The Explainer: Eva Estrada Kalaw – A political journey

Nothing grows under the shade of the Banyan tree, the saying goes. Ferdinand Marcos ruled so long, that a national amnesia set in. Today, the Filipino who can remember life before Marcos is a rarity. Rarer still are those who can recall life before Marcos, and who have bothered to share those recollections with generations to come.

Tonight, you will meet a lady who was not only a senator, political prisoner, and maverick, but who has also written down her memories. Tonight, Eva Estrada Kalaw, grande dame of the Nacionalista Party, explains her life and times. I’m Manolo Quezon.


I. Eva up close


Eva Estrada Kalaw belongs to that generation of Filipinas who fulfilled Rizal’s dream of obtaining an education and participating fully in our national life.

A graduate of the prewar University of the Philippines, she belongs, too, to the generation that found its young adulthood engulfed by the horrors of the Second World War.

And yet it was during the years of the Japanese Occupation that Eva Estrada became Eva Estrada Kalaw, marrying Teodoro Kalaw Jr., a veteran of the Death March, on June 11, 1944.

For nine years she lived the life of a housewife, until the election of 1953, when she plunged into politics.

The main contenders that year were incumbent Elpidio Quirino, and his former Secretary of National Defense, Ramon Magsaysay. But Eva Estrada Kalaw entered politics by campaigning for Claro M. Recto, setting the stage for her own political odyssey –like Don Claro, she, too, would come to be known as stubborn and Quixotic. It was Recto who advised her to serve her country, if the opportunity arose –but, as she recounts in her book, he also offered her some pragmatic advice: “but first,” he said,” just make sure you have your own poll inspectors.”

During the Garcia presidency with its Filipino First Policy, Kalaw headed the Nepa, National Economic Protectionism Association, and helped organize a grassroots women’s movement, the Samahang Pilipina.

Macapagal defeated Garcia in 1961, and throughout the Macapagal years, Kalaw, being a Nacionalista, was in opposition to the ruling Liberals. President

In 1965, Diosdado Macapagal broke his promise to the Liberal Senate, and as a result, a frustrated Marcos, as Roxas had done to Osmena, and as Magsaysay had done to Quirino, left the party he’d belonged to and joined the other side.

But even though a promising bet, Marcos wasn’t the only bet; and in a fascinating portion of her book, Kalaw recounts how Marcos clinched the Nacionalista Party nomination, where his main opponent was former Vice-President Emmanuel Pelaez.

According to Kalaw, the NP party convention took place in the Manila Hotel, and beneath Pelaez’s suite, Marcos hired a room and filled it with bugging equipment.

Not only did Marcos know Pelaez’s every move, but Pelaez made it worse for himself by refusing to bribe the Nacionalista Party delegates.

Then when the party voting began, Marcos’ supporters grabbed all four microphones on the floor, so no one could speak up in support of the other candidates.

The Nacionalista Party came up with the slogan, “Alis Dyan!” and senatorial candidate Kalaw barnstormed the country and was part of the NP landslide in 1965. But relations between Marcos and Senator Eva Estrada Kalaw were, at best, uneasy.

In the Senate, she viewed herself as a senator for all Filipinos, and not just a token representative of womankind. She also found herself caught in the intrigues that inevitably occupy the time of senators as they plot who to make senate president and engage in counterplots to replace him.

Her book describes, as well, the way senators cross partisan lines in deliberating on national issues. Armed with a national constituency, it was difficult to think purely in terms of one’s party affiliation. Not least, when one’s party chief had it in for you, politically.

As the country prepared for the crucial midterm elections of 1971, Ninoy Aquino, a Liberal, approached Nacionalista Eva Estrada Kalaw, who’d heard Marcos intended to drop her from the party’s senatorial slate. Aquino helped convince Kalaw to become a Liberal.

And so after two decades as a Nacionalista, in 1971 began the next decade and a half of Kalaw’s incarnation as a Liberal.

It was a near-fatal decision, for Eva Estrada Kalaw was one of those on stage at Plaza Miranda when it was bombed. She wasn’t the most wounded; but she was among the victorious in an opposition senate sweep the country hadn’t seen since Quirino’s ruling party had routed at the polls in the 1951 senatorial elections.

And it was Kalaw who faced up to party elders like Diosdado Macapagal, who wanted to simply shut up and sit it out, when martial law was imposed by Marcos in September, 1972.

Indeed, with many of its leaders like Aquino and Salonga in exile abroad, when the man you see here, Senator Gerardo Roxas died in 1982, it seemed to Kalaw that as the senior Liberal still at home, the mantle of the party leadership had now fallen on her.

But wily old Marcos had a trick up his sleeve, and it was the snap election. The fragmented opposition rushed to form a coalition, and Kalaw, though instrumental in getting the remnants of the old NP and LP to unite and form UNIDO, found herself shoved aside.

This meant that the Aquino-Laurel and Marcos-Tolentino tandems had a third candidate for vice-president slugging it out, Eva Estrada Kalaw. And so, even as the country celebrated Edsa, Kalaw found herself, ironically, once more in the opposition.

In the end, her disillusionment with Edsa would reconcile her with Doy Laurel, and lead the two to try and revive the Nacionalista Party, whose standard bearers they became in 1992.

When we return, Eva Estrada Kalaw, her memories, and her opinions.




When Cory Aquino took her oath of office, then Member of Parliament Eva Estrada Kalaw had misgivings about the way things had turned out. She became an oppositionist, a maverick, rounding up her period of public service as our de facto ambassador to Taiwan under presidents Ramos and Estrada.

Today, as the party chief of her beloved Nacionalista Party prepares to run for the presidency, it seems to me interesting to view not only his run, but the institution he now heads, and to which Kalaw belonged, from Eva Estrada Kalaw’s point of view.

The Nacionalista Manuel who now heads the Senate knows as well as the first Nacionalista Manuel who headed that chamber, that a senate president always faces the risk of a mutiny from his own coalition. Kalaw herself, in the intramurals between Arturo Tolentino and Gil Puyat, knows how this works.

So let’s begin by asking her views on today’s senate.


My View


Testimony: in a country condemned, like a child, to live in an eternal present, we need people who take the time to hand down their memories to posterity.

Eva Estrad Kalaw joins her father in law, the great Teodoro M. Kalaw, and other politicians like Jose Romero and Arturo Tolentino, in writing a political memoir both candid and filled with insight.


Manuel L. Quezon III.

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