Politics, Means to an End
Philippines Free Press editorial, August 29, 1953
AS a tribute to the late President Manuel L. Quezon, his birthday was declared a national holiday. The nation rejoiced that he was born, which is tribute, indeed. A big parade was held in the city named after him, complete with military units and allegorical floats. There was a man; when comes such another?
It was splendid and glittering and expensive, the celebration of his birthday; it would have pleased him. Yet, the greatest tribute to the man cost exactly nothing. A man stood up and, for the first time, told, in measured language, the truth about Quezon. It cost the speaker, Sen. Claro M. Recto, nothing to make the speech except intelligence, which practice does not exhaust, literary skill, which is sharpened by use, knowledge of politics, which may be shared without losing, and good judgment, which is increased by exercise. Recto knew Quezon, admired him, but had no illusions about him. Last week, he told the truth about him, and what Recto said is a better monument to the man than the architectural affair the government is contemplating. When a man dies, what he has done is soon forgotten; his deeds are writ on water. He who would live a little longer after death, in the minds of men, is fortunate if he finds a biographer who can catch his spirit on the wing. Recto gave us the essence of Quezon as a public man.
Quezon was a man of spirit, charming, changeable, but not really, as many think he was, unpredictable. What was good for Quezon was good for his country: that, in brief, was his political philosophy, and often it proved to be the case. Political philosophy, in the more abstract sense of the term, he had none, as Recto pointed out. He had no politics; he was merely a consummate politician.
He gave color and drama to a political scene that would otherwise have been drab and dull. He made the Philippines a stage and politics a play in which he took many roles but always, somehow, triumphed in the end. He was anti-American when the Americans would not let him have his way, and pro when they did. He was for collective leadership when it suited his purpose, established a one-man rule when he was on top. He could plead for justice for a political foe, at the same time he was capable of asking another to let him stay in an office he should vacate and to which the other was entitled, by law. Osmeña was the more admirable man, the more magnanimous; he suffered, politically, at Quezon’s hand, but when Quezon was very sick and his term as president was about to be over, Osmeña let him stay on. The country respected Osmeña, who seemed political virtue personified, but loved Quezon, who had all the faults and virtues of the people –magnified.
The people loved him. He gave them a wonderful show. It was an exhilarating experience to watch him perform. No one was more magnetic and lovable. And, after all, he did get the country its independence, although others had secured a similar grant, but if the country must be independent, it must be under his own terms. It was a true love affair between Quezon and the Philippines; they both loved each other and it is even possible that Quezon loved his country a little more than he loved himself. The country wanted him, of that there can be no doubt. The country had him.
So accomplished a politician, however, was he that he did not feel the need of political principles. With him, politics became not the means but the end. It was an exciting game at which he was expert. But politics is the art of government and government is not a game. It is, especially in times such as ours, in a revolutionary age, a matter of life and death. The need to establish a regime above personalities, a government of law instead of men, cannot be exaggerated. In a rule of law alone lies social stability. Those who are for chaos may welcome a personal regime; those who are for order know the need for an impersonal government.
Today, politics as a game is being played with the same fine recklessness that Quezon played it, but viciously. His heirs have his faults without his virtues; he went far but they would go too far. His private conscience drew the line beyond which it would be dishonorable for a public official to go, a line which only an impersonal law should draw. He did not overstep the line, for he had a conscience. His heirs have none and the law may be too weak to draw it for them.
The country has had its entertainment; now the country must pay for it. It was a fine show, while it lasted. This is not to blame Quezon; he was the political leader the country wanted. He did his best to give the people what they wanted. Had the people demanded more, Quezon would doubtless have given it to them; he was too good a politician not to give the people what they wanted. But as water cannot rise above its own level, the politician cannot rise above the people’s. The people wanted him, got him. Now they have what they have.