When I first ran for President I went around the country twice – and each round took me one whole year. In this year’s campaign I will have gone around the country three times in one year and it has been less tiring, less fatiguing, than in 1964-65.”

The article contains as concise a summary of political strategizing –and the grueling requirements of personal stamina and organizational logistics– as has been published anywhere, concerning Philippine elections, courtesy of Nick Joaquin quoting Ferdinand E. Marcos:

“One of the things we discovered in our post-election critique was that we spent too much time in small provinces; we had attempted to follow the example of Macapagal. We spent as much time in a small area like Batanes as in a big area like Pangasinan. This, of course was not correct. Manila has over 600,000 voter and Rizal over a million — but we spent the same amount of time campaigning in Marinduque, a smaller province, as in Rizal. So, we decided that, in l967, we would try out a new schedule, proportioning time to each area according to its size. And not only time but also funding. The funding in l967 had been scattered gunshots — no system to it, none of the delicate accuracy of aim required.”

So, the ’67 polls were used to apply lessons learned from the mistakes of ’65, and also as a trial run for strategies contemplated for ’69.

“There were many things we tested in l967. However, when you are in politics, always, after an election, the question comes up: How could we have improved on this? Or you say: This should not have happened.”

And what happened in ’67 that should not have happened, that certainly must not happen again in ’69?

“Manila. We were pushed into participating in choosing a local candidate. The national leaders must not be pushed into that. There should be a middle body to absorb the shocks. So, we created a mediation committee, an arbitration committee of the junta, which chooses the candidates.

“A second mistake was, again, funding. It was coursed only through a few men, If any of them turns against you, the lower levels are lost, you are lost. So, there had to be a re-routing a re-channeling of funds, materials, campaign instructions. There must be alternatives; in the armed forces you call them lines of communication. In politics there must be an alternate organization to take over in the event of a crisis.”

The President says he doesn’t specifically have the Salas crisis in mind.

“I use the word crisis to mean any unexpected stoppage in communication between those above and those below, since on that continuing communication depends the effectivity of an organization. Stop that and it’s the end of the organization. So, you must have alternate lines of communication.”

It’s to be inferred that the campaign was not delayed in the takeoff stage by the Salas crisis because the “alternatives” realized as necessary in ’67 had already been established — and that these “alternatives” can also prevent “stoppage” in case of, say, a Lopez crisis.

From the trial run of ’67, work moved on to the actual planning of the ’69 campaign, which is marked by an intensive use of the helicopter (to overcome the limitation on the campaign period), the computer (to get the proportions right between effort and geography), the public-opinion survey (to check on mileage) and a controlled budge, meaning limited funds.

“I want that clarified,” says the President, “because ‘unlimited funding’ is one of the fables of political history. People think we have an unlimited amount of money. That is not true. I am trying to limit expenses.”

But so rooted is the belief there’s a fear to buck it; one might be dropped in favor of someone willing to continue the fiction.

“That is why most Presidents, I mean their leaders, want to give the impression of having unlimited resources. They are not to blame at all. But it is apocryphal, legendary, a myth. It is not true that a President has unlimited funds. There is never any limit unless you set a limit. Even President Magsaysay, President Garcia and President Macapagal, they themselves told me, this I got from them, because I wanted to know, and they said that the money is never enough, no matter how much you think you have, there is never enough. Unless you set a budget and stick to it. Because they will assume the sky’s the limit and if you don’t come across you’re dead. Unless you tell them point-blank: the myth is only politics.”

And there’s still the clutter of the tried-and-tested. In Final round, November 1, 1969, Napoleon Rama reported that the battle of the billboards was also a battle of perceptions:

As of last week, the propaganda people of both camps were still setting up posters and billboards along the highways, on the theory perhaps that nowadays people travel more and farther.

One notable new feature of the current campaign is the uneven propaganda battle of billboards, leaflets, pins, buttons and television time. The battle of the billboards is no contest. The Marcos billboards far outnumber the OK signs. In fact, in many provinces, Osmeña billboards are nowhere to be seen.

Osmeña operates on the theory that billboards in the presidential contest serve little purpose. Billboards, he maintains, are necessary for the senatorial candidates because the voters are apt to forget some names in a field of 16. But in the presidential competition, Osmeña continues, no voter need be reminded of the names of the two protagonists.

The Marcos boys have another interpretation: “It’s simply that the OK camp hasn’t got the logistics.” To which taunt the Osmeña persuaders reply “since we haven’t got kickback money, we are using our logistics where they count most.”

All over the land, the landscape is dotted with Marcos or Marcos-Lopez billboards and streamers. The Marcos billboards are multi-colored, larger-than-life affairs, the largest and the most elaborate on the campaign scene, and perhaps the most expensive ever put up by any presidential candidate.

The November polls will put to the test Serging’s theory that billboards are of negligible importance in presidential elections. The outcome should settle a question of great interest to future budget-conscious presidential candidates. Billboards represent one of the biggest items in the candidate’s budgets. Confirmation of Serging’s theory would save future presidential aspirants a tidy sum.

While the propaganda contest is unequal in many other respects, the Osmeña persuaders are not far behind the administration drumbeaters in radio blurbs, jingles and commentaries. Because of limited resources, opposition propagandists take care to feature on radio and TV only effective impact programs or “spots.”

And here, Nap Rama’s article leaves us at the cusp of the world we live in, today, where mass media is king; and how every candidate since then, has had to battle it out not just in terms of content, but presentation:

One good radio program is worth a hundred mediocre ones. The old saturation theory of radio propaganda may well be on its way out.

In the television battle, NP programs outnumber LP presentations 20 to 1. The NPs run several half-hour television political dramas featuring top television and movie stars. But the scripts, more often than not badly written, concentrate on name-calling and vulgar language instead of issues. Even Marcos partisans are critical of these programs.

Teodoro Valencia of the Manila Times, who is certainly not an Osmeña fan, is unhappy about such programs. Last week he wrote: “Radio, television and press propaganda can be overdone. The NP seem to be overdoing the media advertising and propaganda. The ‘overkill’ can work in reverse. As it is, the NP have a 90-10 advantage in media advertising. If the propaganda can be good all the time, well and good. But if the tempo or the quality declines some more, the preponderance of propaganda can boomerang.”

LP strategists meet the TV onslaught with one-minute spots depicting crime and poverty, and, occasionally, television interviews with the LP presidential candidate himself or top LP leaders. Newspaper columnists are agreed that Marcos is not as effective as Osmeña on TV. Here is columnist Apolonio Batalla of the Manila Bulletin on the two presidential candidates as TV performers: “The other evening we watched Senator Osmeña being interviewed on TV in a program sponsored by the UP Institute of Mass Communication. His manner was forthright, his answers were sensible and direct, and his exposition was simple and spontaneous.

“We also watched the President being interviewed in Malacañang. Although he revealed what to us is significant—the Philippine economy has ‘taken off’ (probably in the Rostovian context), he was as usual lisping and groping for words. The delivery of the message was not effective. He would create the impression that he was merely relaying the message and that he did not know much about it. Considering that he could have made capital of the ‘take-off’ study, his delivery was tragic….

“We have sneaking suspicion that the President declined the proposal of some student groups to share the same platform with his rival because he had been told that he would be no match for Osmeña on TV. In that case his advisers observed correctly. On TV, Osmeña would make mincemeat of the President.”

The observation is a bit exaggerated. But the point made has not been lost on the LP bright boys, who have scheduled more TV appearances for Osmeña.

Newspaper columnists and opinion-makers sympathetic to the incumbent President and the First Lady outnumber those inclined to Osmeña, 8 to 2. What is keeping the Cebu senator from being buried is his headline-baiting tactic of making provocative statements during his daily press conferences with newsmen covering his campaign.

“Some people have been complaining that Osmeña gets into the news more often than Marcos does,” said veteran newsman Feliciano Magno, whom the Daily Mirror assigned to cover the Osmeña campaign. “We can’t help it. Osmeña is quicker on the draw and makes superior, more newsworthy statements at press conferences.”

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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.

No. 2 Man, December 2, 1961

December 2, 1961

No. 2 Man

by N.G.Rama

Pelaez is the first Mindanao politician to occupy the vice-presidency. He fought Magsaysay’s battles in congress. Together they minted the political credo: “What is good for the common man is good for the country.”

UP TO early December, 1960, Diosdado Macapagal was still in the throes of hunting for a running mate. On the political horizon there were only two outstanding anti-administration politicos who fitted the geographical requirement—a southerner with sufficient political charm and following. These were Serging Osmeña, Jr., and Emmanuel Pelaez. But both had turned down Macapagal’s offer.

Serging cast himself in the role of a political prima donna—noisily spurning the advances of Macapagal. Flushed with triumphal trips to the provinces soon after his sensational suspension from Congress, Osmeña disputed Macapagal’s right to wear the mantle of the opposition standard-bearer.

He would send away Macapagal’s emissaries with irreverent messages for the LP boss. “Tell your master,” he once told a Macapagal errand boy, “that his offer is ridiculous. It is I who should ask him to run as my vice-presidential candidate. It is unthinkable for me to run under him.”

Without funds and discredited by the NP vilification squad, Macapagal, in Serging’s estimate, would make a very shabby presidential candidate—a sure loser to the lord-almighty of the party-in-power. For Macapagal to fight the money and machine of the administration with a weak and impoverished Liberal Party was to Serging a quixotic venture. He let it be known that he had no intention to play Sancho Panza to the Pampango politico. He expected the LP leaders to see the light soon and come crawling to him to offer him the LP presidential nomination. Among the presidential possibilities outside of the party-in-power, he alone was reputed to have the financial capacity and the ready-made broad political base—the Cebuano and the Iglesia ni Cristo vote—needed to combat the administration candidates.

Pelaez, for his part, had other reasons for declining the vice-presidential offer. Still bearing the scars of the 1959 elections, when he ran on a third party ticket and lost, Pelaez was not ready to take any more chances. His wife, Edith, had asked him to swear off politics and wept when she learned that he was again involved in political conferences. Financially and politically, he couldn’t afford to lose again. he figured that if he ran for the Senate, he would be a sure winner. There would be eight positions at stake and he would be vying with 15 other candidates—some of them disreputable or amateur politicians.

It would be a more difficult feat to win the vice-presidential election as an opposition candidate. The fight would be much rougher. Along with the presidential candidate, he would be a target of the concentrated campaign of the party-in-power.

He frankly told Macapagal about his predicament and misgivings—and his decision to run for the Senate. He even went out of his way to persuade Serging to take the vice-presidential offer.

In the middle of December, 1960, Macapagal, chafing over Serging’s irritating rebuffs, decided to forget Serging and assert his leadership as bossed the aid of the Grand Alliance colleagues of Pelaez to pressure Pelaez into accepting the vice-presidential candidacy. In an emergency meeting the Grand Alliance leaders bluntly reminded Pelaez of their pact to abide by the decision of the group. There was not going to be a one-man decision. Raul Manglapus, Francisco Rodrigo, Manuel Manahan and Rodrigo Perez informed Pelaez that the group decision was that he should run for vice-president under the United Opposition. Pelaez was left no choice.

Serging Osmeña, in the meantime, had changed his mind. He sent word to Macapagal that he was after all amendable to his vice-presidential offer. it was too late. Macapagal, a shrewd politician, made no move to rebuff Serging’s belated bid. He told Serging to submit his name to the LP convention—largely to humor the Cebuano kingpin and consolidate the United Opposition.

Before the convention Macapagal lent Pelaez his full support. Despite this, Pelaez up to a week before the LP convention was still ready to yield the nomination to Serging, if his GA group would allow him. The rest is now history—the most reluctant vice-presidential candidate in our political history got elected and, because of his election, he may be on his way to become president of the Republic.

Pelaez’s reluctance had nothing to do with his personal qualifications for the post. He has stood in the national limelight since he got into the political big-time as a Mindanao congressman in 1949. He has elected etched out an attractive, alert and intelligent public image—a politician preoccupied with principles and possessed of a social conscience.

He was at the top of the political ladder during Ramon Magsaysay’s regime. The late President considered Pelaez his most trusted adviser and confidant; in fact, he had groomed him as his heir apparent. He had asked Pelaez to run for vice-president in 1957–precisely to set the presidential stage for Pelaez.

But for one of those inscrutable twists of fate, Pelaez might have been Macapagal’s opponent in the last election, instead of his running mate, and might now have been the President-Elect, instead of Macapagal–if Magsaysay had lived. Remember that RM’s term would have ended this year, assuming that he would have been re-elected in 1957.

Pelaez’s spectacular political career was no accident. From his father, the late Governor Gregorio Pelaez, who for years was the undisputed political boss of Misamis Oriental, he got his first schooling in the art of politics. he inherited the Pelaez charm–the easy grin winsome gestures, the soft, persuasive voice.

The young Pelaez, however, was not content with resting on the family laurels. In 1938 he topped the bar exams—a remarkable feat for a student who had worked himself through college. His father, a wealthy coconut planter, was hard hit by the economic crisis in the 1930’s. He let his son strike out on his own in the country’s capital. Soon after passing the bar, Pelaez became one of the youngest and best-known law professors in Manila.

In 1934, while in college, he worked as a P36-a-month clerk in the journal division of the old Philippine Senate. A year later he was a reporter of El Debate, an influential Spanish daily. Just before he finished college, he did a stint as a translator in the Court of Appeals.

He will be the second authentic former newspaperman to have occupied the No. 2 post of the country. The first was the late Sergio Osmeña, Sr., who was publisher and editor of a Cebu newspaper near the turn of the century. Pelaez, however, is the first son of Mindanao to have been elected to the vice-presidency, the highest position that a Mindanao politician has ever attained.

Pelaez won national recognition as a lawyer in 1949 when he was commissioned to prosecute them Senate President Jose Avelino, the respondent in a case involving the sale of surplus beer. Pitted against top lawyers in Manila, Pelaez displayed brilliant legal strategy and resourcefulness. Sprung to fame as the hard-driving prosecutor in the well-publicized probe, Pelaez was tapped to run for Congress in his home province in 1949 on the Liberal ticket.

His performance in the House of Representatives as a freshman solon was outstanding. his most memorable fight in the House was in defense of the Constitution and against his party bosses. President Quirino, anxious for more power, had demanded more and more from Congress—invoking the wartime emergency powers. The congressman from Mindanao refused to toe the party line and, worse, urged the repeal of existing presidential power statutes. His campaign against the bill forced the House to revise the original draft and settle for an emasculated version. In the end Pelaez scored a moral victory when the Supreme Court stripped the President of his emergency powers.

The party bosses could not forget the misbehavior of the upstart solon from Mindanao. To teach him a lesson, they plotted his expulsion from Congress. His comeuppance came in the form of a House Electoral Tribunal decision which ruled that the Mindanao solon for lack of residence was unfit to hold his congressional office. His own party colleagues were browbeaten by the big bosses into voting against him.

Pelaez refused to accept defeat, asked for a reconsideration of the verdict and carried his fight to the floor of Congress. He argued his case with such eloquence that he rallied the minority solons behind him, stirred up press indignation and even won the motion for reconsideration; and the majority party lost to the opposition the most popular congressman at that time.

Out of his fight to retain his seat in Congress Pelaez emerged as the undisputed leader of the ever-swelling “Progressive Bloc” in the House—composed of majority solons who took it upon themselves to fiscalize the graft-ridden Quirino administration.

When the 1953 elections drew near, it was Pelaez’s turn to work against the big boss of the LP. He was the chief architect of the political strategy that brought Ramon Magsaysay into the Nacionalista Party and paved the way for RM’s presidential nomination.

In their days in Congress together, Magsaysay and Pelaez were great friends. They were drawn to each other by a strong sense of idealism–a public philosophy that both shared. Both believed that the common tao in the rural areas was the forgotten in the man in our age; that the government’s first obligation was to better the lot of the rural tao; that social reform was the answer to Communist subversion; that a dishonest administration could not solve the social and economic ills of the country; that the rule of vested interests, landlords and the caciques had to go; and that a square deal must be inaugurated for the rural folk who composed three-fourths of the population.

Throughout RM’s term as president, Pelaez handled the delicate policy-making task of drafting his state-of-the-nation messages. RM trusted no one else. In one of the best-written messages to the nation, Pelaez summed up in one simple, succinct and memorable sentence the RM doctrine:

“What is good for the common man is good for the country.”

When Congressman Ramon Magsaysay was recruited for the Department of National Defense secretaryship at a time when the Huks were knocking at the gates of Manila, it was his good friend Pelaez who lined up votes for his request for funds with which to finance his anti-Huk campaign and program.

In RM’s bid for the presidential nomination under the Nacionalista banner, Pelaez was his adviser, campaign manager and spokesman. In RM’s behind-the-scenes negotiations with the NP old Guard, Amang Rodriguez, Claro M. Recto and Jose Laurel, Sr., all shrewd and seasoned politicos, he named Pelaez as his spokesman. Until the death of President Magsaysay, the NP Old Guard nursed secret resentment against Pelaez for spoiling their plans during those negotiations.

Having second thoughts about an “outsider” taking over the reins of the party, the NP Old Guard wanted to be sure that when he became president he would follow their signals. One of their moves to keep RM beholden to them was to get him to give the NP Old Guard a free hand in picking his Cabinet members. On the advice of Pelaez, Magsaysay put his foot down on the proposal. The Old Guard were outraged. But Pelaez’s estimate of the situation proved correct: The old bosses would finally knuckle down because they needed Magsaysay more than he needed them.

The same fateful elections of 1953 that swept Magsaysay into power also Pelaez in the Senate. Their bonds grew stronger, their teamwork smoother. Having more prestige in the Senate than he had in the House, Pelaez enjoyed new power. It was he who whipped up support for RM’s pet projects. It was not an easy task. Most of RM’s social reforms were strong medicine for the landlord-dominated Congress.

There was bitter resistance to RM’s land reform bill. It took a special session and threats of political reprisals for RM to get the measure through Congress.

The Anti-Subversion La which Pelaez valiantly sponsored on the Senate floor was almost derailed on the last days of session. A motion was sprung to send the bill back to its committee of origin for further study. Sensing the main strategy of the bill’s opponents, Pelaez maneuvered to meet the counter-thrust. He threw away the kid gloves. “Let’s face it,” he told them, “to remand the bill to the committee at this late hour would mean its death.” He dared the opponents to kill the measure on the senate floor so that the people would know those who did not want it to pass.

The opponents fidgeted and stalled, but finally retreated. The bill passed and is now a major deterrent to the spread of communism in the country.

When it was fashionable among congressmen to laugh off RM’s rural improvement program as a re-election gimmick of “a product of rural mentality,” Pelaez was among the few who took it seriously and fought for it right down the line.

Take, for instance, the budget for the PACD which ran RM’s community development program. During its first years of existence the PACD budget was cut or scrapped altogether by pork-barrel-minded solons. Invariably, it was Pelaez who would take up the fight for the PACD and get its budget restored.

Pelaez’s fondness for community development stems not only from a conviction that it is a good program but also from more sentimental roots. It was he who midwifed the birth of the program. At a time when “community development” was a vague term and “self-help” little more than a sonorous platitude, Ramon P. Binamira, now PACD chief, presented to Magsaysay his draft of the PACD program. RM was thoroughly skeptical. A man in a great hurry, he wanted a more drastic, more immediate aid program for the rural people.

Binamira, convinced of his program’s worth, sought the aid of Manny Pelaez. He carefully explained to Pelaez the mechanics and principles of the PACD. Pelaez took time out to study the draft and assess its merits. On the same day, late in the evening, Pelaez accompanied Binamira back to Malacañang to persuade Magsaysay to accept the program This time the President listened. The meeting lasted until midnight and ended with Magsaysay signing an executive order creating the PACD and sending away Binamira with his benediction.

It has since become an in controvertible fact: The PACD program is the best rural uplift program in this part of the globe—one which many Asian countries are now studying and adopting.

All through his term in the Senate, Pelaez defended, kept alive and gave flesh and meaning to RM’s program and ideals—even after RM’s death. Pelaez went on to author and sponsor the Barrio Charter, now known as the rural people’s Magna Carta. More aptly, it should be called the rural folk’s Declaration of Independence.

The Barrio Charter places in the hands of the barrio people the management of their affairs and the tools for their economic and political redemption. It provides for a barrio government whose officials the barrio people can assert and govern themselves, determine their needs and problems, raise taxes and retain them, and decide what projects to undertake. Into their hands is thrust the responsibility of carving out their own local destiny. Apart from the taxes raised through self-taxation, the barrio people, by virtue of the Charter, retain 10 percent of all real estate taxes collected by the national government within the barrio. To get this additional income, the barrio people need not go begging to the politicians or the national government.

Barrio home rule should help do away with the hand-out mentality, the overdependence on pork barrel, the indifference and lassitude of the barrio people—which are largely responsible for the snail’s pace of rural progress.

Possibly the most important piece of legislation in the last decade, the Barrio Charter sets in motion the mechanics of democracy at the grassroots level. It is a means of bettering the lot of the forgotten man in the barrio even as it makes of him a better citizen.

Since the death of Magsaysay, no piece of legislation has done more to accelerate what he liked to call “the peaceful revolution in the barrios”—or the revolution of rising expectations, as the economists and pundits put it.

The Barrio Charter may even have contributed to the rout of the administration candidates in the rural areas. Many barrios, it appears, are no longer so vulnerable to the political machine of the party in power. They have ceased to be the private preserves of the political bosses, the caciques, the landlords and the pork-barrel artists. Many rural people, through their barrio government, can now stand on their own feet and can do without political doles. They have declared their independence from their traditional masters.

In sponsoring and fighting for the passage of a law that would bring new hope and new life to the bulk of the population, Pelaez had his finest hour in his entire political career.

But a greater task awaits him. ALL indications are that despite his being a newcomer to Macapagal’s Liberal Party he has hit it off famously with the LP boss. Macapagal, shortly after the election trends pointed to an LP win, served notice that he would saddle the Vice-President-Elect with grave responsibilities. Pelaez was his first Cabinet appointee—as secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Pelaez himself originally wanted the secretaryship of the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources. he thought that as agriculture boss he could do more in pursuing the basic program of land reform, barrio-load building, irrigation, local autonomy, community development—all of which directly affect the lives of the rural folk. He had hoped to play a major role in unlocking the treasures of the land and providing prosperity for the nation by properly developing the country’s vast natural resources through local and foreign investments.

When he got word, however, that the President-Elect wanted him to take over the foreign affairs department in January, he had no complaint. In his first formal press interview Pelaez declared that he would mobilize the foreign office as an instrument for economic development of the country. His plans included a no non-sense foreign investment program and promotion of foreign trade.

He would request Macapagal to study the feasibility of placing the PACD–his old baby–under his department. After all, he said, the PACD is a joint P.I.-U.S. program and derives much of its fund from abroad. It would not be unseemly to put the office under him.

Pelaez says that he owes much of his election victory to the late President Magsaysay with whom he and his Grand Alliance group were closely identified. In voting for the RM men, the people voted for RM’s principles and policies. His men believe they owe it to RM to pursue these policies. Macapagal himself seems to realize the need for a peaceful economic revolution in the rural areas.

Insight into the thinking and personality of the new No. 2 man of the country may be found in his recent speeches. Here is the main theme that he has stressed.

“Our efforts to change the status quo and imbue our society with those attitudes and patterns of thinking that would promote economic progress should follow two main courses: first, by structural and institutional changes through public policy, social reforms, and decentralization of economic and political power; and secondly, by particularly of the young before they acquire traditional values and attitudes.

“We must concern ourselves with government and its procedures. For instance, the present attitude of basing almost all governmental actions on political and personal considerations must be replaced by a return to the moral concept that government exists for the satisfaction of the people’s needs. Decentralization of power must be carried out in order to promote participation of all citizens in governmental decisions and actions.

“Ability and excellence must be given the highest priority in appointments to government positions so that we may develop a corps of career men qualified to run its affairs competently and honestly.

“The second task requires radical changes in our social values and relationships. It can be done if all elements—the government, the Church, political parties, civic groups, officials and citizens—take part in the endeavor.

“The single most critical factor in meeting the responsibilities and challenges of the times is leadership of a high order—a leadership capable of understanding and integrating technical, social, economic and political forces and placing them behind the drive toward achieving the nation’s political and economic maturity…above all a leadership dedicated to the democratic faith and the dignity of the human individual. In a country like ours where the people are wont to look to the top for guidance national leadership[ of a high order is demanded if we are to transform this country into a modern democratic society.”

End

The Winners ’61, November, 1961

The Winners ’61

By Quijano de Manila

November 1961–VICTORY, the poll victors found out after the polls, is chiefly an overpowering, devouring drowsiness.

Happy eyes glaze over, the eyelids droop; ecstatic smiles freeze, the head nods. Hands held out to congratulators grope and falter; and the words of joy fatten into a yawn.

Making the rounds of victors’ houses three days after the polls, one found doorbells and telephones ringing in vain, crowds of visitors collecting and dispersing unreceived, blue telegrams piling up on doorside tables, while the winners hungrily slept, slept, slept.

Not applause, nor congratulations, nor the latest poll returns widening the margin of victory, could be sweeter than bed and darkness, pillow and sheet.

Maria Kalaw Katigbak stayed home only long enough to make sure she was among the select senatorial eight, then reportedly fled to Lipa—“to get some sleep.” Her husband, an immense man, winces when congratulated on his victory, is resigned to being introduced as “the senator’s husband.”

Soc Rodrigo’s wife Medy says she’s glad it’s all over: “Now we can get some sleep.”

Dragged up from bed in the late afternoon, her eyes still swollen from drowse, Edith Pelaez groaned: “I haven’t had a good sleep in a long time!” Manny Pelaez came home from Mindanao three days after the polls, stayed just to bathe and change clothes, then rushed off again. About all his wife can remember him saying (she was too sleepy to ask about Mindanao) was that he was sleepy too.

Like a somnambulist was Manuel Manahan’s wife Connie, barely awake as she moved around her workshop, finally giving up and crawling home to bed, muttering that she felt she was coming down with the flu. For the Manahans, this victory is more poignant than previous defeats. Mrs. Manahan lost a baby (her eleventh child, eighth boy) two months before the elections, was up and campaigning for Manny two weeks after her confinement. “I’ve had disappointments,” she told friends, “but this is the one that hurt most.” Her baby lived only two days; she never even saw it.

Connie Manahan says she felt surer this time her Manny would win but never dreamed he would get the second place in the tabulation: “We had no funds at all for propaganda materials. I saw other candidates spending money right and left and I told Manny, ‘We just can’t compete.’ “All they had were stickers and sample ballots. Six weeks before the polls, friends of Manny put up a billboard for him in Quiapo: it was his biggest single publicity display. But he had learned to speak Tagalog fluently, and that helped.

For Raul and Pacita Manglapus, this triumph is, of course, the Victory of the Voice—of both their voices. Whenever Raul ran out of words, or of breath, wife Pacita stepped forward and sang. Her friends say her singing was as big a hit with voters as her husband’s gift of tongues. Not even sleeplessness could dull his oratorical, her lyrical, magic.

Also sleepless during the tense days before and after the balloting was the grande dame of the Liberal Party, Doña Trining Roxas, who sought bed only when victory was certain. The sleeping dowager was thus unable to attend the first public expression of Liberal triumph: the rites in honor of Elpidio Quirino on November 16, his 71st birthday.

The rites began with mass at the San Marcelino church, where Vicky Quirino Gonzalez found the Old Guard massed around her but nary a sign of the United Opposition. The Macapagals could not come, Manny Pelaez was still in Mindanao, the erstwhile rah-rah boys who had caused Mr. Quirino so much pain were at Comelec or Camp Crame, exultantly counting, or in bed, hungrily sleeping.

Nevertheless, the Old Guard Liberals were in festive mood. After mass, the gay hubbub on the patio seemed a single refrain: “We’re back! We’re back! We’re back!” Sunshine glinted from faces once so current in Malacañang, notably of the ladies who were the Apo’s favorite partners at Palace balls: Nila Syquia Mendoza, Chedeng Araneta, Angela Butte, Carmen Planas. Ever the holy terror, Mameng Planas mockingly distributed cabinet portfolios among the Old Guard: this one was to be finance secretary, that one secretary of foreign affairs. Moving from one merry group to another, causing astonished pauses, like a ghost at a party, was Ambassador Romulo, come to attend this reunion of old friend. His offer to resign before the elections had, say the Liberals been a good omen for them: it had meant Mr. Romulo smelled a change coming.

From the church the Old Guard repaired to the South Cemetery, where the Man of the Hour, Macapagal, laid a wreath on the grave of the Apo. That noon, there was a banquet at a restaurant in Quezon City, and gathered for this happiest hour of the Liberals in a decade were more of the old familiar faces; Vicente Albano Pacis, Johnny Collas, Fred Mangahas. But when a speaker addressed the gathering as “Fellow Liberals,” there were objections: this was a gathering of the Friends of Quirino, not all of whom were Liberals. Unspoken was a parallel thought: that not all of today’s Liberals, especially the very new ones, had been Friends of Quirino.

While yesterday’s Liberals reminisced on the past and the Apo, today’s Liberals were already plotting the future. Slumber had not felled all the victors; still wide awake were Diosdado and Eva Macapagal. Drowsiness showed in her only in narrower eyes, in him only in paler cheeks and a tic in one eye. He said he could go without sleep for a month; she said she had been dozing on and off during the long wait. Whenever she awoke she would ask: “Well, how is it going now?” And her unsleeping husband would cry: “We’re winning!”

For Eva Macapagal, this triumph vindicates feminine intuition. “I am,” she says, “a person of strong presentiments.” She had had a presentiment of victory, had told her husband before the elections: “I think you’re going to win. I feel again as I felt in 1957.”

Macapagal himself had never had any doubts. His campaign to win the presidency was, he says, “methodical and scientific.” There could be only one outcome. In the light of his victory, his campaign, which we all regarded as an aimless wandering from barrio to barrio and a futile shaking of hands, does assume the look of a great design, of carefully planned military strategy. Nothing had been aimless; everything adds up. Each sortie into the wilds had made straighter route to Malacañang. And we now wonder why we failed to see what now seems so clear.

Invisible in the speckled forest because of its spots, the leopard stalks its prey, weaving round and round on velvet paws, in ever narrowing circles. Only when it closes in for the kill is it suddenly beheld in all its might and majesty: this sleek sly creature that blends into the light and dark of the forest, that had seemed to be wandering around in aimless circles.

Macapagal had been invisible to many, a nondescript personality (“negative” was how the NPs loved to describe him), a compulsive hand-shaker, a mousy little man going round and round in circles. Alas for those who could not spot the leopard for its spots! The coloring was protective, the circlings followed a route.

A cry has rent the political jungle.

The leopard has sprung.

 

The incredible

 

The hackneyed thing to say is that Macapagal’s triumph is like Magsaysay’s. Both men undertook a barrio-to-barrio campaign; both toppled an unpopular regime accused of being graft-ridden—but here the resemblance stops.

Magsaysay was expected to win; Macapagal was not.

Nobody was really surprised when the Magsaysay vote began to assume the proportions of an avalanche; the surprise would have been if it didn’t. But the day after this month’s elections, astonishment that Macapagal should be leading at all was so great everybody felt the lead couldn’t last. What one heard on all sides was: “Yes, of course he’s leading, but only on the Manila vote. Just wait till the NP votes start pouring in.” When the lead was maintained the chorus became: “Oh, that’s only the Manila and Luzon vote. Wait till the votes from the South come in.” Finally, when the nationwide trend became unmistakable, those who cautiously conceded that Macapagal might win quickly added that his margin of victory would be slim.

Actually, Macapagal polled a bigger popular vote than Magsaysay.

President Garcia can hardly be blamed for not conceding defeat at once; he, too, just couldn’t believe that Macapagal was winning and, but not conceding, was merely expressing a general astonishment and incredulity. It seems now that everyone who voted for Macapagal did so with no great hope that he would win. Each pro-Macapagal voter must have felt solitary, one in a hundred. So many people who had expressed disgust of the Garcia regime had followed denunciation with despair: “But how can one vote for Macapagal?”

This is in sharp contrast to the atmosphere in 1953, when everyone who voted for Magsaysay felt quite sure that everybody else was doing the same.

The doubts about a Macapagal triumph were indicated by all the pre-election forecasts, even those that had him leading. The pollsters in general detected a trend in his favor but apparently questioned the strength of the trend. Those who gave him the lead carefully stressed that the lead was very small. In fact, the last poll survey to be made public just before the elections, the U.P poll, flatly declared that Garcia and Macapagal were running even, any edge in favor of the latter being so slight as to be “insignificant.”

When the returns started coming in, the public literally couldn’t believe its eyes.

Why was Macapagal, even when given the edge to win, so underrated?

The prime reason is that there was no visible evidence of his popularity, save those reports from the field of the large crowds he was attracting—and we have learned to be cynical about large crowds. And the belief that he was a “colorless” figured seemed to have been proved by his inability, even during the climactic period of the campaign, to arouse fervor where fervor would show. Unlike Magsaysay, he had failed to inflame the imagination or capture the sympathies of those elements of society which create glamour figures.

Into his Great Crusade, Magsaysay had drawn the press, the intelligentsia, the businessmen, the Church, and a lot of people previously indifferent to politics—a motley mass that ranged from college boys and society girls to writers and movie actors, each group forming a movement that helped swell the following, not to mention the finances, of the crusade.

But Macapagal had been unable to make a similar crusade of his campaign. The intelligentsia was actively hostile; the press was cool; the businessmen were wary; the Church was, happily, more mute than during the Magsaysay crusade; and the political dilettantes who had cooed over the Guy found Mac a sad sack. The most influential foreign group in the Philippines, the Americans, had made no bones of being behind Magsaysay; but in this year’s campaign, rumors of American support for the LPs were popularly believed to have been circulated, not by their nationalist rivals, but by the LPs themselves, and that they should feel the need to do so implied American unwillingness to do it for them. One eminent columnist assured his readers that the Americans—the thoughtful ones, that is—would rather have the NPs remain in power. Finally, when that bogey of Philippine politics, the Iglesia ni Kristo, also declared itself against Macapagal, his cause seemed lost indeed.

Yet he took his cause to the common folk and won.

His victory is more impressive than Magsaysay’s, having been achieved against greater odds and without the fancy trimmings of the Great Crusade. Far more than Magsaysay, he can be said to have been carried to triumph by the masses, and only by the masses. And since there were none to glamorize him, since his very foes deny he had any of the Magsaysay charm and magic, since no fringe movements helped swell his finances or the tide of his popularity, he can now claim to have won on sheer skill, intelligence, industry, and the faith in him of he people. He could not become a glamour figure, so he became a folk hero.

And such has been the success of his solitary campaigning that every Philippine politician will, from now on, have to ponder the methods of Macapagal the campaigner.

The inevitable

Poetry got Diosdado Macapagal into politics. Before 1949, his future had seemed to lie in the foreign service. He had risen to the fourth ranking position in the foreign affairs department; President Quirino, obviously grooming the young Pampango for a diplomatic career, sent him to the United States, to broaden his outlook. Macapagal was second secretary of the embassy in Washington.

Then, in 1949, the congressman for Pampanga, Huk-elected Amado Yuson, announced his intention to run for re-election. President Quirino was then engaged in a campaign to topple all Huk-elected officials. But Yuson had a special strength: he was recognized as the poet laureate of Pampanga, a province that loves its bards. Yuson drew crowds not as a politician but as a poet; at his mitings he did not deliver speeches, he improvised verses. Quirino saw it would take a poet to lick a poet.

He had Macapagal recalled from Washington and bade him run against Yuson. The platform was practically who was the better poet. Macapagal had had no experience in politics but did have renown as a bard. In his youth he had composed about a hundred poems, and they had established him as a public figure in his native province, important enough to be invited to address school convocations and crown fiesta queens.

The 1949 campaign in Pampanga turned into a poetic joust. Macapagal trailed his rival from plaza to plaza. Had Yuson delivered a particularly lovely poem in a certain town? The very next night, or a few nights later, Macapagal was in that town, delivering an even lovelier poem. He says he finds it easier to improvise in verse than in prose.

Because he had no campaign funds to use to publicize his candidacy he was forced to adopt a person-to-person approach, to go into every nook and corner of the province to introduce himself to the populace. Thus began, long before the Great Crusade of Magsaysay, the barrio-to-barrio campaign. For Macapagal, such a campaign was inevitable because he felt surest of himself among his own kind.

“Until I ran,” he says, “politicians in Pampanga came from the propertied class. I was the first poor candidate there.”

He not only won against Yuson but topped the congressional winners, which included Magsaysay, in second place. Then came another surprise. It was the custom among Pampango politicians, because they were wealthy, to go off to Baguio or Hong Kong after an election, to rest. But a few days after the 1949 polls, the barrio folk of Pampanga were astounded to find their winning candidate again in their midst. Macapagal had no money for a Baguio or Hong Kong vacation, and he thought that elegant custom silly anyway. Instead, he traveled all over the province again, to thank in person whose who had helped him win. This, cried the Pampangos, was something new in politics.

That first campaign established the style of Macapagal the campaigner; his next major campaign—for the Senate in 1955—disclosed an ability to project himself n a nationwide scale. He was, till then, regarded as a small-time, strictly local politician. Though he regularly made the lists of top congressmen of the year, his name was unknown outside Pampanga. In 1955, he was running with name politicians: Osias, Peralta, Magalona and Geronima Pecson. He was the expendable one on that list, merely followed the others on the regular campaign routes.

Then, in Pototan, Iloilo, came the revelation.

The LPs were waging a futile fight and they themselves knew it: their campaigning was lackadaisical. Macapagal, too, had prepared only one speech, which he used over and over again. One night—that night in Pototan—he finally got so sick of his own clichés he threw the speech away and began to talk as he pleased. It was raining anyway; there were few to listen. He could think aloud, could speak from the heart. He recalled the misery of his childhood, the squalor of his youth. He had almost, though the valedictorian, not attended his grade school graduation because he had no clothes and no shoes to wear. He had almost not gone to high school because there was no money for tuition fees; his mother had raised pigs, his grandmother had worked as a midwife, to send him to high school. All his dreams were one: to end poverty, because he had known how cruel poverty could be. He could not bear the thought of other children going through what he had gone through.

He was practically speaking to himself and was hardly aware that his audience, though the rain was falling harder, had drawn closer around him instead of running to shelter. When he stopped speaking, there was tumultuous applause. Mrs. Pecson stepped forward to speak but could not do so because the crowd kept on applauding and shouting: “Macapagal! Macapagal!” The congressman from Pampanga had to leave his seat and speak to the crowd again.

The following night, in another town, he discarded his prepared speech again and spoke extemporaneously: of his life and hard times, his struggles and dreams. Again he had a rapt audience, again he got tumultuous applause. Macapagal realized he had a larger appeal than he had thought.

This year, when he campaigned in Pototan, he told the people there; “Pototan is not merely a town to me. It is a landmark. For here I discovered I had a message for the nation.”

Macapagal lost in the 1955 senatorial race but topped all the Liberal candidates, though they were better-known than he. His colleagues in the party saw that he was no longer a small-time politico and a stop-Macapagal movement started. The party hierarchy was reorganized and Macapagal was ousted as vice-president for Central Luzon. But it was too late to stop his rise: the public already knew him as “Mr. Liberal.”

After his defeat in the polls, his wife said to him: “It seems your Divine Providence failed you this time. Had you won, you would have been minority floor leader in the Senate and the undisputed leader of the Liberal Party.”

Said Macapagal: “God answers our prayers in his own way. I have faith in his own design in my defeat.”

The design, as he sees it now, was victory in 1961: “Had I won in 1955, my party would have made me run for president in 1957, and I would surely have lost. Garcia had been president only nine months and voters would be inclined to give him a full term to show what he could do. Because I lost in 1955, I was good only for vice-president in 1957, and I had time to prepare to run for president n 1961 and win.”

The improbable

The vice-presidential nomination was offered to him by a dying man: Speaker Eugenio Perez. Late one night, while the House was discussing the budget, the Speaker, pale and feeble, suddenly appeared in the chamber. Al the solons started up from their seats as if they had seen a ghost, for Perez was supposed to be on his deathbed: the doctors had given him up. Dragging his feet, he shuffled toward Macapagal. “I want to talk to you,” he said.

When they were alone together, Perez said to Macapagal: “The party is putting up Mr. Yulo for president because it has no money, but Mr. Yulo will be attacked. We need someone to run with him whose integrity cannot be questioned. The party has been good to you; not it’s your turn to help the party. If we only had money I would put you up for president. But I tell you: you will be president someday.”

Macapagal says he would have preferred to play it safe and just run for Congress again—but how could he refuse the plea of a dying man?

When he got home that night he woke up his wife to confess that he had made a decision without consulting her: he had agreed to run for vice-president.

“What are your chances?” she asked.

“And what will you do afterwards?”

“I’ll teach and practise law.”

The very next day, he went to the University of Santo Tomas to arrange a teaching contract, so sure was he that his election as vice-president was improbable. But when the NPs put up Laurel junior as their veep candidate and the NCPs selected Tañada, Macapagal began to think that he could win. Laurel junior was manifestly unpopular, and Tañada would divide the Tagalog vote.

But again there was the problem of finances. Macapagal had no money, and neither did the Liberal Party. All the funds came from Yulo and: I don’t think Mr. Yulo ever liked me,” says Macapagal.

Into the picture stepped Amelito Mutuc, an old acquaintance who had married into a wealthy family. Mutuc offered to direct Macapagal’s campaign.

“Can you raise two thousand pesos?” he asked Macapagal.

Macapagal borrowed two thousand from his wife; with the money Mutuc rented a building in Manila, bought a couple of typewriters and set up a Macapagal campaign headquarters.

Says Macapagal: “I had not a centavo for my first campaign. When I ran for the Senate I had about five hundred pesos. And I ran for vice-president on two thousand pesos.”

There were, however, the transportation expenses, which the LP candidates were apparently expected to shoulder themselves. The campaigners had been divided into teams; Macapagal noticed that he was not included in Mr. Yulo’s team. He was told to go to Mindanao and campaign there. But how could he go when he didn’t even have the fare? Instead, he looked up Yulo’s itinerary. He discovered that Yulo was in a certain Visayan town. Macapagal suddenly showed up there, during a rally, and when he spoke he praised Yulo to the skies. Delighted, Yulo told him: “You better come along with my group.”

“And that,” grins Macapagal, “was how I got through the campaigns without any funds. I just joined Mr. Yulo’s party.”

Though Macapagal polled more votes than Garcia, his victory was dismissed as a fluke. The popular view was that he had won on the strength of “negative” votes cast, not really for him, but against Laurel junior.

Macapagal was still “invisible” to many, though he had pulled up quite a feat: had won against the party in power at the height of its power.

The invisible

President Garcia, it is said, had originally regarded the large popular vote for Macapagal as a directive from the people to make Macapagal serve in the government: there were hints from Malacañang that the vice-president would be appointed secretary of foreign affairs. But after a consultation with his council of leaders, Mr. Garcia decided not to give Macapagal a job.

“From that moment,” says Macapagal, “I decided to build up and strengthen the Liberal Party, to begin campaigning for the presidency, and to beat Garcia in 1961.”

He started campaigning during his very first year as veep, circled the country three times during his term: “It took me a year the first time, two years the second time, a year the third time.”

At first President Garcia allowed him to use a navy cutter, the Ifugao. Macapagal started with the most inaccessible areas: Palawan, the isles of the Badjaos, the Turtle Islands. He had, while still in the foreign affairs department, negotiated the return of the Turtle Islands to the Philippines, had raised the Philippine flag there. On his second trip, he covered the isolated areas on the Pacific coast. When he submitted his schedule for his third trip, which was to have included Batanes, President Garcia smelled what the vice-president was up to and forbade his further use of the Ifugao. Undaunted, Macapagal used inter-island steamers.

“It was a blessing in disguise,” he says. “On the steamers I met more people.” He ate with the third-class passengers, surprised them by cleaning up his plate, though the food was staler than most people could stomach.

In his wanderings, Macapagal reached places where the last government official people remembered having seen was Governor-General Leonard Wood. “I think,” says Macapagal, “that Wood was the one government official who tried to reach every place in the country.”

Macapagal was not always the politician in his four-year odyssey: he has an eye for the odd and the beautiful. In a coastal town in Samar he saw a man who was said to be 150 years old: “He was like a mummy, he looked dead already, but he could still talk.” Macapagal becomes lyrical when describing the brooks in Camiguin: “They are the most beautiful brooks I ever saw—water flowing over white stones. If I were an artist I would paint those brooks.”

At the same time that he was trying to reach every place in the country, he was building up his party. He saw the need for uniting the opposition but saw no hope for union as long as the Progressives clung to two ideas of theirs: first, that the Liberal Party was rotten to the core and could never return to power and, second, that they, the Progressives, could win by themselves. When negotiations for union in 1959 lagged, Macapagal abruptly ended them: “I saw it was useless to negotiate until I had proved to the Progressives that we could win in an election and that they couldn’t.” The Progressives tried to reopen the negotiations but Macapagal firmly repulsed them: “I just told them that we had already lost a month of the campaign. After all, I felt that union in 1959 was not important. What was important was union in 1961—and I could get that only by proving myself right in 1959.”

Then Ferdinand Marcos, who had been made to run for the Senate, got cold feet and wanted to withdraw. Marcos felt that Macapagal was courting disaster by deciding that the Liberal Party was to run alone, without any coalition with the Progressives. But Macapagal was willing to stake his political reputation and his presidential chances on that decision. He had more to lose than Marcos but was less apprehensive. He said to Marcos: “You not only will not lose but you will get first place.”

During the counting of the returns, the Progressives who had seemed at first to be winning, all dropped out, but three Liberals remained steady on the winning list, and Marcos did top it. The victory, says Macapagal, was not a random one; he had carefully engineered it. He had pinpointed the areas from where came the votes that had swamped the LPs in previous elections; during the campaign he concentrated on those areas. These were, he says, the “pockets” that had to be pushed back so that his “military line” would hold straight and steady. Having eliminated those “pockets,” Macapagal, after the balloting, sat back and waited confidently for the returns. His fellow Liberals nervously awaited the usual NP avalanche of votes to sweep them away—but Macapagal told them there would be no avalanche, and there was none.

Says Marcos: “That is why we respect Macapagal—because he makes decisions even against our will. Afterwards we find that he was right.”

Macapagal was proved right, too, about the Progressives. When Soc Rodrigo was quoted as saying, after the 1959 polls, that the Grand Alliance would continue, Macapagal said: “If there is one man who has no choice now but to join the Liberals, it is Soc Rodrigo.”

Then he sent Senator Estanislao Fernandez to ask Rodrigo if he was ready now to join the Liberals. Said Rodrigo: “What else can I do?”

“And that,” smiles Macapagal, “was what I had been saying all along.”

Again Macapagal had done the impossible: he had turned a discredited and disheartened LP into a winning party and he had united the opposition. If there be still doubts about his capacity for leadership, he points to the diverse personalities he was able, for this campaign, to bring together and organize into a team: Marcos, Manglapus, Lacson, Manahan, not to mention Roger de la Rosa.

“Each one a strong personality,” he sighs, “and all of them stars!”

The impossible

What Macapagal did in 1959 he repeated in 1961. He circled the country a third time but concentrated on the new “pockets” revealed by the 1959 polls. The very first province he stormed this year was Batangas, where the LPs had always lost heavily. He campaigned there for a week, then moved on to Quezon, and then, to everybody’s amazement, returned to Batangas and campaigned through it all over again. The Batangueños said to him: “You are the first presidential candidate to campaign here twice.” The politicos predicted a Macapagal loss in Batangas, but he carried the province.

He went wherever the LP was weak, however remote the region. Everybody thought him crazy to go to the Davao town of Manay, which is a Nacionalista stronghold and almost inaccessible. Boats dock far off; passengers must plunge into neck-deep water and wade ashore, for small boats would be dashed by the strong waves against the rocks. On reaching the shore, the Manay-bound must still climb a steep rocky slope to reach the town. Though it was past midnight when his ship reached the place, Macapagal plunged into the water, waded ashore through the darkness, climbed up over the rocks, and found the townspeople of Manay still waiting for him. The mayor told him: “This is a Nacionalista town, but because you came here you will win here.”

The intrepidity Macapagal displayed during the campaign may well turn into legend. He crossed, on a frail fishing boat, that point of the San Bernardino Strait which folk in the vicinity regard with horror, because four currents converging there create a maelstrom. The crossing was pure agony; Macapagal got across without being sucked into the maelstrom—“but,” he shudders, “I don’t think I could do it again.”

Batanes had become an obsession with him ever since his scheduled trip there, in 1957, had to be cancelled with the Ifugao was forbidden him. Three subsequent attempts to sail to Batanes were thwarted by bad weather. Then, late in the last month of the campaign, he decided he just had to get there. He hired a fishing boat and set off. Halfway across, he noticed that the boat was slapping against the water: “That’s when it’s dangerous—not when a boat is rocking but when it’s slapping.” He said to the skipper of the boat: “Puede ba? If it’s possible, let’s go on. If not, let’s return.” Said the skipper: “We had better return.”

But there was no stopping Macapagal now. He wired his wife in Manila that he needed two planes. “To think that it was I who arranged that trip!” she wails now. Macapagal finally reached Batanes by plane, but the return trip was made with one engine dead.

Why had he risked his life to reach a place that had but a handful of voters? He says? “I wanted to show that it was not the votes that mattered to me. Besides, I had covered the entire country except Batanes. And when you say except, you remove the impact.”

The Sunday before the polls, Macapagal addressed the LP miting de avance on Plaza Miranda. He had not campaigned at all in Manila but the multitude he drew was epochal. “I felt,” he says, “that the people there had already made up their minds. They had not come to be convinced but just to be there.” Manny Pelaez nudged Mrs. Macapagal and whispered: “Just watch. The crowd will applaud your husband whatever he says.” “And,” says Mrs. Macapagal, “it was true. The people applauded even in the middle of a word!”

On the eve of the elections, Macapagal conducted a “talkaton” that lasted all night, answering questions from all quarters, demonstrating, for all to see, how quickly his mind worked. The invisible man was finally emerging as quite a dynamic chap. It was dawn when he went home, but not to sleep. He and Mrs. Macapagal immediately motored to his home town of Lubao, to vote. When they got there, at seven in the morning, the streets were already full of people impatient to vote.

The Pampangos had a cardinal, now they wanted a president.

That night, the poll returns began to paint an astounding new image of Macapagal. The man described as “colorless” had turned out to be a phenomenon.

Luck is still on his side. He is fortunate to become president when people are just beginning to see him clearly. Magsaysay became an idol too soon; adulation reached a peak during his campaign: there was nowhere else to go but down. So much was expected of the Guy he could not but disappoint. Barely two years after he assumed office there was already a marked chill in the air.

But Macapagal assumes office amid general incredulity rather than expectation, amid a growing curiosity rather than love. Because he was so underrated, anything he does now will have the quality of surprise. Because nothing was expected of him, he cannot disappoint. The way for him is still up. He is not yet entangled in a myth of himself; idolatry has still to becloud his eyes with incense. He should be able to accomplish more, since he has to earn the people’s love rather than justify it.

He comes to us practically unknown: an ambiguous figure, half light and half dark, moving toward the presidency and wresting it away with a few arms, though the dragons of power and propaganda stood round about.

Of his feat he says: “It was difficult, it was impossible, but we did it. Now, the job ahead is even more difficult, ten times more difficult. But I am read for it.”

The death of The Guy, March 18, 1961

The death of The Guy

by Quijano de Manila

His Death Was Not His End But A Transfiguration –From Folk Hero To Folk Myth.

March 18, 1961–HE HAD skipped a friend’s party the night before to attend a sudden conference; and coming home from the party, to which she had gone ahead, alone, Mrs. Magsaysay found him in his bedroom looking so tired and worried she didn’t press her inquiries as to why he hadn’t followed.

But when he woke up the next morning he was his old self again, jaunty and jovial. They had breakfast together, and talked of the trip he would make to Cebu that day. He was leaving at noon. She urged him to rest all morning. When she looked for him later, he had vanished. He was nowhere in the Palace. She called up this place and that and finally located him in a house within the Palace compound. He had been visiting his in-laws, the Corpuses.

She reproved him when he came back: “I thought you promised to rest all morning?”

He said he had been rehearsing his speeches for the Cebu visit and couldn’t do so in the Palace, with people popping in and out all the time.

She watched while he had a haircut in a hall off his bedroom. Standing behind him, she could see his face in the mirror, his eyes restless as a little boy’s over this enforced moment of stillness.

“Will you see me off at the airport?” he suddenly asked, meeting her eyes in the mirror.

“If you want me to.”

“Yes, do come.”

She was rather amused at the request. A despedida for an overnight trip? In the bedroom, the two valets who were to perish with him were busy packing. He kept telling the barber to hurry up. She always paid the barber for him, had a ten-peso bill ready in a pocket.

They had lunch with a young nephew. The children were in school or in their rooms. Teresita, the eldest, just engaged, was sewing her trousseau. Jun, the the only son was at his classes. Mila, the younger daughter, had a stove in her room and liked to cook meals for her gang. Whenever she prepared a special dish, she sent a portion to the presidential table with instructions that her father was to sample the dish and give his comments on it. He always sent back word that it was delicious, whether he had found it too tough or too salty.

The family got together only on Sundays, when it was the rule that the children were to come to table for breakfast, lunch, and supper. In the evening, they gathered in his room, just the five of them. Teresita gave him a neck massage. Mila strummed a uke. Jun played the hi-fi, putting on his father’s favorite records. His father and mother had a special favorite that summer: Que Será, Será —the song to which they had danced on their last wedding anniversary. Only afterwards would she realize the significance of that song’s gaily grim lyrics. The children complained that Sunday was the only time they could have their Daddy to themselves.

So, on this March day, a Saturday, his last day in the Palace, he did not have his children with him as he lunched with his wife, his last meal with her. He told her about the movies he had ordered for showing at the Palace that night: a Tagalog picture and a Hollywood drama for her, an action movie for himself. He always asked for one, whether he was there to see it or not. He loved action pictures and before he became president, dragged his wife to small neighborhood cinemas where the audience was as rowdy as the folk on the screen and where he could stomp and shout unashamed during chases and fist fights.

“Three movies for tonight,” he told his wife now, “but don’t sit through all of them. You may be cross-eyed when I come back.”

She smiled drowsily. She had been feeling drowsy all through lunch, could hardly keep her head up, her eyes open.

He finally laughed at her: “No, you better not see me off at the airport. You’re sleepy. Go take a nap.”

But she accompanied him down the stairs to the car, her arm around his waist. She told him his waist was slimmer.

He patted his belly proudly: “Yes, no more paunch. I must keep it this way.” When they reached the car he said: “If you’re asleep when I arrive, I’ll wake you up.”

“Even if you didn’t,” she cried very sarcastically, “I would wake up!”

He had never learned to move quietly, on tiptoe, with stealth. She always knew when he was in: the floor seemed to shake with his movements. He was, she says, “pagpag,” very heavy-footed. He didn’t walk, he strode. He didn’t open a door, he burst it open. He didn’t enter a room, he stormed into it.

He laughed now at her sarcasm, kissed her and got into the car. It was about half-past noon. That was the last time she ever saw him. He was wearing slacks, one of his gaudy polo shirts and a jacket; and his brown face, after some three years of the presidency, looked almost as lean as the face of that very thin, very tall mechanic she had fallen in love with some 25 years before.

After he had gone, she had her nap. Then she drove to Tagaytay with a group of friends and spent the afternoon in a cottage on a hilltop. In the group was Chiming Hernández, whose husband, Gregorio Hernández, the education secretary, had also gone on that trip to Cebu. Mrs. Magsaysay noticed that her friend Chiming was moody, almost melancholy. She sat at a window, chin propped on hands, watching the sunset on Manila Bay.

“The sun is so red,” she kept saying. “Why is the sun so red?”

Mrs. Magsaysay said the sun didn’t look unusually red to her. Driving back to the city in the evening, she saw the skies radiant with moonlight and fleetingly thought it would be a safe night for flying.

After supper, she sat down for the picture show but did not, as her husband had advised, sit through all the movies. Before retiring, she took a spoonful of a tranquilizing liquid. Nevertheless, she could not fall asleep at once. Annoyed, she rose and, this time without bothering to use the spoon, gulped down the tranquilizer from the bottle. “Now,” she thought, “I should be able to go to sleep.” But her slumber that night was troubled, though she had not been worrying about her husband’s safety.

In the South

He had arrived at the airport at around one in the afternoon, had changed into gray trousers and a pastel blue barong before boarding the Mount Pinatubo. At two minutes past one, his plane took off for the South. There were 27 persons aboard and he had to sit on a bunk. When his guests complained of the heat in the plane, he said he had had the air-conditioning removed from the presidential plane to avoid public criticism. “We’ll all just have to sweat it out,” he said. He added that he had named the plane after the highest peak in Zambales, where he had operated as a guerrilla during the war.

At a quarter past tree, the plane landed in Cebu City and, to the roar of guns and of a multitude burned black by the March sun, he descended and began the ten-hour tour of Cebu City that was to be his last public appearance.

His first words to the Cebuanos were about corn, for the South was then suffering from a shortage of its staple cereal. He promised them that 20,000 tons of corn were arriving from America to relieve the shortage.

Then he drove through packed streets decored with festive arches to the house of the elder Osmeña, to salute the former president and his wife. From the Osmeñas’ he went to the archbishop’s palace. After a chat with Archbishop Julio Rosales, he prayed in the chapel. The pictures taken of him there show him looking strangely pensive, though the strangeness may only be because we are so used to seeing him in action. People with him noted that he tarried, on his knees, in the chapel long after the others had risen and that there was an odd look of peace, of relief in his face when he emerged –as of “a man who had moved from darkness into light.”

At five that afternoon, he was at the University of the Visayas, to be made an honorary doctor of laws. It was dusk when the ceremonies started. Suddenly the lights went out and stayed out for a quarter of an hour. He stood in the darkness, on the platform,  and no one came to lead him away. Afterwards the superstitious would say that they had felt it as ominous: that sudden darkness at a moment of glory.

Then he went to another school, the University of Southern Philippines, to speak on parental love and against neutralism. He still looked fresh but his baro had wilted and he hurried to the residence of a labor leader to change into a suit with tie and to eat supper. He was delighted with the menu: vegetables and dried fish, and his host gave him a pabaon:  a package of the dried fish he had enjoyed so much. The dried fish would later be found scattered over the wreckage of his plane.

At eight that night, he was at the University of San Carlos, where he had the biggest audience of all during his Cebu City speaking tour. About two hours later, he was at the house of Governor Manuel Cuenco, for a brief chat. Then he proceeded to the residence of Serging Osmeña,  then mayor of the city, with whom he was to have dinner, the last one of his life. As he sat down to eat, someone noted that there were 13 at the table.

He still had two engagements: at the Patria Recreation Hall, which was being inaugurated, and at the Club Filipino, which was holding a veterans forum. It was past midnight when, escorted by the two Osmeñas, he returned to the airport to take the plane back to Manila. He declined their invitations to stay the night in the city; he said he had an important conference in Malacañang in the morning.

The Mountain

As the list of passengers was read out, it was noted that he was No. 13. He grinned, shrugged his shoulders, said goodbye to the Osmeñas and boarded the plane. At about a quarter past one, Sunday, March 17, the Mount Pinatubo took off for Manila carrying aloft 26 very tired and sleepy people, only one of whom would reach the city alive. Ahead, just ten minutes away, a dark bulk in the moonlight, soared one of the most tragic mountains in Philippine history: Mount Manúnggal.

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Manúnggal is a mountain range curving like an arm just north of Cebu City. It’s such an obscure mountain, Cebuanos themselves say they had never heard of it until the accident put its name on the front pages. Its peak rises about 3,000 feet above sea level. The lower slopes have been deforested by kaingins; the upper slopes are steep, ending not on sharp peaks but on rough plateaus. From the center of the range springs a river, the Balamban, which winds all around the mountain and its base and then flowds through the western part of Cebu island into the sea.

Ten minutes after it left Cebu, the Mount Pinatubo confronted Mount Manúnggal and was flying toward the central plateau of the range, which is the source of the Balamban. The plane had lost altitude –from “metal fatigue,” according to investigation– but could have cleared the mountain and flown safely beyond it but for a giant tree standing on the summit.

The tree, an ibalos, is about fifty feet tall. The plane must have been flying about 45 feet above the summit, high enough to clear the mountain range –if that ibalos tree had not been standing right in its path. And it was against that tree, not the mountain, the the Mount Pinatubo crashed.

As plane and tree collided, the passengers inside were hurled against or out of their seats and the tree sliced off one of the plane’s wings. This wing was found near the foot of the tree. The crippled plane itself dropped much further down, about a hundred feet down the slope, which explains survivor Nestor Mata’s sensation of “hurtling down a black bottomless pit.” When the plane hit the ground, it exploded and burst into flames.

The fire –so intense it melted metal and fused bodies into an almost solid lump of coal– raged most fiercely nearest the fuselage but spared the tail and cockpit. The passengers seated nearest the fuselage –there were apparently seven of them, including the President– were burned beyond recognition, were turned into a single mass of charred flesh. The President was identified only by a wristwatch and ring embedded in the black mass.

About 14 other bodies, also horribly burned, were thrown out of the plane by the explosion and scattered lower down the hill. A few feet away was another group of bodies that had been only partially burned.

Two of the pilots, General Benito Ebuen and Major Florencio Pobre, were apparently hurled forward, still strapped to their seats, against the engines. The first had his skull broken; the second had his head ripped off. A security officer, Major Felipe Nunag, seems to have survived the crash, though wounded in the head, and to have crawled out of the wreckage and some distance down the slope, quite a trip for a man who was dying and must have known it. His was one of the few bodies found intact.

The only survivor, reporter Nestor Mata of the Herald, may owe his luck to the fact that he was thrown out of the plane at the very instant it hit the ground. He had been dozing, was jolted awake by a flash –“like thousands of flashbulbs popping at one time” –felt himself flying, and heard the deafening boom of an explosion. He blacked out. When he came to, he found himself lying under tall trees, among twisted bits of metal. He smelled burning flesh and saw in the distance the awful conflagration and the bodies strewn around it. But it may have been his own flesh he smelled, for he had been burned from head to foot.

Several people dwelling on the mountain looked up that night and saw its peak ablaze: a splash of red in the white moonlight. Some had heard an explosion. But the hero of the rescue operation, Marcelino Nuya, who lives near the peak, only some 800 feet from the crash site, neither heard the explosion nor saw the mountain top on fire that night. All he had noticed was that the droning of a plane overhead late that night had suddenly stopped.

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The Rescue

Marcelino Nuya, in his early 40s at the time of the disaster, was born in the lowland town of Compostela but has lived most of his life on the heights of Manúnggal. He was then the teniente of the mountain’s topmost barrio, though barrio is hardly the word for settlements of bamboo and cogon huts separated from one another by long lonely stretches of hillside, only patches of which are cultivated. Nuya’s house is more substantial than the others; its roof is of cogon but it has wooden walls and flooring. The house is 2,000 feet above sea level and beside it is a mountain spring that yields cold water.

Nuya is short and stocky and,  though unschooled, has the courtesy and percipience of people who live close to nature and have studied it. That March night, he and his wife had sat up waiting for their eldest daughter, who had gone to a barrio dance. Up in the mountains, too, young people go dancing on Saturday night. When the daughter arrived, she had friends with her and they sat around a while longer chatting. It was long past midnight before Nuya and his wide got to bed. Before they fell asleep, they heard a plane roaring directly overhead. It sounded very close, as though it were flying very low. Suddenly the roaring stopped. In the stillness, Nuya and his wife wondered what had happened. “Maybe it fell,” she said. He listened but heard no crash, no explosion. So he went to sleep.

He was aroused from sleep early the next morning by a neighbor crying that the mountain top was on fire. Nuya went out to look and saw that the blaze was not a kaingin. He decided to climb at once to the peak. With him were his two sons and the neighbor. They were followed by Nuya’s white dog, whom he called Serging, after the mayor of Cebu City. The press would later discreetly change the name of the dog to Avante. It was the dog’s barking that lifted Nestor Mata from despair, giving him the strength to push himself up from the ground, lean against a tree and cry out, “Tao! Tao!”

The dog ran toward the voice, followed by Nuya and his companions, who had to hack their way through the thick foliage and the undergrowth. On an old clearing now covered with cogon, huddled against a tree, they saw something that looked hardly human, hardly alive. It was black and bloated from head to foot, with monstrous ears and denuded skull and wounds that reeked of the grave’s corruption. As they stared in horror, it limply lifted one black arm and gestured toward the burning plane and from its black mouth came sounds that seemed to them gibberish. Mata was talking in English and Tagalog, strange tongues to these mountain folk.

Yet they understood when he cried: “Help me, I’m in pain!”

Nuya spoke to the neighbor and the neighbor lifted the burned man and heaved him over his shoulder. The swollen flesh crushed like fruit and foul juices streamed out.

“Put me down! Put me down, please!” screamed the agonized Mata.

All that day they carried him down the mountain, on a hammock, to a village where passed the buses for Cebu City. In the village were newsmen who knew Mata well, but when they saw the heap of carrion in the hammock they could only gape aghast and ask, “Who are you?”

Late that night, the lone survivor reached Cebu City and the nation at last knew what had happened to the plane that left Cebu at past one that morning and seemed to have completely disappeared in the skies.

The Long Wait

Mrs. Magsaysay had risen early that morning, to prepare for mass. As she combed her hair at her dresser, she glanced at the newspaper that had been slipped under her door. On the front page she could see a large picture of her husband with garlands of flowers around his neck. She thought happily that he had had a nice welcome in Cebu and she said to herself: “The Osmeñas persuaded him to stay the night.”

She went down to the chapel with her children. During the mass, she noticed that someone had approached one of the Palace aides and was whispering in his ear. The aide rose and left the chapel. When he showed up again, she was having breakfast with the children. He said there were people who wanted to see her: the Pelaezes, the Manahans, the Manglapuses. When they were shown in they all looked so solemn she at once felt sure they were going to ask a very big favor.

“Have you people heard mass already?” She asked. “Have you had breakfast?”

She ordered more coffee for the visitors. Manny Pelaez sat down beside her and thoughtfully stirred his coffee.

“Well, what was it you wanted to see me about?” she prompted.

“It’s so hard to say,” he said.

“Nothing’s hard if you try,” she laughed. “Say it –and I’ll let Monching know.”

At last he got it out: “The President’s plane was due back at half-past three. It’s long overdue.”

Her eyes flew to the clock on the wall; it was almost nine.

“So he did leave Cebu City last night?”

“Yes, at about one.”

“Maybe he stopped off somewhere.”

“Maybe. There’s really no cause for alarm yet.”

She saw her children silently rising from the table and going off to their rooms. Raul Manglapus approached her. “Let’s go and pray,” he said. Suddenly she began to weep but allowed herself to be led to an altar in another room. But she could not concentrate. She looked around and said, “This is not my room. I want to be in my own room.”

During the next four days she would not eat or drink anything and would lose four pounds. There was a cruel rumor that afternoon that the plane had been found, that the President was safe, and she would emerge from her room looking hysterical with joy. But that night the grim news arrived from Cebu: Nestor Mata had said the plane had crashed and that, as far as he knew, there were no other survivors. By then, a great crowd had collected on the Palace grounds and the cry went up: “We want the First Lady.” Mrs. Magsaysay was told she would have to make an appearance, to instil hope in a populace that still refused to believe her husband was dead. She went out to them and told them that she, too, like them, was still waiting for him.

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And many, though four years have passed, are still waiting for him. Even as the news of his death was being flashed to the nation, the word was already going around that the Guy was not dead, that he was merely hiding himself for a while, but would eventually come down from the mountain to lead his people anew. The holocaust on the mountain top was bound to kindle the popular imagination, for mountains and folk leaders are closely associated in folklore. One thinks of Moses vanishing into the smoke and fire of Sinai until his people believed him dead; of Elias disappearing from Mount Carmel on a chariot of fire; of Bernardo Carpio, whom an earlier generation of Filipinos believed to be hiding on a mountain, too, from where, in the fullness of time, he would descend to led the people out of bondage. Today, four years after he died, the Magsaysay legend has attained the stature of myth and may in time become for us Filipinos what the Lincoln myth is for Americans.

The Bereaved

In spite of the news from Cebu, Mrs. Magsaysay and her children stubbornly clung to the hope that rescuers sent to the crash site would find survivors, the President among them. That night, Jun Magsaysay kept vigil at his mother’s bedside. She had been given one injection after another to put her to sleep until she rebelled and cried out: “I don’t want to be put to sleep! I want to be conscious! I want to know!” And, anyway, the injections eventually had no effect. They could jab her arm till it bled; no kind sleep blacked out her grief.

So she lay sleepless that night and heard her son walking back and forth, back and forth, crackling his knuckles and moaning, “Daddy, Daddy — what happened to you? What happened to you?” She called to him and bade him lie down at her side. “No, I can’t sleep,” he said. “Just lie down,” she told him, “and rest.” But the boy refused to lie down, continued to pace the floor, crackling his knuckles and groaning.

Of his sisters, the younger one, Mila, had collapsed and was being kept in bed by her friends. The elder sister, Teresita, had gathered all her young relatives and the household help in the chapel and had been leading them in prayer all day and night.

Hope died out the next day when a younger brother of the President was flown to the crash site and identified the remains. A report was wired to the Palace and Jun Magsaysay was delegated to break the news to his mother. The moment he entered the room, biting his lips and pale with shock, she knew what he was going to say.

Before he had finished speaking, she flung her hands to her head and uttered a scream that rang through the Palace and froze the blood of all who heard it.

“Monchi-i-ing!” she cried –and fell backward as her son ran to catch her.

Her daughters were summoned to her room. Mila rose from bed but had to be carried back to it before she reached her mother’s room. Teresita, an image of fortitude, came up from the chapel, rosary in hand, dark glasses shrouding her eyes. She strode into her mother’s room and closed the door behind her. When the two of them were alone together and she had been told that her father’s body had been found, she unclenched her hand before her mother’s eyes. The girl had been gripping the rosary so hard she had crushed the beads.

Suddenly her face twisted. “I have lost faith in God!” she cried, hurling the rosary at a mirror. The mirror broke. Shocked, Mrs. Magsaysay ran toward her trembling daughter, but the girl broke away from her mother’s arms and fled to her room.

Mrs. Magsaysay forgot her grief. She went out of her room to seek out a cousin of hers, a Jesuit priest, whom she sent to her daughter. When the priest returned, he told Mrs. Magsaysay there was nothing to worry about. Teresita was merely suffering from shock and was already aghast at what she had done. “The girl,” said the priest, “was expecting a miracle.”

The remains arrived and were at the Palace for three days, but the widow and her children were never alone, even for a moment, with their dead. Day and night, lying in her bed, Mrs. Magsaysay heard the tramping of feet and felt the old house shaking as the masses stampeded up the stairs to bid farewell to their Guy. “Abah, we may crash,” she thought as the Palace swayed with the weight of the people.

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She could not weep anymore. “I found out then,” she says, “that you can run out of tears too.” But not to be able to weep can be more terrible than weeping. The unshed tears hurt like stones under one’s eyelids.

During the funeral, all he could think of was that it was most uncomfortable, on such a hot day, to be wedged between two people. She was in the presidential car, seated between President and Mrs. Garcia. “Why can’t I be with my own family?” she asked herself peevishly, and herself answered the question: “Protocol! Protocol!” Then she wondered why she couldn’t be sitting in front beside the driver, instead of that aide. “It would be so much cooler there,” she thought, and idly noticed that the aide’s hair needed cutting. She glanced sideways at President Garcia sitting so still and stolid. She glanced at Inday Garcia quietly eating boiled eggs. She looked out the window at people running between cars, hurrying after the bier. “Won’t they get run over?” she wondered. Finally she concentrated on her husband’s horse, marching with such dignity just before their car, the empty saddle and boots on its back. On that hot crowded day, that horse alone looked cool and poised and whole. “It died a year later,” says Mrs. Magsaysay, “People wanted me to sell it but I said no. Then it fell sick. We had it operated on but it was no use. It died.”

At the graveyard, as the cannon boomed and the bugle sounded taps and the hot sun beat down on the multitude, what had felt like stones under her eyelids loosened at last and tears mercifully came streaming again from her eyes.

Mrs. Magsaysay says she used to dream a lot about her husband: “But since we moved to this new house of ours, I have dreamed of him only three or four times. The dreams are rather odd. He is wearing his old polo shirts. But he is never talking to me; he is always talking to somebody else, just like when he was alive.”

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About ten months after the disaster, two groups of priests climbed Mount Manúnggal to the site of the crash. They found the plane’s wreckage still there and said mass on the spot. For congregation, they had the mountain folk, who live so far from church many of them had never heard mass until that day. On the spot where the body of the Guy was found somebody had placed a makeshift marker: a round piece of paper framed in bamboo. There had been an inscription on the paper but it was illegible when the priests got there.

On the site of the crash now stands a rough-hewn chapel which the mountain folk also use as an assembly hall.

Why Garcia won, November 23, 1957

November 23, 1957

Why Garcia won

 

THE victory of President Garcia should have come as no surprise to Free Press readers. In a series of articles before the elections the outline of that victory was more or less clearly discernible. Not that President Garcia did not face formidable opposition. At one time, he was not even sure of nomination by his own party. To be precise, his nomination was contested by powerful, or apparently powerful, Nacionalista leaders; the President himself never doubted that he would get the nomination—and win in the election.

Two months before the Nacionalista convention, we went to interview the President. He had been fasting. Once a year Garcia would go on a two-week fast.

“After going practically without food for two weeks, I feel better physically—my blood pressure is very good, you know—better spiritually, too, I hope. A man who has voluntarily denied himself food for fourteen days should not be afraid of anything. If hunger has no fears for him, what has? It is a test of character. Look at me. Would you say, if you had not known about it, that I had been fasting for six days now?”

“You look good,” we said.

“I feel good,” said Pres. Carlos P. Garcia.

“You may feel good,” we said, “but should you? How certain are you of nomination by your party for the presidency? Laurel, Rodriguez, and nobody knows how many others would like to get the presidency. Not so long ago, you were, as far as your party was concerned, a political zero. The forgotten man. President Magsaysay had his own boys, and the Old Guard had Laurel, Rodriguez, etc. What were you? Nothing. How can you be so calm? The convention is only about 60 days away.”

Garcia should be worried. He was supremely confident:

“A president has to be pretty stupid not to get his party’s nomination in the convention. And I’m not stupid!”

Laurel the rival

Was he not afraid of Laurel, Sr.?  The Batangueño would not run for president when Magsaysay was alive, but he was only too willing to run for the office now that Magsaysay was gone.

“All I can say about Laurel is that he has been telling me, these many, many years, how old, how sick, how tired he was,” said Garcia. “I’m old, I’m sick, I’m tired,’ Laurel kept on saying. Now he says he is available. It’s up to the convention to decide.”

Who fought Garcia for the Nacionalista nomination?

Laurel, Sr., at one time, Garcia’s strongest rival. But Laurel eventually made it clear that he would withdraw from the race—if his son, Laurel, Jr., were nominated for vice-president. Garcia did not think very much of the proposition.

“The Batangueños will vote for Recto for president and Speaker Laurel for vice-president if the Nacionalista convention nominates young Laurel for my running mate,” said the Boholano.

The Free Press article, “Lord of the Jungle,” noted:

“The followers of Laurel, Jr., would have no alternative but to support Garcia for president in the convention if they would have Laurel, Jr., nominated for vice-president. If the convention nominated Laurel, Sr., for president, young Laurel could hardly be made his running mate; that would be too much for Philippine democracy, such, even, as it is, to stomach. If the convention nominated Paredes or Puyat or Rodriguez for president, that would rule young Laurel out, too, for they all come from Luzon. Those who wanted Laurel, Jr., for vice-president must support Garcia, if only because Garcia comes from the south.

“The nomination would take up the nomination for president first, then the nomination for vice-president. In the fight for the presidential nomination, the followers of Laurel, Jr. would just have to vote for Garcia if they were to hope for the nomination of Laurel, Jr., for vice-president. Once Garcia had won the presidential nomination, however, he would no longer need Laurel, Jr. But young Laurel would need Garcia more than ever if he would be the vice-presidential candidate of the party.

“Garcia’s position, then, with respect to the Laurels, Senior and Junior, was a commanding one. He had them completely at his mercy. As it became clearer and clearer that all Laurel, Sr., was really interested in was the vice-presidential nomination for his son, Garcia would be reported favoring Laurel, Jr. for his running mate one day, then declaring himself neutral the next day. Laurel, Sr., would withdraw from the presidential race, then enter the race again. Garcia had him coming and going….

“How about Garcia’s other rivals for the presidential nomination?

“Paredes was too new a Nacionalista to seriously hope to get the nomination, and he was soon persuaded to withdraw from the race.

“As for Puyat, not very many took his bid for the presidency seriously. It was just a stunt, many believed—to get the vice-presidential nomination. He would shoot for the No. 1 post, and settle for the No. 2. When Puyat insisted that he was after the presidency, and only the presidency, that he was not interested at all in the vice-presidency, well—who was Puyat, anyway? What could he give the delegates to the convention that Garcia could not give them—and more?

“Rodriguez was the most popular man in the Nacionalista Party, it was believed, and when Lacson withdrew from the presidential race to support ‘Amang,’ the man from Rizal seemed a real threat to Garcia in the convention. Rodriguez and Puyat could take away from Garcia enough votes to prevent his nomination. There would be a deadlock and Rodriguez might well be nominated for president by the convention in the interest of party unity. If Garcia could not get the 60 percent of the votes necessary for nomination, why not give the nomination to the popular ‘Amang’?

“But the question remained: What could Rodriguez give the delegates or the Nacionalista Party that Garcia could not give, and more—much more?”

Garcia, we thought, could very well say to the Nacionalistas who would take away the nomination from him:

“If you don’t want me, I don’t want you. If you hurt me, I will hurt you. And I can hurt you. If I go down, you go down. Well?”

Garcia got 888 votes in the Nacionalista convention, Puyat 165, Rodriguez 69. Lacson was booed.

“We will win!”

The convention nominated Garcia for president, but failed to select a running mate for him. That was left to the executive committee of the Nacionalista Party, which picked Laurel, Jr. Garcia abided by the decision of the executive committee. He ran with Laurel, Jr., winning with him Garcia said, candidly, that he would have to get a majority of more than 700,000 if Laurel, Jr., was to win with him. He, Garcia, remained confident of winning.

“We will win!” said Eleuterio Adevoso, Manahan’s campaign manager. The people were for Manahan. Magsaysay was their guy; Magsaysay was gone; Manahan was their man.

“Tapus na ang boksing!” said the Nationalist-Citizens presidential bet, Claro M. Recto. He had no machine, no inspectors, like Manahan, but—

“We will win because the people are behind us and they now understand the issues clearly, the resolution of which will uplift them from their age-old problems.”

The Liberal candidate, Yulo, was also sure of winning.

“I have faith and confidence in the people and in their sense of values and their capacity to judge wisely,” Yulo said. “Otherwise I would not be in this fight now…. General misery and economic difficulties are gripping the nation.”

The suffering of the people would mean the defeat of the administration. The people would vote for the opposition.

Split opposition

But the opposition was divided. How could it hope to lick the administration, with all its powers and advantages? Osmeña had lost to Roxas in 1946, and the Nacionalistas claimed it was only the use of force as well as mass frauds that made possible the “victory” of Quirino over Laurel in 1949, but the opposition triumphed over the administration in the 1951 senatorial election when not one of the administration candidates won, and, of course, the opposition won in 1953. The administration could be beaten, indeed. But, by a united opposition.

Yulo’s man, Crisol, however, took a different view of the situation.

“It is the party in power that is badly split,” said Crisol. “The Recto group is composed mostly of Nacionalistas. Remember, Recto used to be an NP. When he bolted that group to organize his own party, his supporters and sympathizers joined him. Tañada’s backers used to be sympathetic to the NP cause, largely because of the late President Magsaysay. But when Tañada severed his connection with the NP’s, his loyal supporters went with him.

Then there is the group of Manahan, and the rest of the MPM that bolstered the Nacionalista Party in 1953. The bulk of PPP is composed of men and women who helped the NP win the presidency for RM in 1953. Garcia cannot count on the support of one MPM because it has its own candidate, Manahan.”

The fact remained that the opposition was divided. Said the article, “The Political Chances of the Candidates,” in the October 12 Free Press:

“Instead of concentrating on the administration, opposition parties are fighting each other and the administration. If the administration wins, it will be from lack of effective opposition. Divide and rule—that was a tried and proven imperialist policy. While the opposition is divided, how can Yulo and Recto or Manahan hope to put an end to the Nacionalista rule?

“If Recto, Manahan and Yulo were to get together, the victory of the opposition should be certain. But they can’t get together. Instead of fighting Garcia, they are fighting him and each other. If Recto, Manahan or Yulo wins, it would be almost a miracle.

“Miracles do happen, we are told. They are the exception rather than the rule, however. Hence the calmness with which President Garcia faces the elections. While the opposition is divided, victory seems to him pretty certain.

“If the opposition were ever to get together… But the President is banking on the individual ambitions of the opposition candidates to keep them apart. He is depending on Recto, Yulo and Manahan to knock each other out for him.”

That was exactly what Recto, Yulo and Manahan did.

End