This marvelous video comes from a 1946 United Newsreel:Roxas visits Truman:
Today marks the 61st death anniversary of Manuel Roxas, who died in Clark Field, Pampanga, in 1948. I’ve been working on a political biography of the man for eight years now (more off than on), and it’s proving to be a difficult but rewarding task, not least because having died so soon, he didn’t live long enough to see many of his initiatives bear fruit. While it is said that history is written by the victors, the opposite is the case in the Philippines, or at least, that is the case when it comes to Roxas; after he passed from the scene, his critics wrote the enduring epitaph to his administration. In my draft second chapter, I proposed that instead of viewing the peaceful campaign for independence (circumscribed as it was, by the reality and consequences of military defeat for the First Republic) was actually the logical progression of the independence movement, a blueprint laid out by Apolinario Mabini at the end of his life.
(Roxas was the second Philippine president to be on the cover of Time Magazine; the portrait clearly shows his hazel-colored eyes)
For most of his political career, he was portrayed as a kind of wunderkind of politics, even when he ran for the presidency and broke up the prewar monolith that was the Nacionalista Party: the existence of a two-party system was not an American legacy, they had failed (or perhaps it might be more accurate to say, were powerless to prevent) the emergence of a one-party state prior to the War; if it hadn’t occurred, more likely than not, one-party rule might have survived until well into the 1960s, much as other Asian countries that went through a similar process of achieving independence peacefully brought forth single-party rule for decades (Malaysia and India are some relevant examples, their independence parties achieving half a century or more of political dominance).
(The famous 1946 Free Press cover of Roxas being in a hurry; Osmena would have preferred not to break up the NP, at one point considering not even running for presidency to preserve party unity; Roxas, said by some of those close to him to be haunted by the idea he might not live long enough to succeed to the presidency in 1949, couldn’t wait; the party split and the two-party system born)
It is even possible that had Roxas lived long enough to achieve re-election in 1949, as was widely expected to happen, he might have begun working to reunite the Liberals with the Nacionalistas; Magsaysay, certain of re-election in 1957, was also said to be planning to either found a new superparty, or preside over the reunification of the NP and LP (both parties were inclined to make him their common presidential candidate, as he was considered unbeatable). Death scuttled that possibility; but Ferdinand Marcos achieved a temporary restoration of one-party rule from 1978 onwards, and the superadministration parties since 1987 -LDP for Aquino, Lakas for Ramos and Arroyo- points to one-party instincts remaining strong within the political class.
(May, 1946: after taking his oath of office in front of the ruins of the Legislative Building, Roxas ascends the main stairs of the presidential palace in the ceremonial taking of possession of the presidential residence; he’s with his wife and his mother)
There’s an entertaining profile of the man circa 1946 by Sol Gwekoh, titled Roxas the Man. Politically, what’s interesting is how Filipino writers (mostly his critics) have conflated the immediate postwar period with the Cold War, when they represent two distinct stages and reflect widely different American attitudes towards the Philippines, in the context of American priorities. A Philippine president, then, having made certain strategic decisions and embarked on the tactics required to achieve them, would have been confronted with his assumptions suddenly being invalidated; and that is exactly what happened to Roxas. Not enough has been done, to my mind, to explore how he handled this change in the global scheme of things.
The first stage of American reactions to the end of the war coincides with the presidential campaign here at home in 1946 and on to 1947, the year of the Parity Amendment. The onset of the Cold War only began in the closing months of Roxas’ life, and it was in terms of positioning himself and the country, to reflect this changing reality, that he ended up in Clark Field to deliver a speech, after which he suffered a heart attack and died.
As it was, it would have been during Roxas’ second term beginning in 1949, that the Cold War would really be felt, with the invasion of South Korea by the North, and the United Nations effort that saw Philippine troops being sent to South Korea.
Roxas gained his reputation as an economist, so here’s an interesting paper by former national treasurer Liling Briones on how Roxas handled deficits in his time (a summary can be found here).
Life Magazine’s photo archive was recently made publicly available on Google; here is, perhaps, the most famous photo of the man, taken in the Reception Hall of the Palace (it was demolished and rebuilt, without the pillars, during the Marcos 1978 renovations):
There’s another photo which suggests how Roxas aged in office:
My first chapter draft actually begins with the arrival of Roxas’ body in Manila. Only in my draft eleventh chapter do I describe the last day of Roxas, how he died, and the highly macabre refusal of his wife to accept he’d died.
In the draft twelfth chapter, I look into the twist of fate that meant that Vice-President Elpidio Quirino, widely expected to be discarded as a running mate by Roxas when he ran for re-election in 1949, ended up as President.
In the photo below, Quirino, having arrived from an ocean voyage meant to help him recuperate from heart trouble, ascends the stairs of the Palace, flanked by Senate President Avelino (of subsequent “What are we in power for?” infamy) and Speaker Eugenio Perez (natural father of Speaker Jose de Venecia, Jr.).
Below, Quirino is shown signing his oath of office in the Council of State Room in the Executive Building (Carlos P. Garcia would later on also take his oath of office here, when Magsaysay died):
The wake of Roxas was only the second presidential wake and the first one held in the Palace that was open to the public: here’s a series of Life photos of the lying-in-state, which took place in the Ceremonial Hall of the Palace (the room was greatly enlarged during the Marcos renovations of 1978 and the chandelier is now in Bonifacio Hall, more familiarly known as the Guest House):
(Roxas’ son, Gerardo; Aurora Quezon; Roxas’ daughter, Ruby, at the wake)
The necrological service was held in the Philippine Congress, at the time still squatting in a former schoolhouse in Lepanto St., Manila:
And then, the state funeral.
Here is a Life photo of Aguinaldo together with veterans of the Revolution, awaiting the passing of the funeral procession. What follows are more Life photos, this time, in color, of the funeral procession and the internment:
Roxas’ tomb was remodeled in the 1990s.