The Explainer: Vice-President’s Night

The only things Vice-Presidents traditionally seem to have to do, is to wait for Presidents to die. Sergio Osmena, our first vice-president, had to live with a dilemma faced by all our vice-presidents since. Do you loyally support the president, or plot to replace him? Do you hope he dies, or hope he lives so long you never get the top job?

As the nation recalls, today, the birth anniversary of  Salvador H. Laurel, the first vice-president of the post-Edsa era, and as all eyes are focused on our present vice-president and his plans, if any, for 2010, I thought it would be timely to have vice-president’s night, tonight.

I’m Manolo Quezon. The Explainer.


I. The spare tire


Justice Robert Jackson, seen here congratulating President Osmena after he administered the oath of office in 1944, more famously went on to become one of the lead prosecutors in the Nuremberg Warcrimes Trials.

With Osmena begins, in truth, the often frustrating history of the vice-presidency.

If you go to the Vice-President’s website, which you can see here, it all seems so smooth.

There’s a gallery of vice-presidents, one after the other. All so nice, smooth, and of little practical interest because most of them are dead.

Yet there’s a problem presented by this gallery. And it’s that it’s misleading.


We like to think of our history as a straight line. One regime followed by the next, in a smooth and unbroken succession of governments and constitutions.

To be sure, most of the time, it’s a continuous line. Our present government, officially, our Fifth Republic established in 1987, claims to be the direct descendant in a continuous line from the Republic that gained independence in 1946, officially, our third. And that Republic, in turn, viewed itself as the direct linear descendant of the Commonwealth established in 1935.

What no one could fix was any real link, prior to that, to the Republic established in 1898-99, officially, our first.

This chart from Wikipedia puts it better, I think. A series of lines and some of the time, as was the case during World War II, with regimes operating on parallel lines: our de jure, or legal, government in exile abroad, our de facto Japanese-occupation government operating at home.

But tonight’s not about presidents, mainly, it’s about vice-presidents.


So let’s look at another chart from Wikipedia, on the Vice-Presidents.

The Wikipedia chart and entry take their cue from the Office of the Vice-President of the Philippines website,  and that lists Mariano Trias, as the first vice-president. That’s because he was named vice-president in the controversial elections held at Tejeros, where the decision was made to establish a formal government rather than continue the revolution under the authority of the Katipunan.

The problem is that we do not recognize, officially, anyway, Tejeros as an official republic, but more like something approaching an embryo government which lasted only until the Pact of Biak-na-Bato.

Consider that our independence, officially speaking, dates to only June 12, 1898 and not, say, the proclamation of a revolution by Andres Bonifacio in 1896. June 12 marks our nation’s official birthday and that of our flag and anthem. Our first Republic dates to January 23, 1899, when what we call our first constitution was approved in Malolos and our first President, Emilio Aguinaldo, was transformed from an egregious dictator as our independent proclamation put it, to a constitutionally-appointed President.

What was Mariano Trias, then, under the first Republic? He was a member of the cabinet-

Secretary of Finance from January to May, 1899 under the Prime Ministership of Apolinario Mabini,

And Secretary of War from May to November, 1899 under the Prime Ministership of Pedro Paterno.

So here’s the problem. You have an office older than the independence of our country and its first recognized government? Try explaining that.

So let me suggest that the indubitable patriotism of Mariano Trias aside, it’s fraudulent to consider him our first vice-president.

The first vice-president of our country was the first vice-president popularly elected in a nationwide election, and that was Sergio Osmena: journalist, former Speaker, former Senate President Pro Tempore.

The late Jose E. Romero –that’s the gentleman you see here in the corner, photographed with President Osmena in what’s now the Quirino Room of Malacanang-  wrote in his memoirs that during the 1935 Constitutional Convention, the Cuencos and other political rivals of Osmena in Cebu, didn’t want a vice-presidency at all.

But it seems that despite the rivalry between the two leaders dating back to 1922 and which was particularly ferocious in 1933, both Quezon and Osmena had patched up their differences and word was informally sent out that neither leader would run for national office without the other.

So the vice-presidency was established, but it was an office different from say, the vice-presidency in the United States. The Vice-President does not preside over the Senate, and while the vice-president can be given a portfolio in the cabinet, his holding a cabinet job is optional.

And he is separately elected from the President.

This means that since the 1935 Constitution, the Vice-President’s only real role is to sit around just in case the President of the Philippines dies or is incapacitated, but also, since he campaigns for the job and is elected separately, presidents have to keep paranoid watch over how vice-presidents do, electorally.

This means that the focus of the vice-presidency has been overwhelmingly political. At its heart, as the office evolved, was to strengthen the slates put forward by party tickets. From 1935 until 1986, Filipino politicians were always careful to consider geographic balance in putting forward their candidates for the presidency and the senate.

Balance North with the South, was the rule.

Quezon the Tagalog ran with Osmena the Cebuano;

Roxas the Capiceno had Quirino the Ilocano as his veep;

Quirino the Ilocano ran with Lopez the Ilonggo;

Magsaysay the Ilocano ran with Garcia the Boholano.

The North-South rule would last until 1986, when both the Marcos-Tolentino and Aquino-Laurel tickets were, for the first time, single-region tickets. Since then, the reality that Luzon’s votes equals the Visayas and Mindanao combined, means Luzon-centric slates for the presidency and the senate have unfortunately become the norm.

And conscious in people’s minds since the tubercular Quezon ran with Osmena, was the very real possibility that a Vice-President can become President at any time; hence the need to elect someone qualified to be President at a moment’s notice.

It’s happened thrice, already.

In 1944, when Osmena succeeded Quezon who died of tuberculosis.

In 1948, when Quirino succeeded Roxas who had a heart attack.

And in 1957 when Garcia succeded Magsaysay who died in a plane crash.

All these successions went fairly smoothly, not least because all these vice-presidents had belonged to the same party as their presidents. But in 1957, something changed.

Carlos P. Garcia, who’d run with Jose B. Laurel Jr., was faced with an oppositionist Vice-President, Diosdado Macapagal. This had never happened before.

Garcia unwisely decided that Macapagal shouldn’t get a cabinet position and even assigned him a car in such bad condition, it kept breaking down.

Macapagal campaigned around the country showing everyone the lousy car Garcia’d assigned him and with no job, made his to campaign for the presidency for four years until Macapagal beat Garcia in 1961.

And after that, the usually paranoid relationship between presidents and vice-presidents dating back to Quezon mutated into the actively hostile confrontation between Garcia and Macapagal,

Between Macapagal and Emmanuel Pelaez, the first Vice-President from Mindanao;

And most famously, between Ferdinand E. Marcos and Lopez, who held the vice-presidency the most times; once under Quirino and twice under Marcos, until Marcos, in exasperation, abolished the job with the martial law.

When we return, we’ll look at the vice-presidency since the restoration of democracy in 1986.


II. The promise


That was a portion of the documentary “Batas Militar,” showing the campaign for the snap election in 1986.

It’s said by some, including the late industrialist Enrique Zobel, that Ninoy Aquino and Ferdinand Marcos had agreed that rather than face off against each other, Salvador H. Laurel, well known to both men, would be supported by both of them as Marcos’s successor. Laurel had given Marcos a new lease on life by convincing the Supreme Court to acquit Marcos of murder; as this photo shows, Laurel and Benigno Aquino were friends, and Doy Laurel and Ninoy Aquino, their children, were childhood playmates.

Doy Laurel was waiting at what was then the Manila International Airport, on August 21, 1983, when Ninoy came home to be killed.

This left Laurel as the leading oppositionist in the country and he labored to bring the fragmented opposition under the banner of Unido, which contested the parliamentary elections in 1984 and won a third of the seats.

And he was poised to be the leading opposition candidate if Marcos ever held presidential elections. When Marcos suddenly announced snap elections, Laurel had every reason to expect to be the opposition’s standard bearer.

But there was Ninoy’s widow, Cory, and there was the widely-held view that the candidate contesting Marcos should be his polar opposite;

Laurel was faced with a dilemma and looked to his family’s past for the answer.

His father had lost to Quirino in 1949, where for the first time, the birds and the bees, the flowers and trees and the dead, voted.

Jose P. Laurel had every right to demand a rematch in 1953, but instead, gave way to Ramon Magsaysay.

And so, Laurel accepted second place; he agreed to run for the vice-presidency under only one condition: that Cory run as the candidate of Unido, the united opposition. She agreed.

In 1987, the new Constitution formally restored the vice-presidency, making it separately elected as was the case from 1935 to 1972. And once again, presidents faced a dilemma as old as the Garcia-Macapagal mismatch.

President Ramos and Vice-President Estrada came from different parties, though Ramos avoided Garcia’s and Aquino’s mistakes by giving Estrada a job as a crime-fighter.

Estrada and Arroyo, too, came from different parties and Estrada was careful to show Arroyo every courtesy, including her cabinet portfolio of choice, the Department of Trade and Industry, until the fateful split between the two in 2000-2001.

As the fourth Vice-President to succeed to the presidency, President Arroyo then had a free hand in selecting her vice-president, something that hadn’t been provided for under the 1935 Constitution.

She selected, and Congress approved, Teofisto Guingona, Jr., the second vice-president from Mindanao, as her veep: but their relationship proved a rocky one.

In 2004, the President pulled a brilliant move by convincing what could have been her leading rival, to become her veep: Manuel, “Noli” de Castro, unlike Guingona, Laurel, Pelaez or Macapagal, has proven a dutiful and supportive Vice-President in the mold of Osmena, quietly doing his work and refusing to intrigue against his president.

You’ve seen this Philippines Free Press editorial cartoon before, showing Doy Laurel keeping his fingers crossed, with the succession of his predecessors to the Presidency in mind.

When People Power took place, Laurel was sworn in as vice-president. He was also named Prime Minister under the 1973 Constitution.

Furthermore, he was named Minister of Foreign Affairs, in fulfillment of a tradition as old as the vice-presidency itself.

Recall from part 1, that the vice-president can, optionally, be given a cabinet post. Since most of the time, vice-presidents and presidents belonged to the same party, the tradition was established that the vice-president would be given the most important cabinet post, in terms of protocol.

Under the Commonwealth, following the practice under the American governors-general, the most important cabinet post was Secretary of Public Instruction. This is the portfolio Osmena held.

In 1946, the most important cabinet portfolio became Secretary of Foreign Affairs. This was held by Quirino under Roxas, by Pelaez under Macapagal; by Laurel under Aquino and Guingona under Arroyo.

Other vice-presidents, however, have asked for other departments more in keeping with their skills. Lopez under Quirino and Marcos asked for Agriculture; Estrada was made a crime-buster; Arroyo asked for the DTI and de Castro was given the government housing offices to run.

Going back to Laurel, he fully expected that as Prime Minister, he’d actually do the running of the government. But it was soon obvious that the new government would be a revolutionary government; the 1973 Constitution and its offices were scrapped.

Laurel then became Secretary, no longer Minister, of Foreign Affairs but even that came to an end when the two leaders had a falling out over his attitude to the 1987 and 1989 coup attempts, and Laurel’s efforts to try to convince Marcos to return his loot, in exchange for being allowed to return home as an elder statesman.

Laurel lost his bid for the presidency in 1992; and what was meant to be his crowning glory, head of the National Centennial celebrations, got stuck in a quicksand of controversy. He died in 2004.

For the basics on the life of Salvador H. Laurel, do visit

Or consult this gorgeous book, a true labor of love, “Doy Laurel” by Celia Diaz Laurel.

When we return, we’ll talk to someone who knew Doy Laurel well.


My view


We are so used to seeing only the worst aspects of our politicians, that we forget that they are capable of self-sacrifice or at least, of moderating their greed. Doy Laurel held a job that our political evolution has made, by its nature, a hotbed of intrigue. Yet the country can never forget the single shining moment when he looked to the example of his father, and sacrificed his ambitions for the common good.

What Doy Laurel did as Vice-President is less important than what he did so that he ended up vice-president. He put unity ahead of ambition; and thus to him as much as to any other figure of his era, we owe our having some measure of liberty and democracy today.

It may be said that the reward for that self-sacrifice was par for the course in politics: to be set aside after Edsa, and to have his reputation tarnished at the end of his life, for crooked deals during the National Centennial of which he was innocent. Yet he, more than any other political figure, knew, too, that the insults of today are as nothing, compared to the judgment of history: and that judgment, to my mind, will be a favorable one.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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