In all his auto bios, Diosdado Macapagal was portrayed as a statesman. No problem with that except that when he ran as president of the 1971 Constitutional Convention, he sought the push of the sitting President, Ferdinand Marcos. It was a fight between him and his 1961 routed political rival, Carlos P. Garcia. But Garcia was a dyed-in-the-wool Nacionalista, the party that adopted FM in 1965. Garcia looked at it as his last hurrah against his conquistador, the Liberal DM. Perhaps Marcos could not get over the promise made by his party mate DM in 1961 that he would not seek reelection and that Marcos was it.
In not so many words, the Boholano made it all known to the Ilocano that he wanted a last bout with the Pampango. How Garcia remonstrated with Marcos was in a manner only understood by weathered politicians. Maybe it was in Garcia’s voice or body gestures that sent Marcos in stitches. The showdown went on, and Garcia proved to be the better man. Marcos, like a statesman, disowned any hand in the selection. In just a few days, Garcia died in what was alleged to be a heart attack. His relatives swore that in his death bed, they saw the faint smile of the man Serging Osmena christened, El Negro.
Again, the convention sought about looking for a new leader. But after Garcia there was Raul Manglapus, Teofisto Guingona and other dark horses that proved intractable. Macapagal, it was bruited about, again repaired to the Palace and sought the benediction from the tenant. The meeting was swift and soon after, the charter caucus sworn in DM as its new president.
The records of the convention did not show how DM voted. But there was that famous Dirty Dozen (Oca Santos, Nene Pimentel, Heherson Alvarez, to name a few) who rejected the 1971 Charter for being tailor made for the sitting president then. Macapagal was not part of the rejectionists. In all likelihood, the wily president promised the ex-president a post in the looming parliament. Nothing of that sort happened however. Marcos after all proved to be vindictive out and out.
DM went on to write his memoirs and upon its publication sought refuge in the US Embassy crying persecution by the dictator. FM ignored the scene and went on with the affairs of the state.
The DM ruckus was brief and the mosquito press devoted a few mention here and there and it was soon forgotten. The book “Democracy in the Philippines” failed to match the tremor created by the “Conjugal Dictatorship” of the murdered Primitivo Mijares. Marcos looked at DM as a pathetic has-been.
In his defeat in 1965, DM was heard saying that he never took advantage of the resources of the presidency. No doubt the presidential wherewithal was enormous enough to stop any pretender on track. A president can harass, persuade, bribe, and even cheat. But DM had none of those. He was a gentleman. He sized FM as a worthy opponent who deserved his people. He campaigned all right but he was a working president within the mould of the old man Sergio Osmena. In Philippine politics nice guys finish last. Osmena was buried in a landslide by Manuel Roxas. Elpidio Quirino, the first chief executive who pioneered economic planning was devoured by the unstoppable Ramon Magsaysay. CPG on the other hand, a poet and romantic, fell on the tracks of the rampaging Macapagal express with its motor revved up for four years while serving as an idle vice president.
FM on the other hand offered the people a new tack, campaigning ala Jack Kennedy and pledged a third world Camelot. His was unique with a charming, fragrant, statuesque First Lady in the making pumping hands thereabouts. We ignored the dire warning of Emmanuel Pelaez whose article “Marcos: A Dangerous Man” was published in Teddy Locsin Sr.’s Free Press.
FM’s reign proved to be disastrous. A generation was lost and a million chances went down the drain. Our neighbours overtook us and there is no belabouring our fate.
Fast track to 1998, DM’s daughter was elected Vice President in a breeze. Her supporters at the first instance were bent on grooming her as the next logical president given her undefeated track record first as the 13th Senator in 1992 and the 1995 senatorial topnotcher. She has gravitas and she knows it. And grey matters that can surprise the tested political gladiators. Was she relentless and ruthless. She knew the importance of a government portfolio in case she run for the presidency six years hence.
When she caught Erap in his exuberance inveigling her the DSWD post thinking she would reject it given her credentials as a US-educated economist, his advisers were stumped. She was right at Malacanang’s door confirming her appointment papers. Ed Angara’s suspicions were established, she indeed was casting a moist eye on his boss’s throne. Not only her stint as social welfare secretary gave her the necessary exposure and budget to spread herself into the country, it gave her access to her superior.
She saw the ineptitude and profligacy of the Erap presidency and she vowed never should these quirks happen again. Her father in his dying days recounted nonstop the litany of Marcos sins and it drove her to unimaginable fits. DM was a sorry lot confessing his shortcoming for his failure to traipse along the moral brinkmanship and allowed a thief to rule for 20 years. DM could not forgive himself when his scruples get the best of him and he died a broken man.
When Erap was driven out of office, she promised to be a better president and no more Erap redux. She was a living witness of the three-year Erap vacation that destroyed what remains of her republic.
Post-Marcos, she is the longest reigning president. The venom of politics and the lessons her father taught her rendered her immune to the call of her conscience. In the thick of the campaign in 2004, her social welfare secretary was blurting out that “patriotism has many forms. Cheating an amateur is moral. We save the country from perdition”.
In 2004 she quit being a nice guy.