The Explainer: Presidential biodata

You’ve probably heard about the recent SWS Survey which asked the survey respondents to name their top three choices when it comes to potential successors to the President.

Mahar Mangahas in his recent Philippine Daily Inquirer looked at the results.

But there was also what’s called a rider, commissioned privately, that was added to the survey.

Here’s the result of that private rider, which asked respondents to make only one choice for President, Vice-President, and on the basis of tandems.

Some have found it curious that no adminstration-affiliated potential candidates appear in the results.

The present Constitution imposes only three requirements to be e lected President of the Philippines:

1. One must be 40 years of age on the day of election;

2. One must be a natural-born Filipino citizen;

3. One must be able to read and write.

There’s a certain logic to the highest position in the land having such minimal qualifications. And that logic is, theoretically, every citizen should be given the opportunity to be president.

After all, when it comes to voting, the qualifications are only two: you have to be Filipino citizen, and you have to be at least 18 years old. You don’t even have to be literate anymore.

You might remember this chart, which represents our population, broken down according to socio-economic class. As a viewer of this station, you probably belong to that tiny yellow, and part of the blue, portions of the pie.

But the vast majority of voters are in the D and E portion of our population, that doesn’t have cable.

Among the AB and upper C classes, you often hear a lot of talk about presidents needing impressive biodata, lots of qualifications. But the Ateneo de Manila’s Institute for Philippine Culture asked the majority of voters –those from D and E, what mattered to them in terms of electing a candidate to office.

So let’s revisit what they said. For nearly half, being Educated mattered the most, closely followed by having Experience. Below that came having a platform, and then characteristics like being Marangal, Tumutulong sa Bayan, being Mabait.

So in truth, while we may all say it differently, it’s probably fairer to say that rich or poor, we all think the same things matter.

So I’ve put together a comparative chart of presidents elected to office, so that readers can take a look at past presidential biodata, for the purpose of evaluating those seeking the presidency in 2010.

One problem we should dispose of right away, is that, there are basically two eras in dealing with the presidency. First from  1935 to 1969 (the last pre-martial law presidential election) and the second, post-1986 to the present.

In the first era, Ramon Magsaysay, the lone non-lawyer prior to 1969, would be in many ways the major exception to the expectation of a long, sustained, record of public service beginning in local, then provincial, and legislative and executive positions.

But in many ways he was the harbinger of our modern, post-party machine politics, and so ties in to the post-1986 trend Marcos helped launch by means of institutionalizing mistrust of lawyer-presidents.

Our official list of presidents is a confusing one, but it includes fourteen individuals. Here they are, just to refresh your memory.

Emilio Aguinaldo

Manuel L. Quezon

Sergio Osmena

Jose P. Laurel

Manuel Roxas

Elpidio Quirino

Ramon Magsaysay

Carlos P. Garcia

Diosdado Macapagal

Ferdinand E. Marcos

Corazon C. Aquino

Fidel V. Ramos

Joseph Ejercito Estrada

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

Now if you were going to try to make sense of this group of people, you could subdivide them in many ways.

Men: of whom there have been twelve.

Women: of whom there have been two.

All have been married, though we’ve had one widower, Elpidio Quirino, and one widow, Corazon Aquino. All have had children.

Aguinaldo, Quezon, Osmena, Laurel, Roxas, Quirino, Garcia

There were those born in the 19th Century,

Magsaysay, Macapagal, Marcos, Aquino, Estrada, Ramos, Arroyo

And those born in the 20th Century.

Aguinaldo, Quezon, Osmena, Laurel, Roxas, Quirino, Garcia

Those born during the Spanish colonial era,

Magsaysay, Macapagal, Marcos, Aquino, Estrada, Ramos, Arroyo

Those born during the American colonial era,


And those born since we became independent in 1946.

[Quezon, Marcos]

There are those who have been re-elected to a second term,

[Quirino, Garcia]

And those who served the unexpired term of their predecessor, and were then elected to a full term in their own right, only to fail in being re-elected.


But let me immediately start my list by separating the presidents who became president by means of a national election, involving direct voting by the people, from the presidents who were appointed president by the legislature. 

This removes from our pool, Aguinaldo and Laurel, neither of whom were elected in a national election. Both became president, in a time of emergency, by the Malolos Congress and Japanese-sponsored National Assembly, respectively. You could argue Corazon Aquino should be in this pool, but if you recall, she was elected –it’s just she wasn’t proclaimed by the Marcos-controlled Batasan Pambansa.

So this is our pool, of the twelve presidents elected in national elections.

So let’s look at their biodata and see what observations can be made, when we return.


So let’s take a look at the biodata matrix I made.

The first comparison I made concerns Education:

seven –Quezon, Osmena, Roxas, Quirino, Garcia, Macapagal and Marcos- were lawyers (all of whom were top ten in the Bar exams: Roxas, Macapagal and Marcos all came in 1st; Osmena and Quirino both came in 2nd; Quezon came in 4th and Garcia, 7th).

Magsaysay had a BA in Commerce, Aquino a BA in French and Mathematics, Ramos, who came in the top ten of the Civil Engineering Exams, has a Masters in Civil Engineering, an MBA, and a Master’s in National Security Administration.

Two had degrees in economics: Diosdado Macapagal and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo;

two had doctorates, also Macapagal and Arroyo;

while Macapagal was the only president with two doctorates: in civil laws and economics.

only Joseph Ejercito Estrada didn’t finish college.

The second comparison I made concerns what I listed as the pre-professional occupations or jobs the presidents had:

Aside from their main professions, six had other professions/occupations:  Quezon was a land surveyor; Osmena was a journalist; Magsaysay was a mechanic; Garcia was a schoolteacher; Ramos is a licensed civil engineer.

And these pre-professional occupations includes two poets: Garcia and Macapagal.

The third thing I looked at was whether Military experience or service featured in the biodata of those who became president:


Five achieved officer rank in the military. Quezon was a Major in the Army of the First Republic. Roxas became a Brigadier General during World War II. Magsaysay was a Captain in the Usaffe, and also in the Usaffe was Ferdinand E. Marcos who reached the rank of Third Lieutenant. Fidel V. Ramos, of course, reached the rank of full, or five star, general.

In terms of Judicial experience: none of our elected presidents served in the judiciary as judges. But two, Quezon and Osmena, were provincial fiscals.

Fifth in the biodata comparison comes Legislative experience:

Three –Quezon, Osmena, and Roxas- served as municipal councilors;

Eight –Quezon, Osmena, Roxas, Quirino, Magsaysay, Garcia, Macapagal and Marcos- have served in the lower house, with four –Quezon, Magsaysay, Macapagal and Marcos- serving as committee chairmen in the House, and two of them, Osmena and Roxas, as Speaker of the House;

In terms of the upper house, eight have been senators: Quezon, Osmena, Roxas, Quirino, Garcia, Marcos, Estrada and Arroyo.

and three have been Senate President: Quezon, Roxas, and Marcos.

and two, Senate President Pro Tempore:  Osmena and Quirino.

Sixth comes those with Executive experience:

One, Estrada, has served as mayor;

five have been provincial governors: Quezon, Osmena, Roxas, including Magsaysay’s serving as Military Governor of Zambales, and Garcia.

nine have held presidential or executive appointments in the bureaucracy or civil service: this includes,

Quezon and Osmena who were appointed provincial fiscals; Roxas who was head of the Bigasan ng Bayan or what we know as the NFA, during the Japanese Occupation; Garcia who was member of the Rehabilitation Commission under Osmena; Macapagal, who reached the rank of Assistant Secretary of Foreign Affairs for Legal Affairs; Marcos, who was a Presidential Technical Assistant to President Roxas; Ramos, who was Presidential Assistant on Military Affairs to Marcos; Estrada, head of the Presidential Anti Crime Commission under Ramos, and Arroyo, Undersecretary of Trade and Industry under Aquino.

In addition, seven have held cabinet portfolios: Osmena was Secretary of Public Instruction, what we now know as Education; Quirino was also a Secretary of the Interior, while Arroyo’s been Secretary of Social Welfare and Development.

Roxas and Quirino each served as Secretary of Finance,

Magsaysay and Ramos held the National Defense portfolio;

And  Quirino and Garcia held the Foreign Affairs portfolios. You may have noticed Quirino had the most extensive cabinet-level experience, holding no fewer than three high-level cabinet jobs under Quezon and Roxas.


And of course, there the vice-presidency. Six have been elected Vice-President: Osmena, Quirino, Garcia, Macapagal, Estrada and Arroyo.

four –Osmena, Quirino, Garcia and Arroyo- have succeeded to the presidency from that position (three –Osmena, Quirino and Garcia- by virtue of the death of the president, one –Arroyo- by authority of the Supreme Court).

Lists like these, however, can’t reflect the changing attitudes and preferences of voters as to what they consider essential requirements for the presidency.

Remember this? It’s from the Vote of the Poor focus group discussions conducted and published by, the Ateneo de Manila’s Institute of Philippine Culture.

It lists the qualities the majority believes exist in a good leader: the top scoring ones being Makadiyos, Matulungin, and Matapat. Something you will never find in a biodata.

And this is what they found to be the qualities of a bad leader: the overwhelming top scorer being Kurakot, followed by Sinungaling, and Sakim.

And finally, there’s this, which shows it’s media, family,  church, and party that will influence how personal preferences get translated into actual votes.

So tonight, join me on the Explainer Dialogues where we’ll meet a man who’s studied the presidency intensively for half a century. We’re going to ask Dr. Jose Abueva how much biodata really matters in selecting a president.

I’m Manolo Quezon. The Explainer.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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