Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I was yet thinking of what to comment upon for this Thursday article, given the many sickening developments we have heard or read about in this week after the outpouring of grief over Cory Aquino’s death, when a reader, Steve, sent us this reminder about a forgotten American president.

“Harry Truman was a different kind of President. He probably made as many important decisions affecting American history as any of its other 42 presidents.” (Barack Obama is the 44th POTUS, Truman was it’s 33rd).

But a measure of his greatness may be seen on what he did after he left the White House. “he came out of the White House poorer that when he went in”, our reader states.

The only asset he had when he died was a simple house in Independence, Missouri. It wasn’t even his, really, for it was inherited by his wife from her mother, and other than their years on Pennsylvania Avenue, the couple lived their entire lives in that simple Missouri house. (Recall Cory and Ninoy. Other than the ancestral house in Concepcion, just Times St., the same modest Times St. bungalow when Ninoy was a senator, and the same Times St. bungalow that Cory donated to only son Noynoy).

Vice-President Truman became president on April 12, 1945, after the great Franklin Delano Roosevelt died, and won election in 1948, in what political history records as the most stunning upset in American presidential elections. In a book entitled “The Last Campaign” written by Zachary Karabell, which was gifted to me by my friend Raymond Burgos, the interesting details of that campaign are written. The Chicago Tribune bannered a story the day after the elections, proclaiming “Dewey Defeats Truman” and its editors later had to “eat crow” after the final results showed that Democrat Truman scored an unbelievable upset over the Republican Thomas Dewey. But honest Harry, the haberdasher from Missouri, did not cheat.

Now back to his life after the presidency: When he retired in 1952, his income was a modest U.S. Army pension, reported to have been $13,507.72 a year. In those days, that was equivalent to P27,015.44 (yes Virginia --- it was two pesos to one dollar in those days!) Congress, noting that their former president was paying for his stamps and personally licking them, granted him an “allowance” and later, a retroactive pension of $25,000. per year. (Ah, the good old days. Four thousand pesos a month for a retired president of the USA. In the Philippines then, a minimum wage earner, at 120 pesos monthly, could afford to pay instalments on a spacious bungalow in what was then far-away Quirino District, those housing projects beside Cubao and Balintawak, envisioned and initiated by Elpidio Quirino, Harry Truman’s counterpart in Philippine history).

After Republican Pres. Dwight Eisenhower was inaugurated as his successor, Harry and Bess Truman drove home to Missouri themselves, without any Secret Service detail following them. (yes Virginia, the kind of secret service agents Danny Suarez now claims, also supped with them at Le Cirque. Maybe Danny mistook the Philippine PSG’s who were perhaps allowed by the Dona to sup at Le Cirque, because US secret service agents are never, never allowed to sit down while watching their principal, whether it is Barack Obama or Dubya, or a visiting potentate like Dona Gloria y su esposo, con su conjunto de veinte tres mas borrachos. New York Post, in a follow-up story, reports there were 25 diners in all. That means on the average, 800 dollars per head, or roughly 40,000 pesos cada uno, bawa’t isa, at hindi pa natuwa si Lito Lapid).

Truman was offered corporate posts with hefty salaries, but he declined, saying in his candid manner, “You don’t want me. You want the office of the President, and that doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the American people, and it’s not for sale”.

Retiring gracefully and quietly in Missouri, he was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honour in 1971. He refused to accept the honour, writing, “I don’t consider that I have done anything which should be the reason for any award, congressional or otherwise”.

As president, he paid for all his own travel expenses and the simple food that he ate. (Read that, Remonde, sir).

In his memoirs, good old Harry Truman observed, “My choices in life were either to be a piano player in a whore house, or be a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference”.

* * *

What would Dona Gloria y su esposo Jose Miguel reminisce about when they retire (if she ever will) at some palatial villa at Faro in the Algarve where Portugal shares boundary with their Madre Espana? The “cena” at Le Cirque? And what would the Dona be saying?

“The Filipino is worth dining for”.

Si, Senora Dona. Veinte mil dollares…isang milyong piso…only. While Obama “feasts” on hotdogs and burgers, and drinks beer with a policeman and a professor, in the White House lawn, with “mani” as pulutan. Pinapagpag pa ang asin sa kanyang pantalon.

* * *

I caught the tail-end of Pia Hontiveros’ Strictly Politics over ANC Tuesday night. The guests included Atty. Chito Gascon of the Liberal Party and Albay Gov. Joey Salceda. I don’t know what it was they discussed in the program, but Joey, in his final remarks mumbled something like this:

“She tried to govern well; she had good programs and economic policies. We thought that “doing well” (I dispute that) would be enough mandate. But I guess even these could not correct a questionable election”, he said.


And if I may correct you slightly, Governor Salceda, you probably should have said --- an illegitimate, not only a questionable mandate. I understand though. You had to be polite.

History, I am certain, will neither be polite nor kind.


Ed said...

Lito, this comment is for your current article (not posted yet in your blogspot) The Valenzuelan Candidate, wherein you explained your view of the potential chaos in the upcoming elections. My reading on this computerized voting is that we should give it a chance. I am a conformist and I believe that the project is where it is now because Comelec is implementing what it believes the law is mandating them to do. If it is true that the law is specific to have a pilot testing before a full computerized election, why is it that you and a few others are only raising the red flag now. Why not register objection while it is still in the early stages and get answers from the Comelec. If you believe that this project will only bring chaos as depicted in your article, why not join the people like Christian Monsod in actively objecting this project. I have no inside information and all information I have is what I read in the main paper most notably Malaya, and I really think this computerized election will give the Filipinos hope that our elected leader will be the true choice of the people and not the choice of Garci handed in a silver platter to GMA. Here in Canada, I admire the computerized voting because the results are available before the end of the day. I guess canadians as not as politicized as Filipinos that is why they don't really care about the system. They simply want to get over the exercise and move on to work the next day. We usually vote after coming from work since election day is a working day. In any case I wish you good luck in case you join the group objecting to this Smartmatic/TIM/Comelec project. At the end of the day, you and me as most of the Filipinos do, want a freely elected president to guide our benighted land from the chaos brought by the current administration.