The death of Roxas

This marvelous video comes from a 1946 United Newsreel:Roxas visits Truman:

Today marks the 61st death anniversary of Manuel Roxas, who died in Clark Field, Pampanga, in 1948. I’ve been working on a political biography of the man for eight years now (more off than on), and it’s proving to be a difficult but rewarding task, not least because having died so soon, he didn’t live long enough to see many of his initiatives bear fruit. While it is said that history is written by the victors, the opposite is the case in the Philippines, or at least, that is the case when it comes to Roxas; after he passed from the scene, his critics wrote the enduring epitaph to his administration. In my draft second chapter, I proposed that instead of viewing the peaceful campaign for independence (circumscribed as it was, by the reality and consequences of military defeat for the First Republic) was actually the logical progression of the independence movement, a blueprint laid out by Apolinario Mabini at the end of his life.


(Roxas was the second Philippine president to be on the cover of Time Magazine; the portrait clearly shows his hazel-colored eyes)

For most of his political career, he was portrayed as a kind of wunderkind of politics, even when he ran for the presidency and broke up the prewar monolith that was the Nacionalista Party: the existence of a two-party system was not an American legacy, they had failed (or perhaps it might be more accurate to say, were powerless to prevent) the emergence of a one-party state prior to the War; if it hadn’t occurred, more likely than not, one-party rule might have survived until well into the 1960s, much as other Asian countries that went through a similar process of achieving independence peacefully brought forth single-party rule for decades (Malaysia and India are some relevant examples, their independence parties achieving half a century or more of political dominance).

roxas-osmeña race

(The famous 1946 Free Press cover of Roxas being in a hurry; Osmena would have preferred not to break up the NP, at one point considering not even running for presidency to preserve party unity; Roxas, said by some of those close to him to be haunted by the idea he might not live long enough to succeed to the presidency in 1949, couldn’t wait; the party split and the two-party system born)

It is even possible that had Roxas lived long enough to achieve re-election in 1949, as was widely expected to happen, he might have begun working to reunite the Liberals with the Nacionalistas; Magsaysay, certain of re-election in 1957, was also said to be planning to either found a new superparty, or preside over the reunification of the NP and LP (both parties were inclined to make him their common presidential candidate, as he was considered unbeatable). Death scuttled that possibility; but Ferdinand Marcos achieved a temporary restoration of one-party rule from 1978 onwards, and the superadministration parties since 1987 -LDP for Aquino, Lakas for Ramos and Arroyo- points to one-party instincts remaining strong within the political class.


(May, 1946: after taking his oath of office in front of the ruins of the Legislative Building, Roxas ascends the main stairs of the presidential palace in the ceremonial taking of possession of the presidential residence; he’s with his wife and his mother)

There’s an entertaining profile of the man circa 1946 by Sol Gwekoh, titled Roxas the Man. Politically, what’s interesting is how Filipino writers (mostly his critics) have conflated the immediate postwar period with the Cold War, when they represent two distinct stages and reflect widely different American attitudes towards the Philippines, in the context of American priorities. A Philippine president, then, having made certain strategic decisions and embarked on the tactics required to achieve them, would have been confronted with his assumptions suddenly being invalidated; and that is exactly what happened to Roxas. Not enough has been done, to my mind, to explore how he handled this change in the global scheme of things.

The first stage of American reactions to the end of the war coincides with the presidential campaign here at home in 1946 and on to 1947, the year of the Parity Amendment. The onset of the Cold War only began in the closing months of Roxas’ life, and it was in terms of positioning himself and the country, to reflect this changing reality, that he ended up in Clark Field to deliver a speech, after which he suffered a heart attack and died.

As it was, it would have been during Roxas’ second term beginning in 1949, that the Cold War would really be felt, with the invasion of South Korea by the North, and the United Nations effort that saw Philippine troops being sent to South Korea.

Roxas gained his reputation as an economist, so here’s an interesting paper by former national treasurer Liling Briones on how Roxas handled deficits in his time (a summary can be found here).

Life Magazine’s photo archive was recently made publicly available on Google; here is, perhaps, the most famous photo of the man, taken in the Reception Hall of the Palace (it was demolished and rebuilt, without the pillars, during the Marcos 1978 renovations):


There’s another photo which suggests how Roxas aged in office:


My first chapter draft actually begins with the arrival of Roxas’ body in Manila. Only in my draft eleventh chapter do I describe the last day of Roxas, how he died, and the highly macabre refusal of his wife to accept he’d died.

In the draft twelfth chapter, I look into the twist of fate that meant that Vice-President Elpidio Quirino, widely expected to be discarded as a running mate by Roxas when he ran for re-election in 1949, ended up as President.

In the photo below, Quirino, having arrived from an ocean voyage meant to help him recuperate from heart trouble, ascends the stairs of the Palace, flanked by Senate President Avelino (of subsequent “What are we in power for?” infamy) and Speaker Eugenio Perez (natural father of Speaker Jose de Venecia, Jr.).


Below, Quirino is shown signing his oath of office in the Council of State Room in the Executive Building (Carlos P. Garcia would later on also take his oath of office here, when Magsaysay died):

Quirino Succession

The wake of Roxas was only the second presidential wake and the first one held in the Palace that was open to the public: here’s a series of Life photos of the lying-in-state, which took place in the Ceremonial Hall of the Palace (the room was greatly enlarged during the Marcos renovations of 1978 and the chandelier is now in Bonifacio Hall, more familiarly known as the Guest House):




(Roxas’ son, Gerardo; Aurora Quezon; Roxas’ daughter, Ruby, at the wake)

The necrological service was held in the Philippine Congress, at the time still squatting in a former schoolhouse in Lepanto St., Manila:


And then, the state funeral.


Here is a Life photo of Aguinaldo together with veterans of the Revolution, awaiting the passing of the funeral procession. What follows are more Life photos, this time, in color, of the funeral procession and the internment:










Roxas’ tomb was remodeled in the 1990s.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

25 thoughts on “The death of Roxas

  1. Great pics from Life Magazine. First time I’ve seen actual photos of Manuel Roxas the former prez (Mar Roxas bears a very striking facial resemblance to him pala) — the only pic I associate with him was actually from a painting yata (yung nasa 100-peso bill and from old history textbooks). I hope we have more of these actual pics in our textbooks for students to get a real feel for our country’s history.

    The ironies in his statements from the video — American-style democracy has been quite a failure in this country. And no, we don’t think like Americans — but many Pinoys certainly envy or aspire to be Americans.

  2. madonna, really, first time to see pics? hmm, this is interesting, our visual appreciation of the past is really non-existent then. you’ll also note from the video the slight british inflection to his speech, which i think comes from the period in which he studied in hong kong. and yes, the rhetoric of yesterday really inspires the cringe factor in people today, but that’s more from misapprehending the context of such statements, methinks.

  3. “mlq3 on Wed, 15th Apr 2009 2:47 pm

    madonna, really, first time to see pics? hmm, this is interesting, our visual appreciation of the past is really non-existent then.”

    Blame ABS-CBN and GMA.

    Thank god for the interwebitubes.

  4. Amazing how they can stand the weather in those 3 piece suits. Must be less humid then.

  5. Equally amazing was how they wore all-white ensembles without looking douche-y. Actually, there’s a quite dignity in them wearing all whites.

  6. Note how the old-timers wore the Aguinaldo style, collarless jacket (12th picture), while the young ones wore a typical suit and tie.

    Also, the women wear baro’t saya (9th pic)! I hope women today wear it more, to go clubbing and meeting up for coffee.

  7. Should title it: Little Brown American. “Organ Grinder’s Monkey” doesn’t have that ring.

    Says a black man: My skin is brown, too, son.

  8. “madonna, really, first time to see pics? hmm, this is interesting, our visual appreciation of the past is really non-existent then.”

    yeah, our high school and college books were aptly called *text*books because it was mostly text and very little pictures.

    it was only recently (due to cheaper broadband) that i saw how gerry roxas closely resembles his son and that emilio aguinaldo has an older look beyond the randy santiago caricature…

  9. Manuel A. Roxas cannot escape the fact that history will judge him as America’s No. 1 post-war stooge. Despite denials of being unabashedly pro-American, actions speak louder than words and Roxas’ greatest accomplishments were:

    • The ratification of the Bell Trade Act, which opened Philippine markets to duty-free inflow of American products and granted Americans equal rights with Filipinos to exploit the country’s natural resources WITH NO CORRESPONDING RIGHTS FOR FILIPINOS TO DO SO IN THE U.S.A.

    • The inclusion of the Parity Amendment in the 1935 Constitution.

    • The signing of the 1947 Military Bases Agreement.

    Roxas was also noted for other things:

    • He won in the first Presidential elections wherein guns, goons and gold were first made evident.

    • He pampered the landlord class, having been transported to power by the Sugar Bloc. He immediately rewarded the hacenderos by including the Sugar Quota in the Parity Amendment, via the Laurel-Langley Agreement wherein the U.S. agreed to buy sugar from the Philippines at a price remarkably higher than the world market.

    • He rewarded his cronies, such as Amading Araneta and Jose Yulo, by giving them access to purchase huge Estates at advantageous terms. These are now Cubao and Canlubang, respectively. His son, Gerry, married Amading Araneta’s daughter.

    • The Liberal Party, soon after Roxas’ ascension to the Presidency, got embroiled in massive graft and corruption. So brazen was the corruption that, after Roxas’ death, Elpidio Quirino tried to clean up but was immediately berated by one of Roxas’ close allies. After Quirino ordered the investigation of Liberal Party members involved in a vast surplus goods racket, Senate President Jose Avelino castigated Quirino for being naïve with the now notorious “Para que estamos en el poder” (What are we in power for?).

  10. Manolo and the rest,

    Yes, these are the first actual photos of Manuel Roxas I have seen! Hehe so funny.


    “Blame ABS-CBN and GMA.”

    Huh? Ano ang konek?

    Number cruncher,

    “yeah, our high school and college books were aptly called *text*books because it was mostly text and very little pictures.”

    Hmmmm, ganun ba? E bakit science textbooks di naman pulos “text”?

  11. The Parity Amendment is definitely lopsided but the Philippine economy was so much better with it. It’s the reason why the older generation always say the Philippines was only second to Japan economically during their younger years. Meralco, PLDT, ABS-CBN, GMA, Petron, Goodyear, PhilAm Life are companies that where formerly owned by Americans when the Parity Amendment was still in effect.

  12. “Madonna on Wed, 15th Apr 2009 10:38 pm


    “Blame ABS-CBN and GMA.”

    Huh? Ano ang konek?”

    The populace in other countries have more historical appreciation because their free-to-air TV produce great historical documentaries using nothing more than archive footage, a voice over, and clever editing.

  13. SoP,

    Ah yes. GMA and ABS-CBN are too busy peppering with us with the going-ons over the lives of Juday, Piolo, Marian, Lucky, etc. LOL. Keeps the masa entertained all right and living on the ephemeral present, with neither a past nor a clear future.

  14. “Carl on Wed, 15th Apr 2009 7:14 pm
    The ratification of the Bell Trade Act, which opened Philippine markets to duty-free inflow of American products”

    Now I know how and why everybody wore great-looking suits in those pics.

  15. actually, if white (linen) material probably came from China or Cuba; and the dark suits, more likely than not, wool from the UK. And on the whole, probably tailored in the Escolta or thereabouts.

  16. The Parity Amendment is definitely lopsided but the Philippine economy was so much better with it. It’s the reason why the older generation always say the Philippines was only second to Japan economically during their younger years. – supremo

    We were ‘second to Japan’ because the other Asian countries haven’t caught up yet. The other Asian countries were able to catch up and overtake us because they were able to succeed in home-grown industrialization.

  17. You are correct about Laurel-Langley, Manolo. Actually the enhanced sugar quota (a more moderate, volume and price-wise, sugar quota was established in 1934)was set under Roxas via the Philippine Trade Act of 1946. Laurel-Langley sweetened the pot for extending parity until 1974 by correspondingly extending the sugar quota until 1974.

    During a period of our history, sugar accounted for 20% of Philippine exports. This translated to tremendous financial and political clout. And sugarcane cultivation was a legalized monopoly via the Sugar Limitation Law. Sugar production was limited to the U.S. sugar quota added to our local consumption of sugar, no more, no less. And quotas were handed out by the authorities to selected sugarcane planters. That pretty much instituted an oligarchy via legislation.

  18. cvj,

    That’s why the ‘second to Japan’ thing is a myth perpetrated by the older generation as their achievement. They never achieved anything. It was the American businessmen who did all the work. The Philippine economy started to decline as soon as Filipino businessmen (actually landowners) started taking over those American companies.

  19. cvj, supremo, the data presented here may provide more grist for discussion:

    The Philippine Economic Mystery The Philippine Economic Mystery mlq3 Article by Robert H. Nelson that asks why the Philippines has steadily declined, economically, while its neighbors have improved their economic standing. The answer, he suggests, is that the Philippines operates on a more Latin American framework.

  20. cvj, supremo, this also has interesting facts (would be nice if somehow the figures could be updated to reflect, for example, the collapse in phil. manufacturing since 2000):

    The Emergence of the Middle Classes and Political Change in the Philippines Masatakakimura The Emergence of the Middle Classes and Political Change in the Philippines Masatakakimura mlq3 THE EMERGENCE OF THE MIDDLE CLASSES AND

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