Quezon, His Secret
by Jesus M. Intengan
The Philippines Herald, January 21, 1937–I WATCHED President Quezon very carefully when he addressed the R.O.T.C. units last Monday afternoon intent on discovering the secret of his hold on the masses. How does he do it, I asked myself.
And I decided to watch him as he spoke.
President Quezon has a striking figure. He is a handsome man. This is an important element. But he is not only handsome. He breathes masculinity. He does not appear as he stands up to face his audience as a sissified, dandified personality, despite his meticulous care in dressing up. When he rises and surveys his public, the first impression one gets is that he is a he-man.
Why? It is not because of his pose, chest out and neck somewhat stretched, nor of his self-confidence and perfect poise. It is his clean-cut features, his mobile face which, seen from a distance, is as marblelesque as a bust fresh from the hands of a sculptor. “Mobile” and “marblelesque” seem contradictory and yet that is the only way his face can be described, the mobility referring to its sensitiveness to express emotion, and the carefully and distinctly outlined features adjectivized as of marble.
He speaks. His voice has some of the squeaky character that grates on the ears. There is nothing of the tenor falsetto that is effeminate. It is not a round rotund basso that detracts your attention from his speech because of its quality. It is a manly voice, neither soft nor stentorian, a voice which can be heard without calling attention to itself, and the hearer gets the words and the thought without the voice in anyway obtruding itself, into your attention.
President Quezon is not an orator in the strict sense of the word. He does not arouse emotion. He shuns the flowery language. He despises the ornate style. There is nothing literary in his speeches. He does not resort to the usual oratorical tricks of verbal “drums and cymbals” to sway his audience. But he is a debater par excellence. We don’t know of any Filipino who can effectively cross swords with him in a debate.
This is the reason why President Quezon is at his best when provoked. When he is attacked or is attacking, he is unbeatable. His set speeches lack the fire of the Quezon fighting spirit. He is a master logician. No matter how involved or complex a proposition may be, his trained logician’s mind can immediately boil it down to its fundamental premises.
And he has a surplus of common sense. He has no use for theories and theorists. His is a practical mind that refuses to be obscured by academic disquisitions and theoretical discussions. Endowed with a brilliant mind, he can read through volumes and assimilate only that which is pertinent to the subject that he is at the time studying. When Governor Stimson brought up the subject of the amendment to the corporation law, Mr. Quezon sought advice from all sources and the then practising attorney Jose Yulo, Judge Ross and others brought to his house in Pasay innumerable treatises on corporation law. He read some of them and two days afterwards he astounded the lawyers by discussing the law with them as if he had been a corporation lawyer all his life.
When he spoke last Monday to the R.O.T.C. units, he was at his best, not because he was “mad” as some put it when he is in his fighting mood, but because he was in effect arguing the case for the National Defense Plan against the pacifists and defeatists. He was debating, ripping through arguments, fallacies and sophisms, and when he debates, you can see his rectilinear logic going straight through the speech
like a white flame of acetylene fire.
And that is the secret of his hold on the masses. He knows when to attack and whom to attack, and when he attacks, it is no miss-and-hit proposition but always the bull’s eye. His language is so simple, his logic so unerring, his delivery so forceful that his audience is in the hollow of his hand. Besides, no living Filipino knows the psychology of his people, their strength and their weaknesses, especially their weaknesses, better than President Quezon, and when he speaks no one can use such knowledge to a better advantage than he can.
During the acrid controversy over the HHC law, a mammoth student gathering was held at the Metropolitan Theater. His opponents saw to it that the first rows of the theater were occupied by their men, ready to hoot and hiss him at the slightest provocation. When President Quezon entered the theater and ascended the platform, his knowledge of human nature as well as his experience in political meetings made him feel that there was antagonism against him.
One of the speakers was a young lady. The crowd, led by those planted in the front rows, began to heckle the embarrassed young lady, and then boos and catcalls followed. President Quezon saw his opportunity, grabbed the mallet from the presiding officer, banged for order, looked at those in the front rows with his eagle eyes, and said in a stentorian voice:
“Gentlemen: One of the foremost virtues of the Filipino race is that the Filipino knows how to respect the Filipino woman. I call on all of you to assert that Filipino virtue here today and show this young lady the respect that is her due.”
He did not sit down. He remained standing, his eyes flashing fire, fixed at the public. Silence fell on the noisy crowd like a huge pall. No one moved. The President had asserted his moral influence and superiority over the students. From then on he was master of the situation, and when his turn came to speak, he was given a wild ovation.
There is only one Quezon in the Philippines today. It will take time before we get another one.