Glory through progressive laws
by Manuel L. Quezon, III
Speech delivered at the Senate Session Hall on the occassion of the 87th anniversary of the Philippine Assembly and the 78th anniversary of the Philippine Senate, October 16, 1994
Mr. President, Honorable Senators, Mr. Mayor, Distinguished members of the Manila Historical Committee and the National Historical Institute, Honored Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
My Aunt, Mrs. AvanceÃ±a, was the one originally invited to share her recollections of, as the letter of invitation put it, “your reminiscences of the Senate and is significant role in the lives of the Filipino people”; however she is out of the country. My father, Manuel Jr. would have been the next logical choice to share recollections of the years during which my grandfather was Senate President, but his disability precludes his presence in today’s ceremony. I myself was born twenty-six years after Manuel L. Quezon’s death (the fiftieth anniversary of which was observed just a few months ago). I would therefore, with your indulgence, like to talk about the significance of the Senate Manuel L. Quezon presided over on the lives of the Filipino people, from the perspective of a member of today’s youth.
Going over the reminiscences of other people, and reading through some works of history, I am constantly surprised to find that many issues and controversies that took place then are still, or have recently become, burning issues of our day. I think I can actually find an issue that was tackled by Manuel L. Quezon and his colleagues that has a counterpart for today’s Senators.
The late Ambassador Proceso Sebastian once recounted an anecdote concerning the general election of 1928. He wrote,
“Although I belonged to the Democrata Party, the opposition, I invited the provincial and municipal officials, prominent persons, and political leaders of the province to come to Tuguegarao to meet the Quezon-Roxas party…
During the public meeting at the town plaza of Tuguegarao, after informing our distinguished visitors of the needs of the province and our request for help as stated by the previous local speakers, President Quezon got up and among other things said,
“I am a great admirer of Governor Sebastian. He went with me to the U.S. as a member of the first parliamentary mission. I must confess that I have learned to like and admire him. As you probably have read in the papers, when Governor Wood gave a luncheon at Malacanang in honor of the provincial governors, I asked Governor Sebastian to speak fro the governors.
“Governor Sebastian is not only a very competent and very able man, but” he continued, ” he has a VERY BIG DEFECT.”
President Quezon paused to observe the effect of his words. The public was astounded. An ominous silence followed. President Quezon… then released a bombshell saying:
“Governor Sebastian has a big defect, because he is a Democrata. He should be a Nacionalista. If he were a Nacionalista, he would get more funds for you and more improvements would come to your province. I have tried to convince him to join our party but he invariably answered that having been elected as a Democrata he should remain Democrata. Let us admire him for his manly stand and for his loyalty to his party. Very few people have this courage.
“However I wish to tell you that although he is a Democrata, if I were a voter of Cagayan, I would gladly vote for Governor Sebastian.”
…. The above incident… clinched my reelection as provincial governor to the chagrin of my vulnerable opponent, former governor.. Lasam… Some Nacionalista leaders told the President that former Governor Lasam was disgusted, to which Quezon retorted: “I have already sounded and talked to all leaders, who openly admitted that the people of Cagayan would like to see Governor Sebastian reelected, because he has done very well. We should not thwart the people’s will.”
Sebastian’s story brings to mind the current brouhaha about the equity of the incumbent, which is such a thorn in today’s Senate President’s side.
On December 10, 1926, just as the Legislative Committee headed by Segio OsmeÃ±a left the United States, a Representative Bacon introduced a bill that would have separated Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan, from the jurisdiction of the Philippines. Historian Bernardita Reyes-Churchill says that this was to allow American rubber plantations to be set up without having to worry about limitations in Philippine laws on foreigners owning land. Churchill writes that, “The Filipinos did not oppose the cultivation of rubber, but they insisted that foreign capital operate within existing Philippine laws. They, in fact, expressed their willingness to aid the American rubber consumer by growing rubber on small plantations under Filipino ownership. But American rubber interests… rejected the possibility of operating small holdings within the conditions defined by existing Philippine land and labor laws.”
This, and other tariff-connected issues, upon examination will probably give Senators like Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo a strange feeling of deja-vu. The big controversy involving the Philippine National Bank, in which Quezon and Osmena were bitterly attacked by the Democratas in the early 1920’s, probably gives Senator Roco the satisfaction of knowing that past legislators have had to deal with controversies involving our banking system. Efforts to retain Mindanao as an integral part of the country while taking into account the needs and aspirations of Muslims are represented today by Senator Rasul. The nationalist desire to make national development primarily benefit Filipinos is today kept alive by Senator Tanada.
A famous encounter between Manuel L. Quezon and Sergio OsmeÃ±a will doubtlessly please Senator Maceda:
Teodoro Kalaw in his autobiography wrote,
“Time and again [Quezon] tells his technicians, “the trouble with you bookworms is that you neglect your conclusions in your diligence for figures.”
In contrast, Osmena has the scholar’s love for completeness… He deals with both sides of an issue before making a decision.
“I also come to the same decisions,” Quezon tells him, “only it takes me less time.”
“But I never make your mistakes,” Osmena answers.
“When I do make mistakes, ” Quezon counters, “I use the time you waste making studies in rectifying them.”
Osmena shrugs his shoulders. Quezon, like a housewife, must always have the last word.
I think Senator Maceda’s rejoinder to this would be that today he notices a lamentable inability both to plan things and get them done… Or even correct any mistakes that occur.
Senator Tolentino, who was, once upon a time, a young oppositionist against Quezon during the Commonwealth, must certainly remember the Collectevista-Unipersonalista struggle that occurred in the Senate. In this struggle some view that Quezon advocated a Republican system, against a Parliamentary system favored by Osmena. That issue, and the Cabinet Crisis of 1923, over a legalistic or broader interpretation of the Jones law, considered our Organic Act, must be dear to the heart of such a veteran constitutionalist. The Unipersonalista stand of Don Sergio Osmena, representing his sincere, thought-out views on government, are echoed today in Senator Osmena’s advocacy of a Federal system for our country.
Senator Biazon’s efforts on behalf of our armed forces were echoed in earlier attempts by the legislature, during and after the First World War, to establish a National Militia, which would have been a precursor of the Philippine Army.
I could go on and on, and I probably could dig up accounts somewhere of incidents that involved Quezon and his Senatorial colleagues which have counterparts in current events. But I have cited just a few of them to show how the Senators of his generation have something in common with today’s Senators. And how Senators today are striving to formulate laws that will adequately address issues that will probably come up again and again, generation after generation.
Since we see that may of yesterday’s controversies seem to be upon us again, we must bear in mind that the solutions and policies adopted by Quezon’s generation of leaders may no longer apply to us today. But then, as now, the Senate has always been at the vanguard of impassioned yet intelligent discussion about what course our ship of state must take. This is a privileged role that on the whole the Senate has played with distinction. Let it continue that way. Let me end by quoting the words of a foreigner, a Frenchman. Napoleon III, in his Life of Julius Ceasar, wrote,
“The Roman Kings vanished because their mission was accomplished. There appears to be some supreme law establishing a useful period of life for institutions as well as human beings. Until this period is over, nothing can resist them; plots and revolts all fail against the invulnerable power they seek to demolish. But when an institution, apparently invulnerable, ceases to assist human progress, then neither traditions, nor courage, nor the memories of a glorious history can postpone for a single day the debacle decreed by fate.”
The Senate of 1916-1935 I think did assist our progress. Senators like Manuel L. Quezon, over the years have displayed courage and leadership, establishing a tradition of critical and intelligent deliberation on national affairs. Its history for the most part can be considered glorious. The need then, is to reflect on this glorious history and ensure that it continues through the formulation of progressive laws.