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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 hackneyed thing to say is that Macapagal’s triumph is like Magsaysay’s. Both men undertook a barrio-to-barrio campaign; both toppled an unpopular regime accused of being graft-ridden—but here the resemblance stops.
Magsaysay was expected to win; Macapagal was not.
Nobody was really surprised when the Magsaysay vote began to assume the proportions of an avalanche; the surprise would have been if it didn’t. But the day after this month’s elections, astonishment that Macapagal should be leading at all was so great everybody felt the lead couldn’t last. What one heard on all sides was: “Yes, of course he’s leading, but only on the Manila vote. Just wait till the NP votes start pouring in.” When the lead was maintained the chorus became: “Oh, that’s only the Manila and Luzon vote. Wait till the votes from the South come in.” Finally, when the nationwide trend became unmistakable, those who cautiously conceded that Macapagal might win quickly added that his margin of victory would be slim.
Actually, Macapagal polled a bigger popular vote than Magsaysay.
President Garcia can hardly be blamed for not conceding defeat at once; he, too, just couldn’t believe that Macapagal was winning and, but not conceding, was merely expressing a general astonishment and incredulity. It seems now that everyone who voted for Macapagal did so with no great hope that he would win. Each pro-Macapagal voter must have felt solitary, one in a hundred. So many people who had expressed disgust of the Garcia regime had followed denunciation with despair: “But how can one vote for Macapagal?”
This is in sharp contrast to the atmosphere in 1953, when everyone who voted for Magsaysay felt quite sure that everybody else was doing the same.
The doubts about a Macapagal triumph were indicated by all the pre-election forecasts, even those that had him leading. The pollsters in general detected a trend in his favor but apparently questioned the strength of the trend. Those who gave him the lead carefully stressed that the lead was very small. In fact, the last poll survey to be made public just before the elections, the U.P poll, flatly declared that Garcia and Macapagal were running even, any edge in favor of the latter being so slight as to be “insignificant.”
When the returns started coming in, the public literally couldn’t believe its eyes.
Why was Macapagal, even when given the edge to win, so underrated?
The prime reason is that there was no visible evidence of his popularity, save those reports from the field of the large crowds he was attracting—and we have learned to be cynical about large crowds. And the belief that he was a “colorless” figured seemed to have been proved by his inability, even during the climactic period of the campaign, to arouse fervor where fervor would show. Unlike Magsaysay, he had failed to inflame the imagination or capture the sympathies of those elements of society which create glamour figures.
Into his Great Crusade, Magsaysay had drawn the press, the intelligentsia, the businessmen, the Church, and a lot of people previously indifferent to politics—a motley mass that ranged from college boys and society girls to writers and movie actors, each group forming a movement that helped swell the following, not to mention the finances, of the crusade.
But Macapagal had been unable to make a similar crusade of his campaign. The intelligentsia was actively hostile; the press was cool; the businessmen were wary; the Church was, happily, more mute than during the Magsaysay crusade; and the political dilettantes who had cooed over the Guy found Mac a sad sack. The most influential foreign group in the Philippines, the Americans, had made no bones of being behind Magsaysay; but in this year’s campaign, rumors of American support for the LPs were popularly believed to have been circulated, not by their nationalist rivals, but by the LPs themselves, and that they should feel the need to do so implied American unwillingness to do it for them. One eminent columnist assured his readers that the Americans—the thoughtful ones, that is—would rather have the NPs remain in power. Finally, when that bogey of Philippine politics, the Iglesia ni Kristo, also declared itself against Macapagal, his cause seemed lost indeed.
Yet he took his cause to the common folk and won.
His victory is more impressive than Magsaysay’s, having been achieved against greater odds and without the fancy trimmings of the Great Crusade. Far more than Magsaysay, he can be said to have been carried to triumph by the masses, and only by the masses. And since there were none to glamorize him, since his very foes deny he had any of the Magsaysay charm and magic, since no fringe movements helped swell his finances or the tide of his popularity, he can now claim to have won on sheer skill, intelligence, industry, and the faith in him of he people. He could not become a glamour figure, so he became a folk hero.
And such has been the success of his solitary campaigning that every Philippine politician will, from now on, have to ponder the methods of Macapagal the campaigner.
Poetry got Diosdado Macapagal into politics. Before 1949, his future had seemed to lie in the foreign service. He had risen to the fourth ranking position in the foreign affairs department; President Quirino, obviously grooming the young Pampango for a diplomatic career, sent him to the United States, to broaden his outlook. Macapagal was second secretary of the embassy in Washington.
Then, in 1949, the congressman for Pampanga, Huk-elected Amado Yuson, announced his intention to run for re-election. President Quirino was then engaged in a campaign to topple all Huk-elected officials. But Yuson had a special strength: he was recognized as the poet laureate of Pampanga, a province that loves its bards. Yuson drew crowds not as a politician but as a poet; at his mitings he did not deliver speeches, he improvised verses. Quirino saw it would take a poet to lick a poet.
He had Macapagal recalled from Washington and bade him run against Yuson. The platform was practically who was the better poet. Macapagal had had no experience in politics but did have renown as a bard. In his youth he had composed about a hundred poems, and they had established him as a public figure in his native province, important enough to be invited to address school convocations and crown fiesta queens.
The 1949 campaign in Pampanga turned into a poetic joust. Macapagal trailed his rival from plaza to plaza. Had Yuson delivered a particularly lovely poem in a certain town? The very next night, or a few nights later, Macapagal was in that town, delivering an even lovelier poem. He says he finds it easier to improvise in verse than in prose.
Because he had no campaign funds to use to publicize his candidacy he was forced to adopt a person-to-person approach, to go into every nook and corner of the province to introduce himself to the populace. Thus began, long before the Great Crusade of Magsaysay, the barrio-to-barrio campaign. For Macapagal, such a campaign was inevitable because he felt surest of himself among his own kind.
“Until I ran,” he says, “politicians in Pampanga came from the propertied class. I was the first poor candidate there.”
He not only won against Yuson but topped the congressional winners, which included Magsaysay, in second place. Then came another surprise. It was the custom among Pampango politicians, because they were wealthy, to go off to Baguio or Hong Kong after an election, to rest. But a few days after the 1949 polls, the barrio folk of Pampanga were astounded to find their winning candidate again in their midst. Macapagal had no money for a Baguio or Hong Kong vacation, and he thought that elegant custom silly anyway. Instead, he traveled all over the province again, to thank in person whose who had helped him win. This, cried the Pampangos, was something new in politics.
That first campaign established the style of Macapagal the campaigner; his next major campaign—for the Senate in 1955—disclosed an ability to project himself n a nationwide scale. He was, till then, regarded as a small-time, strictly local politician. Though he regularly made the lists of top congressmen of the year, his name was unknown outside Pampanga. In 1955, he was running with name politicians: Osias, Peralta, Magalona and Geronima Pecson. He was the expendable one on that list, merely followed the others on the regular campaign routes.
Then, in Pototan, Iloilo, came the revelation.
The LPs were waging a futile fight and they themselves knew it: their campaigning was lackadaisical. Macapagal, too, had prepared only one speech, which he used over and over again. One night—that night in Pototan—he finally got so sick of his own clichés he threw the speech away and began to talk as he pleased. It was raining anyway; there were few to listen. He could think aloud, could speak from the heart. He recalled the misery of his childhood, the squalor of his youth. He had almost, though the valedictorian, not attended his grade school graduation because he had no clothes and no shoes to wear. He had almost not gone to high school because there was no money for tuition fees; his mother had raised pigs, his grandmother had worked as a midwife, to send him to high school. All his dreams were one: to end poverty, because he had known how cruel poverty could be. He could not bear the thought of other children going through what he had gone through.
He was practically speaking to himself and was hardly aware that his audience, though the rain was falling harder, had drawn closer around him instead of running to shelter. When he stopped speaking, there was tumultuous applause. Mrs. Pecson stepped forward to speak but could not do so because the crowd kept on applauding and shouting: “Macapagal! Macapagal!” The congressman from Pampanga had to leave his seat and speak to the crowd again.
The following night, in another town, he discarded his prepared speech again and spoke extemporaneously: of his life and hard times, his struggles and dreams. Again he had a rapt audience, again he got tumultuous applause. Macapagal realized he had a larger appeal than he had thought.
This year, when he campaigned in Pototan, he told the people there; “Pototan is not merely a town to me. It is a landmark. For here I discovered I had a message for the nation.”
Macapagal lost in the 1955 senatorial race but topped all the Liberal candidates, though they were better-known than he. His colleagues in the party saw that he was no longer a small-time politico and a stop-Macapagal movement started. The party hierarchy was reorganized and Macapagal was ousted as vice-president for Central Luzon. But it was too late to stop his rise: the public already knew him as “Mr. Liberal.”
After his defeat in the polls, his wife said to him: “It seems your Divine Providence failed you this time. Had you won, you would have been minority floor leader in the Senate and the undisputed leader of the Liberal Party.”
Said Macapagal: “God answers our prayers in his own way. I have faith in his own design in my defeat.”
The design, as he sees it now, was victory in 1961: “Had I won in 1955, my party would have made me run for president in 1957, and I would surely have lost. Garcia had been president only nine months and voters would be inclined to give him a full term to show what he could do. Because I lost in 1955, I was good only for vice-president in 1957, and I had time to prepare to run for president n 1961 and win.”
The vice-presidential nomination was offered to him by a dying man: Speaker Eugenio Perez. Late one night, while the House was discussing the budget, the Speaker, pale and feeble, suddenly appeared in the chamber. Al the solons started up from their seats as if they had seen a ghost, for Perez was supposed to be on his deathbed: the doctors had given him up. Dragging his feet, he shuffled toward Macapagal. “I want to talk to you,” he said.
When they were alone together, Perez said to Macapagal: “The party is putting up Mr. Yulo for president because it has no money, but Mr. Yulo will be attacked. We need someone to run with him whose integrity cannot be questioned. The party has been good to you; not it’s your turn to help the party. If we only had money I would put you up for president. But I tell you: you will be president someday.”
Macapagal says he would have preferred to play it safe and just run for Congress again—but how could he refuse the plea of a dying man?
When he got home that night he woke up his wife to confess that he had made a decision without consulting her: he had agreed to run for vice-president.
“What are your chances?” she asked.
“And what will you do afterwards?”
“I’ll teach and practise law.”
The very next day, he went to the University of Santo Tomas to arrange a teaching contract, so sure was he that his election as vice-president was improbable. But when the NPs put up Laurel junior as their veep candidate and the NCPs selected Tañada, Macapagal began to think that he could win. Laurel junior was manifestly unpopular, and Tañada would divide the Tagalog vote.
But again there was the problem of finances. Macapagal had no money, and neither did the Liberal Party. All the funds came from Yulo and: I don’t think Mr. Yulo ever liked me,” says Macapagal.
Into the picture stepped Amelito Mutuc, an old acquaintance who had married into a wealthy family. Mutuc offered to direct Macapagal’s campaign.
“Can you raise two thousand pesos?” he asked Macapagal.
Macapagal borrowed two thousand from his wife; with the money Mutuc rented a building in Manila, bought a couple of typewriters and set up a Macapagal campaign headquarters.
Says Macapagal: “I had not a centavo for my first campaign. When I ran for the Senate I had about five hundred pesos. And I ran for vice-president on two thousand pesos.”
There were, however, the transportation expenses, which the LP candidates were apparently expected to shoulder themselves. The campaigners had been divided into teams; Macapagal noticed that he was not included in Mr. Yulo’s team. He was told to go to Mindanao and campaign there. But how could he go when he didn’t even have the fare? Instead, he looked up Yulo’s itinerary. He discovered that Yulo was in a certain Visayan town. Macapagal suddenly showed up there, during a rally, and when he spoke he praised Yulo to the skies. Delighted, Yulo told him: “You better come along with my group.”
“And that,” grins Macapagal, “was how I got through the campaigns without any funds. I just joined Mr. Yulo’s party.”
Though Macapagal polled more votes than Garcia, his victory was dismissed as a fluke. The popular view was that he had won on the strength of “negative” votes cast, not really for him, but against Laurel junior.
Macapagal was still “invisible” to many, though he had pulled up quite a feat: had won against the party in power at the height of its power.
President Garcia, it is said, had originally regarded the large popular vote for Macapagal as a directive from the people to make Macapagal serve in the government: there were hints from Malacañang that the vice-president would be appointed secretary of foreign affairs. But after a consultation with his council of leaders, Mr. Garcia decided not to give Macapagal a job.
“From that moment,” says Macapagal, “I decided to build up and strengthen the Liberal Party, to begin campaigning for the presidency, and to beat Garcia in 1961.”
He started campaigning during his very first year as veep, circled the country three times during his term: “It took me a year the first time, two years the second time, a year the third time.”
At first President Garcia allowed him to use a navy cutter, the Ifugao. Macapagal started with the most inaccessible areas: Palawan, the isles of the Badjaos, the Turtle Islands. He had, while still in the foreign affairs department, negotiated the return of the Turtle Islands to the Philippines, had raised the Philippine flag there. On his second trip, he covered the isolated areas on the Pacific coast. When he submitted his schedule for his third trip, which was to have included Batanes, President Garcia smelled what the vice-president was up to and forbade his further use of the Ifugao. Undaunted, Macapagal used inter-island steamers.
“It was a blessing in disguise,” he says. “On the steamers I met more people.” He ate with the third-class passengers, surprised them by cleaning up his plate, though the food was staler than most people could stomach.
In his wanderings, Macapagal reached places where the last government official people remembered having seen was Governor-General Leonard Wood. “I think,” says Macapagal, “that Wood was the one government official who tried to reach every place in the country.”
Macapagal was not always the politician in his four-year odyssey: he has an eye for the odd and the beautiful. In a coastal town in Samar he saw a man who was said to be 150 years old: “He was like a mummy, he looked dead already, but he could still talk.” Macapagal becomes lyrical when describing the brooks in Camiguin: “They are the most beautiful brooks I ever saw—water flowing over white stones. If I were an artist I would paint those brooks.”
At the same time that he was trying to reach every place in the country, he was building up his party. He saw the need for uniting the opposition but saw no hope for union as long as the Progressives clung to two ideas of theirs: first, that the Liberal Party was rotten to the core and could never return to power and, second, that they, the Progressives, could win by themselves. When negotiations for union in 1959 lagged, Macapagal abruptly ended them: “I saw it was useless to negotiate until I had proved to the Progressives that we could win in an election and that they couldn’t.” The Progressives tried to reopen the negotiations but Macapagal firmly repulsed them: “I just told them that we had already lost a month of the campaign. After all, I felt that union in 1959 was not important. What was important was union in 1961—and I could get that only by proving myself right in 1959.”
Then Ferdinand Marcos, who had been made to run for the Senate, got cold feet and wanted to withdraw. Marcos felt that Macapagal was courting disaster by deciding that the Liberal Party was to run alone, without any coalition with the Progressives. But Macapagal was willing to stake his political reputation and his presidential chances on that decision. He had more to lose than Marcos but was less apprehensive. He said to Marcos: “You not only will not lose but you will get first place.”
During the counting of the returns, the Progressives who had seemed at first to be winning, all dropped out, but three Liberals remained steady on the winning list, and Marcos did top it. The victory, says Macapagal, was not a random one; he had carefully engineered it. He had pinpointed the areas from where came the votes that had swamped the LPs in previous elections; during the campaign he concentrated on those areas. These were, he says, the “pockets” that had to be pushed back so that his “military line” would hold straight and steady. Having eliminated those “pockets,” Macapagal, after the balloting, sat back and waited confidently for the returns. His fellow Liberals nervously awaited the usual NP avalanche of votes to sweep them away—but Macapagal told them there would be no avalanche, and there was none.
Says Marcos: “That is why we respect Macapagal—because he makes decisions even against our will. Afterwards we find that he was right.”
Macapagal was proved right, too, about the Progressives. When Soc Rodrigo was quoted as saying, after the 1959 polls, that the Grand Alliance would continue, Macapagal said: “If there is one man who has no choice now but to join the Liberals, it is Soc Rodrigo.”
Then he sent Senator Estanislao Fernandez to ask Rodrigo if he was ready now to join the Liberals. Said Rodrigo: “What else can I do?”
“And that,” smiles Macapagal, “was what I had been saying all along.”
Again Macapagal had done the impossible: he had turned a discredited and disheartened LP into a winning party and he had united the opposition. If there be still doubts about his capacity for leadership, he points to the diverse personalities he was able, for this campaign, to bring together and organize into a team: Marcos, Manglapus, Lacson, Manahan, not to mention Roger de la Rosa.
“Each one a strong personality,” he sighs, “and all of them stars!”
What Macapagal did in 1959 he repeated in 1961. He circled the country a third time but concentrated on the new “pockets” revealed by the 1959 polls. The very first province he stormed this year was Batangas, where the LPs had always lost heavily. He campaigned there for a week, then moved on to Quezon, and then, to everybody’s amazement, returned to Batangas and campaigned through it all over again. The Batangueños said to him: “You are the first presidential candidate to campaign here twice.” The politicos predicted a Macapagal loss in Batangas, but he carried the province.
He went wherever the LP was weak, however remote the region. Everybody thought him crazy to go to the Davao town of Manay, which is a Nacionalista stronghold and almost inaccessible. Boats dock far off; passengers must plunge into neck-deep water and wade ashore, for small boats would be dashed by the strong waves against the rocks. On reaching the shore, the Manay-bound must still climb a steep rocky slope to reach the town. Though it was past midnight when his ship reached the place, Macapagal plunged into the water, waded ashore through the darkness, climbed up over the rocks, and found the townspeople of Manay still waiting for him. The mayor told him: “This is a Nacionalista town, but because you came here you will win here.”
The intrepidity Macapagal displayed during the campaign may well turn into legend. He crossed, on a frail fishing boat, that point of the San Bernardino Strait which folk in the vicinity regard with horror, because four currents converging there create a maelstrom. The crossing was pure agony; Macapagal got across without being sucked into the maelstrom—“but,” he shudders, “I don’t think I could do it again.”
Batanes had become an obsession with him ever since his scheduled trip there, in 1957, had to be cancelled with the Ifugao was forbidden him. Three subsequent attempts to sail to Batanes were thwarted by bad weather. Then, late in the last month of the campaign, he decided he just had to get there. He hired a fishing boat and set off. Halfway across, he noticed that the boat was slapping against the water: “That’s when it’s dangerous—not when a boat is rocking but when it’s slapping.” He said to the skipper of the boat: “Puede ba? If it’s possible, let’s go on. If not, let’s return.” Said the skipper: “We had better return.”
But there was no stopping Macapagal now. He wired his wife in Manila that he needed two planes. “To think that it was I who arranged that trip!” she wails now. Macapagal finally reached Batanes by plane, but the return trip was made with one engine dead.
Why had he risked his life to reach a place that had but a handful of voters? He says? “I wanted to show that it was not the votes that mattered to me. Besides, I had covered the entire country except Batanes. And when you say except, you remove the impact.”
The Sunday before the polls, Macapagal addressed the LP miting de avance on Plaza Miranda. He had not campaigned at all in Manila but the multitude he drew was epochal. “I felt,” he says, “that the people there had already made up their minds. They had not come to be convinced but just to be there.” Manny Pelaez nudged Mrs. Macapagal and whispered: “Just watch. The crowd will applaud your husband whatever he says.” “And,” says Mrs. Macapagal, “it was true. The people applauded even in the middle of a word!”
On the eve of the elections, Macapagal conducted a “talkaton” that lasted all night, answering questions from all quarters, demonstrating, for all to see, how quickly his mind worked. The invisible man was finally emerging as quite a dynamic chap. It was dawn when he went home, but not to sleep. He and Mrs. Macapagal immediately motored to his home town of Lubao, to vote. When they got there, at seven in the morning, the streets were already full of people impatient to vote.
The Pampangos had a cardinal, now they wanted a president.
That night, the poll returns began to paint an astounding new image of Macapagal. The man described as “colorless” had turned out to be a phenomenon.
Luck is still on his side. He is fortunate to become president when people are just beginning to see him clearly. Magsaysay became an idol too soon; adulation reached a peak during his campaign: there was nowhere else to go but down. So much was expected of the Guy he could not but disappoint. Barely two years after he assumed office there was already a marked chill in the air.
But Macapagal assumes office amid general incredulity rather than expectation, amid a growing curiosity rather than love. Because he was so underrated, anything he does now will have the quality of surprise. Because nothing was expected of him, he cannot disappoint. The way for him is still up. He is not yet entangled in a myth of himself; idolatry has still to becloud his eyes with incense. He should be able to accomplish more, since he has to earn the people’s love rather than justify it.
He comes to us practically unknown: an ambiguous figure, half light and half dark, moving toward the presidency and wresting it away with a few arms, though the dragons of power and propaganda stood round about.
Of his feat he says: “It was difficult, it was impossible, but we did it. Now, the job ahead is even more difficult, ten times more difficult. But I am read for it.”
The heroic martyrdom of Josefa Llanes Escoda, September 20, 1952
The heroic martyrdom of Josefa Llanes Escoda
by Sol H. Gwekoh
One of the heroic figures of the last war was Mrs. Josefa Llanes Escoda, whose birthday falls on September 20, today. Both the Girl Scouts and the Women’s Club Federation are observing the event on a nationwide scale. This is the story of a woman who laid down her life for the suffering and the needy.
September 20, 1952–IN the nineteenth century, Florence Nightingale saved the British army with her corps of female nurses; in the twentieth century Josefa Llanes Escoda ministered to the needs of sick and dying Philippine soldiers and civilians during World War II.
Josefa Llanes Escoda was born on September 20, 1898, in the small and quiet town of Dingras, in Ilocos Norte, some 500 kilometers away from Manila.
After completing her social work studies in New York, she returned to the Philippines in 1926 and immediately plunged into social welfare work. Among her pre-war achievements was the establishment of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines.
When the Pacific war broke out, Josefa lost no time in gathering a representative group of Filipino women to render emergency service to the war casualties.
The infamous Death March was still halfway to its destination when Josefa, accompanied by her husband, Antonio Escoda, rushed to San Fernando, Pampanga, to give food to the Filipino and American soldiers who were weak and exhausted after many months in the front lines. Returning to Manila, she made a comprehensive report of the grim situation.
Having known that Josefa was already a renowned social welfare worker in the pre-war years, the enemy could not simply disregard her leadership; so she was allowed to continue with her activities. Time and again, she turned down offers of lucrative positions, having decided to devote her time and efforts to underground work for the duration of the emergency.
Josefa’s initial activity was the compilation of the names and addresses of the thousands of Filipino prisoners confined in Camp O’Donnell in Capas. She had a hard time making this list because of the confusion and chaos all over the Philippines then, but she was not disheartened. The headquarters of the National Federation of Women’s Clubs on San Marcelino in Malate district, Manila, was swamped daily with anxious relatives of the USAFFE soldiers as the list grew longer.
In the next three years, Josefa did everything possible for the soldiers, the internees, and the civilians. By a variety of ruses she succeeded in making frequent but hazardous trips to Capas where she kept the war prisoners supplied with foodstuffs, medicines, used clothing, old leather shoes, wooden shoes, and even coconut shells for plates. Although she knew that she was risking her life in these wartime activities, Josefa never faltered in her purpose. She managed somehow to elude the Japanese guards stationed at the gates of the camps and the various check-points on the way, and was able to deliver the messages of prisoners to their loved ones in Manila and the provinces.
Time and again Josefa was visited by high Japanese military officials. The charming lady that she was, Josefa pretended that she was helping the civilian population in the regular social welfare program of the National Federation of Women’s Clubs (of which she was the president at the time), and the enemy left her unmolested, never entertaining any suspicion for some time.
Following the release of the Filipino war prisoners from the camps, Josefa concentrated her attention on the nerve-wracking job of helping the American POWs and civilian internees at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, Cabanatuan, and Bongabon in Nueva Ecija, and Los Baños in Laguna. For some time she was able to cover her activities in the concentration camps “under the encompassing blanket of universal social work.” But somehow the Japanese military officials got wise and began to watch her movements more closely.
Josefa’s wartime activities continued up to the middle of 1944. By then the American liberation forces under the leadership of General Douglas MacArthur were already on their way back to the Philippines. News of the impending liberation of the Philippines was most welcome then, especially to Josefa, who thought that soon the war would be over, and everything in her country would return to normal.
But her hope was an irony for the Escodas. In June 1944, her husband was captured by the Japanese in Mindoro. Despite the arrest of her husband, Josefa remained serene and composed. Her engaging smiles before her numerous friends did not in the least betray “the dark sorrow in her gallant heart over the uncertain fate of her husband” who was then languishing in Fort Santiago.
Josefa herself knew that even her life was not worth a nickel to the Japanese kempetai. Aware of this, her friends, among them the Laudicos (Adriano and Minerva) of Pasay City, pleaded with Josefa that she leave the city and hide from the enemy. “You must flee, Pepa,” they entreated her.
Josefa “shook her head and smiled sadly.” She had decided to remain. She never thought of abandoning her husband at a time when he needed her most. She was determined to stick it out with him. So what she did was to contact leading Filipino officials in the service of the enemy in her supreme efforts to secure his release.
On August 27, 1944, friends of Josefa’s learned through the grapevine that she had been taken in. For many bleak months both husband and wife were confined within the dark recesses of Fort Santiago, the “grim bastion of doomed men.” Day after day they suffered the inhuman tortures inflicted on them by the kempetai whose repeated questioning proved futile to extract the secrets Josefa and Antonio knew.
During her confinement at Fort Santiago no visitors were allowed to see Josefa. Her family was permitted to send food and other necessities to Josefa only once. Her two children had to be hidden from the enemy, who threatened to take them in also if Josefa continued to refused to talk.
With her in confinement was Sister M. Trinita, Superior of the Maryknoll Sisters. Of Josefa, the Reverend Sister remarked, “For about four months, Mrs. Escoda and I shared the same cell in the military prison, and I was a witness to her heroism, loyalty, and charity under the most difficult and trying conditions. She often discussed plans for the future, when the war would be over, for her family, the women’s clubs, and the Girl Scouts. How joyfully she recalled her years in the United States studying, and how eagerly she looked forward to the time when her two children could go there to study.”
Sister Trinita also told the Llanes family of the courage displayed by Josefa during her sufferings and her deep concern for the weaker prisoners in Fort Santiago, to whom she distributed the things sent her. To the Escoda children, Sister Trinita said, “You can be sure your mother is in heaven. Even when she suffered herself, she still thought of others.”
For her loyalty to her country’s cause, Josefa paid a grim price. Just how she died is not yet definitely known, except that she must have met her death, gallantly, sometime in January, 1945, a few days before the American liberating forces freed Manila from the Japanese.
Malacañan memoirs, February 28,1949
by Ernesto T. Bitong
290 España, Manila
February 28, 1949–FEBRUARY 3, 1945 is a date to remember.
The day was depressing. The sun shone briefly at noon and later was lost among the low-hanging clouds. I felt that something was going to happen. The air seemed to be charged with something ominous.
Early in the morning, I learned that the Kempeitais had paid another visit to the CO’s office in Malacañan Annex and got the roster of the Presidential Guards and a list of the arms in the PG Armory. The strength of the Guards then was greatly depleted. The exodus to Baguio of Dr. Laurel and his cabinet in the latter part of December 1944 had left Malacañan with only a skeleton force. It was this small band that neutralized the efforts of the Japanese marines to appropriate for themselves the use of the Palace.
Count Kano, the liaison officer of the Japanese Military Administration in Malacañan, came late in the morning and left hastily a little later for parts unknown. This was something irregular. Kano usually came to the office early and left late in the afternoon.
Guard mount was held at two o’clock instead of the usual five. This further enhanced my suspicion that something was in the air.
In the growing dusk, I kept to my post in the Executive Building. My senses were cocked to everything around me. Then it happened. I heard desultory firing in the northern part of the city. The phone near my position rang. It was from an agent from the Bureau of Investigation. He reported that there was street fighting in the vicinity of Blumentritt. I contacted the Sergeant of the Guard and apprised him of the situation. He ordered the closing of the gates and directed the men to take the best positions.
The crackle of gunfire and the rumble of tanks drew nearer and nearer. A single column of big tanks painted drab green lumbered into view. While the column rounded the corner of Mendiola and Aviles, a truckload of Jap heitai-sans followed by a sedan of Jap officers came upon the scene. They were greeted by 75’s and .50 caliber machine guns. The armored column came to a halt in front of Gate 4.
We were in a quandary. They could not be Americans, for according to the latest “dope” from the guerrilla grapevine, the Yanks were somewhere in Bulacan. Surely, they could not be here so soon. And supposing they were Americans, would they fire on us if we opened the gates, thinking that we were Nipponese marionettes? These thoughts raced through our minds as the armored column waited outside the gate.
Then I heard wisps of conversation from the tank column. The nasal twang was unmistakable. I felt immensely relieved. A big hunk of a GI detached himself from the column and walk boldly to the iron gate. He unscrewed the bar that held the two leaves of the gate in place. My heart was beating like a tomtom. I kept rooted to my position.
The lead tank pushed the gate open and clanked in, followed by the rest of the armored unit. The turret of the lead tank opened and out came a crash–helmeted figure. Apparently, he was the leader of the tank column. I learned later that he was Capt. “Bud” Hickman, of the Second Squadron under Lt. Col. H. L. Conner.
Sgt. Carlos San Pedro rose from his concealed position and approached Capt. Hickman. After they exchanged salutes, the tank man told him, “I’d like to see your Commanding Officer.”
Our commanding officer, Maj. “Jess” Vargas (now chief of staff of the Philippine Ground Forces, AFP) was in the Executive Building. While Vargas and Hickman introduced themselves, they were joined by Maj. Napoleon Valeriano, who led the armored unit to Malacañan. (Maj. Valeriano is now PC Provincial Commander of Pampanga.)
Associated Press Correspondent Richard Bergholz, expressing astonishment at the feebleness of the Jap opposition to the American drive toward Manila, said: “It’s definitely a race between forward elements of the First Cavalry and the 37th Division to see who enters Manila first.” In this race the mechanized First Cavalry won.
Meanwhile, the GIs rigged .50 caliber machine guns at Gate 4 and around the periphery. They dug in and awaited Banzai attacks. The medics cleared the southern section of the Executive Building of the desks and other office paraphernalia and set up a hospital… Two tank men were wounded in the encounter near Gate 4: one was hit near the pulmonary region and died before midnight, the other was grazed in the neck. Mrs. “Mommie” Pecson (now a senator) made herself useful by serving the GI “dogfaces” cookies and hot coffee and entertaining them with her stories about her experiences in the good old USA.
The next morning, February 4, the Japs must have found their bearings. They rained murderous artillery and mortar fire on the Malacañan compound. Several American casualties were brought in for treatment. The medics were kept busy.
For tactical purposes, Malacañan was divided into two sectors. The Palace and the immediate grounds were assigned to the Guards. The Americans were assigned to the Executive Building and the surrounding areas including the Annex Building. The Palace grounds were swept with Jap machine gun fire from the San Miguel Brewery. Sorties were sent out to destroy the Jap stronghold. The Americans in their sector had enough trouble on their hands to keep them busy. Strong Jap positions in the Malacañan Park across the Pasig river menaced the Yanks with their knee mortars. All through the day there were exchanges of gunfire. Before nightfall American firepower asserted itself. The Jap ammunition dump in Pandacan was hit. All night long shells in the ammo dump exploded. It was like a New Year’s Eve and July Fourth celebrations rolled into one. For several days thereafter fighting continued intermittently.
On February 7 we had a distinguished visitor, that almost legendary figure—General Douglas MacArthur. There was no mistaking the tall, handsome, stern military bearing, the distinctive cap. With him was Col. Andres Soriano. They visited the Palace and the Executive Building. The General paused at the slit trencher and “battled the breeze” with the GI dogfaces. Later he walked up to the San Miguel Church escorted by Maj. Valeriano.
Two hours after General MacArthur’s departure, the Palace was subjected to the heaviest shelling since the arrival of the Americans. The families that took refuge in the Palace had to be evacuated to the Executive Building. The Palace shook from the effect of the terrific shelling. The southwestern side of the Palace was destroyed. All the windows in the Executive Building were broken. Many casualties were brought in.
Malacañan was left to the Guards when the tank column moved to Santo Tomas University Camp in accordance with orders from higher headquarters. The only Americans left in the compound were a platoon of signal corpsmen who lost no time in establishing themselves in the presidential air-raid shelter behind the Executive Building. The Japs stationed at the Hospicio de San Jose continued to threaten the Malacañan fortress. Camouflaged with water lilies and other plants, the Japs attempted crossings at night. But they were always checked by the Guards who peppered them with rifle fire.
The first crossings to the southside of Manila of amphibious tanks through the Uli-Uli Road wrote finis to the attacks on Malacañan. The Guards played a stellar role.