Philippine History Part III – Nation. Section 1 – The Republic

Roxas and Quirino

Manuel Roxas

President Manuel Roxas

Manuel Roxas, the last president of the Philippine Commonwealth, became the first President of the Republic of the Philippines on the 4th of July 1946. In agreeing with the Bell Trade Act, Roxas had given United States preferential terms in trade and the same access to natural resources as Filipinos in exchange for help in reconstruction, which was the main priority for a heavily damaged Philippines. However, his economic policies strongly preferred the sugar industry, where he had vested interests. A large number of ilustrado families like his had bought their large estates during the sale of former Catholic Church properties during the American period, many of them building up further their wealth from the Spanish period. What also caused a lot of anger was his amnesty for Japanese collaborators. Manuel Roxas died of a heart attack in early 1948, just before the end of his term. He was succeeded by his Vice-President Elpidio Quirino, also Liberal Party.

Quirino was re-elected in 1949. His time as President was beset by the Hukbalahaps, former Communist guerillas against the Japanese who continued their fight after the war against landowners in Central Luzon, and by massive economic problems. Quirino also sent a military contingent to South Korea to help General Douglas McArthur against the North Koreans, with then Lieutenant Fidel Ramos in it. Ramon Magsaysay, then Liberal Party, scored a number of successes in fighting the Hukbalahap as Secretary of Defense. What earned him the admiration of the Filipino public was how he rushed to the rescue of his political ally Moises Padilla, who was being tortured by goons of Negros Occidental governor Lacson. He came too late and carried Padilla’s corpse, left swimming in blood on a bench, to the morgue. His testimony was instrumental in the conviction of Governor Lacson.

Magsaysay and Garcia

Ramon F Magsaysay

President Ramon Magsaysay

Ramon Magsaysay switched sides to join the Nacionalista Party as its presidential candidate, winning against Quirino in 1953. He continued his fight against the Hukbalahap, partly on the military side, but also through programs that made life better for tenant farmers. The “Huk” were all but neutralized in 1954, with then 22-year-old Benigno Aquino Jr. playing a role as personal emissary to Luis Taruc, who was captured in the same year. Magsaysay’s popularity also helped him win people’s trust.

Under President Magsaysay, the Philippines became a member of the newly founded SEATO, formed to counter communism in Southeast Asia. Furthermore, the Neri-Takazaki agreement on reparations from Japan was negotiated as well as the Laurel-Langley agreement with the USA, which replaced the disadvantageous Bell Trade Act. President Magsaysay died in a plane crash near Cebu on March 16, 1957. His funeral on March 31, 1957 was visited by two million people – in a Philippines that then only had a population of about over twenty million, in contrast to the almost one hundred million it has now.

Vice President Carlos P. Garcia, also Nacionalista Party, took over and was reelected as President in the same year’s elections. President Garcia outlawed subversive organizations such as the Communist party and also continued Magsaysay’s staunchly anti-communist foreign policy. He instituted the Filipino First policy to promote local business and changed laws regarding the retail trade to the disadvantage of overseas Chinese businessmen in the Philippines, instituted the Austerity Program to be less dependent on foreign imports and with the Bohlen–Serrano agreement, changed the lease period of American bases from 99 years down to 25 years, renewable every 5 years.


Diosdado Macapagal USS Oklahoma City 1962

President Diosdado Macapagal

Liberal Party candidate and Vice-President Diosdado Macapagal ran against President Garcia in 1961 on a platform of economic liberalization and won, junking Garcia’s Filipino First policies. Macapagal famously changed the celebration of Philippine Independence to June 12 from July 4. While the newly founded Maphilindo tried to establish cooperation with Indonesia and Malaysia, the Sabah claim ceded by the Sultan of Sulu to the Philippines in 1962 and tensions between Malaysia and Indonesia caused this cooperation to end very quickly.

President Macapagal wanted to send soldiers to South Vietnam, which was blocked by then Senate President Ferdinand Marcos. After not being made LP Presidential candidate, Marcos had switched sides and joined the Nacionalista Party as its presidential bid and won in November 1965. Soon after becoming President, Marcos switched his stance on helping the United States in Vietnam, sending the non-combatant Philippines Civic Action Group (PHILCAG) under the command of Fidel V. Ramos. In 1965, the population of the Philippines was just over 30 million. One dollar was worth 3.9 Philippines pesos, meaning that the Philippine peso had around the same value as the Deutsche Mark. Yet every government had attempted to solve the perennial problem of the Philippines – its agricultural sector and the hardship of poor tenants – and had failed. Nearly every administration – except Magsaysay’s – had been beset by massive corruption. The postwar republic did not yet know it was about to end. The new nation did not know what pain still lay ahead for it – especially from Marcos, a man who for many carried the promise of better days to come.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 20. June 2015

15 thoughts on “Philippine History Part III – Nation. Section 1 – The Republic


    STREET RENAMING. It was sometime in 1959, when the 26-kilometer long Highway 54 has been renamed Epifanio de los Santos, or EDSA. No many people seemed to like the renaming of this street, which traverses six cities – Caloocan, Quezon, San Juan, Mandaluyong, Makati and Pasay. Prolific writer E.Aguilar Cruz, in his book “Maynila and Other Explorations,” wondered why it was not named after a more prominent hero – Rizal, Bonifacio, or Mabini.

    But Cruz, true to the traditions of Pampango writers, gave an interesting insight. EDSA should have been named 19 de Junio, or when, pronounced in Spanish, would sound Diecinueve de Junio. It is actually the birthday of Jose Rizal, the national hero. Somehow, it did not prosper. In hindsight, which is always 20/20, the public officials who did the renaming to EDSA could be correct. Granting that the 19 de Junio has become the official name of Highway 54, it would be a tongue twisting thing to refer to the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution as the “1986 Diecenuve de Junio People Power Revolution.” The first one sounds preferable by all means.

    Built shortly after the war, American engineers did not know how to rename the thoroughfare which slices through the Metro Manila. According to Cruz, Highway 54 was a name whimsically given by American GIs, It was a thoroughfare that gained notoriety for holdup men, who found the nearby military depots a perfect source of blackmarket materials including jeeps and tires. Epifanio de los Santos, meanwhile, is a revered name in the country’s pantheon of heroes. He has the stature though.

  2. From “Cacique Democracy” by Benedict Anderson:

    The next aim was to restore fully the pre-war agrarian and political order. For three basic reasons this goal proved difficult to achieve. First was the price of independence itself: removal of the American ringmaster for domestic political competition, severe weakening of the state’s capacity for centralized deployment of violence, a fisc no longer externally guaranteed, and a war-ravaged and near-bankrupt economy. Second was the appearance, in Central Luzon at least, of an emboldened peasantry backed by armed Hukbalahap forces, which, denied access to constitutional participation by Roxas’s manoeuvres, had little reason to make accommodations. Third was a rapid expansion of the suffrage that UN membership, in those innocent days, made it impossible to deny.

    Hence it was that in the last year of Roxas’s life the Philippines saw the first conspicuous appearance of the country’s now notorious ‘private armies’. Drawn from lumpen elements in both Manila and the countryside, these armed gangs, financed by their hacendado masters, terrorized illegal squatters, peasant unions, and left-wing political leaders, with the aim of restoring uncontested cacique rule.41 The term ‘warlord’ entered the contemporary Filipino political vocabulary. Unsurprisingly, the new warlords found that their private armies were also highly functional for a now unrefereed electoral politics. The presidential elections of 1949, won by Roxas’s vice-presidential successor Elpidio Quirino, were not merely corrupt in the pre-war style, but also extremely bloody and fraudulent: not so much because of central management, as because of the discrepancy between state power and cacique ambitions under conditions of popular suffrage and acute class antagonism. (Characteristic of the time was what Nick Joaquin, the country’s best-known writer, called the ‘bloody fiefdom’ of the Lacson dynasty in the sugar-planter paradise of Western Negros. Manila was virtually impotent vis-à-vis Governor Rafael Lacson’s murderous ‘special police’ and ‘civilian guards’.)

    • The period 1954–1972 can be regarded as the full heyday of cacique democracy in the Philippines.48 The oligarchy faced no serious domestic challenges. Access to the American market was declining as postindependence tariff barriers slowly rose, but this setback was compensated for by full access to the state’s financial instrumentalities. Under the guise of promoting economic independence and import-substitution industrialization, exchange rates were manipulated, monopolistic licences parcelled out, huge, cheap, often unrepaid bank loans passed around, and the national budget frittered away in pork barrel legislation. Some of the more enterprising dynasties diversified into urban real estate, hotels, utilities, insurance, the mass media, and so forth. The press, owned by rival cacique families, was famously free. The reconsolidated, but decentralized, power of the oligarchy is nicely demonstrated by the fact that this press exposed every possible form of corruption and abuse of power (except for those of each paper’s own proprietors), but, in the words of historian and political scientist Onofre Corpuz: ‘Nobody in the Philippines has ever heard of a successful prosecution for graft.’ It was in these golden times that Corazon Aquino’s father, Don José Cojuangco, acquired 7,000 hectares of the 10,300 hectare Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac, and turned its management over to his energetic son-in-law Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino, Jr.

      But cacique democracy contained within itself the seeds of its own decay, and these began visibly sprouting towards the end of the 1960s. Uncontrolled and parasitic plundering of state and private resources tilted the Philippines on its long plunge from being the most ‘advanced’ capitalist society in Southeast Asia in the 1950s to being the most depressed and indigent in the 1980s. By the end of the golden era, 5 per cent of the country’s income earners received, probably, about 50 per cent of total income. At the same time, over 70 per cent of state revenues came from regressive sales and excise taxes, and a mere 27.5 per cent from income taxes—largely paid by foreign corporations.

      Cacique democracy in the independent Philippines also led to secular changes in the operation of the political system. The oligarchs more and more followed Chairman Mao’s advice to walk on two legs. Manila was where the President resided and where Congress met, where pork barrel funds were dealt out, where licences and loans were secured, where educational institutions proliferated, and where imported entertainments flourished. The dynasties began leaving their haciendas in the hands of sons-in-law and bailiffs and moving into palatial new residential complexes on the outskirts of the old capital. Forbes Park was the first, and still the most celebrated, of these beaux quartiers, which remain sociologically unique in Southeast Asia. Elsewhere in the region luxurious houses are jumbled together with the dwellings of the poor. But the golden ghetto of Forbes Park was policed, as a complex, by armed security guards; access even to its streets required the production of identification papers. Combined with a characteristically tropical-Catholic birth-rate of over 3 per cent (which since 1850 had increased the islands’ population eightfold), the result was a massive pauperization of the unprivileged.

  3. Okay, your blog has caused me a grand frustration because I lost Ramon Magsaysay’s brother. When I lived in Zambales (2008-9), I researched the WWII rebels and recollect that there was a brother to Ramon who actually was the main rebel guy before Ramon, but now I can’t document it. All I find is Ramon. Maybe I’m getting old.

    But I did find (as I did in 2008) a piece of detailed history of the events originating out of Zambales that eventually led to the Magsaysay presidency, and I rather think that no history library would be complete without it. You can get to the PDF file by googling “Zambales during World War II Compiled by Leon Beck & Rodel Ramos”

    The Magsaysay family is still prominent in Zambales but seems to be fizzling out for lack of common sense. That’s the best way I can put it, in a nutshell.

    I do thank you for revitalizing my interest of RELEVANT history, as it was one of my most troublesome subjects in college. I can’t remember dates.

    Or brothers, evidently.

    • Welcome… this series is in fact a product 1) of sonny’s idea to make a publication on Philippine history and 2) my own frustration at how Philippine history was taught to us in elementary and high school.

      Lots of dates and facts but hardly any narrative flow, in the end no real sense of how it connects to TODAY remained. Second it was too factional, like Philippine newspapers – scorn for the “wrong” side and praise for the “right” side.

      Third so many Philippine historians – like most Philippine intellectuals – are too much in love with their own eloquence and ramble too much. So their point gets lost to the audience, which is a pity and a waste of great talents.

      So the whole series is a quest to distill the real knowledge out of the heaps of information and data available out there. The final goal being to understand why the Philippines TODAY is the way it is – and see how it can move on.

      Just looking at President Roxas is a lesson in how his almost spitting image grandson could look more statesmanlike and win. Of course adjusting for today’s times and the fact that the masa are more important now, but still..

  4. Thanks Karl and Sonny. I will weave EDCOR – and the 1920s Christian settlement of Mindanao – into my next installment where I deal with the resurgent rebellion of the NPA. And of course the return of Filipino Muslim separatism in the late 1960s. Both as a part of the developments that led to… Marcelo Carpio, Martial Law at Curfew.

    I have already allowed myself some flashbacks in this historical “teleserye” – the Luna brothers for example or Marcelo H. del Pilar in the American period article.

    Tentative outline of the next articles: Part 2 – Marcos Period. Part 3 – Post-Marcos period (Cory and FVR – 1986-1998). Part 4 – Daang Baluktot? (Erap and GMA – 1998-2010). Part 5 – Daang Matuwid? (President Aquino – 2010 till now). So Parts 1 and 2 are 20 year periods, Parts 3 and 4 are 12 year periods, Part 5 is five years only – the more we get closer to the present time, the more detailed it has to get. Because history is about understanding how everything became the way it is right now.

  5. Strong & friendly reading of historical narrative, Irineo. I suggest the insertion of the EDCOR rehab program for pardoned Huks & others, I think. Very important I feel because it was a homesteading program situated in Mindanao. Good chunks of real estate were involved.

    • I now included Karl’s link in my Marcos era article. The Muslim aspect will successively get more focus as the narrative moves on towards the present – with all the complexities of MNLF, MILF, Abu Sayyaf, 1996 accord, MOA-AD, Peace Process and of course BBL weaving into the story. The entire history of Mindanao is worth an article in itself – how the Spanish wooed the Lumads to make them allies against the Muslims, late 19th century wars with Sulu, the Moro Wars of the USA, Christian settlement in the 1920s, Filipino Muslim resistance against the Japanese, 1950s settlement, civil war since the 1970s and the present state of Mindanao. But since I have decided to focus on Philippine history first – the article was the intro and gave the motivation for that – can’t do that yet.

      Another significant, but so far not well-covered thread of Philippine history is the history of migration and OFWs – I think the source material is even scarcer on that.

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