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.

Macapagal

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