Monday, July 26, 2010


By Belinda Olivares – Cunanan – Political Tidbits

Philippine Daily Inquirer – August 16, 1999

Three week ago, former Senator and Foreign Secretary Raul Manglapus passed away after months of battling cancer. As a close family friend, I attended the various necrological services for him. As I listened to all the eloquent speakers eulogize him, I realized that what I was hearing was not only the story of one man’s life of service to country, but its history as well.

The necrological speakers talked about segments of Philippine history as gleaned from the experiences of the 80-year old Manglapus, whose public service career – as former resistance leader against the Japanese and Ferdinand Marcos, legislator, politician, Cabinet member, avowed democrat and renaissance man – spanned just about 60 years, indeed, from Manual L. Quezon to Fidel Ramos. I thought I already knew a lot about Manglapus, but listening to the various eulogy speakers, I realized there were many gaps in my knowledge of him, as well as Philippine history.

It was then that I decided to cite some bits of his history in this column, as culled from his life, so that perhaps the younger generation may be made aware. In these times of political turbulence, when certain freedom appear to be under siege, perhaps it’s even more crucial to recall the past.

Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the main speaker at the Lakas party’s necrological rites for its chair, recalled how Raul’s Progressive Party of the Philippines (PPP) forget an alliance with President Macapagal’s Liberal Party in 1961. That year saw Cong Dadong’s election as president and Raul topping the senatorial elections. Manglapus, in his speeches for Lakas presidential standard-bearer Joe de Venecia during the 1998 campaign, would joke about how the PPP, which represented a bunch of idealists that was later to comprise a third force against the two established national parties, would be taunted as the "Patay-Patay Party." In the Visayas, he joked, it stood for "Pamahaw-Paniudto-Panihapon" Party.

In 1965, Raul tried to harness this third force for his presidential ambition, but it got nowhere against the two giant political machinery’s. As Sen. Nene Pimentel recalled at the Senate necrological rites for Manglapus, who had stood as Nene’s wedding sponsor, it was only in Cagayan de Oro where the third force won in the election.

Former Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez recalled at the necrological services held by the Department of Foreign Affairs that Manglapus was among the younger leaders in the early ‘50s which included Pelaez himself, Manny Manahan, Ambrosio Padilla, Narciso Pimentel, Francisco "Soc" Rodrigo, Enrique Quema, Primitivo Ferrer, Frisco San Juan and others, who saw in Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay "the out-standing qualities for a national democratic leadership needed to make the Philippines a truly democratic society." They decided to support Magsaysay’s presidential bid against Elpidio Quirino in 1954, and Manglapus served as his undersecretary of foreign affairs. After The Guy’s death in 1957 and as Carlos P. Garcia’s term was ending, the group decided to strike a "Grand Alliance" with Macapagal’s LP.

Vice President Arroyo recalled that when President Macagapal decided to launch land reform to abolish tenancy, his obvious choice to lead the reform legislation was Sen. Raul Manglapus, who had imbibed social reform ideas from his Jesuit mentors. Pelaez recalled that even as a young student at the Ateneo de Manila, Raul was already pursuing this idea of land reform. In an oratorical contest where President Quezon was the guest of honor, Raul’s stirring oration, which he titled "Land of Bondage, Land of the Free," attached the injustice and evils in the country’s land tenure system. Today that oratorical piece remains a classic favorite among high-schoolers.

But more than his outstanding gift for oratory, what was remarkable about the piece was the timing. As Senator Sergio Osmena III pointed out in his own eulogy in the Senate necrological rites. "this was in the ‘30s, when nobody, but nobody spoke of land reform and concepts like ‘stewardship’ and ‘subsidiarity’ in deeply feudal Philippines’. So impressed was Quezon that he invited the young Raul to Malacanang so that they could continue their discussion on the evils of the agrarian system. Thus, said Manny Pelaez, "Raul’s seminal ideas opened the ground for the infusion of social justice in the work and lives of our peasants and farmworkers." These "seminal ideas" opened the ground for the infusion of social justice in the work and lives of our peasants and farmworkers." These "seminal ideas" later took specific forms. Senator Pimentel recalled how Manglapus and Pelaez collaborated on the "the first barangay empowerment legislation in the country," the "Revised Barrio Charter" as well as on the "Decentralization Bill of 1964," which broadened the powers of the local officials by decentralizing executive power. These twin laws, pointed out Pimentel, became the precursors of the Local Government Code of 1991, of which he was the principal author.

In the earyly ‘60’s, as Vice President Arroyo recalled, the idea of land reform met with awfully stiff resistance. Manglapus found his land reform bill going against the interests of his landed colleagues in Congress, as well as his own relatives and those of his wife, Pacita La’O, a wealthy Manilena. The anti-land reform groups made use of some 200 amendments to delay or defeat the measure. As a result, the regular session of 100 days ended without passing even the national budget and certainly, not the land reform bill. Arroyo recalled that her father summoned Congress to a special session on June 5, 1963, to pass these two measures; while the two chambers finally passed the budget, the landlord-dominated Senate refused to act on the land reform bill. Macapagal extended the special session, but again it came to naught.

Vice President Arroyo stressed that her father, in a show of political will, extended the special session no less than seven times, in order to get the land reform bill moving. It thus became the most debated legislation in local history. She recalled how Senator Manglapus phoned her father and informed him that the group opposing the land reform law, perhaps now convinced of Macapagal’s determination, was ready to allow the bill to pass with amendments. Should he accept them? Manglapus wanted to know. Macapagal said yes in the belief that even if the bill were watered down, it could be corrected and improved with subsequent legislation.

On July 12, 1963, Congress finally approved the land reform bill, a full 26 years before a more comprehensive land reform law was passed during Corazon Aquino’s term. Arroyo pointed out that while its principal author, Manglapus, was a man of many achievements, that legislation was "probably his greatest contribution to the life of our nation" because, she stressed, historians judge land reform as "the most profound structural change in the first century of our country".

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