Monday, July 26, 2010

Remembering Raul



Raul Manglapus was the knight –errant of Philippine politics in the 60s, polished, eloquent, suave, mannerly, a gentleman to his fingertips. Raul – as we all called him – was a chevalier in the European sense of the word. He was a Renaissance man who sought to transform the Philippines into a beau ideal where culture sparkled and the philosopher-president was ascendant. Thus it was that he burrowed into the civilization of Europe, spoke Spanish, French, Italian and even German, and was very much at home in the continent’s councils.

Almost each time we met, Raul Manglapus spoke French with this writer as though he owned the language. He switched with equal facility when President Aquino undertook her state visit to Italy. There, in the august presence of top Italian officialdom, Raul eloquently spoke Italian much to their amazement and ours of course. He founded the National Union of Christian Democrats (NUCD) after years of fording the socialist streams of Europe where he was a grandee of the international socialist movement.

Raul was probably the ablest and most distinguished young man to emerge from the Commonwealth era where he caught the attention of President Manuel Quezon. Nobody ever debated with Raul Manglapus and won. The Jesuit-trained Atenean in his yon years touched off bonfires whenever he sought to wage verbal war. His dizzying political career started when he topped the senatorial elections in 1961, then ran for president in 1965 bearing the flag of Philippine Progressive Party. He came a cropper.

Here was where Raul bit off more than he could chew. In hindsight, his political personality was the exact opposite of now President Joseph Estrada.

A political aristocrat in the manner of the great Claro M. Recto, Raul had the middle and upper classes jubilantly gathering around campfires, and the Americans rubbing their hands in glee. Here, they said, was a future Philippine president whose mind and conscience exquisitely were bred in the Old World and the New World. He and Washington would get along very well

The Achilles hell of Raul Manglapus showed early enough. He could never get down to the level of the masa where he campaigned awkwardly as did Claro Recto before him. His wit and raillery were quintessential Atenean, his delivery a snatch from the classical and literary worlds. His Tagalog ambled. His refined reflexes were a stranger in the world of slums and barong-barongs. And so Raul Manglapus could never fulfill his ultimate ambition – be president.

Gifted as he was, formidably talented, Raul Manglapus came at a time when another young politician – younger than he – caught the public fancy and had fire in his belly. Raul didn’t have that fire. While in self-exile in the US since the outset of martial rule, Raul organized the Movement for a Free Philippines. He charmed America with his mind, eloquence and manners. Without doubt, Raul dreamed of the day martial law would end. And this time would come.

But Ninoy Aquino on self-exile too, arrived in America in 1980. No two big alligators could survive in the same pond. Eventually, the charismatic Ninoy took over the leadership of the Filipino opposition from Raul. The latter took all of this in good stride, returned to the Philippines in 1986 after EDSA, three years after the Marcos dictatorship murdered Ninoy on August 21, 1983. Raul’s name was on the short list of the Convenor’s Group searching for a presidential candidate that could beat Ferdinand Marcos in the snap presidential elections.

The choice fell on Ninoy’s widow, Corazon Aquino, who eventually picked Manglapus as her foreign affairs secretary.

Raul was perfect for the post. Except that politics ran in his blood and he ran for the Senate in 1987 under the Laban flag of Cory Aquino. He won handily. But Raul’s political escutcheon, gleaming mightily in the decade of the 60s, did not catch fire again. Something had ebbed or died. And the voice that shook the political rafters in his earlier years, could no longer stir the Muses. But he remained honest and intrepid.

The voice still rang. But it was the voice of an aging Tamerlane. Old age in the Philippine politics is often a handicap. Witness what happened to Jovito Salonga, Arturo Tolentino, Soc Rodrigo, in their time scourges of the mighty. What kept Raul going were the various services he rendered for President Fidel Ramos and his abiding, deathless love for music. He could drum, he could jazz, he could sax, he could jam, he could play the piano.

Well into the years when he was afflicted with cancer of the throat, I would imagine, Raul – whose voice gone – had an old ritual going when close to noontime came. Even in the US during exile, whatever the political turbulence around him, he would seek the piano with regal affection at high noon, relax completely and coax music that would wreath his face in rapture.

The gnarled fingers, I suppose, sought this piano rendezvous even when the end was near.

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