My father was Urbano Macapagal, a vernacular playwright, only son of Demetrio Macapagal, a Catholic church choir leader, and Escolastica Romero, a midwife. My mother was Romana Pangan, the eldest daughter of Atanacio Pangan, a share tenant, and Teresa Antoveros. The other children of Urbano and Romana were Israel, our eldest, a school teacher; Angel, who became a Congressman; and Lourdes, a lawyer who married a Judge of the Court of First Instance.
My grandmother Escolastica who was the midwife at my birth felt I was going to amount to something and so named me Diosdado (God-given). Before my teens, I sensed a desire to rise above our life of abject poverty. All members of my family agreed with my grandmother that I would attain distinction. I identified most with my grandmother. A pious woman, she was my first model. In later years, the Pampango philanthropist who financed my last two years in law school, Honorio Ventura, who entered public service a wealthy man but left it no longer rich because of his selflessness and impeccable integrity and honesty, became my other model.
Like my brothers and sister, I went to the local schools, and when I became a lawyer, I helped my brother Angel and sister Lourdes finish their law studies, our eldest brother Israel having died during World War II.
I graduated valedictorian in the Lubao Elementary School, graduated with second highest rating in the Pampanga High School, graduated in law in the University of Santo Tomas and pursued and earned the postgraduate degree of Doctor of Civil Law and Ph. D. in Economics in the same university.
My elementary school teacher, Hugo Gutierrez, Sr. influenced me by making me participate in elocution contests. My grandmother Escolastica instilled in me total faith in God and despite our poverty went out of her way to render service to others. She taught me what became my lifelong creed: "Always do what is right and do your best, and God will take care of the rest."
Employed in the Bureau of Lands at P30 monthly, I was a self-supporting student when I took up my associate in Arts (preparatory law) course in the University of the Philippines. Advised by a physician to work or study only because I was undernourished, after my AA studies I stopped schooling for one year to recover my failed health. I then took up law at the Philippine Law School, trying to support myself from being editor of a vernacular magazine at P15 a month but decided to stop studying altogether after finishing two years of the 4-year law course. Fortunately, the Pampangan philanthropist Ventura offered to finance the last two years of the law course at his Alma Mater, the University of Santo Tomas, where I finished law in 1936 and topped the bar examinations that year to become a lawyer.
The total faith in God that my devout Catholic grandmother infused in me sustained me through any hardship during my career, recalling always what she used to tell us her grandchildren: "God will always show a way" out of any difficulty. Because of this faith, when I ran for Vice-President of the Philippines, I declined the support of a politically powerful religious sect antagonistic to the Catholic Church and harmful to democracy because it forces its believers to vote solidly in elections. When I sought reelection as President, however, opposed by said religious sect, I lost although I previously won the vice-presidency and presidency without the sect's backing. In not winning reelection, I had no regret because my norm had always been that I would rather do what I believed to be right than win an election.
I was born and grew up in the slums of an agricultural town. My long immersion in abject poverty and insight into the social injustice to which the poor and underprivileged have been captive for generations has continually influenced my early, middle, and entire life to this day. Poverty has been and remains to be the gravest problem of the Filipino people the alleviation of which has been so set back by the Marcos regime that the liberation of the masses from poverty and social injustice virtually starts again under President Aquino with more complex disadvantages like a worsened insurgency, a Muslim and/or Mindanao separatist movement, a stubbornly politicized military, and an undiminished US resolve to keep the country under its geopolitical-economic dominance.
My most significant friend was my benefactor Ventura who told me 95 percent of politicians and appointive officials are primarily only for themselves and only 5 percent are truly for selfless service to the people, so that as a token of my gratitude which I expressed to him, if and only when I should be drawn to politics and public service, I must join the 5 percent, which thank God, I was able to do. Two of my cherished associates were my fellow vernacular writers since high school, notably Silvestre M. Punsalan and Amado M. Yuson. They encouraged me to go to political life and sacrificingly supported me to rise to the presidency and to the end of their lives.
In high school, all books particularly the classics, were important, so that I read or browsed over virtually all books of some interest to me in the library. When my career as a politician firmed up, books on politics, relevant biographies, history books, economics, foreign affairs, and sociology became my preferential reading.
After high school, my elder brother Israel who graduated together with me and I were offered teaching positions in our hometown. My brother took the offered job but I did not and instead went to Manila to obtain a job there so I could pursue higher studies.
After the grant of Philippine Independence in the wake of World War II, I became one of the pioneers in the new Department of Foreign Affairs where I became second secretary to the Philippine Embassy in Washington. On pressure by the political leaders of Pampanga province, President Elpidio Quirino recalled me from Washington to run against the only communist-elected Congressman in the legislature, Amado M. Yuzon, who happened to be my friend and who in fact had urged me to run in the previous election which I declined because the province was controlled by the communists. After I defeated my friend in a cordial contest, without attacks against each other, I asked President Quirino to appoint me back to the foreign service but he firmly said, "No, no, you stay in politics."
I ran for Congress at the age of 39. In twelve years, I became Vice-President at the age of 47 and President at the age of 51.
In 1957 when I became Vice-President of the country and President of the Liberal Party (LP) under which I first ran for Congress, there was a move for a coalition in the mid-election of 1957 between the LP and the Progressive Party of the Philippines (PPP) which was founded by the henchmen of the late President Ramon Magsaysay, in order to unite the opposition in the presidential election of 1961 against President Carlos Garcia. A coalition agreement was signed but when in the choice of senatorial candidates the PPP made a demand for a share of the number of the candidates that could enable the PPP to dominate the coalition, I discontinued the coalition on the theory that opposition unity was needed not in 1959 but in the presidential election of 1961. My calculation proved to be correct for when the LP won 3 of the 8 senatorial seats while the PPP won no seat, the PPP joined the LP in 1961 with me as Presidential candidate and Emmanuel Pelaez from the PPP as my running mate, and we won.
Getting elected to Congress was no problem moneywise because the Pampangos are partial for honest officials. They crossed party lines to support me and - a fact hardly known these days - I did not have to spend our modest savings to get elected to Congress as the local leaders spent for me realizing that I had no money and they preferred that I do not resort to graft.
Becoming Vice-President was another matter. I was lucky to be helped by the President of the LP, former Speaker Eugenio Perez, who insisted that the party's Vice-Presidential candidate must have a clean record of integrity and honesty whom the rival party could not attack on that score. When the party's presidential candidate, former Speaker Jose Yulo, wanted for his running mate an aspirant coming from the PPP, Perez said "Over my dead body." His words proved to be literally meaningful. After the ailing Perez heard my acceptance speech for Vice-President on television from his oxygen tent in his sickbed, he quietly closed his eyes never to open again. Speaker Yulo lost the presidency but I won the Vice-Presidency in the opposition ticket, an unprecedented electoral outcome.
Tending to be thorough in everything I do, I prepared myself politically by acquiring the highest possible academic credentials as a doctor of laws and doctor of economics, and specialization in foreign relations. With Mrs. Macapagal, I also traveled extensively - probably the most traveled Filipino politician, succeeding in visiting every city and town in the country and in traveling to virtually all countries, both capitalist and communist, in all the continents, except in Africa where we have visited only 12 countries.
Not usual for men of responsibility, as much as possible, I trained myself to become my own technical assistant, researcher, speechwriter, and statement-maker, as Congressman and Vice-President. When I started the practice of law, I learned Spanish to handle cases properly before Spanish-speaking judges.
Due to the inactivity of the Philippine Bar Association during World War II and for a considerable period thereafter, I organized the Philippine Lawyers Association of which I became President for two terms, which exists to this day. I refrained from joining civic associations to maintain my objectivity in the assessment of public issues, but I joined the Wack-Wack Golf and Country Club for my exercise.
Due to financial limitations, I minimized my involvement in interests other than my work and my family affairs.
After leaving the presidency, I involved myself in foreign associations in the interest of international understanding and world peace, such as the International Association of University Presidents, Center for the Reconstruction of Human Society based in Seoul, the Summit Council for World Peace based in New York where the main members are former heads of state and government, and the Asian Relations Conference based in New Delhi.
A developed aptitude for persuasion in both public speaking and writing has been of great help in my career. Ironically, what some of my friends called a "quixotic" idealism that dissuades me from deviating from my principles and reformist propensity despite adverse consequences to my political or other fortunes has deprived me of successes that I might have otherwise achieved. My idealism and incorruptibility with my integrated or systematic perspective from a wide academic background and a bent for presenting my concepts persuasively may be my strongest points. My weak points may be a tendency to introvertness and lack of financial facilities that reduces my effectiveness.
My trustworthiness is most characteristic of me as a person. Instances: Then Secretary of National Defense Magsaysay confided to me but asked me not to disclose to anyone that he was going to challenge President Quirino for the presidency for which he sought my support which I declined; but I never divulged it to President Quirino despite my strong support for the latter's leadership. Shortly before coming home to martyrdom, Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. wrote me a note with explosive contents and which I could have kept for its tremendous political import but I burned it immediately without making a copy because he asked me to do so in the note.
Among my stronger points are my upright character and my highly broadening extensive education. Among my weak points is my unconcern for money beyond my elemental needs, which is not wrong in itself but a handicap in the maintenance of political power and leadership.
My pursuit of the highest education possible and my propensity for thoroughness and persistence in my undertakings have given me the most satisfaction. As to associations, the most satisfying has been with friends in my professions, as a lawyer and as a politician, and in the arts, as vernacular poets, with whom ties of mutual fondness and fidelity have endured.
My outstanding disappointment was the failure of the impoverished masses whose redemption from agelong poverty was the main thrust of my political career to realize that as the first poor man who never became rich to become President of the country, I was their best chance for their welfare. I showed this obsessive concern for the poor and underprivileged by ensuing rice, their staple food, at the lowest possible price (P.80 a ganta) and by contending with the landlords and the powerful politicians allied with them to enact Republic Act 3844, August 8, 1963 known as the Agricultural Land Reform Code, which abolished the centuries-old slavery system called tenancy and launched from there a land-to-the-tiller program to provide land to the landless, enhance agricultural productivity, and promote industrialization. In Plaridel, Bulacan, which was one of the pilot land reform projects, I campaigned for reelection and publicly condoned the former tenants' indebtedness to the landlords amounting to P7 million. In the elections, I lost in the place because the beneficiaries of land reform sold their votes for a sack of rice and/or cash to the landowners. While disappointed, I do not blame them because their failure to recognize their true friend and helper was not due to ingratitude but to their lack of enlightenment and the sheer weakness and helplessness that is caused by abject poverty.
My social ideology was to help liberate the masses from poverty. My political ideology is democracy and freedom for which it has always been my conviction the Filipinos are fit and on which their prosperity and happiness lies since they established the first Asian democratic Republic in the Malolos Congress in 1899. These socio-political ideologies were the foundation of my successful political career that elevated me to the presidency of the Republic.
SIGNIFICANT CAREER MILESTONES
My most significant career achievements were:
1) The abolition of tenancy and accompanying land reform program in the Agricultural Land Reform Code of 1963 underscored my endeavor to fight mass poverty.
I married twice, the first with my hometown sweetheart Purita dela Rosa who dies during World War II. After the war, I wedded Dr. Evangelina Macaraeg of Binalonan, Pangasinan.
I believe in marriage as the natural state of a man or woman for happiness and in marital fidelity of both husband and wife. My first marriage confirmed the merit of these beliefs. My second wedlock is proof of the proverb that behind every successful man, there is a woman, for I could not have attained what success I achieved in my political career without the full sustenance that my wife gave me.
In my first marriage, I have two children: Cielo, married to Agustin Salgado, and Arturo, married to Ma.Therese Jalandoni.
In my second wedlock, my wife bore also two children; Gloria wedded to Jose Miguel Arroyo, and Diosdado Jr.
Because of my love for my children, I have always wanted them to be proud of me, which made me strive harder in my career.
My presidential successor converted our traditional democracy to a dictatorship in 1972. Because of my passion for democracy, there has been virtually no retirement for me from the standpoint of activity. I wrote the first book against the dictator, Democracy in the Philippines, for which I was prosecuted for alleged inciting to sedition but not detained. I exerted my outmost to help unite the political opposition, which led to the formation of the UNIDO under which Corazon C. Aquino ran for President in 1986 against the dictatorial ruler, Ferdinand E. Marcos. I, of course, supported Aquino in the election who although victorious and cheated was elevated to the presidency through democratic people power, which forced the authoritarian ruler to flee the country. Satisfied that President Aquino is strongly supportive of democracy, I do what I can to promote the success of her administration. Amidst complex problems in the most difficult presidency ever, she is doing very well in a way as to strengthen democracy in the end.
There was no need for anyone to push me into my post-retirement activities for as former President and elderly citizen, whose ideals remain to materialize, I continue to be concerned about our people's welfare and ready to do whatever bit I can for the promotion of my own ideals for them until the end.
Having held the highest offices within the gift of the people in a democracy, public office is not now my venue of continued service to the country. My activities are now concentrated in manuscripts of my memoirs and other books for publication at the proper time; giving counsel which is sought by public officials or political leaders; expressing my views on current affairs from time to time through organizations and media; and participating in international conferences for better relations among nations, prevention of war, and attainment of world peace. Recently, I took part in a Summit Council for World Peace with a good number of former Heads of State and Government in Seoul; next month, I will participate in the Second Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi to pick up where the first conference convened by Jawaharlal Nehru left off forty years ago.
Time moved most rapidly when I became Vice President of the Philippines and President of the Liberal Party in 1957. I felt time inadequate halfway in my presidency when due to the opposition control of the Senate my program of government could not move, as I wanted it to.
Since one of my prime ideas was that the early Presidents of our young Republic should document their administrations for the information, guidance, and use of succeeding generations, and it needs funds unavailable to me to do so, I feel time running out on me for the attainment of this project.
It is paradoxical that in my political career, which elevated me to the presidency, money was not an important factor in my rise, which was suitable to my idealism that in a democracy a citizen's political career should not depend on money but on hard work and dedication to high ideals for the people. In twice winning for Congress, I did not need money because the local political leaders spent for my campaigns. When I ran for Vice-President and President, a small group of supporters raised campaign funds from those who believed in our platform and felt I could be of service to them in the implementation of our plans but in no case must they accept any contribution on quid pro quo basis or any commitment upon my election to do any specific act in exchange for a contribution.
I said paradoxical, because it was later that I realized money was important to enable me to meet the rising cost of living and to achieve my desire to establish a modest library and museum to continue organizing and preserving my papers and souvenirs which, together with those of the other Presidents, could be of use to future generations for the national good.
EDUCATIONAL INVOLVEMENT AND SATISFACTIONS
I was involved in education, teaching law in the University of Santo Tomas from 1941 to 1957 when I was elected Vice-President. After leaving the presidency, I taught Economics as University Professor in the University of the East from 1968 to 1971 when I was elected as delegate and became President of the 1971 Constitutional Convention. In 1975, I became involved as a delegate and keynote speaker to the International Association of University Presidents meetings in major cities until its President who invited me to do so ended his term in 1980. Among my speeches, four, "The University and Mankind," "Global Reconstruction Through Education", "Human Survival Through Religion," and "For a UN University for Peace" were disseminated in the publications of the Association.
My chief satisfactions include:
1) I rose from a nipa hut to the people's Malacanang Palace.
If I were to live all over again, I would pray to God to let me live a life exactly as the first.
At 20 years of age, when I was about to finish my second year of my six-year college course in law, I collapse due to undernourishment from which it took me a year to recover. My health thus loomed as a handicap in my career, which turned out to be a hectic political one. Fortunately, in my second wedlock I married a physician who and whose medical friends maintained my health adequately for the rigors of high-level political life.
Since I was pushed into a public and political career, social approval tended to generally outweigh self-approval in my actuations. I avoided an incompatibility by placing personal ethics above political convenience through adoption of and adherence to the guideline, "I would rather be right than get elected or reelected to public office." Pleasure in doing my duty well has been an asset in my lifework. Despite my propensity to introvertness, I gradually adjusted myself sufficiently to the extrovertness demanded in politics by convincing myself that his was a part of my duty which I steeled myself to doing well with pleasure.
Had I not been too principled and idealistic, I could have won reelection in 1965, instead of an electoral loss, which led to a dictatorship, fortunately temporary, in our democratic nation. Anyway, although grieved about it, the dictatorship might have been a blessing in disguise because it would henceforth teach our people to be conscientiously careful in the choice of their leaders. Being firm in my creed of always doing what I think is right, I could not have done otherwise because I conceived my presidential role as setting an example of how to govern a democratic society for the future because of my faith that democracy is what is suited to and needed by our people for their progress and good life in freedom.
The Philosophy of Diosdado Macapagal and Its Implication to Education by Maria Theresa Jalandoni Macapagal (1987)
Diosdado Pangan Macapagal stands out as one of the great, respected, highly esteemed and loved presidents of the Philippines. During his time, the Philippines enjoyed prosperity and was the second most developed country in the Asian region, next only to Japan and ahead of the new tigers of Asia like Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, etc. He is affectionately known as the Champion of the Common Man because of his many achievements in improving the plight of the masses and of the poor. His sterling character and unquestionable integrity (known as the Incorruptible) is a rare model for present and future generations of Filipinos. He has proven that one can rise up over poverty, having been truly the first poor man to become president of the country.
The fifth president of the Third Republic of the Philippines traces his humble roots to barrio San Nicolas, town of Lubao, in the province of Pampanga. He was born on 28 September 1910. His grandmother, Escolastica Romero, after seeing the child born told his mother that she has a very strong feeling within her that the child will one day be great and thus he was christened "Diosdado," God-given. His mother, Romana Pangan, laundered for neighbors to earn a living while his father, Urbano, was a "plebeian intellectual" who was part farmer and part wandering playwright. He was the second of four children, namely: Israel, Angel, and the youngest and only sister, Lourdes.
The Macapagal family was subject to abject poverty. Their mother would usually send them to sleep early so as not to feel the pangs of hunger for lack of food. Food was not the only thing lacking; also books and materials for school. This did not deter "Dadong" from finishing at the top of his class in the Lubao Elementary School in 1925. He was also salutatorian at the Pampanga High School in 1929.
He finished his pre-law course at the University of the Philippines and enrolled at the Philippine Law School in 1932 where he was a scholar. He exhibited excellence in the fields of oration and debate. It was at this time that the philanthropist Honorio Ventura took notice of young Macapagal. Impressed with his honesty and intellectual capacity, he offered to shoulder Dadong's expenses in college but requested him to transfer to his alma mater, the pontifical University of Santo Tomas. Macapagal topped the bar examinations in 1936 with a rating of 89.95%.
After his LLB degree, he took graduate studies and finished in 1941 with a degree of Master of Laws. He received his Doctor of Civil Laws 1947, and Doctor of Philosophy in Economics in 1957.
Macapagal first took on the job of an assistant attorney with the largest American law firm in the country, Ross, Lawrence, Selph and Carrascoso. He married Purita dela Rosa, with whom he had two children, Cielo and Arthur. She died in 1942 of malnutrition. In 1946 Macapagal married Evangelina Macaraeg of Pangasinan, with whom he had two more children, Gloria and Diosdado Jr.
After Philippine Independence was granted and the Republic of the Philippines was established in July 1946, Macapagal joined the government service as Chief of the Law Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs. In 1948, President Quirino appointed Macapagal as chief negotiator in the administration-to-administration transfer of the Turtle Islands from the United Kingdom.
In the Foreign Affairs Department, Macapagal served as Second Secretary at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. in 1948. He did not stay long for he was asked by President Elpidio Quirino to launch his candidacy for Congressman for Pampanga's first district under the Liberal Party. Macapagal won handily by over 20,000 votes, the biggest in the country that time. In 1953 he ran for re-election and breezed through the polls. His performance in Congress was exemplary. As a Congressman, he authored, co-authored, and sponsored socio-economic legislation such as the Minimum Wage Law, the Rural Bank Law, the Rural Health Law, the Law on Barrio Councils, the Barrio Industrialization Law, the Foreign Service Law, the law creating the ACCFA, the law nationalizing the rice and corn business.
From 1950-1953, he served as Chairman of the House committee on Foreign affairs and thus, was given important foreign assignments. He was a delegate to the Southeast Asia Conference as well as to the General Assembly meeting of the United Nations in New York in 1950; chief delegate to the Sixth General Assembly meeting of the United Nations in Paris in 1951; negotiator and signatory in both the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty in Washington, D.C. and the Japanese Peace Treaty in San Francisco, California in 1951, and member of the Laurel-Langley Agreement.
From 1947 to 1957, he was consistently chosen by the Congressional Press Club as one of the Ten Outstanding Congressmen. In the Third Congress, he was selected as the Best Lawmaker.
Macapagal's honesty as manifested in several occasions won the admiration of the press and public. Philippine Free Press' Leon O. Ty called him a "ruthlessly honest public official." The late President Ramon Magsaysay said, "I like Dadong because he is honest and he is a man of the masses."
In the 1957 elections, Macapagal ran as Vice-President under the Liberal Party banner and won. Because the ruling party did not give him a Cabinet position, Macapagal found time to tour the provinces to build up and restore the image of the Liberal Party in the public eye, as well as to visit other countries in order to study their economies and problems as they related to the Philippine experience.
In the 1961 elections, Macapagal was chosen as the official candidate of the Liberal Party for president. He unified the opposition groups against the administration and he pledged to restore decency and morality in government, to uplift the common man and to give economic progress to the people. He won over the incumbent President, Carlos P. Garcia.
Macapagal's administration had two aims: (1) "to solve the immediate problems of the present" and (2) "to build materially and spiritually for the future." To show his sincerity in weeding out corruption and nepotism in the government, his first administrative order upon being elected president was to bar government officials from giving special favors to his relatives. He also constantly reminded his relatives to be always above-board and not to use their influence for personal gain.
General Carlos P. Romulo, then president of the University of the Philippines and one of the country's foremost statesmen, in a speech introducing the Chief Executive to the student body of the State University, made the following assessment of the latter's record in office:
Commenting on Macapagal's stewardship of the nation, Jose L. Guevara, a prestigious and witty columnist, in his column "Point of Order," which then came out in the Manila Times, said:
Other highlights of Macapagal's administration were:
(1) initial beautification of Rizal Park; (2) development in 1964 of "Miracle"(IR-8 variety) rice by the International Rice Research Institute, which Macapagal inaugurated on 7 February 1962; (3) commencement of construction of the North Diversion Highway and the South Expressway; (4) construction of four 7-storey tenement buildings for the poor;
Macapagal has the added distinction of having been elected President of the 1971-1972 Constitutional Convention.
In his retirement, Macapagal devoted a good part of his time to reading and writing. He wrote a weekly column for the Manila Bulletin. An intellectual and a writer, he has produced quite a number of books: A Stone for the Edifice - Memoirs of a President, The Philippines Turns East, An Asian Looks at South America, A New Constitution for the Philippines, Building for the Greatest Number, The Welfare State, Economic Development, Economic Planning and Implementation, Land Reform, The Common Man, and Democracy in the Philippines.
Macapagal was also honorary chairman of the National Centennial Commission, chairman of the board of CAP Life, and the Angeles University Foundation in Angeles City, among others.