Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The “Vice”

There is a metaphor used in the US of A to describe the office of Vice-President as “worth a pitcher of warm spit”. The uselessness of the office was ascribed to it’s being just a “waiting room” for death watch that may or may not occur. Taking off from the American presidential system, the Philippine Commonwealth had a president, Manuel Luis Quezon, and a Vice-President, Sergio Osmena Sr. The Commonwealth leadership went into exile in the United States after Japan invaded Manila, and the Japanese inaugurated a Second Philippine Republic (the First was led by Aguinaldo’s short-lived presidency). The president proclaimed by the Japanese was Jose P. Laurel of Batangas. His first vice-president was Don Benigno Aquino Sr., father of Ninoy.

By the time MacArthur “liberated” the Philippines, President Quezon had already died of complications owing to tuberculosis in Saranac Lake, New York. Sergio Osmena of Cebu was thus installed the second president of the Commonwealth, the first Philippine vice-president to succeed the presidency. But when elections were held for the presidency of the Third Republic, Manuel Roxas, the fiery orator from Capiz, defeated the self-effacing gentleman from Cebu. Roxas and his newly-formed Liberal Party chose Elpidio Quirino of Ilocos Sur, a three-term senator closely associated with Manuel Quezon. He chose Quirino over Quintin Paredes of Abra and Claro Mayo Recto of Batangas and Tayabas. Quirino became the second vice-president to succeed a president who died while yet in office.

The third “vice” to become president by succession was Carlos P. Garcia of Bohol, whom the enormously popular Ramon Magsaysay picked reluctantly as running-mate after the more well-known Arsenio H. Lacson, Mayor of Manila and native of Negros, declined his offer. A widely circulated story in political lore has the irreverent Arsenic telling off Monching Magsaysay, saying, “Malakas ka pa sa kalabaw, baka mauna pa akong mamatay sa iyo. Dito na lang ako sa Manila”. Monching died in a plane crash three years into his term, in Mt. Manunggal in Cebu. Thus did the low-key, often snubbed Garcia, the first truly dark-complexioned vice-president of the land, ascend the presidency. 1957 was an election year, and Garcia had to immediately launch his campaign for the presidency. He defeated the Liberals’ Jose Yulo of Negros, but his vice-presidential candidate, Jose B. Laurel Jr. of Batangas, son of the wartime president, was defeated by Diosdado Macapagal of Pampanga. This is where the concept of “uselessness” of the vice-president’s position came in.

Previous vice-presidents were named to the cabinet by a grateful president. In the United States, the role of presiding officer of the US Senate was automatically assigned to the elected Vice-President. It is still largely ceremonial, because real power in the US Senate lies in the hands of the Majority Floor Leader. But in the Philippine setting, the “vice” was mere person-in-waiting unless the president gave him a cabinet position. So, Quirino was Roxas’ Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and so was Garcia under Magsaysay. But Macapagal was denied any cabinet position, and used up his four years, from 1957 to 1961 going to every municipality in the country, campaigning for the presidency which he won over re-electionist Garcia. His partner was Emmanuel Pelaez of Misamis, the first vice-president from Mindanao. But Macapagal and Pelaez broke off politically after just a year because of the celebrated Harry Stonehill scandal, which tarred almost every politician in town.

Notice that almost always, the then two political parties demanded geographic balance in cobbling up a national ticket. If a presidential candidate came from Luzon, the vice-presidential candidate must come from the Visayas, or Mindanao. Even in choosing eight senatorial candidates, regional or ethnic representation was ideally pursued. In the 1965 Nacionalista Party convention, Senate President Ferdinand Marcos, earlier turning coat from the Liberal Party to challenge Macapagal, chose Fernando Lopez of Iloilo, a former vice-president under Elpidio Quirino, over Maning Pelaez. All three were candidates for presidential standard-bearer, along with Gil Puyat of Pampanga and Dominador Aytona of Bicol. The convention was a tight contest, and only in the second ballot did Marcos win, over Pelaez, and third-placer Lopez. Puyat and Aytona had withdrawn after the first ballot, and swung their support to the scion of Ilocandia. Why did Marcos choose Lopez and not Pelaez, already the incumbent vice-president?

Lopez belonged to the influential clan that owned the country’s second largest newspaper, the Manila Chronicle , and a yet new broadcasting station that was to later metamorphose into giant ABS-CBN. The younger brother of Don Fernando also controlled Meralco, which was the power-provider for Manila and its suburbs. And the family exercised great sway over the so-called “sugar bloc”, landlords who were also governors and legislators for Negros and Iloilo. Interestingly, the re-electionist Macapagal and his LP chose a young congressman, like his father a brilliant orator, Gerardo Roxas of Capiz, as running-mate. The Marcos-Lopez tandem beat Macapagal-Roxas in 1965, though Roxas felt he was cheated. He ran for senator two years after, and topped. But then, seven years later, Marcos declared martial law. The Third Republic was dead.

Caving in to pressures from the American government, Marcos called for “snap” elections. What is germane to this article is how the administration chose its “vice”, and how Cory Aquino got her running-mate. In the ranks of the KBL, speculation was rife that no less than the strongman’s wife, the powerful Imelda Romualdez-Marcos, would be pushed into running for vice-president. Marcos was sick at the time with what was then whispered to be lupus that had metastasized into kidney failure. But Marcos decided on Arturo Tolentino, the respected parliamentarian from Manila, defiant of the tradition and practice of a North-South geopolitical balance. Imelda, the political scuttlebutt then averred, “chose” Tolentino because he had little political strength to pose as challenge to her own widely-perceived ambitions of succeeding Marcos.

In the opposition camp, the choice had more drama. Salvador H. Laurel, son of the president of the Second Republic, had initiated the formation of a broad coalition of anti-Marcos elements, the United Nationalist Democratic Organization (UNIDO), in which this writer was backroom worker and deputy secretary-general. He had been proclaimed in June of 1985 as the presidential standard-bearer, should widely-anticipated “snap” elections occur. But the parliament of the streets, predecessor to what is now called “civil society”, ganged up against Doy and goaded Cory Aquino, the martyr’s widow, to run. It became increasingly clear to us who ran Doy’s backroom that Cory would run, but Doy and his traditional political advisers were in state of denial.

There is a bit of déjà vu on how Doy was deserted by his UNIDO stalwarts, the men and women who just a year and a half ago Laurel proclaimed as the “magnificent 58”, (after winning a third of the Batasang Pambansa in the 1984 elections), and how Mar Roxas looked behind and saw so few, when Noynoy Aquino decided to be the Liberal Party candidate for 2010.

Doy’s UNIDO was larger then than today’s LP. He had painstakingly put together an alliance of former Nacionalistas, Liberals, and regional parties, and the opposition then controlled a third of the Batasan. The Liberal Party today has at best a dozen congressmen in a 236-member legislature, although it has a sixth of the 23-man Senate.

But apart from being a chronicler of presidents and vice-presidents, this two-part article wants to give an inside view on how the “vice” is chosen, from the death throes of authoritarian rule to the birth of the Fifth Republic. (What is considered the Fourth Republic is actually a brief interlude between February 25, 1986 when Cory took over and the promulgation of the new Constitution in 1987, when a legal dictatorship existed, albeit with liberal and democratic practices).

Cory asked Doy to forsake his presidential quest and run instead as her vice-president. Even getting Cory to offer the vice-presidency to Doy was not easy. There was a certain personal distance between Ninoy’s widow and Ninoy’s buddies. Ninoy described Doy to me in Boston as his close confidante. They both suffered the post-war stigma of being “children of collaborators” at a time when being pro-American was a badge of honour. Both young men in the late 40’s, they suffered at being treated almost like pariah by peers and social equals, but that goaded both to redeem the tarnish to their name.

I gleaned some coldness in Cory’s face when Doy’s name was mentioned in private. It was, I am told, the same lack of warmth for Teng Puyat and Monching Mitra, Ninoy’s other buddies. All have gone into the great beyond, the last being Cory herself, in whose legacy Noynoy and the Liberals now stake their standards.

Be that as it may, my first recollection of a proposal to get Doy to be numero dos was in Tokyo, mid-November of 1985. Marcos had just declared his agreement to a “snap” contest over ABC’s Ted Koppel. Doy called me from the United States where he had been on a speaking tour, and asked me to rendezvous with him in Japan. Late that night, after dinner at Restaurant Hama in Roppongi, I got a call at my Imperial Hotel room from Lupita Aquino Kashiwahara, who was xtaying in the Akasaka district. For almost two hours, she and I debated what she proposed to be a “parallel presidency” where Doy would have great powers, as vice-president and prime minister (the 1972 Constitution promulgated under authoritarian auspices prescribed a presidentially powerful parliamentary system almost akin to the French model). I would have none of it, insisting on Doy’s experience and qualifications over Cory’s popularity.

Back in Manila, several meetings were held, day-in and day-out. A National Unification Council was formed, with then MP Cecilia Munoz Palma and former senator Soc Rodrigo as primary convenors. That led into more acrimony rather than unification. Cory had already primed Nene Pimentel of Cagayan de Oro, in case Doy would remain recalcitrant. Doy, on the other hand, had initially thought of Judy Araneta-Roxas as his vice-president, but then again, Judy had already joined Cory. Doy then primed Eva Estrada-Kalaw, Ninoy’s second cousin, as his possible “vice”.

This was when a frenzy of backroom negotiations took over the failed public unification conferences. It became family-to-family. Peping Cojuangco, Cory’s younger brother, started the talks with Doy and his older brother, Speaker Pepito. By then too, defections from Doy’s camp to Cory were made public. Parliamentarians who had won seats in the Batasan under Doy’s leadership started declaring support for Cory. Laurel saw the ground from under his feet turn loose.

After one such meeting held at the Lee Street townhouse occupied by Doy’s daughter Suzie Delgado, which was at the eastern side of the large Laurel compound along Shaw Boulevard, part of which is now owned by Manuel Villar and his wife Cynthia (the ancestral house bequeathed by President Laurel to his namesake the Speaker, once a defeated vice-presidential candidate), Doy conferred with me in his private study. “Cory and Peping are proposing a parallel presidency, similar to what Lupita told you in Tokyo”, he began. “Committed na daw ‘yung mga economic ministries --- Finance, Central Bank, etc., kay Jimmy Ongpin and his group”, he continued, and then asked me to submit that same day a list of parallel cabinet positions.

With the help of another UNIDO deputy, Ric Golpeo, I made a matrix of cabinet positions. “If they want Education, we should get Health; if they have Defense, we should have Justice or Local Governments. Since they will have Trade (as part of “economic” portfolios), then let us have Tourism; Agriculture vis-à-vis Natural Resources; Public Works vis-à-vis Transport and Communications, and so on and so forth. We left if to Doy to fill in the names, when they became victorious.

But the snag in the talks came when the matter of UNIDO as party vehicle came, not in the “particion de bienes”. Cory wanted to run as Laban; Doy insisted it had to be UNIDO, which he argued was the party under which the re-energized opposition had won in the 1984 Batasan elections and which had accredited minority party status with the Comelec. A day before the deadline for filing their certificates of candidacy, Cory and Doy agreed to run under the UNIDO. The rest is history.

But what happened to the agreement on power-sharing after Edsa Uno is altogether another issue.


Christopher Diaz Bonoan said...

Sir Lito your column article entitled The "Vice" is very enlightening. After Mar Roxas announced his withdrawal from the presidential race in favor of Noy, the first person that came to my mind was VP Doy Laurel. Of course, the circumstances then were far more crucial compared to Mar's declaration of withdrawal.

In lieu of that I also wrote an article about him in my blog entitled, "The Honorable Doy Laurel." But my article was culled mainly on Doy's account as evidenced in his book Neither Trumpets nor Drums, and other post martial law reading materials. I was too young then to remember..

Thank you for sharing your experience and views. I hope the youth of my generation will get to know who Doy Laurel was, and what he did for the country.

Chris Bonoan

Anonymous said...

for your info the lee street townhouse was not occupied by suzie it was the residence of doys son david laurel where so many secret meetings of doy and cory were held unknown to many even to doys very close advisers for they were held either very late in the night or very early in the morning.