Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 23 August 2017


The month of August is filled with heroes.

Heroes and holidays. The 28th day of the month is designated as National Heroes Day, to celebrate all the country’s heroes including the unknown ones.

Before this day, the nation also honors two historic figures in our history. August 19 is the birthday of Manuel Quezon, after whom a province and the country’s capital city are named. Quezon led the successful fight for our political independence from the United States in the course of his career.

August 21 is a holiday remembering Benigno Aquino Jr., who was assassinated in the country’s airport as he was returning to present a political challenge to Ferdinand Marcos.

The National Heroes Day motif takes after the Cry of Balintawak, the event in 1898 when Andres Bonifacio and many followers who were with the Katipunan decried Spanish rule, tore their cedulas and proclaimed a fight for independence.

All these events are important marks in the timeline of Philippine history. There are of course more heroes of the nation – some great, some greater still like Jose Rizal, and some less known and more unknown and unacknowledged.

Heroes are the stuff of what makes a nation. They signify important moments in the nation’s history, appearing when it is triumphant and full of proud accomplishments and also when the country faces moments of danger. Heroes emerge during high and low points in a nation’s narrative as a country, serving as inspiration and moral guide.

I will demonstrate this in the case of both Manuel Quezon, the victor of the independence movement, and Ninoy Aquino, the martyr to the cause of democratic opposition.

Manuel L. Quezon.  At an early stage of his career, Quezon was only second to Sergio Osmena in the leadership to fight for securing the legal vehicle for independence. Quezon dominated the country’s politics during the 1930s and became the elected president of the Commonwealth government in 1936, on the road to full independence by 1946.

Quezon was a more fiery and astute politician than Osmena. In the final stages of securing a law of independence by the US Congress, Osmeña successfully secured the passage of the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Law which spelled the provisions and process for the grant of independence.

It was a requirement that the independence law be approved by the Filipino people. Quezon led the opposition and succeeded in getting the Philippine Assembly to reject this independence bill.

Henceforth, he led the campaign to get a new independence law passed, outlining his objections. Though the US Congress passed the Tydings-McDuffie Law, it was essentially a copy of the Hare-Hawes-Cutting law, except for the removal of provisions on military bases and the promise of President Franklin D. Roosevelt that inequities would be reviewed in the future with the object of fairness to both nations.

It was Quezon who oversaw the building of political institutions of independence, which copied American principles of separation of powers among the executive, legislature and judiciary. He supervised the convening of the Constitutional Convention that led to the 1935 Constitution. The chairman of the convention was Claro M. Recto, one of his political allies and followers.

As the dominant politician of his day, Quezon also administered the economic policies of the times that were essentially designed to be nationalistic and inward looking. The restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution in respect to the role and limits of foreign direct investments were elaborated during this time, limiting the participation of foreign capital in industries that dealt with land, natural resources use and public utilities.

Such policies followed the temper of those times. The 1930s was the period of the Great Depression. Those who thought of the early years of growth of a young developing country entertained enormous fear of domination by American capital. Hence the protective provisions against foreign capital.

The Great Depression was also a great benefactor to Philippine aspirations. It was a time when many agricultural industries in the American states suffered heavily from competition from Philippine agricultural exports. These agricultural American states were great friends to Philippine aspirations for independence. To get rid of a colony that was killing their sugar and lauric oil industries was a great boon to them.

The provisions on foreign capital were very powerful incentives to those Filipinos who had the business acumen and who had the resources to engage in industries that limited foreign capital participation. These incentives enriched and further empowered these groups. They have resisted the need to open up these industries to enable the country to attract much needed foreign capital.

In short, they fathered the difficulties that we suffer later as younger inheritors to the national mantle of economic policies.

Ninoy Aquino. As a politician, former senator Benigno Aquino Jr. had positioned himself to succeed Ferdinand Marcos as president when the time came. Unfortunately, the time never came.

At the height of his ascendancy as senator of the land, he was already known to have had extensive contacts with all voters and followers, including the NPAs who heavily operated in his province, Tarlac.

When martial law was imposed in 1972, he was one of those jailed. Tried before a military court, he was found guilty and meted a harsh sentence. However, when he was sick, the government allowed him to go for treatment abroad.

Cured and revived, he became more engaged in the opposition to the government. When it was rumored that Marcos was in bad health, he decided to return to the country. To this day, no one could pinpoint who had him killed.

But that tragedy was enough to discombobulate the standing of the government. The event would put the country to a major low point in its history, political and economic.

Another consequence of Ninoy’s martyrdom was that the country’s history would move in a different direction. Instead of normal succession to the country’s leadership taking place, the country nearly broke at the seams, with People Power overthrowing the sitting president.

A tragedy for the nation was that the most prepared politician, Ninoy, would fail to become president and, instead, his unprepared wife and later, his son, Noynoy, less ambitious and less prepared than he, would become heads of this nation.

National cohesion. We ponder how, with the passing of time and the many trials of nationhood that we encounter all the time, the nation is intact, is adjusting, and is moving forward. Other heroes must be helping to unite us somehow.

This of course is a topic worth exploring further.