President Macapagal's Many Wars
President Macapagal's Many Wars back to top
Diosdado Macapagal, the fifth President of the Republic, left a mark as the only social reformist president we have had in the second half of this century. That he was not entirely successful in carrying out all his reforms directed at giving to the poor and the disadvantaged a bigger share of wealth reflects the strength of the resistance he faced from a largely conservative elite that felt threatened by his populist rhetoric and policy direction forcing them to close ranks against him.
Macapagal was the first truly "poor man" president we ever had, having been born into a peasant Pampanga family, and his social background had a big influence on his policies, although the most important thing to consider is that he decided to stay in the system and work out reforms within its opportunities and limitations. He was born in Pampanga, the cradle of agrarian unrest and of the only social revolution we have had, incarnated by the Huk rebellion in the post-war years. By contrast, all other presidents from Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo to Gen. Fidel Ramos, were born into either landed or middle-class backgrounds.
The Philippines has had two revolutions since 1896-1986, both led by the aspiring middle class, first by the urban-based Andres Bonifacio, who then lost control of the 1896 Revolution to the land-based ilustrados or principales of Cavite. The takeover by the Cavite principalia determined the bourgeois character of the first revolutionary republic. These two revolutions - the bourgeois and the socialist represented by the Communist movement - took different paths, and cut a deep social cleavage in the development of the Republic, a cleavage that has not closed despite the collapse of Communism.
Macapagal was born in the midst of this ideological conflict and in the Central Luzon revolutionary milieu where the confrontation was fiercely fought in the post-war years to decide which type of revolution would prevail. As a poor man, who was intellectually and politically gifted, Macapagal had two options -- either join the revolution that was led by a rich man's son Pedro Abad Santos, a man of aristocratic tastes and who was also an intellectual, and later by a Pampanga tailor and Abad Santos' disciple, Luis Taruc, or be coopted into the system.
His promise was recognized early by the wealthy landed Ventura family, who became his patron and took him under its wings, by helping finance his education. He thus was absorbed into the patron-client system prevalent in the Philippines, although now to a lesser degree. Macapagal did not disappoint his patron with his excellent academic performance, having graduated with a law degree with highest honors and later having acquired a degree in economics. In intellectual terms, Macapagal was our best educated president who facilitated his flair in the legislature (as congressman of Pampanga), in the foreign service, and his initiation of a socio-economic program of his administration. He, however, used his gifts and opportunities to make the system work in favor of the poor.
In simple words, Macapagal opted for the parliamentary route to make changes in the inequitable social systems rather than for the revolutionary route taken by Abad Santos and Taruc. Macapagal's decision defined the reformist character of his political career. The system did not quash his talents and intellectual assets, and yet it also frustrated his efforts when as president, he translated his social equity programs into legislation and policy.
Macapagal was elected under extraordinary circumstances. He defeated President Carlos Garcia of the Nacionalista Party, in the 1961 election, on the issue of corruption and economic policy change (he sought to lift foreign exchange controls as the first step toward economc liberalization), and he correctly linked corruption to economic controls as a consequence of rent-seeking in a controlled economy. He won a big popular vote but the Nacionalista Party won control of both houses of Congress.
But the results meant a qualified mandate. While his populist appeal captured popular imagination in a country where at the time more than 70 percent of the people were poor, the conservative interests that dominated the legislature asserted their strength by electing their own surrogates or members of provincial political dynasties, whose wealth was based on land or business. This dichotomy plagued the Macapagal administration. Like all presidents before him, Macapagal used the vast powers of the presidency and control of state patronage to switch the loyalty of NP congressmen to a new majority that he used to push through Congress reform legislation early in his term. The two most important were the socio-economic program (note the word "Socio" -- not just economic) and the Land Reform Program. True it was President Ramon Magsaysay who started land reform legislation against landlord opposition, and Macapagal extended its scope after the stupor land reform suffered in the Garcia adminstration. In the Philippines, land reform has been a slow incremental process and it remains so today.
The realignment of Congresss through patronage trade-off allowed him to pass his land reform and socio-economic agenda as the policy framework of his administration but this is not sufficient to explain the passage of land reform legislation. The land reform bill was not radical enough. It was heavily amended by Congress and if the legislators finally let it pass, it was because the economy was creating new opportunities for business and industry (especially in manufacturing), thereby allowing landed wealth to shift to industry.
But the most remarkable achievement of Macapagal in the economic field is that when he was elected, he swam against the powerful current of economic nationalism epitomized by Garcia's Filipino First policy -- a catchword for protectionism, import substitution and economic controls (import as well as foreign exchange). The policy sought to transfer control of the economy to indigenous Filipinos from foreign hands. It did succeed on a large measure to shift control, but Filipino First had low priority for equity or redistribution of wealth, and Macapagal on his first day in office lifted exchange control, signalling the beginning of a long process of economic liberalization accelerated by the Ramos administration.
During most of his term, Macapagal encountered the opposition of economic interests sheltered by protectionism, import substitution and inward-looking policies representing the orthodox economic policy prescriptions for developing countries at the time. They ganged up on him and the political fratricidal wars over social policy exhausted his reformist energy, leading to his defeat at the hands of Ferdinand Marcos in 1965. But Macapagal cannot be denied his sobriquet as a visionary and social reformer.
A Man of Courage back to top
The highlights of President Diosdado Macapagal's life are well-known, and I shall be brief.
President Diosdado Macapagal was born in Lubao, Pampanga, on Sept. 28, 1910, of a peasant family. Working his way through school, at this Royal and Pontifical University of Sto. Tomas, he earned the degree of Doctor of Laws and Doctor of Economics. He was No. 1 in the Bar Examinations in 1936.
He worked as an attorney in the law firm Ross, Lawrence, Selph and Carrasco, was elected President of the Philippine Lawyers Association and taught law here at this University and economics at the University of the East, where he was University professor. Before all these studies, he finished his pre-law course and got an Associate in Arts (AA) degree in the University of the Philippines in 1933.
He served in the underground in World War II and, with independence as granted by the United States, on July 4, 1946, he joined the new Department of Foreign Affairs, where he became Counsellor (now Assistant Secretary) on legal affairs and treaties. Later, in 1962, as President he would be instrumental in fixing the true date of Philippine Independence - June 12.
He ran for Congress in 1949 and after two terms, he was elected Vice President of the Philippinessssssss in 1957. He became the Independent Republic's Fifth President in 1961 and of all the Presidents of the Philippines starting with Emilio Aguinaldo, the Ninth.
I have taken these biographical milestones from the sketch of President Macapagal in his book Democracy in the Philippines. It is a sign of the modestly of the man that in these biographical milestones in Democracy in the Philippines, he would leave out additional facts which Quijano de Manila would supply: that in the Congressional elections in 1949, President Macapagal topped all the Congressional winners, that although President Macapagal lost in the 1955 senatorial race he topped all the Liberal Party candidates, that the vice presidential nomination was offered to President Macapagal by Speaker Eugenio Perez, and that, to quote President Macapagal as quoted by Quijano de Manila" "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."
Of his even greater achievement, that of changing the date of Philippine Independence from July 4 to June 12, the biographic sketch in Democracy in Philippines would simply say: As President, he restored free enterprise, waged a moral regeneration program against grafters and oligarchs, and wrung from Congress the Agricultural Land Reform Code of August 8, 1963 abolishing tenancy, which is being implemented by the incumbent President of the Philippines."
No mention would be made of the transfer of Philippine independence from July 4 to June 12. Of this transfer, Teodoro Agoncillo and Oscar Alfonso, in History of the Filipino People (Rev. ed. 1967) would remark: "To the nationalists, Macapagal's sudden move, whatever his motives, was a pleasant surprise, for in this book Macapagal did not act as he was expected to - namely, to play the role of the tale to the American kite."
After his term in 1965, he retired from politics. In 1971, however, he ran and won as Delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention and he was its second President. So much for the brief highlights.
It was in the Constitutional Convention, where I was one of the four (4) Vice Presidents, that I came to know President Macapagal well. That acquaintance would ripen into a very firm friendship through the years, and I hope I am not being presumptuours in using the term "friendship." The friendship was, if I may term it such, both "professional," on the sense of "professional opposition to martial law" (then) and personal, in the sense of regular morning golf games, four times a week when not raining, with like-minded oppositionists -- the late Senator Gerardo Roxas, and former Senator Jovito Salonga, where the topic of conversation, the situation under martial law and what to do about it, was more important than the game itself. Mercifully, that friendship did not extend to a prison friendship - President Macapagal, the late Congressman Rogaciano Mercado, Delegate Manuel Concordia, myself and others - were, during martial law, in August 1979, charged with inciting to sedition and rumor mongering for the publication and dissemination of President Macapagal's book "Ang Demokrasya sa Pilipinas" -- but that is going ahead of this eulogy.
After his Presidency, President Macapagal could have remained content in his retirement but he came out of retirement in 1971 to become the 1971 Constitutional Convention's second President. That took courage, for in 1971, the country was one year into the First Quarter Storm, and the years of 1971 and thereafter saw the country preoccupied with two similar questions: the question of martial law and the question of the extension of the then President's term. But it also signified his hope for a better future through the Constitutional Convention.
We had high hopes then for the Constitutional Convention of 1971, but the Constitutional Convention was marred by persistent meddlings of "outside forces" by alleged pay-offs, by compromises, but President Macapagal steered the convention through all these troubles, sharing me the heavy responsibilities of leadership. The Convention came out with a Constitution that, except for one or two provisions and the Transitory Provisions, reflected these hopes, but by the time 1976 and its notorious amendments had come and gone, and the amendments of 1980 and 1984 had been "approved," the Constitution that we had labored on had become unrecognizable.
After the imposition of the Constitution on the country and the people in 1973, President Macapagal, like numerous of our countrymen, could have gone on living his life in peaceful anonymity, but he did not. In Democracy in the Philippines, which we circulated in 1976, he would say: I now live a tranquil, modestly comfortable, and happy life of retirement after having served our country devotedly and to the best of my ability. There is no reason why I should risk giving up this peaceful life by expressing the thoughts herein if I could believe that the Marcos dictatorship is good for our nation. I risk my liberty and even my safety because of my clear conviction that this or any dictatorship is not conducive to the lasting welfare and happiness of our people.
And risk life and security the President did. As he said in the Preface to (the) Printed Edition of Democracy in the Philippines:
On January 10, 1976, I sent a communication to President Ferdinand E. Marcos, urging him to convene the interim National Assembly which is his mandatory duty under the Constitution, after three years of martial law. I supported my plea with sound reasons contained in a letter I sent to the President of the Philippine Constitution Association dated January 8, 1976, copy of which I furnished the President with my said communication. Instead of giving due consideration to the constructive proposal, he swiped at me in his speech at the UP Alumni reunion on January 12, 1976, and had me attacked by the Governor of Laguna in the national conference of the Sangguniang Bayan on January 26, 1976 as reported in the Times Journal. He had since utilized the facilities of authoritarian power to thwart my proposal or judicious deliberations thereon, employing threats and means undeserving of a regime avowing the reformation of government and society.
He would plead even to the military, thus, joining the Interim National Assembly Association, of which he was the Honorary Chairman, we wrote:
We pray, therefore, for the sake of our country, for the sake of your children and other offspring, and for your own sake, that you will refrain from supporting any appointed successor and instead back up a constitutionally and democratically chosen successor.
Having been made to take part presumably out of a sense of military discipline, in the introduction of a dictatorial system in 1972, your support of a constitutional and democratic procedure of transition will exculpate or mitigate your role in initiating and maintaining the present dictatorial regime.
President Macapagal and I sent by mail copies of this exhortation to the entire officer corps of the military at that time, obtaining their names, ranks, serial numbers, and addresses from a computer printout I obtained from a field officer of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. President Macapagal and I personally mailed thousands of these letters in various mail boxes in Quezon City, Mandaluyong, and San Juan, for almost a month every late afternoon. Other copies were distributed through our network in the Interim National Assembly Association which we formed on January 6, 1976 with other kindred spirits among the delegates of the Constitutional Convention and members of the House of Representatives to fight martial rule. The driver-messenger of President Macapagal was apprehended by military agents while mailing these letters in Makati and former Vice-Mayor Quintero of Tacloban City was caught distributing the same in Leyte. Both were jailed and accused of subversion.
The Pilipino version of Democracy in the Philippines, Ang Demokrasya sa Pilipinas -- would lead to charges of inciting to sedition and rumor-mongering against President Macapagal, against me and Maning Concordia as publishers, against Roning Mercado as translator, and the three printers. The cases never did get decided on their merits one way or the other - they remained with a military Summary Investigating Panel -- but twice the matter was brought to the Supreme Court - the first time to compel the military to act one way or the other, a procedural point, the second time to question the way the military panel acted the way it did, a substantive point.
On the first Supreme Court case, the military panel obliged, by denying each and everyone of the motions filed before it. On the second Supreme Court case, I recall no formal disposition as to its merits. Thus, throughout the remainder of martial law, these cases would serve as reminders to President Macapagal and to us of the then awesome powers fo the State over its citizens.
But President Macapagal remained unfazed. When President Marcos at one point decided that it was a sin and a crime not to vote, President Macapagal was there at the trial and conviction of delegate Reynaldo Fajardo.
I quote Quijano de Manila: He comes (came) to us practially unknown: an ambiguous figure, half light and half dark, moving toward the presidency and wrestling it away with a few arms, through the dragons of power and propaganda stood around 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 ready for it."
Little did President Macapagal know that "the job ahead" would continue even beyond his own Presidency. It was difficult, but he was ready for it, and, reading the various tributes to him, he did a good job.
For those of us who knew him and who was touched by him we say goodbye, farewell to "a man of history and a man of the people," a man of courage. Farewell my friend and brother. May you rest in peace.
The Illustrious Man of the People back to top
Homily delivered by His Eminence, Jaime L. Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila, on the occasion of the requiem mass for the late Pres. Diosdado Macapagal, 5th President of the Philippines, at the Ceremonial Hall of Malacanang Palace, on April 27, 1997 at 8 a.m.
The poor man from Lubao is dead. "Cong Dadong: to so many Pampanguenos has been called by God to His eternal bosom to reap the reward that he so richly deserved. The poor man from Lubao is dead.
I hope you see the contradiction. How can a poor man die? No. Poor men do not die. They live forever because they are called children of God, the beatitude says. The children of God do not die. They do not even fade away. They live for eternity because they are children of God promised by Jesus Christ. His poverty was his blessing. His poverty was his pride. His poverty was his glory. He was poor in the purse but rich in the things of the spirit and the heart. He did not have enough for his stomach but he had an abundance of the treasures of the mind and the wealth of the soul. His poverty was his gift from God and he cherished that with delight. Because he was poor, he knew the plight of the poor and set his heart on alleviating their condition. He sought land for the landless and sought education for the poor children who could not afford the high cost of education. He did not give up his poverty of life and did not succumb to the temptation of enriching himself in office as congressman or as president. He cherished his title of being the poor man from Lubao and did not fall into the attraction of being rich in military power and political connections. The poor man from Lubao died like a poor man. He was happy to die this way. His wealth and his treasures he had offered unconditionally for the service of his poor countrymen.
The poor man from Lubao is also the greatest son of Pampanga. To his family, he was a father contaminating all members of his household with the similar values that made him so lovable and so respectable nationwide. To his friends and colleagues, he was an inspiration to a life of quiet integrity and humility. To the nation that watched his quiet ascent into the portals of the highest office, President Macapagal was an illustrious man of the people -- one who reached out, one whose only agendum was the good of the nation; one who tenaciously upheld democracy, refusing to be swallowed by the allures of power and authority.
Unfortunately, great men of untainted integrity and untarnished reputation are becoming more and more rare in this nation of ours. As we behold the mortal remains of this great Filipino president, let this gathering also ochallenge us to live up to the dignity that public office and public positions demand. Public office is a position of trust. People in public office must not only wield power. They must be able to carry authority. President Macapagal carried his public office with authority but never became authoritarian. Authority does not come with office. It comes with credibility. It comes with integrity. It comes as a gift of the people to those whom they trust and hold in high esteem.
He spoke and people believed. He spoke and his countrymen rallied behind him. He spoke and his nation believed. Does the nation still believe us when we speak? Does the nation still rally behind when we decide on matters affecting the country? The fault is not in the skeptical nation. The fault is in the leaders who have compromised principles for politics and exchanged the welfare of the nation for thirty pieces of useless silver, useless pieces of silver of "make believe democracy" and empty political rhetorics. Do people still believe in us?
President Macapagal believed in his countrymen and his countrymen believed in him. In the simplicity of his lifestyle, he gained even more credibility. In the simplicity of his ways, he became a shining role model for other leaders to follow. In his twilight years, when he would attend state functions and national celebrations, when he could no longer deliver his fiery speeches, and inspirational addresses, his sheer presence here in Malacanang or in Luneta was enough to prick the conscience of so many. Do we still have younger politicians like the poor man from Lubao?
He wanted to seek another term as President in 1965. He ran and lost to a man who later on became the longest staying dictator of this beloved country. President Macapagal chose to lose in honest elections rather than win through fraudulent means. It was a temptation to hold on to sweet power within the walls of the august building. He did not succumb. He is our hero.
"When he shall die" Shakespeare wrote, " Take him and cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine, that all the world will be in love with night, and pay no worship to the garish sun. "
Goodbye Cong Dadong. You are a great Filipino. You are a great christian. You are a great child of God.
Pray for us to God that this nation whom you love and served so well, may be guided along the paths of democracy and authentic freedom. Goodbye poor man. You are rich. You are great.
An Exemplar of Moral Courage back to top
I lead the nation in paying homage and bidding farewell to our beloved former President Diosdado Pangan Macapagal. To his family -- on behalf of all our people -- I extend my deepest condolences.
The sense of loss we feel is leavened by the fact that we have come here not only to mourn the passing of one man -- of a father and friend to all -- but also to celebrate an exemplary life. He was a good man, an honest man; in his time, he led our people with great dignity, vigor and vision.
Even among true patriots - as he was - these qualities do not come so easily and all at once. In Macapagal they were logical and inseparable companions, the prerequisite virtues of any man or woman seeking his people's highest expression of their trust.
It must be one of a president's saddest task - perhaps the saddest of all - to eulogize an outstanding predecessor. For, whatever presidents may have been in life, they are bound in the end by the uniqueness of an awesome responsibility thrust upon them by history. I feel distinctly honored to have followed in the footsteps of this great Filipino, who in some ways made governance both easier and in other ways more difficult for those who would come after him.
Easier, because - through such visionary initiatives as economic liberalization and his proposal for a Southeast Asian community - he blazed trails that have become familiar avenues for growth in our time.
More difficult, because he set an exacting standard of personal integrity, intelligence, and dedication to public service by which his successors have continued to be judged.
Adversity and concern for the common tao.
His personal achievements are even more remarkable, given the extreme adversity under which they were gained. As the poor boy from a small town who became his country's president, he turned a fantasy into a dream, and the dream into inspiring reality.
His mother was a laundrywoman, his father a part-time farmer and occasional playwright. The family slept off their hunger. And yet, a more powerful hunger burned in young Dadong's mind - the love of learning, perhaps his one great indulgence, and his most precious legacy to his children.
He would go on to finish at or near the top of his classes, and later in life would earn a doctorate. He would become a congressman, and then vice president, finally assuming the presidency at a time of great economic and political upheaval.
The public record of his presidency is the catalogue of a leader boldly defining his nation's destiny and the way to its attainment.
That way, he believed, pointed outward in terms of economic liberalization and a constructive engagement with other nations and economies in the region and the world.
It also pointed inward, in terms of policies to uplift the lot of the common Filipino - Landmark policies that would include those on land reform, the minimum wage, rural banking and rural health.
The very naming of his "socio-economic program" tells us how integrated these measures were in his vision of a "new era" for the Philippines.
Restoring our identity
In a more symbolic way, he restored a vital element of our national identity by overseeing the celebration of our national day on the more historically valid date. He may have been poor but he was certainly not parochial, gaining a firsthand understanding of the world in his early years with the foreign service.
Later this experience would convince him of the natural community between and among the Malaya, Philippines, and Indonesia -- bringing forth his vision of Maphilindo, a precursor of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Yet he remained keenly aware of the Philippines' fundamental interests, raising the Philippine claim to Sabah to a matter of national concern.
For some of these groundbreaking measures, President Macapagal would be scored and savaged by his critics. A confirmed champion of free enterprise, President Macapagal would find himself in the role of a reformist in a culture highly resistant to change. Through all the tempests that swirled around him, he stood on a simple but exacting principle, this is what he vowed, and I quote:
"We shall lead the way by means of personal example. We assure our people that despite the lack of appreciation and encouragement from cynical critics, we shall conduct our office with absolute rectitude, without enriching ourselves even by one dishonest centavo."
The parallels: Then and now.
When I think of the many and obvious parallels between the challenges of President Macapagal's times and ours, I feel comforted and emboldened by that example -- by the moral courage that informed his every action, and which must be our standard and inspiration.
Those of us so privileged to march forward to another century -- under the very banners of economic growth, regional cooperation, internal peace and stability and social justice that President Macapagal himself unfurled -- will do so knowing that this pioneer had cleared the way before them.
To his everlasting credit, he remained busy and helpful in state matters during his twilight years -- as a participating adviser or member of my administration's national centennial commission and national security council.
His vision of the brighter Filipino future shall soon become our reality, and Diosdado Macapagal will live in our memory as one who bestowed that legacy.
God bless his soul, and God strenghten us all!
Diosdado Macapagal: A Great and Good Man back to top
President Diosdado Macapagal has crossed the bar into eternity.
Throughout his public life -- from the beginning to the end of his presidency and beyond -- this man of humble origins who rose to occupy the highest office of the land kept full faith with the highest and noblest aspirations and ideals of his people.
He did not abuse his office.
He did not enrich himself or his family while in office.
He did not oppress his people.
He did not betray the people's trust.
A Bulletin Editorial aptly said: "Every nation has to have institutions to fall back on. More precious than historical monuments are role models for the present and future generations to emulate. We have such a living role-model in the person of former President Diosdado Macapagal."
In his inaugural address as 5th President of the Republic, President Diosdado Macapagal called for a return to the old values that strenghten the moral fiber of our nation including simplicity of living.
During his entire public life President Macapagal practiced what he preached.
The free press called him a "ruthlessly honest public official."
No less than the late President Ramon Magsaysay once said, "I like Dadong because he is honest and a man of the masses."
In his memoirs, "A Stone for the Edifice," President Macapagal wrote: "...I regard integrity and a capacity for self denial as the prime requisites for the presidency.
In recounting his childhood, Diosdado Macapagal spoke of those years of terrible hardship, poverty and hunger.
He was never ashamed of his humble beginnings.
San Nicolas in Lubao where he lived in his parents nipa hut was a slum, perenially damp from the floods of the Porac River.
His father who did not finish high school was without a steady job. His mother who could hardly read and write knew no trade except as an occasional laundrywoman.
At times, the boy Diosdado Macapagal also stayed with his maternal grandfather in his shack in Gutad, Floridablance where the latter was a share tenant on less than a hectare of riceland.
His deprived youth notwithstanding the boy Diosdado Macapagal graduated from the elementary grades as class valedictorian, went to law school and in 1936 topped the bar exams.
But Diosdado Macapagal never forgot his origin and his roots.
He made the promotion of economic and specially social justice the cherished goal of his presidency.
In advocating land reform, Diosdado Macapagal was way ahead of his time.
As a legislator and as president, he knew that land reform was anathema to the landlords who dominated congress.
Against strong and unrelenting landlord opposition, he fought hard and tirelessly for land reform and the abolition of tenancy.
In the end of August 8, 1963, in what he described as "one of the happiest moments of my life," President Macapagal publicly signed into Law Republic Act No. 3844 abolishing tenancy and prescribing a program converting former tenants into lessees and then into landowners.
In striving for social justice, Diosdado Macapagal framed his anguish and deep concern for the common man in the following questions:
"Indeed, why must there be such disparity between the rich and the poor? If the essence of life and nature is justice, why should it be that while some men leave uneaten so much food at their banquet tables, others try to pick out what to them is a meat from the garbage pile?
Why should it be an opulent man smugly sit in his limousine witha cigarette in his mouth, while a lean and hungry man trudges the highway looking for a job, fearfully keeping away from the speeding limousine and picking up a cigarette butt on the sidewalk for his smoke?
Why should it be that some men's lives are saved from the most deadly disease, being able to pay the fees of medical specialists, while the children of the poor die of the most harmless ailments, being unable to pay even the quack doctors?
Why should it be that the scions of the wealthy roman around the capitals of the world, enjoying wonders, while the peasant near the hills is born, lives and dies without even knowing the modest brightness of Manila?
Why should it be that a few have so much and many so little of the bounty that God Almighty has provided for all?"
As a democrat, President Macapagal's adherence to constitutional democracy was always unflinching and without reservations.
When he lost the presidency in 1965, he dutifully turned over the office to his successor. He would brook no deviation from the constitutional order and the popular mandate.
In 1972 when Martial Law was declared, he immediately came out strongly opposing its imposition.
In publishing the first anti-Marcos dictatorship book "Democracy in the Philippines" during the early Martrial Law years for which he was prosecuted for sedition, President Macapagal placed himself squarely on the side of constitutional democracy and the Filipino people.
Tracing the country's long democratic tradition as one of Asia's few surviving democracies, President Macapagal wrote that his predecessors - Quezon, Osmena, Roxas, Quirino, Magsaysay, Garcia - " had been faithful to and bolstered the democratic system initiated by the Malolos Congress in 1898."
He added -- "Had Marcos carried on this fidelity to democracy, it would have been further stabilized and vitalized as a strong tradition under his successor and under later leaders towards full maturity and vigor."
A nationalist with personal pride in the Filipinos' yearning and struggle for freedom and independence, President Macapagal did not wait for the revolution's centennial celebration to set right the historical record. During his term, he started the celebration of our national independence on June 12, the date our national freedom was proclaimed in 1898.
In the field of international diplomacy, President Macapagal's leadership and statesmanship preserved peace in the region during the Sabah dispute in the sixties.
Long before the formation of regional associations, President Macapagal was the architect of the Maphilindo Federation of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. This federation eventually paved the way for the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) which has now emerged as one of the most vibrant regional association.
During President Macapagal's administration, the Philippine economy which was second only to Japan was ready for take-off. Certainly it was not then the "sick man of Asia" -- very far from it.
A doctor of economics, the President believed that to industrialize and stimulate exports, Filipino producers needed more access to raw materials. Thus the President liberalized imports early in his term as he believed that competition, not protectionism, was better for the economy and the public.
And let us not forget that when President Macapagal left the presidency, the government coffers had resources far exceeding its liabilities.
The foreign debt which ballooned to more than US$600 billion at the end of the Marcos regine was less than US $600 million when President Macapagal's term ended.
In fact, at the end of President Macapagal's incumbency, agriculture's gross domestic product (GDP) was at its highest, inflation was at its lowest and there was hardly any trade deficit.
By any standard, an enviable economic performance.
Last year, in a dialogue with municipal officials, barangay captains and youth leaders, I asked the assembly whom among the former presidents they most admired.
Josemarie Dogelio, a young man of 18 years said: "Diosdado Macapagal."
Joemarie was not even born when Diosdado Macapagal's presidency ended.
And since this presidency happened some 35 years ago, one would think Diosdado Macapagal and his accomplishments would have long ago been forgotten and consigned to the dust bins of history.
Yet to many of our countrymen including the young like Joemarie Dogelio of Dao, Capiz, because of his landmark accomplishments in the field of social justice and land reform, because of his deep and abiding commitment to the upliftment of the common man, because of his unquestioned honesty and integrity in public office, President Macapagal's life and times is like a beacon to all who seek inspiration and comfort in these troubled times.
Thus even 35 years after his presidency, Diosdado Macapagal continues to have a cherished and honored place in the hearts and minds of his countrymen.
To paraphrase President Aquino in her tribute to Diosdado Macapagal several years ago --
"I might have said that we are honoring a great President which he was but that is a lesser achievement than to be what Diosdado Macapagal was and will always be, a great and good man."
From a grateful nation and from this Senate we bid President Diosdado Macapagal a fond farewell. May he now receive his just rewards and in peace rest forever in the bosom of our Lord.
The Man Who Saw It All back to top
"The art of statesmanship," says Talleyrand, is to foresee the inevitable and to expedite its occurrence."
By that measure, Diosdado Macapagal stands as one of the greatest statesmen this nation ever had.
Cong Dadong, as he is known to those of my generation, saw politics not as the anti-thesis of humanity but as its instrument. A man of simplicity and rare modesty, Cong Dadong did not barge rudely into our nation's political life. He came to serve, and by serving the nation well rose to its most exalted position.
More than any other Filipino president, DiosdadoMacapagal understood the poor. He devoted his entire political life to their upliftment.
It will be recalled that Cong Dadong began his campaign for the presidency on the day he became vice president. Elected on the opposition ticket, he was shunned by the Garcia administration and given no assignment. With much time on his hands, Macapagal toured the entire archipelago, sharing simple meals with the poorest of the poor. He did not talk down to them. He did not talked with them. He did not present himself as a saint descending from heaven to bring salvation to the poor, he became as a sympathetic friend who understood their needs and shared their dreams.
When he became President of the Republic, Diosdado Macapagal devoted his administration to relieving the miseries of the poor. Among his first acts was the implementation of a land reform program that sought to end peonage in the farms. He applied himself completely, within the briefness of his tenure, towards uplifting the condition of the rural communities.
The urban poor as well was not neglected during Macapagal's tenure. As much tenement houses were built as was possible during the Macapagal administration as an initial effort to solve the housing problem. When set against the fact that there was no housing program to speak of during the six years of the Aquino administration, Macapagal's tenement housing program during the early sixties stood as lasting monuments to a government that sincerely cared for its people.
The pro-poor programs of the Macapagal administration - including assistance to raise agricultural productivity, the opening up of resettlement sites for the landless, an affordable housing program, an improved health care delivery system and a publicly supported retail network that removed middlemen and made consumer essentials less costly - helped restore our people's faith in government. That faith was almost completely lost in the gross corruption that afflicted government in the years before the Macapagal administration.
Perhaps, ladies and gentlemen, his covenant to these principles can best be summarized when he said: "Deep in my poor man's heart, I know that for me, there can never be a sense of redemption from poverty while countless countrymen writhe in the misery in which I agonized in youth and childhood. I can only feel released from the shackle of the poor man's life when the masses of the people of our nation shall cast aside their chains and stampede out of the darkness of their age-old misery into the sunlight of economic security and prosperity for every man."
Ahead of many of his contemporaries, Macapagal recognized that opening up the economy was an inevitability. As the above quote from Talleyrand prescribed of great statesmen, Macapagal facilitated hat was inevitable by dramatically realigning our economic policies from state control to what he called "decontrol." That realignment set the long-term direction for our economy, orienting it in the direction of engagement with the global market.
Diosdado Macapagal was a sincere and honest man. Those qualities reflected in the style of leadership characteristics of his administration. Public service was understood to mean exactly that: public service. The emphasis on social amelioration was matched by an attitude of humility and constant recognition of the supremacy of the popular will.
But the most enduring legacy of President Macapagal is one that is surely lacking in today's public administration - accountability in public service. He has proven that the word "politics" need not be a dirty word, and the term "politician" need not mean a public official enriching himself in office.
With sincerity, honesty and simplicity, Cong Dadong tried to make government accessible to its citizens. The image of the "poor boy from Lubao" rising to become the most important elective official of the land inspired many poor but talented young men to enter the arena of democratic politics.
Macapagal, it must be said, represented an age of gentlemanly political rivalry that has appeared to dissipate in recent year when selective use of terror and deception was passed off as the standard of political sophistication. He was a man thoroughly reared in the chivalry of his day, cut from the same political cloth as Manuel L. Quezon, Sergio Osmena, Manuel A. Roxas and Elpidio Quirino - save for the fact that, like Ramon Magsaysay, he had his roots not in the class of landowners but in the class of tillers who loved the soil.
The best testament of a man's character, it is said, is to be found in the quality of his offsprings. Here, too, Cong Dadong passes the test with flying honors. His children: Gloria, Cielo, Diosdado,Jr., and Arturo continue to impress us with their commitment to serve, their unquestionable integrity and their common humanity.
Tha nation mourns the passing of an honest President. But we are consoled by the fact that he lived enough to see it all: to see his vision come to life, to have spoken the sincere voice of elder statesman to the leaders that came after him, and to see his children achieve their own successes.
On behalf of the Senate, I express the grief of the whole nation now feels with the passing of an exalted leader who truly loved the poor. I extend my sincerest condolences to the widow, Eva Macapagal, who once brought such quiet grace to the informal post of First Lady. I condole with our distinguished Gloria and the other children of this great man and can only hope to console them with the thought that their father served the nation long, honestly and well.
The philosopher Reinhold Niebur once said:" "The sad duty of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world."
Diosdado Macapagal understood that and lived by it - except that he brought to that otherwise "sad duty" a great sense of joy at being able to serve his people. We celebrate that joyful life that was well lived even as we deeply mourn this inevitable passing.
It is fitting to end this speech with a quote from this man whose democratic ideals should serve as a guide for us who are humbly following his footsteps:
"We believe that democracy is the best government ever yet conceived by man. It is a great and vibrant system that adjusts itself to varying conditions of every country and the varying challenges of changing times. To fulfill its role, democracy should not be cherished and operated through its weakness but through its sources of strength."
The Philosophy of Diosdado Macapagal back to top
Today I appear before you with both gladness and sadness. Gladness because I am thankful for the unique opportunity to address you, the creme de la creme of the international media in the Philippines. Sadness because as you all know my beloved father, Diosdado Macapagal, your colleague as a former newspaperman and above all in your quest for truth and justice passed away just nine days ago.
I also wish to thank you for the tributes accorded my father the past several days, especially on how a poor boy from Lubao overcame all odds to become President, a President who upheld the tradition of honesty and integrity. Today, allow me to pay my own accolade by sharing with you the philosophy behind his accomplishments.
My father was sworn into office as fifth President of the Republic of the Philippines on December 30, 1961 by Chief Justice Cesar Bengzon.
My father regarded integrity and a capacity for self-denial as the prime requisites for the Presidency. He always believed in the primacy of integrity, while a capacity for self-denial was essential because apart from the far-reaching consequences of Presidential actions, the Presidency of the Philippines is a tough and killing job that demands a sense of sacrifice.
The requirements for the high office of President led immediately to a consideration of the qualities desirable in key persons of the administration, who share with the Chief Executive the burden of responsibility to the nation and to posterity. As far as my father could see it, the decisive qualifications for this cabinet members and top subordinates were: integrity, competence, and faith in his reform program.
In making appointments, he consulted administration leaders and suitable private citizens. Some appointments turned out to be unpopular. He was aware of public disappointment in some instances. At one time, George Cohen and Donald Muntz of Robot Statistics, whose advice on public reaction and preference was based on the science of sampling, called his attention to unpopular choices. "I am engaged in a reform movement, and must take risks," he told them. "I am not in a popularity contest. I expect adverse reaction and even hostility."
The National Goal
In starting his task, my father felt it essential to determine first of all the national goal. In his inaugural address, he categorically affirmed that "the basic national problem is the poverty of the masses."
He saw it as the task of the nation to fight mass poverty. To grapple with the basic problem of mass poverty he believed that in concrete terms, this should mean that the prime national goal of Filipinos in his generation was the achievement of economic and social progress as rapidly as possible.
However, to achieve prosperity would not be enough. Since the fundamental fight against widespread poverty, it was absolutely essential that the prosperity achieved was not confined to a priveledged few but shared with the greatest number of our people.
The Fundamental Way
Two distinct ways were open to my father as President in attacking the problems of the nation. The first was the fundamental, the other the expedient. The fundamental is long-range. The expedient way hopes for immediate results.
As a student, he was attracted to the fundamental method as exemplified by Dr. Jose P. Laurel who was one of his law professors. Instead of spending class time on detailed statutory provisions, Dr. Laurel expounded with erudition on bashed light on technical provisions.
In reviewing for the bar examination, starting with the Civil Code which he tried to learn by heart, it struck the young Diosdado that the Code confirmed the soundness of Laurel's fundamental method of study. He discerned that the Code is a complete system which guides every conceivable act of an individual from birth to death. Proceeding further, he noted that the Code of Commerce is a complete system to guide every business act, that the penal Code is a complete system dealing with every act of penal offenders, and that the whole range of laws is in integrated system that regulates every situation in human society.
Thereafter it became relatively easier to see significance in the fact that the human body is a system, the earth is part of the solar system, society is a system, the nation is a system. National problems themselves have a systematic relationship.
My father believed it to be the task of government to identify each national problem, to know what significance brought it into being, and what role it played in the correlated scheme of things.
He believed that the fundamental approach for a leader was imperative, especially in underdeveloped or developing nations like the Philippines and other former colonies in Asia, Latin America and Africa. This was because underdevelopment was a fundamental problem and could not be effectively handled except through the fundamental way.
To achieve the national goal of economic and social progress with prosperity reaching down to the masses, there existed a choice of methods. First, there was the choice between the democratic and dictatorial systems, the latter prevailing in Communist countries. On this, the choice was easy as Filipinos had long been committed to the democratic method.
With the democratic mechanism, however, the next choice was between free enterprise and the controls system. My father stated the essence of free enterprise in layman parlance in declaring before Congress on January 22, 1962 that "the task of economic development belongs principally to private enterprise and not to the government.
Before independence there ws free enterprise in the Philippines under Presidents Quezon, Osmena and Roxas. In 1950 President Quirino deviated from free enterprise launching as a temporary emergency measure the system of exchange and import controls. The controls system was carried on by President Magsaysay and Garcia.
The first fundamental decision my father had to make was whether to continue the system of exchange controls of Quirino, Magsaysay and Garcia or to return to the free enterprise of Quezon, Osmena and Roxas. It had been his view since he was a Congressman for eight years that the suitable economic system for Filipinos was free enterprise. So on January 21, 1962 after working for 20 straight hours he signed a Central Bank decree abolishing exchange controls and returning the country to free enterprise.
During the 20 days available to make a decision on choice between controls and free enterprise, between his inauguration as President and before the opening of Congress, my father's main adviser was Governor Andres Castillo of the Central Bank.
Five Year Program
The removal of controls and the restoration of free enterprise was intended to provide only the fundamental setting in which my father could work out economic and social progress. A specific and periodic program for the guidance of both the private sector and the government was an essential instrument to attain the economic and social development that constituted the goal of his labors.
Such a program for his Administration was formulated under his authority and direction by a group of able and reputable economic and business leaders the most active and effective of which was Sixto Roxas III. From an examination of the planned targets and requirements of the Five-Year program it could be seen that it aimed at the following objectives.
1. Immediate restoration of economic stability;
2. Alleviating the plight of the common man; and
3. Establishing a dynamic basic for future growth.
Abolition of Tenancy
Restoring free enterprise and setting into motion a concrete program of economic and social progress were not all that my father needed to pursue the national goal. To lay the basis for achieving prosperity shared by all it was necessary to release the impoverished tenant farmers from bondage.
He first became acutely aware of the need for abolishing tenancy while he was a high school student at the time when communism reared its head in Pampanga under the leadership of Pedro Abad Santos in the late 1920s. Abad Santos's followers started to use violence, cutting the tendons of carabaos, burning fields, and killing some landlords. Diosdado was one of the young vernacular writers whom Abad Santos invited to join his movement for the tenants. My father declined because inspite of Abad Santos, his type of socialism has been equated with the use of violence.
Diosdado's reply to Abad Santos was to this effect: "I thank you, sir, for the honor of inviting me to your movement because I believe in the cause of the poor. However, I am unable to join because I do not believe in violence. It is my belief that justice can be obtained for the tenants not by violence but through law and peace."
Many years after, the Presidency offered the opportunity to help out the tenants in the democratic manner my father conceived in his youth. So in his State of the Nation message to Congress on January 28, 1963 he asked Congress to enact a land reform law that would abolish the tenancy system.
August 8, 1963, was one of the happiest moments in his life. A lifelong dream had come true. On that day, he publicly signed at the Agrifina Circle at the Luneta Park Republic Act 3844, popularly known as the Agricultual Land Reform Code, abolishing tenancy and prescribing a program to transform the farmer tenants into lessees and in due course into landowners.
Government as Enterpreneur of Private Business Ventures
Free enterprise ws restored with decontrol. The Five-Year Economic Program had been prescribed. Land reform abolishing tenancy had been launched. These were essential foundations for economic and social progress for the greatest number.
The essential foundations having been laid, attention must then be turned to the equally difficult task of building the main edifice by implementing the economic program. Although the success of my father's Socio-Economic Program in free enterprise inherently depended on the private sector, it would be helpful and necessary for the government to render active assistance in its implementation by the citizens.
Such role of the government in free enterprise, in the view of my father, required it (1) to provide the social overhead like roads, airfields and ports that directly or proximately promote economic growth, (2) to adopt fiscal and monetary policies salutary to investments, and most importantly (3) to serve as an entrepreneur or promote of basic and key private industries, particularly those that require capital too large for businessmen to put up by themselves. Among the enterprises he selected for active government promotion were integrated steel, fertilizer, pulp, meat canning and tourism.
Graft and Corruption
Integrity was considered by my father as not only an important aid to the success of a development program but part of the good life that he sought for the people. Graft and corruption in government had been a serious problem for the new Republic of the Philippines which came into existence simultaneously with the end of the Second World War. It was a problem, too, before the war. My father would always tell us that it tended to aggravate as politicians and officials had increasingly converted politics and public office into a business.
Thus my father launched a moral regeneration program. It was a "program" out of recognition that graft in government could not be crushed in a single stroke as a dragon could be killed with a swing of St. Michael's sword or be washed away like dirty stables with a Herculean douse of water, but that like a foul infected wound, it must be healed by patient, constant, steady disinfecting, scrapping, and cleansing.
He believed that a primordial requirement in the drive against corruption in government was to set the example at the top.
The policy of my father's administration to place rice and corn, the food of our people, within easy reach of their buying capacity underscored two guidelines. It signified firstly that the struggle for prosperity must continuously take into account that its end is to promote the well-being of the people at large; and secondly, that the systematic economic plan must be simultaneously accompanied by a coordinated social welfare program.
The embryonic people's welfare program for the greatest number included the following activities:
1. P1- a ganta rice in the RCA
2. Increase of the daily minimum wage from P4 to P6.
3. Relief employment in the EEA in substantially productive projects.
4. Employment opportunities in the Nacida.
5. Low-priced sugar under the SQA and low-cost sardines and other prime commodities in the Namarco.
6. Seven-storey tenement houses for the poor, starting with three in Manila and one in Makati.
7. Strengthening the PHHC for its housing services.
8. Improving the investment opportunities of the SSS and GSIS to be able to afford an expanded social assistance to their members.
9. Selling the government textile company under the NDC and part of the stocks of the Cepoc to their workers.
10. Making government lands available for acquisition by the occupants and other landless citizens under the land-for-the-landless program.
11. Provision for 20,000 school building in the Socio-Economic Program.
12. Projected labor university.
13. Raising the PACD to the category of a department.
14. Intensification of SWA activities.
The Philippines in Asia
The reputation of the Republic of the Philippines as a puppet of the United States had been a problem of Presidents since the time of the first President of the Republic, Manuel Roxas. Among the steps my father took to discharge the responsibility of improving the Philippine personality as an independent nation were the change of independence day, Maphilindo, and the sponsorship of the second Afro-Asian conference.
Beautification of Luneta Park
It is unavoidable that a First Lady should in some way collaborate with her husband , the President. My mother, Mrs. Macapagal, was no exception.
She regarded that her proper sphere as First Lady was administering the Malacanang household. The only alternation of the Malacanang building which she suggested to my father was to widen the roof above the Social Hall, which he renamed Heroes Hall, to shield guests from rain in functions held there. They shared the view that Malacanang, being a historical structure intended for all Presidents, should be sparingly remodeled and should not be tampered with for the individual convenience of the temporary occupant.
Having made the prudent readjustments in the presidential residence to conform to her idea of a palace befitting a head of state, she turned to the beautification of the National Luneta Park and other public shrines such as the Libingan ng mga Bayani. With the help of civic-minded citizens like Teodoro F. Valencia, Luis Araneta, Gabriel Formoso and Angel Nakpil, she converted the National Luneta Park into a thing of beauty which not only caught the eye of foreign visitors but filled in part the vital need of the country for parks.
As my father was about to end his political career, he expressed satisfaction over some acts of services to our people during his presidency. He said these were"
1. Land reform which embodied his profound concern for the common man;
2. The return to free enterprise and the launching of an integrated Socio-Economic Program thereunder within to seek successfully economic and social programs for the greatest number;
3. A new esteemed place for the Philippines among Afro-Asian nations with the change of Independence Day from July 4 to June 12 and through increased contact with those nations;
4. Upgrading the tradition of an honest presidential family -- not just the President being honest and faithful to his sacred trust but also his wife, children, parents, brothers and sisters; and
5. My mother, Mrs. Eva Macapagal's beautification program at Luneta and other public places.
His parting message to the people was this:
With the fervor of a crusade, I have given the best in me to struggle and fight for better and effective opportunities for the impoverished masses to attain a better life. Until the day that I die, I shall keep praying that some day some leader shall finish what I tried to do -- overcome the inequities of our society to enable the poor to find redemption from their enslavement to poverty.
I am my father's daughter. His unfinished mission is also my mission. May all of us be together in working to bring prosperity for the greatest number of our people and free them from the centuries old problem of mass poverty.
President Diosdado Macapagal: A Man of Honor back to top
I would like to offer one more way to appreciate what President Macapagal meant to our nation. Consider for a moment today's generation of politicians and pick out in your minds the one who comes closest to matching the integrity, principles and decency of the late President. (Let's not include Sen. Gloria Macapagal as the comparisons would be too obvious in her case.)
It is hard, isn't it?, to think of anyone today who can match, much less surpass, the late President's record of statesmanship, concern for the poor, and personal integrity. That is because today's politics of machismo drives away the decent and upright among Filipinos. Today's politics in the Philippines is peopled by comedians who want to be politicians and politicians who..., well, some of them are comedians. And then there are the rich politicians who want to protect their wealth and the feudal political lords who want to perpetuate their personal empires.
But there was a time in the Philippines -- many of us were either very young or not even born yet -- when our politicians took their profession seriously. There was a time when politics was an honorable calling and politicians were respectable. That was the time of Manuel Quezon, Manuel Roxas, Claro Recto, Lorenzo Tanada, Ramon Magsaysay, a few others, and Diosdado Macapagal. They were political giants who served their people well and gave politics a good name. With a few surviving exceptions, their breed is gone.
We Filipinos like our politics spiced with a heavy dose of bombast and bravado. We go for style more than substance. In 1965, when President Macapagal was running for reelection, bluster and braggadocio won over a low-profile but dignified style of governance. The President's challenger promised us the world and we believed him. We paid a high price for our gullibility.
For 20 years the Philippines became the laughingstock of the world. But for us Filipinos it was too painful to laugh. It was a hard lesson to learn. In self-examination, we asked, what could have happened if we had reelected President Macapagal in 1965? Surely, we would not have suffered as we did in the ensuing 20 years.
President Macapagal stood and stands today as a symbol of what government can be: one that is not aloof nor afraid to be with the people. He showed us that politics doesn't have to be dirty and politicians don't have to be greedy. (President Macapagal was one of a few politicians who can claim with sincerity that he didn't enrich himself in office. Yes, he lived in Forbes Park but, by God, he was a former president and deserved to live in a special place. If he didn't live in Forbes, we, as a grateful people and nation, would have put him there.) President Macapagal proved that there is a place in politics for dignity, humility, integrity and honesty. How many politicans can say the same today?
My Lolo Dads back to top
I always thought my grandfather would live forever. The first time I pondered on the possibility of his death was when I was eight years old. I don't remember what brought it on, but I forced myself to think about how life would be without him, about what would happen to the Philippines, then in the midst of a dictatorship, and I concluded that it was just not possible, that the country still needed him, that our family would always need him, and therefore he would never die.
On 21 April 1997, I gathered the papers piled on my office desk before I proceeded to the Makati Medical Center where my grandfather, former President Diosdado Macapagal, had been confined since Friday. I was prepared to stay in the hospital and accompany my grandmother Evangelina until midnight or so, and I was going to work on some papers I had brought along for the evening. I had a swing to my step when I walked down the hospital aisle. I knew my mother and older brother were already there. The nurse said they had transferred rooms earlier that day and I hadn't realized that they also gave the adjacent room for family members and guests. There was some hushed commotion near my grandfather's room, and as I entered the waiting room, I asked where Dads was, and my mother just motioned with her hands, wala na. She couldn't even speak.
Dads was what my brothers and I called our grandfather. Our eight first cousins called him Lolo, but my older brother Mikey had christened him Dads, the same way he reinvented the terms for "helicopter" and "necktie" when he was two years old. So he was also Dads to myself and my younger brother.
Mikey was in the room with Dads when he closed his eyes and his blood pressure dropped to zero. At that moment, Mikey's diastolic shot up to 200. I suppose we all thought Dads would live forever.
Mikey was also with Dads during some sessions of the Constitutional Convention in 1971-72. The wide-eyed little boy would observe the proceedings, and would see rows upon rows of men and women scamper to their seats whenever Dads would bang the gavel to call the session to order. One day, the members of the ConCon were called to their seats after an abbreviated break. They heard the banging of the gavel, but they did not see anyone at the podium. Then someone finally saw Mikey's little head peaking from my grandfather's chair--the grandson had taken matters into his own hands.
At the hospital, my cousins, their families and our parents began arriving soon after the first call was made. The telephone in the room and three cellphones were ringing incessantly, and poor Dr. Gary Lopez had to speak with all the reporters about the official time and cause of death. My grandmother asked us to be strong; decisions still had to be made for the wake and funeral arrangements. I had almost forgotten that he was once President, and in the end, we must also share him with fellow Filipinos. My grandfather was a good man, a just man. He spread his love equally among all four children and eleven grandchildren. Each grandchild, especially, had unique and precious moments with him. Some of my cousins were able to reach the tailend of his Presidency, whereas my brothers and I are among the youngest. These are some of my own recollections, and I am sure our parents, my cousins and my brothers have their own favorite stories to tell.
There were only two times I became frustrated about public perception on my grandfather. I could take some of the criticisms about his administration, because these usually came from politicians on the opposite side of the fence, and I never heard any criticisms from ordinary Filipinos--to whom he devoted his life as a public servant--who would only speak of his goodness and the good life they led during his administration. But there were times when people would refer to him as the late President while pointing to a postcard of him in National Bookstore, stacked with the postcards of all the other Presidents. Sometimes, people would ask me when he died. I had always wanted to tell them, "What are you talking about? He's going to live forever."
It frustrated me that people knew so little of him. The Martial Law babies only knew of one president--and he had to be a dictator at that--while the older generation thought he had already passed away. After all, during the 20 years of the dictatorship, the government tried to suppress information on other national leaders and oppositionists, including my grandfather, who was then the only living former President. Many people didn't even have a textbook knowledge of his Presidency, much less his own role in opposing the dictatorship, or his brief career as one of the country's first foreign service officers, or his spectacular two terms as Congressman for the first district of Pampanga.
And what textbook will tell us of the details behind the cold facts? He negotiated with the British for the return of the Turtle Islands to the Philippines, but not many know that he had to fight for recognition as an equal to the British negotiator. He was consistently named outstanding Congressman, but not many know that he would double his preparations for his debates with Arturo Tolentino. He traveled to every municipality in the country, but not many know that in one small town where Cardinal Sin was then a parish priest, his speech was rained out, but he continued to speak, and the townspeople came out into the rain to hear him, and he moved them to tears.
The second time I became frustrated about public perception on Dads was when I came across a 1960s editorial cartoon that labeled my grandfather the "Ogre of Philippine Politics." How could such a gentle man be an ogre? A man whose campaign for the first Congressional District of Pampanga consisted of an exchange of poetry recitations with his opponent, much like a "Balagtasan?" I was not more than 12 years old, and I cried that day. I began to understand that the term "ogre" was not necessarily derogatory. Dads was really just a formidable force in his political dealings. I remember when he told some of his grandchildren how he called the most prominent landowners during the '60s to inform them that he intends to see the passage of the Land Reform Law, effectively abolishing land tenancy for rice and corn lands, and they were unable to mount any palpable protest or opposition to it, possibly because they were caught off guard by his strategy. He also recalled how he threatened to keep Congress in session until they passed the Land Reform Law.
But ogre as he was in politics, no politician could ever say that he was a mean person. He was kind, ruthlessly honest, God-fearing and very witty. My grandmother would always chide him about his corny jokes, but she knew them all by heart. The men in the family had the same brand of wit and humor, from my uncles, Arturo and Diosdado Jr., to my male cousins, Don and Alex, to my brothers, Mikey and Deodato. Andrei, my cousin with autism, loved to call our grandfather "My Friend."
My grandfather was especially funny with the grandchildren, because we loved to laugh with him, and we loved his play on words. Whenever my cousin Melissa would bring home her honors from school, the last one being a perfect 4.0 QPI from the Ateneo de Manila, Dads would say, "nagmana ako sa iyo." We loved riding with him in the car, and once, we rode on those ancient trains from Paco Station, and he would point out landmarks to us. When tall buildings started sprouting around Makati, he would point to a new one and say, "Wala pa yon kagabi, a!" We also loved our weekly lunches out with our grandparents. Dads would always have fish if it were on the menu. As his order arrived, he would remark, "Something's fishy around here." And we would all burst out laughing no matter how many times we had heard the same remark, as my grandmother looked on pretending to be displeased. My grandfather also like to tell people that he made a deal with my grandmother once he became President: he would make all decisions that had to do with the national situation, and she would make all the decisions that pertained to their home. Sometimes he added that somehow, my grandmother became more powerful, because he was only President for four years, and they had the rest of their lives to live together.
In the '70s my grandfather had a golf group called the Early Risers. He would also play regular rounds with the stalwarts of the opposition and the Liberal Party like Jovito Salonga, Abraham Sarmiento, Alejandro Roces, Gerardo Roxas. They pretended to play golf seriously as they pondered on the future, on strategy, on the day democracy would once again be restored in our country. Later on I realized that golf allowed them to keep their conversations from phone taps. Dads would sometimes bring along grandchildren to the nearby golf course, and so I always thought that golf was an essential part of democracy. My grandparents would also have regular meals with the Cabinet men from the Macapagal administration. The men would talk politics in one table, the wives would talk about caring for their husbands in another, and the grandchildren would have a separate table from the adults. As the years passed, the men at the table began to lessen in number, and more widows would come to the gatherings, and more grandchildren would join the table of adults. Politics, of course, was still the topic of conversation.
My own special times with Dads were our travels together. He would be invited to international peace conferences, where he would deliver papers on democracy, and slowly I began to replace my mother as the travel companion of my grandparents. They trained me to deal with airport, airline and hotel requirements, and Dads made certain that I could observe his conversations on consular and foreign affairs matters with embassy personnel. We traveled together to Hong Kong, six times to South Korea, to Japan, to the former USSR, to ten European countries. I was able to meet world leaders like Julius Nyerere, Pope John Paul II and the King and Queen of Spain because of my grandparents. He made sure I went to the museums and libraries of the cities we visited, and he made sure that we met the Filipinos living in those places. It is probably these experiences, and his own background in the diplomatic service, that have inspired me to complete my masters degree in Foreign Service. Whenever I would come home for school holidays, he would fondly refer to me as "my foreign affairs expert," and sincerely discuss world events with me, asking for my assessment and analysis. Soon, I hope to take the Foreign Service Officers Exam that is mandated by the Foreign Service Law which he authored as Congressman.
Dads wanted to ingrain in all of us a deep sense of--and respect for--history. He wanted all of us to study well, to be good Christians to all people, to excel. He had read all the books in his high school library, and so he would gift us with books at the drop of a holiday or special occasion. He gave me a Collegiate Dictionary when I graduated from grade school, very different from the classics or historical travel books that he was prone to give, and I like to think that his dedication in it inspired me to become a college journalist. In college he gave me books on journalists, more books on history, and one on Mauro Mendez, a journalist turned diplomat. I like to think that he was pleased that one of his grandchildren had taken an interest in diplomacy, his first career choice, and that maybe, I would be able to continue where he had left off more than 40 years ago.
Over the past few days at the wake, we have been overwhelmed with the words of comfort from so many people. We have also been surprised with the number and diversity of people Dads had helped throughout his life, from those that came to Santuario de San Antonio in Makati, to Lubao in Pampanga, to the Batasang Pambansa, to the University of Santo Tomas, and to Malacañan Palace. The wake at Lubao was deeply moving, seeing his townmates mourn for him, walking with the whole town behind his casket, and watching young and old alike weeping by their windows. They all waved goodbye as the Presidential helicopter flew his body out of Lubao forever.
Dads was fond of rituals. He needed to part his hair in the middle, just like Rudolph Valentino. He regularly exercised in the mornings, even when we were abroad. He wanted to be the first to greet each of us on our birthdays, so we expected his wake-up call each time. We had a ritual for saying goodbye at the front porch of my grandparents' house in Forbes. As our cars backed out of the driveway, we would have our windows rolled down and he would wave to us from the house entrance as we waved back at him from the car. At first, we would wave to each other as if in slow motion, and as the car backed out further and further, our waving would increase in momentum, until we would wave to each other feverishly as the car would drive away and we could no longer see each other.
It's difficult to wave goodbye to a man I thought would live forever. I suppose he will live forever, in my own memories, in the memory of every municipality he visited and every Filipino family he helped, in our history books, in his own writings.
He will be missed profoundly.