The Explainer: Inaugurals

It’s been 75 years, in a pretty much continuous line, since we had our first modern inaugural in 1935. Every inauguration since has inherited ceremonial from that event, with individual presidents adding and discarding particular elements.

Tonight, let’s go through this 75 year period, as the country starts buzzing about the 12th formal inaugural ceremonies in store for us in June, for the 9th president elect, also the 5th president of the 5th republic, but the 15th president in our history.

I’m Manolo Quezon, The Explainer.




The Constitution tells us that at precisely 12 noon, on June 30, the president-elect is supposed to recite the oath of office specified in the Constitution, and by so doing, become the new president of the Philippines.

His designated successor, the vice president elect, also takes his oath on the same day, in inaugural ceremonies that were basically established in 1935.

President-elect Aquino has, so far, given some hints about how he wants to approach his inaugural: with a combination of defying current practices and going back to premartial law traditions.

Among the ideas he’s considering is holding his inaugural where he held his miting de avance on the eve of the May 10 elections: at the Quezon Memorial Circle.

Traditionalists, however, prefer the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park, where six presidents have had their inaugurals, with two more delivering their inaugural addresses there.

Both proposed sites do have something in common, they have national monuments in national parks that are the burial places of those after whom the parks are named. But the idea of the presidential oath-taking location changing is nothing new. There are so many other past sites.

Baroasoain Church in 1899 and 1998;

Outside Malinta Tunnel in 1941;

In front of the legislative building in 1935, 1943 and 1946;

Kalayaan Hall in Malacanang, 1948, 1957 and 1986;

The Edsa Shrine in 2001;

The Cebu Provincial Capitol in 2004.

The oldest tradition is the holding of the inaugural at the site of Congress. In 1899 this made particular sense because it was Congress that elected the President.

In 1935, the legislative building was the home of Congress and it was the specifically American tradition of presidents being inaugurated on the front steps of their Congress that we copied. It also made sense in 1943 when it was the national assembly that elected the president.

In 1946, the legislative building was in ruins, but symbolically, it remained the site of President Roxas’ inaugural in May, 1946.

Dignitaries gathered at the half-ruined Manila City Hall, and proceeded from there to the utter ruins of the legislative building.

But the independence ceremonies two months later in July 1946 required a less ruined venue than the legislative building.

A temporary grandstand was built right in front of the Rizal Monument.

It was there that the famous photo of our independence ceremony was taken on July 4, 1946.

President Roxas retook his oath of office, this time without the pledge of allegiance to the United States.

And in commemoration, a giant flagpole was built, later destroyed in a typhoon; but its replacement is still called the independence flagpole.

In 1949, when President Quirino was due to be inaugurated, Congress still squatted in a converted schoolhouse and so a site had to be found for the inaugural. By then, a permament grandstand had been built: here is a rare photo posted in SkyScraperCity of how ut originally looked.

Later on it would be expanded sideways and later still, the central portion was demolished because it was considered too massive.

The vista of Rizal Park symbolically ties in 1896, 1898 and 1946: but beyond location, let’s look at inaugural ritual as it’s evolved over administrations.

After private religious worship in the morning, inauguration day traditionally began with the president-elect fetching the incumbent president, where in the days when presidents ran for reelection and usually lost, uncomfortable smiles would be exchanged by the defeated incumbent and his elected rival, as as here with President Garcia and President-elect Macapagal.

Here, as was the case with Quirino and president-elect Magsaysay, the incumbent would sometimes conduct the president-elect to the presidential study, there to try out the presidential desk.

Then, in a tradition dating back to Osmena and Roxas, the first transfer of power from an incumbent to an elected successor, the incumbent and the president-elect would then leave the Palace for the inaugural venue.

This was itself a practice borrowed from the Americans, and a very tense one it’s always been: here Wilson looked fairly friendly with his successor, Harding but in one case, Hoover and Roosevelt, they didn’t even talk to each other.

At the inaugural site, the incumbent would then receive military honors for the last time, accompanied by the president-elect; they’d then shake hands and the incumbent would leave.

This tradition was broken by President Aquino who accompanied president-elect Ramos and then witnessed his inaugural, to symbolize the completion of her mission to reestablish democracy.

President Quirino in turn began the practice, continued up to Ramos, of having the inaugural parade precede the oath-taking.

What has been a consistent practice since 1935 is the vice president-elect taking his oath, as Macapagal here did in 1957, immediately before the president-elect.

Then the president-elect takes the oath of office, with a text unchanged since it was used for the first time in 1935. Traditionally, the chief justice administers the oath.

Though as you can see here in Macapagal’s 1961 inaugural, the black robes for the justice administering the oath seems to be optional, too.

Then, after taking the oath, the new president signs his oath of office, as Estrada did in Barasoain in 1998. The new president also usually receives, at this point, the honors of the state for the first time: a 21 gun salute, four ruffles and flourishes and the playing of a march or the presidential anthem.

Then the new president delivers his inaugural address. Since 1935, they tend to have fixed parts: thanking God, the people, and accepting a new mandate; and laying out the policies of the new administration in bold strokes.

In some cases, as in Magsaysay’s 1953 inaugural, the crowds can be so big, that the new president then gets mobbed: Magsaysay’s barong they say, ended up torn to shreds.


Usually, the family of the president also joins the new president in greeting the crowd.

Prior to 1949, the practice, as shown here in Laurel’s 1943 inaugural, was for the inaugural parade to take place.

Then the new president goes to symbolically occupy the presidential palace as its new tenant. From the inaugural venue, the president is accompanied by the armed forces up to the vicinity of the palace, at which point the presidential guards takes over.

This symbolic act of possession or occupation also has its ritual, the climbing of the main stairs and the signing of the guest book by the new president and his family: here’s president Roxas, his wife, and mother, in 1946.

Inaugurals are among the most formal occasions in our official life. In 1898 President Aguinaldo wore white tie to the inaugural of the Malolos Congress.

But in 1899 he was slightly less formal, wearing black tie and walking to his own inauguration. Still, the height of solemnity was observed.

The most formal inaugural was Laurel’s in 1943, when he wore white tie. Three presidents, Quezon, Laurel and Garcia, wore medals to their inaugurals.

In general, however, following protocol abroad, this is what is worn to an inaugural: called either a morning coat or cutaway, swallow-tailed and with striped trousers and a vest.

Japanese prime ministers and their cabinets still wear cutaways when inducted into office.

From 1935 to 1953, the morning coat was what was worn at inaugurals, except Roxas’s because of postwar devastation.

President Quirino revived the use of the morning coat in 1949. Note, by the way, his holding his hand over his chest, the civilian way of saluting. We’ll get back to the question of how presidents salute a little later.

Going back to formal clothes, President Magsaysay in 1953 adopted the formal barong tagalog, formal because he retained the use of striped trousers. As you can see he kept the neck open while Vice President elect Garcia opted to keep his top button buttoned.

The last gasp of the morning coat was in 1957, when President Garcia revived the cutaway again; here’s Vice-President Macapagal looking uncomfortable in his.

But the era of the morning coat was passing; even in the USA, John F. Kennedy in 1961 became the last U.S. president to wear a cutaway at his inaugural.

President Macapagal in the same year restored the use of the formal barong, also with striped trousers, a tradition retained ever since.

Here’s President Marcos in 1981 so you can get a better look at the formal striped trousers for inaugurals. And here he is, saluting; he abandoned the civilian salute and insisted on the military salute; today, some officers are proposing a return to the premartial presidential salute of hand over heart, to reemphasize civilian coontrol over the military.

The last dignitary to wear a morning coat to an inaugural was US Vice President George Bush, also in 1981.

As for women, whether vice presidents elect like Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 1998 or first ladies since 1935, the terno has been de rigeur at inaugurals.

Oath takings under emergency situations have, of course, been very low key affairs, where business suits are more appropriate, such as Garcia’s taking his oath in 1957 upon the death of President Magsaysay.

The exception to ladies in ternos at inaugurals was of course Mrs. Aquino in her 1986 inaugural and at Ramos’ in 1992.

And Mrs. Arroyo’s in her emergency oath taking in 2001.

Even President Marcos’ emergency inaugural in 1986 dispensed with the striped pants, but Mrs. Marcos still managed to wear a terno though Ilocos Norte governor Bongbong Marcos made do with military fatigues.

And so perhaps it’s best to view our inaugurals as events in which each administration can, and does, make its mark, adjusting the ceremony to communicate the messages it wants as it begins its stewardship of the executive department. In the end, aside from the date, time, and text of the oath, everything in an inaugural is up to the new president to decide, and we can learn from the traditions each one adopts and discards, how they view the office they have been elected to fill.

Thanks for joining me through this gallop down 75 years of inaugural history; let’s see what new traditions are put in place come June 30.


I’m Manolo Quezon. The Explainer.



Manuel L. Quezon III.

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