Lessons from Philippine Presidents

Diliman Way

Homobono A. Adaza

“My loyalty to my party ends where my loyalty to my country begins.”
— President Manuel Luis Quezon

“Those who have less in life should have more in  law.”
– President Ramon Magsaysay

If we only visit the past, we are likely to have a better country. But just visiting the past is probably not enough. It is necessary to learn the lessons of the past. As the Spanish philosopher has written, those who do not learn the lesson of the past are doomed to repeat it. And this is what is happening to us – we never learn the lesson of history, thus we keep on repeating the mistakes day after day, year after year and decade after decade.

It is disgusting but we never seem to notice. Thus this glimpse into what our Presidents have been doing and saying for about a century –hoping that we finally learn for our sake, our country and generations of Filipinos to come.

Manuel Luis Quezon: He is the first President of the Philippine Commonwealth when the country was still a colony of the United States of America. In his fight with the politicians of his party, he said, “My loyalty to my party ends where my loyalty to my country begins.” This statement is remember by those who study our past – whether in or out of school. This is also remembered by people listening to politicians who leave their parties for their own personal convenience.

As some people say, patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels. And these scoundrels, as a rule, are political butterflies who champion the habitual practice in our country of balimbingism.

Of course, there are exceptions as there is in every rule. There are politicians who are genuine patriots who leave their party for reasons of principles. But they are hard to find these days. It’s like being Diogenes with a lamp at noon day searching for an honest man.

This is our problem. Most of our Presidents and public officials never learned this lesson from President Quezon. Instead they adopt the reverse policy that runs like this – My loyalty to my country ends where my loyalty to myself, my family, my friends, my stomach, my pocket, my bank account, my concubine or my paramour and my private part begins.

What an obvious scandal but hardly any in this country is scandalized because a great majority of our people, I am afraid, shares the same orientation as these politicians and public officials.

Quezon made another statement which is understandable during the fight for Philippine independence – “I’d rather have a government run like Hell by Filipinos than a government run like Heaven by Americans.”

However, considering that, for decades now, our country has been run like Hell by Filipinos, it may be worthwhile considering the Philippines run Heaven by Americans with the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John Fitzgerald Kennedy but, most certainly, not an unhinged and incompetent like Donald J. Trump.

Moreover, if our country becomes a state of America and we become American citizens, anyone of us will have the opportunity to run for President of the United States. With a population of over a hundred million, we will then be one third of the population of America. We will be the state with the biggest number of popular and electoral votes overtaking those of California.

With the Filipino who is a better orator and communicator than most nationalities in this planet, not to speak of being brilliant and visionary, it is not far fetch to suppose a Filipino can become President of the American Union.

I am not recommending the idea. I’m just exploring possibilities considering the dismal situation of our country and America.

Elpidio Quirino: Filipinos who still remember Quirino associate him with the controversial bed and golden urinola. They are really nothing in comparison to billions stolen by other Presidents.

Marc Antony said in Julius Caesar – “The evil that men do lives after them. The good are oft are oft entered with their bones.” It is not fair to President Quirino. Among Presidents, Quirino has given a lesson to Filipinos with especial emphasis on public officials – the austerity program. Most of the Presidents and public officials after him never observed austerity.They do the opposite – luxurious extravagance.

Considering poverty has always been stalking the land, there is always great reason for the country to observe an austerity program. This Quirino legacy has even been installed in section 1, Article XI of our Constitution for public officers and employees to “lead modest lives.” If only our public officials and employees as well as our people lead modest lives, there will be no graft and corruption and injustice in the country. There will be integrity, honesty and patriotism in the country as provided in the cited provision of the Constitution.

Inevitably, however, leading modest lives is a matter of values. Inability of politicians and our people to imbibe the appropriate values can be attributed to four major institutions – family, schools, churches and government. That everyone’s primary values are wealth, power, influence and sex can verily be attributed to these institutions. If we are to move forward, we have got to have system changes. And if we have system changes, we will remember with deep gratitude the austerity program of President Elpidio Quirino.

Ramon Magsaysay: The well-remembered man from Zambales was Secretary of National Defense of Elplidio Quirino who belonged to the Liberal Party of President Manuel Acuña Roxas. Magsaysay was a very colorful, charismatic and an innovative Secretary with simple and humble conduct which endeared him to the Filipino masses. There were five major things one could well remember about what Magsaysay has said and done – devotion to constitutional democracy, passion for social justice and the Filipino masses, courage to defy the gods of Philippine society, appropriate approach to the insurgency and unending patience to listen to the people.

Magsaysay was a committed constitutional democrat as shown by his words and conduct. In his devotion to social justice and the downtrodden, he said, “Those who have less in life should have more in law.” This is a moving invocation of social justice. The words are not original with him. It was furnished him by Justice Enrique Fernando, later to become Chief Justice, who took it from Professor Thomas Reed Powell of Yale University. But his passion and deep commitment is genuine and original.

When Mayor Moises Padilla of one of the towns of Negros Occidental was gunned down by the storm troopers of Governor Rafael Lacson of the same province, without hesitation, Magsaysay who was still Defense Secretary flew to Bacolod City, Negros Occidental and from there motored to the town of Padilla. There he held in his arms the bloodied dead body of Moises Padilla.

The Manila dailies captured the scene and the moment with the photo landing in the headlines and front pages.
This historic and dramatic photo became the theme of the song of the campaign of Magsaysay for President. Written by Raul Manglapus, later to become senator, the famous lines run this way – “Mambo, mambo Magsaysay, Mambo, mambo mabuhay. Our democracy will die kung wala si Magsaysay.”

This song was titled, Mambo Magsaysay. Mambo was a favorite song and dance from the Caribbean. The man and the song rode on a landslide victory in the presidential election – a memorable gesture of the adoration of our people. Magsaysay and the masses melded into one.
Coming from Zambales with nearby provinces of Bataan, Tarlac and Pampanga which were the hot beds of the Hukbalahap rebellion, Magsaysay knew the roots of the problem – poverty, oppression and injustice. Instead of pursuing an all out war policy against the insurgents, Magsaysay extended a helping hand to the Huk rebels. He made a promise to deliver to them new homes and lands to cultivate in Mindanao – the Land of Promise and Opportunity. He delivered on his promise and brought the insurgency to a minimum.

When Magsaysay initiated a new policy or a new move, he always consulted his advisers and asked them this question, “Can we defend this in Plaza Miranda?” Plaza Miranda is that area just outside the Quiapo Church – the Church of the miraculous Black Nazarene. Political parties then – Nacionalista and Liberal – held their miting de avance which is their last rally before Election Day at this plaza. When politicians and their political parties wanted to air or defend their views involving policies or a new course of action, they held rallies at Plaza Miranda.

These days, politicians and political parties don’t hold rallies anymore at Plaza Miranda, they just conduct press conferences or, worse, just issue press releases; they really don’t really care what the people think. They just buy their votes or intimidate them into voting for them. To borrow a joke of a punch line – it is a demo gone crazy or a democracy, not democracy.

That was Ramon Magsaysay – leader, democrat, charismatic, true believer, teacher, committed to God, people and country and an excellent doer. Those were the days when the beat was Mambo and the heartbeat and mindset was Mambo Magsaysay.

Carlos Polistico Garcia: He is a native of Bohol Province in the Visayas. In southern Philippines, he is endearingly called the Balak Beauty because of his fondness of waxing poems (balak) in his speeches, especially during political rallies. The poems are his own, created in the course of the speech – normally impromptu or extemporaneous.

Coming from Bohol, it is no surprise he initiated the Filipino First Policy – in words and action. He urged Filipinos to buy Philippine products first before anything foreign. He made Filipinos believe in themselves and be proud of our country and our race.

He did not allow anyone to slander the Filipino race and our country. As a demonstration of this – when James Bell, the Asian correspondent of TIME magazine unfairly criticized our country and the policies of the government, President Garcia prevented him from entering the Philippines again as lesson to everyone that not even a TIME journalist can be allowed to unjustly libel the country and the government.

President Garcia was also a man of action. When badgered to comment on virtually everything, Garcia responded with these memorable and interesting words, “A leader should be deedless in words and wordless in deeds.” While he also believed in the proper use of words, he was more driven by performance to achieve results. He was very much unlike a President who floods the country with words and delivers failed promises and dismal and incompetent action.

Garcia was also well read and a deep thinker. When I was given an audience in the Palace during the most controversial event involving my fight for academic freedom and freedom of expression in the University of the Philippines as Editor-in-Chief, of the PHILIPPINE COLLEGIAN, the official student publication of the UP, I had this conversation with him which ran this way:

President Garcia: “Why does UP not allow you to march during the graduation ceremonies when you have already graduated? Is it true that you criticized Dr. Jose Rizal as the Number One hero of our country?”

Me: “That’s not the issue, Mr. President. I am one of the two student leaders who led the student demonstration in University campus in Diliman, Quezon City to elect a UP President as UP had problems without a permanent university president. The Rizal thing was never an issue. UP authorities brought out this Rizal matter as they were losing the media war.”

President Garcia: “What did you write about Rizal?”

Me: “I just wrote that based on the story of their lives, Rizal should not be the Number One Filipino Hero. It should be Andres Bonifacio – the man who fought for liberation of our people from foreign colonizers and tirelessly worked for Philippine independence. Rizal wanted integration with Spain by requesting among others for Philippine representation in the Spanish Cortes.

Rizal was illustrado, Bonifacio was descamisado. According to Professor Otley Beyer, it was the American organized Philippine Commission who decreed that Dr. Rizal should be the Number One Hero of our country and statues of him erected in public plazas throughout the archipelago. He was not the choice of our people.”

President Garcia: “There is nothing wrong with what you wrote. As a matter of fact, I agree with you that Andres Bonifacio should be the Number One Filipino Hero. But you cannot fight a dead hero.”

Me: “But I’m not fighting Rizal. I’m just saying that Bonifacio should be the Number One Filipino Hero.”
President Garcia “I understand that, but from now on, you and I should just keep our peace on the subject”

That’s President Garcia for you – the excellent chess player who understood so well the significance of the use of appropriate strategy and tactics.

It is best to end this first part of the series with a Garcia flavor, accented by these lines from A Psalm of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
“Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
“Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.”


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