Free Press: United Behind Quezon

United Behind Quezon

July 15, 1939–“AYE!” With a tired roar that echoed hollowly in the dark bowl of the Rizal basketball stadium in Manila, one night last week, the Nationalist party convention approved the proposal to amend the Constitution, so as to allow the reelection of the President.

“Nay!” A half-hearted and scattered cry in opposition went up, after hours of resounding but futile debate.

An undisputed majority sent up an “Aye!” again, the following morning, approving another amendment, to revive the old senate.
The “Nay!” was even weaker.

For three days and nights last week, the party which rules the country met in the stifling shadow of a gathering typhoon to deliver itself of a series of historical mandates to its members in Malacañan, in the Assembly, in the cabinet, in every important office of the government. The mandates, expressed in resolutions, were to:

1. Change the Presidential term from one six-year period, to two four-year periods;
2. Revive the old bicameral legislature;
3. Create an administrative body to take charge of all elections;
4. Revise local governments to make them more, responsible and efficient (presumably, along the lines of the Quezon plan for appointive mayors and governors);
5. Readjust the three-year terms of assemblymen, provincial and municipal officials, so as to make them fit the new four-year presidential term;
6. Reaffirm loyalty to the coalition platform, including independence in 1946;
7. Request President Quezon to call a special session of the Assembly;
8. Ratify Presidential and Assembly action on the JPCPA report;
9. Congratulate President Quezon for his social justice program, and to request him to remain in office (that is, take advantage of the reelection amendment);
10. Congratulate Party President Yulo for his handling of the convention;
11. Increase the representation of governors in the Nationalist executive commission, from five to 12, thus putting them on a par with the Assemblymen.

The Sheep and the Goats

The convention was opened formally by Speaker Jose Yulo, in the afternoon of July 6. The morning had been devoted to the dry, and unexpectedly confused, routine of approving the credentials of the delegates. Every assembly district had been allowed three delegates, outside of the assemblymen themselves, and the provincial governors.

However, in many cases, the assemblyman and the governor concerned had not been able to agree on the delegates to be chosen, and had each appointed a separate set of three. This mix-up was unsolvable at the last minute, and the party heads decided to recognize everyone. Speaker Yulo, as president of the party, was reported to have signed the credentials of about 900, instead of the original 500, delegates.

But this large-scale hospitality had its limits. Efforts were made to exclude delegates known to be hostile to the amendment proposals. Paulino Gullas, a member of the 1934 constitutional convention, a delegate from Cebu by appointment of Assemblyman Hilario Abellana, faced ejection by party officials at the last moment. But the ouster had started too late; Gullas’ credentials had already been signed together with the others.

It was needless however to separate the sheep from the goats. The overwhelming majority of the delegates were under implicit specific instructions to vote in favor of the amendments. Several assemblymen opposed to the movement, among them Abellana, had not even bothered to attend the convention. The La Union assemblymen, reported to be antis at first, heatedly denied any convictions along that line.

Even Mrs. Cristina Aguinaldo-Suntay, the daughter of that stolid revolutionist and oppositionist, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, and herself a Popular Front candidate once upon a time, loudly proclaimed in advance her intention to vote for the amendments. Mrs. Suntay is a member of the Cavite provincial board; she campaigned for Manuel Rojas, the rebel Nationalist candidate for the Assembly, last year, and has apparently joined the now controlling Rojas branch of Cavite Nationalists.

The only opposition was expected from Lanao Assemblyman Tomas Cabili and his three delegates. Cabili, the only member of the constitutional convention who refused to sign the Constitution, apparently was now, by an ironic turn of fate, its sole defender.

So that when Speaker Yulo rose to address the convention at the end of the first day, he faced an audience that was in almost complete agreement with everything he was going to say, and he faced, beyond the audience, a nation which had almost always been in complete agreement with everything his party had said.

“The leaders of our party,” he read from a prepared script, “conscious of our duty and responsibility to the nation, have seen fit that at this juncture we should pause and evaluate the progress of our preparation for the day [July 4, 1946], and for the days that are to come thereafter, and decide whether under the surrounding circumstances, the political order that we have established can lend assurance to the accomplishment of the ideals so patiently and reverently waited for by our people.”

Such an evaluation, he continued, has “led our leaders to feel the necessity of the continuance of the present order, particularly as regards the leadership of the man who has laid the foundations of the Commonwealth government, and put into practice the new social justice policies enunciated in our Constitution. Unfortunately for us,” said the Speaker pointedly, “we are confronted by the provisions of our Constitution, which would not permit such an eventuality.”

“Conservative Reforms”

What was the Constitution doing? It “unnecessarily curtailed the right of the people to a free selection of the chief magistrate of the nation,” for it prohibited reelection of the President. It was “depriving the people of the right to change the chief magistrate for a long period of time namely six years, a period of time which, in the hands of an unscrupulous president, may lead the nation to decadence or destruction.”

The remedy? It was “the free and untrammeled exercise of the right of suffrage!”

Only one paragraph did the Speaker of the Assembly devote to the bicameral proposal, which would shear his house of half of its power. “And no less important,” he said, “is the necessity of guarding the nation against the possible onslaught of radical theories, now the preoccupation of many nations—and this can be met by effecting conservative reforms in our legislative body.”

The thunder of agreement that signaled the end of the party president’s exhortation forecast the quick approval of the “reforms.”

Next day however there was unexpected opposition. Cabili had announced he would not speak against the Constitutional amendments. But a foe, far more dangerous and eloquent than the Lanao assemblyman, one who had attacked presidential reelection long and loudly on the floor of the Assembly, had taken his place.

Leading the three delegates from his district, the fiery Batangas gamecock, Eusebio Orense, crowed a challenge. For two days, he and his three men, would strike many a sharp blow against the party leaders. And with him worked Gullas, annoyed by the attempt to oust him.

One of the Batangueños, former Rep. Rafael Villanueva, started the fireworks by challenging the legality of the convention. The delegates had not been appointed, he argued, as provided by the party rules—by municipal and provincial conventions. The objection was swiftly and irrevocably tabled.

Assemblyman Pedro Hernaez, smarting under a recent party snub, questioned the presence of Popular Fronters (Mrs. Suntay) in a Nationalist convention. Again the objection was buried.

The delegates scrambled over one another to file resolutions supporting the Constitutional amendments. A resolutions committee of 36 members, under Secretary of Justice Jose Abad Santos, had to be named to coordinate all these enthusiastic efforts.

“As A Free Man”

The committee reported out an omnibus resolution for the amendment of the Constitution with regard to reelection and the senate; the revision of local governments “with a view to making them more responsive to the actual needs of the people, thus rendering such governments more responsible and efficient”; and ratification of the coalition platform.

The party rebels made a brave show of speeches against the resolution, when it was submitted part by part to the convention, but they were crushed by a well-organized majority. Orense spoke in vain.

Villanueva denounced the reelection proposal as undemocratic and expensive; he sneered that the Assembly had started the movement in payment of President Quezon’s efforts for their reelection last year. So incensed were the legislators by this accusation that they persuaded the convention to strike Villanueva’s remark from the record.

Gullas gave the key speech for the rebels. “This is a free country. I shall speak and vote as a free man,” he began to a flutter of applause. “This resolution permitting the reelection of the President with a shorter term, with retroactive effect, is couched in general terms. The purpose is clear.

“This resolution is indeed a tribute to the leadership of President Quezon. I have voted for that leadership. I am following that leadership. But I shall vote against this resolution; for, in principle, I voted against it on the floor of the constitutional convention; because the constitutional precept prohibiting a presidential reelection was inspired by President Quezon, and the Constitution containing such prohibition was unanimously approved by that convention and overwhelmingly ratified by the Filipino people. I am voting against the resolution because I wish to be consistent with myself….”

FREE PRESS Poll Quoted

“Only a few days ago,” argued Gullas, “a straw vote conducted by the FREE PRESS, a non-partisan and widely read weekly in the Philippines was concluded. The result was against reelection. Of course, it is not an absolute indication of how the public will vote. But it clearly shows which way the wind blows. It is a barometer of the sentiment of the people. Like a finger on the pulse, it counted, as it were, the heartbeats of the nation.

“If that is not sufficient, two months ago, a debating team from the University of the Philippines toured the country from north to south, from east to west. The members of that team will tell you that in practically every town, the home team selected to defend the negative side of the question of presidential reelection. They will tell you that the public reaction in practically every city they visited was decidedly against the reelection of the President.

“What does it all mean? It means that the public wants you to give the Constitution a fair trial. They want the Constitution to reflect the stability, not the instability of our government; they want the Constitution to be permanent, and not transitory; enduring, and not reflecting the passing whims of the leader or party that may happen to be in power.”

The best heads and tongues of the party rallied to the defense of the amendment; sponsored on the floor by Assemblyman Jose Zulueta.

Assemblyman Pedro Sabido eloquently answered the argument that a second term might mean President Quezon’s death, by saying that the life of the nation was more valuable than the life of the President. Assemblyman Gulamu Rasul pledged the Moro people for reelection. But it took golden-tongued Manuel Roxas, drafted at the last minute, to swing the convention behind the proposal with cheering unanimity.

The vote on the proposal was by acclamation. Four delegates, however, were allowed to register dissenting votes afterward; all of them, Orense, Villanueva, Eusebio Lopez and Felipe Dimaculañgan, were from Batangas.

The rebels later denied that Yulo had invited all who had said “Nay” to put their opposition on record. Many who had raised a voice against reelection preferred to remain more or less unknown.

The party went quickly after the four marked men. Convention officials discovered that Dimaculañgan was not a bona fide delegate. Mayor Juan Buenafe of Batangas, Batangas, wired the convention: “The municipal council and the people of this town protest against the appointment of anti-reelectionist delegates. . . . We are unconditionally for reelection.”

Elections in 1939?

The reelection plan however seemed to have suffered a change. The old proposal was to hold the second election in 1941, when Mr. Quezon’s six-year term will be finished. He would then serve for two years of the new four-year term and then resign. However the plan now is apparently to hold the election this year, at the end of Mr. Quezon’s first four years, thus reelecting him for the full new four-year term.

The next morning, the convention took up the remaining resolutions, most important of which was the one on senate revival. Again Villanueva rose to object, supported by Iloilo’s Serapion C. Torre. The success of the unicameral Assembly, they argued was undeniable; why change the system?

But the only successful amendment to the amendment was one leaving the nature of the resurrected senate undecided; the President and the resolutions committee had advocated a senate-at-large. Other factions however wanted one senator for every province, or the revival of the old senatorial districts.

So headlong was the rush toward approval of the resolutions that Zulueta felt obliged to point out that the convention had no authority to change the Constitution; it could only suggest such changes to the Assembly or a constitution convention.

The Yes-men were in the immense majority, and when President Quezon arrived to close the convention, Saturday evening, he was greeted with a spontaneous roar. Moved by the demonstration, His Excellency repeated what he had told the Assembly in May: he was unwilling to serve more than eight years in all; he wanted to follow the precedent of George Washington.

He argued more at length on the need of a senate-at-large; it is believed, in fact, that one strong reason why Mr. Quezon is willing to go along on the reelection proposal is to secure the companion constitutional amendment for a senate.

But the strongest reason he gave at the end of his speech. “The only thing that I am afraid of,” he confessed, “is that after I leave the presidency the country may be divided, not along political lines, but on the choice of my successor. The country is not prepared for a great division among our people.”

There was indeed little fear of division as long as Manuel Quezon was President; the united tribute of the convention proved it once more. And if the Constitution is amended, the country need have no fear until 1943.

Philippines Free Press
Author: Philippines Free Press

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