Chapter 2: The coming man (1892-1922)
On the first of January 1892, in the town of Capiz in the province of the same name, a posthumous child was born. The child’s mother was Rosario Acuna vda. De Roxas, a widow only 22 years of age, her giving birth shrouded by two tragedies. Her husband, Gerardo, had been assassinated eight months before by guardia civiles whom he had humiliated after they tried to pick a fight with his brothers; her father-in-law, Don Antonio Roxas, died of grief three months after the death of his eldest son.
According to the traditions of the Church, the child, a boy, was baptized Manuel. His mother, his elder brother Mamerto, and Manuel, came under the care, as was the custom, of his paternal grandfather, Eleuterio Acuna, a civil servant.
The circumstances under which Manuel Roxas was born were symptomatic of the twilight of the Age of Spain in the Philippines. The Spaniards were increasingly finding Filipinos — the indios of centuries past, emboldened by education, increased wealth, and a growing sense of nationalism — unwilling to accept the petty abuses and racial tyranny of a regime that hung on, inflexibly, to a social and political system which would make no allowances for Filipino feeling. Within four years of Gerardo Roxas’s death, and when the son he never knew was only four, a revolution had begun; when his son was six, Spain’s three and a quarter centuries of rule had come to an end. Within seven years of Mamerto Roxas’s death, in 1899, the guardia civiles were gone forever, to be replaced by other foreigners: among them, the first American soldier-cum-schoolteacher to step foot in Capiz, Capiz, who made one of his students the young Manuel.
The new century began with the first Filipino Republic in retreat, and that soldier-schoolteacher, George Shoens already in Capiz for a year. The first year of the new century would see the Republic utterly destroyed, its President held captive in Malacañan Palace, its preeminent figures either actively collaborating with the American conquerors or in embittered imprisonment on Guam. The two years of Revolution to create an independent Philippines were washed away by years of bloody warfare between Filipinos and their erstwhile American allies, peaking in 1901, but sputtering on intermittently for over a decade more. And yet, with President Aguinaldo’s capture and subsequent oath of allegiance to the United States, and the official proclamation of the end of ‘the Philippine Insurrection’ by President Theodore Roosevelt the next year, on July 4, 1902, Americans and Filipinos, could look forward—if looking forward could be called that on the part of Filipinos—toward mapping out the future instead of mopping up blood.
In the year of ending and beginning, 1903, one of the greatest minds this nation has ever produced, recently returned home after imprisonment and exile, set down for posterity his thoughts about the future direction his countrymen should take. In a small nipa house not far from the Palace his former chief Aguinaldo had been imprisoned, Apolinario Mabini, reluctant politician, peerless intellectual, with mere months left in his tired and tragic life, was putting the finishing touches to his apologia, La Revolucion Filipina, which analyzed the revolution and republic he had served.
The revolution of 1896, resumed in 1898, was not preordained. Spain, by listening to Jose Rizal’s earnest pleas for reform and reconciliation, for the recognition of Filipino dignity by giving basic political rights and limiting, if not abolishing, the powers abused by the clergy, could have kept Filipinos happy and loyal. Instead, loyal petitions were met with hostility, racial antipathy, and imperial arrogance; abuses, instead of being investigated, were covered up; and while revolution simmered, and then flared, the Spaniards went ahead and made a martyr of that most reluctant of revolutionaries, Jose Rizal.
Still, Spain, with a last exertion of conquistadorial will, suppressed the revolution, Te Deums were being sung at the Manila Cathedral even as General Emilio Aguinaldo sailed into exile to form a poverty-struck junta in Hong Kong. He might have faded away from history in that British colony had not America flexed its new imperialist muscles and sought the destruction of the remainder of Spain’s empire in the New World and the Orient. America was in search of Manifest Destiny and the senile empire of Spain was in the way.
Rizal had foreseen American expansion in Asia, and Mabini had foreseen that the nation that was today’s ally might be tomorrow’s foe; having studied the causes of revolution, Mabini went on to describe the causes for the demise and destruction of that revolution’s child, the first republic.
Impatience, vainglory, a lack of honor and of judgment, Mabini judged, led to the downfall of both the Philippine Revolution and the First Philippine Republic. Filipinos suffered from the petty and violent jealousies of their leaders, as demonstrated by the power struggle which Andres Bonifacio, Supreme Leader of the secret society known as the Katipunan, lost, and Emilio Aguinaldo, a lucky commander and better politician, won; a lack of strategic vision; most of all from a lack of morality at the top which was copied by those under their command, as demonstrated by the abuse of women by Filipino soldiers which Mabini bitterly condemned. The Republic fell, fighting heroically, it was true, but hampered by the naïveté and conceit of its leaders, whom Mabini had tried honorably to serve.
Having penned his analysis for the failures of the past, Mabini set out to pen his hopes and his advice—for the future.
In the tradition of Rizal, Mabini mused on what he thought would arise from the conditions then extant. July 4, 1901 had seen the inauguration as Civil Governor of William Howard Taft, 330 pounds of ponderous politician, who replaced an embittered Lt. Gen. Arthur MacArthur and promptly began to govern with a cabinet-cum-legislature called the Philippine Commission, composed of Americans and cooperative Filipinos. A year later, by the time Theodore Roosevelt declared the ‘insurrection’ officially over, the position of Military Governor had been abolished, and the US Congress had passed legislation calling for a census preparatory to a national election. Municipal governments had been organized, supervised by a national government armed with a Sedition Law that provided for the punishment of dissent. American actions, from overt acts of conquest, now turned to subtler acts of building up of a government in which Filipinos played a greater role than at any time previously. Circumstances were such that, in Mabini’s mind, Filipinos had acquitted themselves honorably enough on the field of battle for the Americans to recognize that they would do best to give the Filipinos some measure of freedom than to try to kill them all. And that the United States, in turn, because of its own traditions and the peculiar characteristics of its leaders and people, would be more inclined to be reasonable, if not pragmatic, when it came to the principles and objectives of their rule in the Philippines.
But still, would America, then, simply baby the Filipinos along, until Mabini’s countrymen would finally forget the freedom they had lived and died to achieve? No — for too much had happened for Filipinos to forget the aspiration that could only have been smothered much earlier, when the Propagandists first petitioned Spain for the rights of a child; the child had matured, and suffered for its ideals. The ideals could not be forgotten.
Mabini was sure, having worked with many of the men now in the good graces of the Americans, that there would be men of position who would not want independence at all, and thus be natural allies of the Americans: in particular to his former colleagues in government, Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera, Felipe Buencamino, and Pedro Paterno, who had inaugurated Filipino participation in the new American government by demanding annexation—even statehood—by the United States. De Tavera’s party—the Federalistas—was the first organized under the Americans and would be the first to be rejected by its own people.
Instructive is Mabini’s description of his experience with these politicians, and his analysis of why the politicians at the apex of their careers in 1903 would, by 1907, find themselves in retreat before a generation of Filipinos who were their clerks and aides during the revolution.
“Before my deportation to Guam,” Mabini reminisced, “those who had unconditionally taken the Government’s side in order to win the official title of friends of peace tried to organize a political party. Since the Government could not promise more than a future autonomy, which did not and does not satisfy the people, it did not suit them to adopt this objective since very few would join them. They therefore asked for annexation as a territory for the time being, and subsequently as a state. The truth is not only that such an objective found and finds no support in any political party in the United States, but also that no American statesman believes in the possibility that the islands may some day become a state of the union. But this objective was less objectionable to the people, which they considered too ignorant to grow aware of any political game. I had the imprudence to remark that their aspiration was chimerical; that if they wanted something positive, they should work on the Government to give in a little and promise independence in the future; and that I would help them to convince the people that it should also compromise and give up immediate independence.”
Mabini’s vision, then, was clear. Defeated by the sword, Filipinos must try to achieve their independence not through the sword, but with the pen. The campaign would require compromise, tact, a vision for the future which would sustain a long-term plan involving convincing the Americans that their relinquishing the Philippines was only a matter of how and when, and not if; and of convincing Filipinos to follow the judgment of their leaders as to the right time to push, and the right time to bide their time for positive developments.
A few months after finishing his slim book, Apolinario Mabini died. His nation consumed with the excitement of the here and now, barely noticed his passing, choosing to fete the departure, in December of 1903, of William Howard Taft, promoted to Secretary of War.
The here and now, in fact, compared to the miseries of the Filipino-American War, was exciting. The here and now was the schoolhouse, the teachers called Thomasites after the troopship that had brought schoolmasters and schoolmarms to show the flag throughout the archipelago, an archipelago where instead of the din of fighting there now droned the voices of a new generation reciting A is for Apple and tales of George Washington admitting to chopping down the cherry tree. When, years later, Roxas said in a speech, “I learned my ABC’s at the knees of an American soldier,” he was speaking with gratitude and absolute sincerity. Thus might a Filipino of three centuries before have spoken of the missionary who had baptized him and his tribe.
For if Spain had cemented its rule with the bonds of faith, now America cemented its rule with the one thing that Spain had been loath to provide en masse –education. If Filipinos could be ruled by the faith that made them subservient to the friars of the past, they could now be ruled by a glittering new faith — in the schoolteachers of the present. Roxas was one of these boys, still being taught by the same former Private First Class George Shoens who had arrived in Capiz in 1899, befriending the Roxas family. It was symbolic of the new conquista of the Philippines that the Thomasites imported from America had come to join soldiers who had replaced rifles with pieces of chalk.
Filipino appeals for reform under Spain were premised on the colonial policies of many European empires, which was to view its overseas possessions as integral parts of the motherland. This was, at least, the policy of the French, Portuguese and the Spanish. The British, on the other hand, preferred the view that their possessions might be made independent at some unknown future time; American imperialism was to have a similar, though more short-term attitude.
Brought to war against Spain ostensibly to liberate Cuba, Americans were saddled as an imperialist power by their democratic traditions and their own birth as a collection of rebel colonies. The only way American consciences could be assuaged after the initial jingoism of unrepentant imperialists such as Senator Hendry Cabot Lodge and Theodore Roosevelt (who had conspired to send Commodore George Dewey to knock out the Spanish fleet in the Philippines, take over the Philippines, and thus make its annexation by the United States a fait accompli, positioning the new colony as a means to penetrate the China market), was to maintain that America was not in the Philippines to stay for ever, but to extend to them the “blessings” of Anglo-Saxon government, law, and civilization. And the way to do this —and to ensure the Philippines would be retained as long as possible- was through education, a process that would take generations to complete.
As Roxas learned the three “R’s” —‘Readin’ ‘Ritin, ‘Rithmetic — in the new public school system that won the begrudging respect of the generation of his parents, American control was fortified with the collaboration of Filipino leaders. The men of the hour were familiar names from the twilight of the First Republic: Trininad Pardo de Tavera, linguist, friend of Rizal, who looked like a mournful Don Quijote; Felipe Buencamino, jowly-cheeked, with a walrus-like moustache; Benito Legarda, eloquent, with an exalted sense of self, with Chinese eyes and a Kaiser Wilhelm moustache, who had negotiated the truce between Spain and Aguinaldo known as the Pact of Biak-na-Bato in 1897, and who, as Prime Minister in the Aguinaldo Cabinet, led the defection of notables to the American Camp in 1899-1900. These men, dismayed by the outbreak of hostilities, saw the future in collaboration with America, forming expedient friendships with Taft and, for the moment, making themselves the undisputed representatives of Filipino aspirations. In the Republic, they saw a divided, outgunned, institution doomed to defeat; in America they saw a second chance to achieve the gradual reforms and long-term emancipation without radicalization they had once dreamed of from Spain. Pardo de Tavera and Paterno were appointed to the Philippine Commission.
In 1904, Taft’s successor as Civil Governor, Luke E. Wright, was given the glittering title of Governor-General; it seemed all but a return to the days of Spain —with a difference. Here were masters, at least, prepared to advance Filipinos on the way to modernity, through the path of paternal supervision. American proconsuls and Filipinos of influence such as Pardo de Tavera vied to find young talent to groom; among the young people De Tavera in particular spotted and took an interest in was a Spanish mestizo named Manuel L. Quezon; Americans, too, were scouting, as it were, for younger talent, with Harry Bandholz of the Constabulary also taking a shine to Quezon, and a more powerful figure, William Cameron Forbes, member of the Philippine Commission, taking a shine to a young politician from Cebu, Sergio Osmeña.
De Tavera began a style of leadership that proved successful and was watched by younger politicians. A recent survey of his time of leadership paints a picture familiar to present-day Filipinos; it is a picture of a leader who understood what his peers desired in someone holding a position of responsibility.
In her essay “origins of National Politics,” historian Ruby Paredes has this to say of Pardo de Tavera: “In Manila’s colonial politics, [he] was better suited than any other Filipino for the role of people’s advocate.” In response to the backpedaling of Taft’s successor, Governor-General Luke Wright, who tried to slow down the progress of Filipino participation in colonial affairs, and who consulted the Federalistas in government less and less, Paredes writes that De Tavera was “thrust into the center of the controversy, a position which, by virtue of personality and temperament, he held well. As the highest-ranking Filipino official, Pardo de Tavera’s statements were newsworthy and he used the media exposure to good effect. Described in later years as a man who was ‘not afraid to be quoted,’ Pardo de Tavera indeed shirked nothing of the challenges of the Wright administration…
“Pardo de Tavera was also better informed of the overall situation at the time than any other Filipino, official or nonofficial. As head of the government’s committees on provincial and municipal governments, and on education, he made regular visits to the provinces to inspect conditions and make investigations… His official visits… gave him the grasp necessary for an impassioned advocacy.”
When de Tavera found American officials in Manila uncooperative or hostile, he appealed for intervention and support from Americans in Washington, such as Taft, now Secretary of War, and something of a personal friend. His strategy was to remind Washington officials that a lack of understanding and cooperation in Manila would lead to “discontent” and a “resentment” that was “profound and well-founded.” If America was to keep the peace, it had to take Filipino feelings into consideration; De Tavera was doing his countrymen and the Americans, in effect, a favor by reminding them of what was necessary for colonial policy to succeed: this was his strategy, and it would be one future leaders would adopt. In his own words, “I have not accepted American sovereignty for the pleasure of being under the dominion of a foreign nation, but because I thought that such a dominion was necessary to educate us in self-government.”
The position of de Tavera harked back to the reformist aims of Rizal and his fellow Propagandists: the Propaganda Movement sought gradual reforms to avoid the radical upheavals of revolution. The intransigence of Spain had led to more radical element—the plebian, revolutionary, Katipunan of Andres Bonifacio—taking center stage until Bonifacio was eliminated and the conservative, hierarchical leadership of Aguinaldo welcomed the return of the ilustrados and principalia to positions of influence. Thereafter, when Aguinaldo sought to proclaim independence (against the advice of even Mabini, who was no friend of the ilustrados), and the outbreak of war, the ilustrados applied the brakes and sought a return to their original vision of gradual political advancement. After all, the radical, xenophobic nationalism of revolution had been crushed; the time was ripe to attempt to achieve the dream of Rizal.
For leaders like De Tavera, the problem was that once the rhetoric of revolution has been enunciated, it cannot be forgotten; it is always more inspiring, more emotionally satisfying, than drab talk of the rational benefits of a slow climb to progress. Add to this the propensity of intellectuals involved in politics to over-intellectualize matters, to think things through so much that their actions seem hesitant if not craven, and you have the recipe for the inevitable simmering of discontent and the renewed appeal of more drastic methods to achieve the common objective of independence.
This is why, even as De Tavera began to exhibit the sort of leadership that would come to be identified as desirable (because it is popular )with Filipinos, the circumstances that circumscribed that leadership (working within the system established by the Americans), a corresponding revival of radicalism began to reassert itself, in the ill-fated revolts led by General Artemio Ricarte and agrarian uprisings throughout the American period. However, in the political sense, the advantage Filipino leaders would have during the first three decades of American rule was that suffrage was extremely limited. The Americans had set out to duplicate the development of the political system in the United States, and limited the vote to the oligarchy: that is, Filipino men of legal age who had property and paid taxes —and were literate. And they began with local elections first —with the exception of Manila, which did not have local elections until 1908.
Thus, in 1902, 1904 and 1906, gubernatorial elections were held, restricted to candidates being selected by municipal councilors. Propertied men voted for their municipal councilors in December of an election year; and the councilors in turn elected governors in February, the next year. This was a far cry from the more direct democracy practiced later, and resembled American practice in the early decades of their independence. Electorates were so tiny that the governor of Cebu, in 1902, was elected by a constituency of 425 municipal officials; in the first national elections of the American era, in 1907, only 1.4 percent out of a population of 7.6 million Filipinos could vote. This would gradually expand to about 10 percent of Filipinos being able to vote until the introduction of women’s suffrage in 1937, when 15% percent of Filipinos could vote. Still, from the turbulence of war, the landed gentry became accustomed to predictable elections that consumed their energies and gratified their desire for power and prestige.
It is important to emphasize the limited nature of democracy in the Philippines during much of the American period, because it explains many things that affected Filipino leadership until the birth of the Republic in 1946. There was a political cohesion in terms of candidates and leaders being cut from the same cloth as the people that elected them; there was a great gulf between voters and leaders and the majority of the population that had no vote; in turn, there was a constant clash between the interests and aims of the disenfranchised uneducated and poor classes, and the middle and upper classes that had the vote and who provided the leaders. The push and pull of these contending interests, and the frustration that would boil over into resumptions of a radical means of achieving change, would always be evident.
By the year 1905, the Philippines were being subjected to its first census of the modern era, and Roxas was finishing grade school, back in Capiz after a brief period of study at St. Joseph’s Academy in Hong Kong. Youthful rebellion had brought Roxas to Hong Kong in the first place; he was upset over the remarriage of his mother to a local worthy, Eugenio Picazo, member of the provincial board in Capiz and probably the first political influence on young Roxas’s life. Roxas had found out about his mother’s intention to remarry and ran away from home. His mother and grandfather managed to assuage his feelings—the boy was extremely attached to his mother—but finding him unreceptive to the idea of attending the Ateneo de Manila where his brother Mamerto was a student, Roxas’s grandfather decided to send him to school overseas. Young Roxas was a good student but unhappy; he returned to finish second year high school in Capiz, and was subsequently enrolled at the Manila High School in 1907.
It was in that year that Roxas met his first American official at age fifteen, when he was presented before Secretary of War, William Howard Taft. Taft was in the process of a triumphal tour of the country, having come back to inaugurate the First Philippine Assembly; young Roxas was chosen to deliver a speech of welcome which was favorably received by the dignitaries and remembered forty years later.
Roxas’s move to Manila as a student and boarder in Intramuros came at a time when the capital was abuzz with the pomp and rhetoric of a legislature whose lower house was in the hands of Filipinos. The year 1907 saw the changing of the guard; the generation of ilustrados and the old principalia was giving way to a generation of caciques and young men who had come from nowhere to make names for themselves. Manila was giving way to upstarts from the provinces. The leading names from the time of the Malolos Republic were giving way to new names: an illegitimate Chinese mestizo named Sergio Osmeña, from Cebu and a Spanish mestizo of doubtful provenance named Manuel L. Quezon foremost among them.
Both men had been Spanish loyalists at the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution but become supporters of the Republic when the Filipino-American War broke out. After stints as prosecuting attorneys and then governors of their respective provinces, both men were elected to the Philippine Assembly. Quezon, elected as an independent to the Assembly, conveniently joined the Nacionalistas co-founded by Sergio Osmeña to become Majority Floor Leader presided over by Osmeña as Speaker. There, too, was intellectual from Manila named Rafael Palma, brother of the poet who’d composed the lyrics for the now-banned Philippine National anthem. The cast of characters for the first two decades of Roxas’s life was complete. His early youth and entry into politics would be marked by a political triumvirate composed of these three men.
The rising careers of Osmeña, Quezon and Palma represented the assumption of leadership by a generation that was educated by Spaniards, too young to be of consequence during the Revolution and the First Republic, yet ambitious enough to seek power with the opening up of electoral opportunities under the Americans. Having received the support of Americans, they were grateful for American support; having fought against the Americans and been schooled in the Spanish manner, they were culturally and psychologically wary of American officials and motives; having participated in the Filipino-American War, they were conscious of the romantic ideal of independence; having been vanquished by the Americans and taken the oath of allegiance to the United States, they were dedicated to achieving independence within the parameters of the colonial system established by the United States.
The victory of the two also marked the death of Manila as the governing power—theirs were political bases with regional support, not dependent on, or answerable to, cosmopolitan Manila which didn’t even have the basic representation the provinces had. They were young enough and exposed enough to American influence to consider that Manila represented the governing power of the foreigner; a place to be conquered from the provinces in which they were representatives of an upstart class distasteful to the jaded leadership of Manila’s ilustrado’s and American officials.
The Assembly that convened in the Ayuntamiento de Manila was in a sense, a tangible rejection of Manila’s aspirations to run the country; a rejection every bit as firm as that which had met Bonifacio when he tried to retain control over the Katipunan born in Manila but which comprised provincial leaders such as Aguinaldo. No wonder that throughout the American period, indeed to this day, Manila was always contrarian—fiercely oppositionist, regardless of which Johnny-come-lately from Manila was bossing it over national politics. Pardo de Tavera and his Federalistas, after gaining popularity from 1904-1906, hadn’t fared well in the polls; the Nacionalista Party, with 33% of the vote, had control of the Assembly. De Tavera had left government; Pedro Paterno failed in his bid to be elected Speaker. The new generation had the powerful posts, and in 1908, Rafael Palma was appointed to the Philippine Commission, which served as the upper house of the legislature.
IF the triumvirate of leaders in the Assembly were examples of a particular generation of Filipinos, Roxas was representative of another new generation: steeped in Castilian values because of his being born into the Spanish-educated upper class, but too young to have extensive memories of the Spanish era; steeped in the egalitarian, modern educational system established by the Americans, and thus immersed in American values. Spanish was a language that bound leading men like De Tavera to Osmeña and even Roxas; but unlike older leaders, Roxas and his generation would be fluent, from an early age, in the language of the new colonizer, the language of the future, English. He was representative, as well, of a generation who were sent to public schools, which formerly didn’t even exist, and were examples of secular education compared to the Catholic education of their forebears. Roxas was a public school man through and through; a specimen of the New Man molded by educators in the modern, American image.
In 1909, the year Roxas graduated from the Manila High School and enrolled in law school, the politician who would be identified with long periods in Roxas’s future political life, set out for the United States. Manuel L. Quezon had been bitten by the travel bug the year before when he embarked on the first political junket in Philippine political history, sending himself to St. Petersburg in Russia to attend a navigation congress he didn’t even reach in time; now, he was being sent with the durable old Benito Legarda to the United States to sit in the U.S. House of Representatives as one of the Philippine Resident Commissioners, who could sit and debate in Congress but not vote. Quezon would be spending the next few years learning American-style politics.
From age 18 to 22, Roxas was a student in the University of the Philippines’s college of law. From a prospective career in Medicine in the University of Santo Tomas, Roxas shifted to law when his eventual mentor and friend George Malcolm, first dean of the UP law school and later justice in the Philippine Supreme Court, started law classes. He supported himself by studying cases assigned to the class and selling his notes to his classmates. He was evidently an orator, a talent polished over the years, though in 1911 he had already placed fourth as a freshman in a law debate tournament. Malcolm would later write that Roxas was “quickly recognized as a born leader,” becoming president of his class and gaining prestige for the school in 1913 when he placed first in the bar examinations.
This in turn brought Roxas to the attention of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Cayetano Arellano, who made Roxas his chief law clerk, a prestigious appointment for the young man. While working for the Chief Justice, Roxas supplemented his income by tutoring law students, eventually amassing 200 students. After a year working for the Chief Justice, Roxas resigned in order to gain more lucrative private employment in the firm of Juan Sumulong, eventual head of the main opposition party of the 1920s and early 1930s, the Democrata Party (which is what the Federalista Party had been renamed after its terrific loss in the 1907 elections).
Roxas only lasted a year with the Sumulong law office because in 1917, his grandfather Eluterio Acuna died without a will, requiring Roxas to return to Capiz to look after the interests of his mother. Together with his brother Mamerto, Roxas convinced his mother and her siblings to agree to an amicable settlement. Duty to the family being done, Roxas was looking forward to a lucrative practice in Capiz when he was offered, perhaps because of his stepfather’s being a politician, and certainly as token of respect for the memory of his grandfather, an appointive position as a municipal councilor in his hometown. He found politics congenial. By the time the elections of 1919 rolled around, he had decided he was cut out to be a politician. He would run for governor,
The Roxas embarking on a political career was tall for a Filipino of his generation, about 5’9″; his eyes a surprising hazel, with a yellow-tinge of green to them that people found striking; his complexion was dark. A man of good posture, of considerable charm, and attractive to the opposite sex, he enjoyed the sight of a lady’s fine ankle and a good game of cards, either poker, or, much later on, bridge—all assets for a politician.
His voice was memorable. Former Senator Jovito Salonga remembered it as: “spellbinding… his voice, his diction, his gestures, and his stage presence impressed me to no end.” The quality of Roxas’s voice was measured and pleasant to the ears, never sounding pretentious or parvenu, though speechwriters later on did have to occasionally edit his writing for purple prose, an affliction of Filipino politicians then and now.
Normally Roxas’s voice was low and controlled in conversation, but over the airwaves or on film, or while orating in public plazas and in mass rallies, his voice was capable of a fiery vigor that nonetheless remained pleasant to the ears. It was never high-pitched or shrill as Quezon’s tended to be, or slow and plodding as Osmeña’s delivery often was. Unlike his elders, Roxas could speak to the public in Spanish, English and Tagalog and his own native Visayan. As eloquent in Spanish as his older political peers, he was more comfortable than they in English; he could, when called upon to, deliver speeches in Tagalog. Osmeña was always loath to use English, accomplished as he was, as a writer in Spanish. As for Quezon, Roxas had an advantage over him in having learned English early, and not late in life, and thus not having the thick, Filipino-mestizo, even “provincial” accent that Quezon had. In fact Manuel Roxas’s diction was impeccable, his speech having a slight British inflection, possibly picked up his Hong Kong school stint . His speech was devoid of what is considered the usual “Filipino” accent.
Most of all, as orator and politician, Roxas had a priceless advantage: in the estimation of Malcolm, he possessed that “hard to define yet tangible element of personal magnetism,” a characteristic only Roxas from his generation and Quezon from the older generation possessed: “The crowds were with them before they uttered a word” Malcolm would reminisce, and “it was their dynamic daring, coupled with an ability to coin pungent phrases that captured their listeners.” Again one must refer to George Malcolm, for an appraisal of the character of Roxas, succinct and objective: “few of Roxas’s generation approached him in brilliance of mind, in breadth of information, and in gift of charm. Unable to delegate authority, he could, nevertheless, by himself seek solutions to the most intricate problems… Withal, Roxas was passionately devoted to his country… Roxas’s weakness was his utter consideration of everyone. His infinite patience and kindly compassion would not permit him to take action against transgressors. It must, therefore, be conceded that as an administrator Roxas was perhaps less than great.”
In throwing his hat in the ring for the gubernatorial race, Roxas found himself in the curious position of contesting his uncle twice. Judge Conrado Barrios was not only Roxas’s uncle, but was a Judge of the Court of First Instance in Capiz, an experienced politician, but representative of the older generation already losing out throughout the country. Defeating his uncle for the Nacionalista Party nomination, Roxas then had to battle his uncle who became the candidate of the opposition Democratas. Judge Barrios brought with him the old guard; Roxas had on his side youth, vitality, and a reputation as an up-and-coming man earned from having moved in high places in Manila. Roxas won by 60 votes. He was 27.
The next couple of years were spent following the tried and tested path to gaining national recognition: building a local political base, dismantling his opponents’. Most of all, by turning local position into a platform for achieving national prominence. He caught the eye of the national government through a well-phrased and carefully prepared report on provincial conditions which was sent to other governors by the Secretary of the Interior as a model of what provincial reports should be like. Roxas cultivated ties with the leaders of his party, making a favorable impression on Osmeña and an even better one on Quezon, who was methodically scrutinizing up-and-coming leaders in order to build up a political base for challenging Osmeña. It is no coincidence that in 1921, the year the Osmeña-Quezon leadership tandem would be shaken by a major split between the two leaders, Roxas was elected president of the gathering. Osmeña had reached national prominence much in the same way back fourteen years before.
Finally, Roxas entered into an advantageous marriage with a beautiful and wealthy woman, with an impeccable political background. In 1921 he married Trinidad de Leon, only daughter of a Bulacan politician, Ceferino de Leon, a senator at the time. The circumstances surrounding his marriage only served to enhance his reputation: the onetime Manila Carnival Queen (that is, a beauty pageant winner at a time when to be elected Carnival Queen was a great honor and carried social cachet) De Leon and the young governor of Capiz eloped—with Manuel L. Quezon as their godfather.
Quezon had returned from Washington DC in 1916, after seven years of residency there learning the ins and outs of the American political system. He was a national hero for having secured the passage and keeping the credit for it—of an Act of the U.S. Congress that came to be known as the Jones Law, after its sponsor, Rep. William Atkinson Jones of Virginia. The Jones Law served as an Organic Act, or Constitution, for the Philippines, abolishing the appointive, mostly American Philippine Commission with a mostly elective, and wholly Filipino, upper chamber called the Philippine Senate. The Philippine Assembly was expanded and called the House of Representatives. Having studied the American system up close, Quezon believed that with the adoption of the American bicameral system, and with the American governor-general in effect being an unelected Chief Executive, the most powerful and prestigious position for a Filipino to hold would be that of Senate President.
Sergio Osmeña, exposed to the influence of the Anglophile American governor-general William Cameron Forbes, and because of his familiarity with the Spanish legislative system, believed that the lower House, being larger and more representative, would be the more influential and prestigious chamber. Osmeña opted to remain in the lower house, being elected Speaker, while Quezon ran for the Senate, was elected its first President, and proceeded to chafe over the phlegmatic and conservative leadership of Osmeña.
Osmeña, however, increasingly found himself having to adjust to a political system he had misunderstood from the start, and which was being skillfully manipulated by Quezon.
The unpopular Forbes, contrary to his expectations borne of studying British colonial government, was replaced as governor-general when the Republicans lost the White House to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Osmeña found Malacanan Palace occupied not by a Chief Executive with whom he worked well, and who was a friend and admirer of his, but by a new, and unknown entity named Francis Burton Harrison, an aristocratic Virginian, a former member of Congress who’d been part of the New York Tammany Hall political machine. Tammany Hall was notorious in the United States for being an unbeatable, and hardly scrupulous populist machine, whose leaders had been familiar to—and fond of—Quezon, whom they had baptized “Casey” because they thought he seemed very Irish.
With Harrison in Malacanan, and with Quezon, whom Harrison found congenial company and with whom he shared a taste for the ladies and the rugged life, taking all the credit for his appointment, Osmeña was faced with a political pincer movement being masterminded by Quezon. Osmeña may have retained leadership of the lower house, but the Senate had the power to confirm appointments. Osmeña might have greater prestige among politicians and the public because of his long years of leadership, but Quezon was better-versed in how to dispense patronage, and began to challenge Osmeña’s preeminence on the basis of the Senate Presidency deserving greater recognition rather than the Speakership of the lower house. Most of all, although contemporaries, Osmeña was mired in the stolid dignities of an era already receding, while Quezon was schooled in the new politics—the politics of the youth, of media, of fun. Osmeña was dignified but seemed remote, a stick-in-the-mud. Quezon had a racy reputation, a fondness for clothes, had learned the language of the future, English, and was proficient in it. Quezon could attract younger politicians and Osmeña could not. At least with enough numbers to prevent a bid for power by his former deputy.
What brought matters to a head was a scandal involving the Philippine National Bank. Under Harrison, a policy of “Filipinization” was embarked upon, under which the Governor-General eased out American colonial officials in the bureaucracy, replacing them with Filipinos. The result was outrage on the part of the American community and almost delirious satisfaction on the part of Filipino politicians. Harrison, urbane and confident, also fraternized with Filipinos, Quezon in particular. While given full executive power by the Jones Law, Harrison set out to share those powers with Osmeña and Quezon, establishing the Council of State and more importantly, the Board of Control, which placed voting power over government-owned stocks in the hands of a trio composed of the Governor-General, the Speaker of the House, and the Senate President. The Philippine government, operating at first in a period of relative prosperity, began embarking on business ventures including the creation of bank to compete with the existing banks that were foreign-owned.
The Philippine National Bank almost immediately slid into financial trouble, which was blamed on poorly thought out loans being given to politicians and financial backers of the Nacionalista Party. Command responsibility was placed on Speaker Osmeña who had caused the appointment of a political ally and friend, former Revolutionary general Genaro Concepcion. Concepcion turned out to be unfit for the position and turned a blind eye to the corruption that was taking place. With the onset of a downturn in business close to the end of the Harrison administration, a beleaguered Harrison began to blame his political troubles on Osmeña—a feeling naturally egged on by his good friend, Quezon, who was also upset over Osmeña’s continued support for Concepcion.
In 1921, the Republicans reclaimed the White House, and the President of the United States sent a fact-finding mission composed of former governor-general William Cameron Forbes (who was not-so-secretly lusting after the position vacated by Harrison, a Democratic appointee), and the former Chief of Staff of the US Army Leonard Wood, a defeated candidate for the Republican nomination. Their subsequent Wood-Forbes Report was political dynamite. The Philippines was nearly bankrupt, was crookedly run, and was unfit for independence, it stated.
There was a chance the clock would be turned back. In this, Quezon sensed a problem, and an opportunity. The leadership he was part of was being questioned; the question was, in doing so, would the Americans turn back the clock, or would Quezon be able to maintain the gains made thus far, and better yet, finally make him the undisputed leader of his countrymen? Perhaps even the first Filipino governor-general?
His political antenna twitching over developments, Quezon decided to prepare for a fight. Against the Americans, against Osmeña. For both he would need allies. From the preparations for that fight would come Roxas’s debut as the third man in the national triumvirate.