“Salus populi suprema lex esto” ("The welfare of the people shall be the supreme law.") - Cicero
"Without moral and intellectual INDEPENDENCE, there is no anchor for national INDEPENDENCE". - David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973, Polish-born Israeli Statesman, Prime Minister )
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In our search for understanding of the perennial predicament in our homeland, a visit to the history of how our past presidents led or, more aptly, ruled provides us some historical insights; that is, allows us to discern patterns and trends that we of subsequent generations can identify as permeating our present so-called national leadership.
The late I.P. Soliongco wrote a series of articles about our post-WW2 presidents from the years 1946 to 1971, the year of his death. His articles though dated are so alive and resonate in the thinking Filipino mind, given that his critical analyses and observations are so relevant, 60+ years ago today.
In his Introduction to Soliongco's articles about our post-WW2 presidents (from 1946 to 1971), one of our great nationalist, the late Prof. Renato Constantino stated : " Soliongco's writings on post-war Philippine presidents are particularly enlightening because he always viewed them from the overall perspective of RP-US relations..."
In below article, I. P. Soliongco provides us a critical analysis of both the Magsaysay and Garcia presidencies. As stated by Prof Constantino in his Introduction: "...He (Soliongco) described the colonial mentality and policies of Roxas and Magsaysay were the most pro-American of Filipino leaders... The Garcia administration was the first to try to restrain the expansion of foreign interests in the economic sphere."
I add that here Soliongco presented us a contrast of two presidents:
- President Magsaysay as one who lacks a deep appreciation of what Filipino nationalism is all about and who do not understand the military (tunnel) mind. After my reading, I realize Magsaysay is our "poster boy" for using military men in civilian/government offices, it was not Pres. Marcos. This pattern has expanded in each subsequent presidents, even having one as President - Fidel Ramos. I remember during the Marcos Regime, one of my older cousins, a PMA graduate told me about the folly of having military men in civilian offices.
- Conversely, President Garcia demonstrated his economic nationalism, understanding of neocolonialism even before this term became common knowledge. Note Garcia's independence of mind, that is, free from the influences of foreigners (American, Chinese), of the Catholic Church/hierarchy and the military establishment.
(President Roxas and President Quirino were earlier posted; other presidents to follow.)
The statement that President Magsaysay was supported officially by the Americans in the electoral campaign of 1953 is not something which can be proved as if it were a geometric proposition. But those who recall those days will not easily forget that from the time Mr. Magsaysay was appointed Secretary of National Defense --the recommendation for his appointment was hand-carried to president Quirino by Ambassador Myron Cowen-- to the day he met with that tragedy, he was literally under the guidance, if not under the custody, of then Col.Edward Lansdale.
As Secretary of National Defense, Mr. Magsaysay took advice from the Colonel, and the Colonel was by his side in the Camp Murphy office almost everyday. It was no secret at the time that the campaign against the Huks were discussed by the two, and even in the harassment of newspapermen, Lansdale could justly be suspected of having a hand.
What would make the participation of the Americans hard to believe was the tacit consent given to that participation by such advocates of nationalism such as Recto, Laurel and Tanada.
But one must remember that in 1953, the deterioration of the Liberal Administration was complete. Corruption was everywhere, and everywhere there was fear that the horrible farce and fraudulence of the 1949 elections would be repeated with vast improvement in technique and virulence.
And in 1953, the only contender with President Quirino for the loyalty of the army was the Secretary of National Defense. The Nacionalistas argued that, with the army neutralized, there was no chance for the incumbent to be re-elected. And to them, his re-election by foul means would be a prelude to violence.
Moreover, let us admit here that the nationalist elements among the Nacionalistas were as desperate as the American revolutionaries at the time Washington was about to cross the Delaware. They would have welcomed any aid from any quarter, and the Americans were ready with their aid --and with Ramon Magsaysay.
The decision to accept American intervention was made, as everybody knows, in the presence of the highest officials of the American Embassy. The intervention was accompanied by goodwill and some unofficial cash --and Magsaysay won by the largest majority garnered ever in the short history of the Republic.
On the day President Quirino conceded, Magsaysay was a house guest of Mr. J. Antonio Araneta. From there he went directly to Malate Church where a Te Deum was sung. Later, he went straight to the grounds of the American Embassy where Ambassador Raymond Spruance, Minister William de Lacey, the ubiquitous Lansdale, and other American officials were lined up to meet him.
The President-elect jumped from the Araneta cadillac straight into the arms of the Americans. He was taken to the yacht of the American embassy where he spent the whole day and night. Mr. Araneta, who was also invited, declined and returned home.
Two days later, the President-elect held a luncheon in the white house of Mr. Senen Gabaldon in the old Santa Mesa. The house had served as one of the many campaign headquarters, and he thought it would be nice to have some talk with his American advisers and with some of those Filipinos who had supported him.
Present were Senator-elect Emmanuel Pelaez, J.V.Cruz, Col. Lansdale, Capt. Buhanan (I am not sure of the spelling of his name but I remember him distinctly) and another American.
In the beginning, the talk was more or less general, but later, the president-elect announced to the person seated next to him his decision to appoint J.V.Cruz as his Press Secretary.
Towards the end of the meal, the need for a place of rest for Magsaysay before his inauguration was raised , and quick as a gun, Col. Lansdale suggested a place he knew near Saigon which would be ideal for the purpose. The Filipinos, led by Senator-elect Pelaez objected, and Magsaysay to his credit understood.
It is, of course, difficult to show how the closeness of the Americans to Magsaysay could prove official American assistance during the campaign. But it is not difficult to show that such a closeness made Magsaysay, probably next to Manuel Roxas, the most pro-American President the Filipinos ever had.
There is no complaint about the well-known habit of President Magsaysay of going to the remote fastnesses to meet the people, acquaint himself with their problems and, in his own unorthodox way, attempt to improve their lot in life. We imagine it is his duty to do so; it is even his obligation to compel his subordinates to emulate his example.
But we have every right to complain if Pres. Magsaysay carrying the spirit of democracy to absurdity, goes out of his way to meet every American official who happens to have anything to do with Philippine-American relations.
There was a time when he could do so with impunity. That was when he was a captain of the guerrillas. That was when he was Secretary of National Defence. Then he could safely discuss the most serious matters even with an American colonel.
But now he is the president of the republic, elected by the largest majority in the nation’s political history. As such, he has to observe certain amenities which, at times, he might find irksome. But he can’t help it. The dignity of his office demands it and the dignity of his people will suffer if he ignores those amenities.
He will never be criticized, we repeat, as long as he deals directly with Filipinos, or for that matter, with private American citizens.
But it is entirely a different proposition if he deals with American officials. he has absolutely no business dealing with them. He has enough number of subordinates whom he can assign to discuss with American military or embassy officials.
But given the way things are at present, even an American lieutenant or a minor embassy employee feels that he has a lien on the President’s time. The result of this unhappy situation is disastrous to the prestige of the Filipinos. And it is beginning to dawn upon them that their government is an extension of the American government and their President nothing but an American-appointed governor-general.
Sniffing at Nationalism
A statement released by Malacanang yesterday --a statement released by J.V.Cruz and approved by Pres. Magsaysay-- stated that the administration had been laboring quietly and effectively to establish Philippine ownership of territory occupied by American bases “long before the so-called nationalism got underway.”
It is only to be expected that Pres. Magsaysay should sniff at nationalism, considering that he does not have the faintest idea of what it means. It is also to be expected that J.V.Cruz should be condescending in his attitude toward nationalism because of his belief that, to be in the good graces of his master, he must needs to be vicious.
We venture the opinion, however, that five years from now, the so-called nationalism which today is the subject of Malacanang’s derision will be a full-blown thing, and Pres. Magsaysay and his press secretary,assuming that they will still prefer the Star-Spangled Banner to the Philippine national anthem, will have found they made a mistake.
It is perfectly understandable that Pres. Magsaysay and his press secretary should want to take credit for what they regard as a major diplomatic victory. We expect them to do so. But in doing so it is not necessary for them to be so smug about a feeling and a movement they don’t understand and for which they, like the rest of the foreigners in the country, cannot possibly have the slightest sympathy.
But what are President Magsaysay and J.V. Cruz crowing about? They are crowing over the fact that they have succeeded in persuading the United States to issue a waiver of her claims of ownership of the pre-war bases. In other words, they admit, by implication, that the U.S. was justified in her claims. Under the circumstances, it is safe to presume that the U.S. waived her claims out of regards for the wishes of Mr. Magsaysay and Mr., Cruz.
But if President Magsaysay had really desired to assert Philippine sovereignty of pre-war American bases, all he needed to do was reject the American claim. There is such a claim and it can still be rejected.
But it seems that we have to be satisfied with a waiver so that Mr. Cruz, with the current consent of President Magsaysay, can be as witty about Filipino nationalism as his spiritual brothers, the American sergeants and the carpet-baggers. (5-30-1956)
Misuse of the Noble Word
One of the leading lights of the Grand Alliance* who is at the same time a candidate for a seat in the Senate came out the other day with the rather curious statement that the Nacionalistas were responsible for wrecking “the nationalistic machinery begun by President Magsaysay which could have been the instrument for wrestling alien control of the country’s economy.”
(*The Grand Alliance participated in the 1959 senatorial elections with the support of the CIA. It was actually a loose coalition of politically ambitious representatives of the Nacionalistas, Liberal and progressive parties. - See Joseph Smith, Portrait of a Cold Warrior, NY, 1976, pp.312-320)
It is unfortunate that the speaker did not take the trouble of explaining the nature of the late President’s nationalistic machinery. As it is, the only machinery of president Magsaysay’s we recall was headed by an American by the name of Colonel Edward Lansdale, a man whose understanding of, and sympathy for, Filipino nationalism are about as much as Raul Manglapus’ understanding of, and sympathy for, Protestantism.
It was this machinery of President Magsaysay’s which sold him to the people and which later formed the nucleus of the Magsaysay for President Movement (MPM). Now, it is not on the record that this machinery ever identified itself with the seething nationalist movement. As a matter of fact, it was this machinery which sought to retard the movement by deflecting the people’s mind from it to something innocuous like “positive” nationalism.
It is a favorite argument of the Grand Alliance that Pres. Magsaysay was himself a great nationalist. To prove their rather far-fetched claim, they point to the modification of the Bell Trade Act into the Laurel-Langley Agreement, the panel discussions on the bases issue and the approval of the nationalization of the Retail Trade Act.
The intellectual dishonesty which pervades these so-called proofs should be obvious to anyone who is privy to the facts.
- In the first place, Pres. Magsaysay was so brazenly pro-American that he could not conceive of any form of Philippine nationalism which was not sanctioned by his American advisers and friends.
- In the second place, all the nationalistic laws which were passed during his administration and all the negotiations which were conducted during his term were originated by Nacionalistas, not by him. True, he signed the laws and agreed to the holding of negotiations. But he did so not because he was a nationalist but because he knew that in his early years as president he could not reverse the honored policies of the party to which he was merely a newcomer.
The Nacionalistas, for instance, had been agitating for a revision of the Bases Agreement long before they invited Mr. Magsaysay to be their candidate. Senator Recto delivered speeches everywhere to bring home to the people the inequalities of the Agreement. He urged its early revision, and it was he, alone by himself, who refuted the American claim that the United States owned the lands occupied by her bases in this country.
The revision of the Bell Trade Act had been a basic Nacionalista aim even before Mr. Magsaysay thought of changing his party affiliation. It was the then Vice President Garcia who headed the committee which made a thorough study of the defects of the Act. And if Mr. Garcia got the post it was not on the initiative of President Magsaysay but on the insistence of the directors of the Nacionalista Party.
President Magsaysay could, for a few years more, be remembered with love and loyalty. But, we respectfully submit, not for his nationalism or for his so-called machinery for nationalism. For to speak of the nationalism of Mr. Magsaysay is to misuse a useful and noble word. (9-5-59)
The Cabangbang bill, which was approved by the House the other day, would ban army officers from appointments to civilian positions in the government. This is a belated attempt to remedy a situation which arose during the brief administration of the late President Magsaysay.
During that time, the military organization was almost completely depleted of its ranking officers because of the policy pursued by the late President. He appointed them to key positions in the government and to directorships in the various government corporations. His closest advisers were generals and colonels. These were the people who helped him chart the course of the state, and in many instances it was their attitude and temper which colored his acts.
The body politic assumed such a form as to create doubt as to whether the government was in the hands of the representatives of the people or in the hands of a military junta. The principle of the supremacy of civil over military authority was honored with nothing more than lip service, and military brass began to assume an attitude of supercilious arrogance and to consider themselves called upon to carve order out of chaos.
It is no wonder that even after the tragic death of their patron, the military persisted in this attitude. Some of them, unable to accept the reality of the transfer of power from President Magsaysay to President Garcia, pursued their thoughts to their logical conclusions and developed a messianic complex. Theirs, they convinced themselves, was the moral obligation to save the country from the rule of politicians.
In a way, President Magsaysay could not entirely be blamed for his abject dependence upon army officers.
- In his meteoric rise from Congress to Malacanang via the National Defense route he did not have the opportunity to form any but military friendships and acquaintances. Moreover, his volatile temper and
- his intellectual limitations made him an easy prey to the seductive allure of the seeming discipline and deceptively precise thinking of the military.
- He never understood the nature of the democratic process and his sectarian view, the professional politicians, who are used to answering back and with whom he could not carry a sustained argument, were a necessary evil.
He therefore preferred the company of military officers who were compelled by their curious sense of discipline to say yes to their master but who took out of their frustration on their hapless subordinates - and on the people.
Because of their training, military men, we are prepared to admit, are perhaps qualified to perform military functions which require little imagination and less understanding of the concept of freedom. But it is precisely this training and all that it implies which disqualify them from civilian tasks - tasks which involve dealing with civilians as human beings with inherent rights. (2-3-60)
Mesmerizing the masses
Magsaysay’s accomplishment is, if we may be permitted to be blunt about it, nothing more nor less than an improved technique of politicking, of running a propaganda machine, and of mesmerizing the amorphous masses into reacting to presidential decisions and utterances into a well-conducted chorus.
That the Magsaysay administration can not be credited with an accomplishment other than this is indeed tragic. For all of the administrations we have had, the Magsaysay administration had the popular support which, properly used, could have enabled President Magsaysay to be different from his predecessors, to be the spearhead of a social and economic renascence.
For from the point of view of chronology, President Magsaysay represented a departure from the past. He was strictly a product of post-war years, tied by no umbilical cord to the political tradition of a past and better forgotten era.
It is quite true that when he campaigned for the presidency and when he assumed office he was surrounded by the surviving representatives of that era. But it also true that they were helpless without him. They depended on him for everything that they had hoped to be. He could have put them in their respective places and he could have reorganized the structure of the body politic so that his beloved common people could have had something more tangible to buoy them up than a winsome smile and a warm but evanescent presidential handshake. But President Magsaysay chose the path of least resistance, and, to paraphrase a memorable phrase of the late Harold J. Laski, instead of attempting a ruthless diagnosis and embarking upon a cure, he preferred to chant slogans. (5-4-57)
PRESIDENT CARLOS GARCIA
Garcia’s relative freedom
One tremendous fact which should not be forgotten about President Garcia’s victory is that neither the church nor the Americans had anything to do with it. Indeed, it might even be said that the church and the Americans had their respective preferences. Their preferences, to be sure, were unofficial, but subtle measures were taken during the campaign to convey to the electorate notion that this or that candidate had the backing of the Americans or enjoyed a certain amount of ecclesiastical sympathy.
Now, it can be safely said that President Garcia won because of the efficiency of the Nacionalista machine and because of the aid extended to him by people who believed in him and who placed a firm reliance on what he once called “my middle-of-the-road temperament.”
To our mind, this is a fact of overwhelming significance, for then, unlike, say, President Magsaysay, he need not be burdened with the thought that, in solving the problems of the nation in the proper way, he might be committing an affront to American or ecclesiastical sensibilities.
Certainly, when he finally settled down to single out the key men who will help him run the government, he need not, like his predecessor, hold their recommendations and connections above their qualifications and integrity.
Thus, he is under no compulsion to retain the services, say, of Ambassador Carlos P. Romulo merely because this gentleman is known the world as an American agent.
Nor is the President under any compulsion to suggest the election of a man to the presidency of the University of the Philippines whose outstanding merit is that he is backed up by the church or by its numerous lay organizations.
There is no advocacy here of the appointment of men in high positions in the government or grounds of their anti-Americanism. But it is humbly suggested that qualified men should not be barred from the government service because of their independent views or because of their refusal to be votaries of conformity.
The manner of his election should enable President Garcia to act and think independently. The sad experience of his predecessors should teach him that compromising the national welfare for the sake of appeasing the prejudices of pressure groups inevitably leads to disaster of which the country is invariably the victim. (11-18-57)
President Garcia could have not chosen a better occasion to clarify his views on economic nationalism than the dinner at the Manila Overseas Press Club the other night. His audience was made up of Filipinos and foreigners whose professions and whose economic predilections made it necessary for them to take in and ponder his every word.
They know, for instance, that the implementation of economic nationalism is subject to the international obligations of the Philippines as embodied in the Parity Amendment and the Laurel-Langley Agreement. But they know too - for the President told them clearly - that those obligations will cease to be binding in 1974. Above all, they know the President, unlike his predecessors, does not harbour dangerous illusions about the nature of Philippine independence.
In a significant portion of his speech, he said:
“The ugly but incontrovertible fact about the economy today is its dominance by aliens. In some respects, this situation is unique, for there is perhaps no other independent country in the world where alien control of the economic life is as wide and pervasive as in ours. Reduced to stark realities, such a condition makes a mockery of our independence and robs it of substance and meaning … As long as this condition persists, we shall remain in many ways a colonial country. Our most intractable problems do in truth derive from this fact. Full economic development is retarded and stagnation stubbornly holds sway over significant areas of our national life. As a consequence, great masses of our people are deprived of their just participation and commensurate rewards in the economic growth of the nation. Unless corrected in time and decisively, such a condition could pose an ever present threat to the stability of our social order.”
The two important truths in these sentences - the truths that as long as aliens control the national economy, “ we shall remain in many ways a colonial country” and that unless Filipinos gain control of that economy, there will always be a “threat to the stability of our social order” - must be fully understood by both Filipinos and foreigners before they can appreciate the compulsions behind economic nationalism.
The two truths are so related that the second is the necessary consequence of the first. One need not be a professional sociologist to know that the instability and the excrescences of our social order stem not so much from the maliciously erroneous theory that the Filipinos are inherently corrupt as from the fact that they are under the economic domination of an alien minority. They are - if we may be permitted to quote from a previous column - “scroungers in their own country.”
As scroungers, they have no choice but adopt the ethics and sense of values as scroungers.
Let them be the masters in their country, and they will be able to afford the luxury of adopting and living by the superior ethics and morality of masters. (1-18-60)
The Military and the Press
About the most happy aspect of the present administration is the gentle but firm refusal of President Garcia to be impressed by either newspapermen or the military. It was only the other day, let it be remembered, that these two groups of men were held in such high esteem that there were not a single government directorship which was not open to them.
Perhaps more in the spirit of cooperation than in the spirit of self help, they honored the government by accepting the choicest appointments it could offer. Thus the military and the newspapermen became government fixtures. As a matter of fact, one could not help gathering the impression that the government would cease to function without the steadying hands of journalists and soldiers.
There has been advanced an array of reasons for the ascendancy of newspapermen and the military during the regime of President Magsaysay.
- One is that the newspapermen were mainly responsible for selling him to the people.
- Another is that the military was the only group with whom Mr. Magsaysay had been intimately associated during his political career.
Undoubtedly there were some members of the military who have comforted themselves rather well in civilian pursuits. But we have to hear of an outstanding achievement that can be traced to any newspaperman in the government service. He had, we repeat, to be grateful to them. And he was - to the point of selling them.
Now, President Garcia seems to be a man of different orientation. He grew up among civilians and it is in them that he has sublime faith. It is possible that he respects soldiers and newspapermen, but there is considerable evidence to show that his respect for them is not so much as to make him place vital government functions in their hands.
Unlike President Magsaysay, therefore, President Garcia would rather the government remained under civilian control. But what is most satisfying is that he would rather the newspapermen remained newspapermen. This, we believe, is all to the good, for then newspapermen would be able to do their work faithfully without the fear that in doing so they might be committing an affront to the President. (4-29-57)
“Salus populi suprema lex esto” or "The welfare of the people shall be the supreme law."
Over a millennium apart, both Cicero of the Roman Republic and John Locke of Great Britain recognized the sovereignty of the people and the latter’s right of rebellion or revolution against a government that works against the “common good.”
Fast forward today, no post-WW2 Philippine president has so far acted according to that supreme law.
What should we native Filipinos do then? Should we:
do nothing --bury our heads in the sand and maintain the attitude and behavior of selfish individualism "kanya-kanya" and "tough luck" dismissal of those less fortunate as usual? or
inform ourselves about/to appreciate more deeply the roots of our perennial perdition and then decide what to do for the sake of the "common good."}
The below link will show a short list of my past posts (out of 543 posts so far) which I consider as basic topics about us native (indio)/ Malay Filipinos. This link/listing, which may later expand, will always be presented at the bottom of each future post. Just point-and-click at each listed item to open and read.
Thank you for reading and sharing with others, especially those in our homeland.
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