A Boholano’s View Maning Pelaez: The Exemplary President We Never Had (May 15, 2011)

In the midst of the controversy over the proposed hero’s burial of Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, let us recall how the Nacionalista leaders rejected Emmanual Pelaez in favor of Ferdinand Marcos in their 1965 national convention.

As a young political scientist and professor at the University of the Philippines, I deeply admired Maning whom I regarded an extraordinary man and political leader. As an occasional consultant, I worked with Maning when he was senator, vice-president and secretary of foreign affairs, and later as chairman of the local government reform commission and of the government panel in the peace talks with Nur Misuari and Conrado Balweg in 1987. Our working relations made us close personal and family friends. .

As I saw Maning up close and from a distance, he stood out among his contemporaries with his rare combination of talent and character, manner and looks. As a lawyer, he had a sharpintellect, a cultured mind, a quiet eloquence unspoiled by legalese. Born and educated well, he topped the bar examination. He was relaxed in his self-confidence. As an intellectual, he constantly sought the knowledge and expertise of scholars and professionals in the service of power and public office. Maning’s good sense and facile expression, and his patrician bearing, good looks and ready smile, became his popular trademark.

Starting as a journalist then a public prosecutor in the People’s Court that tried war criminals after World War II, Maning was elected congressman from Misamis Oriental and came to know well his peer from Zambales, Ramon Magsaysay. Elevated to the Senate, the young and articulate Maning stood tall in the company of his seniors, Jose P. Laurel, Claro M. Recto, Lorenzo M. Tañada, and Cipriano Primicias. Maning became a trusted friend and adviser of Ramon Magsaysay, our incomparable president and beloved man of the people.

Much later, during the Marcos dictatorship, Maning nearly died from gunshot wounds after he criticized in the Batasan Pambansa (National Assembly) the crony monopoly on the coconut industry that hurt thousands of small coconut farmers.

Magsaysay’s concern for the well-being of the common tao and interest in developing the rural areas deepened Maning’s own sense of social justice and passion for local autonomy and development. After RM passed away, Maning championed democracy and development at the grassroots as author of the Barrio Charter and the Rural Electrification Act and co-author of the Agricultural Tenancy Act. Moreover, he headed a legislative-executive local government reform commission in the late 1960s. Today’s advocates of federalism benefit from Maning’s initiatives in local autonomy and decentralization.

Had RM not died in that plane crash on Mt. Manunggal, he certainly would have been re-elected in 1957. Maning might have been RM’s second Vice-President and maybe RM’s successor to the presidency in 1961. This was thepalpable feeling and growing expectation of many a political cognoscenti during RM’s last year in Malacañang, 1956-1957.

But this was not to be Maning’s destiny, for Vice-President Carlos Garcia succeeded Magsaysay and was elected to a full term as president in 1957. However, Maning’s political star would rise again. In 1961 Vice-President Diosdado Macapagal challenged the re-electionist President Garcia and won. As Macapagal’s running mate, Maning was elected Vice-President and served concurrently as Secretary of Foreign Affairs.

As fellow Liberal Party leaders, first Maning Pelaez then Ferdinand Marcos parted ways with President Macapagal and were invited by the Nacionalistas who were in search of a winner in 1965 against President Macapagal. In the presidential nomination of the Nacionalista Party, neither Marcos nor Maning obtained a majority in the first balloting, so they had to fight it out in the run-off and to bargain for the support of rivals Fernando Lopez, Gil Puyat, Jose Laurel, Jr., and Arturo Tolentino, and their supporters in the convention.

Many Nacionalista leaders admired Maning’s integrity and abilities but a number of them were wary that, in our kind of politics, Maning was too principled and law-abiding. They saw Ferdie as politically savvy, quick to the deal, and ready to pay for favors. Besides, the Marcoses passed around a great deal of money in violation of the gentlemen’s agreement against the use of money in the party convention.

In retrospect, we should realize that the fateful decision of the Nacionalista Party convention and the Filipino people in choosing Marcos to become President in 1965 led to his prolonged dictatorship (1972-1986) and its destructive consequences on our government, economy and society. To this day, the politicization of the military as Marcos’ partner in authoritarian rule, has obstructed the peaceful consolidation of our democracy.

Hindsight and analysis also make it clear that Pelaez and Marcos represented two sharply contrasting political cultures and behavior.

The political culture and behavior that Pelaez stood for is marked by human decency, honesty and integrity. The other reflects human depravity and insatiable greed and corruption. The first prefers peace with freedom and justice. The other thrives on violence and intimidation to inspire fear and submission. The first upholds and enhances democracy and the people’s empowerment and participation in public governance. The other exploits the frailties of democracy and the people’s vulnerability to deceit and manipulation.

The political culture and behavior that Pelaez represented upholds and defends human life as God’s priceless and inviolable gift. The other defiles and destroys life in the process of personal aggrandizement. The first cherishes human dignity and human rights for the good of all. The other violates them in order to suppress the enemies of an indefinite authoritarian rule. The first believes in and practices public accountability in the exerciseof power and authority. The other rejects public accountability in favor of self-enrichment and personal glory.

Let us celebrate Emmanuel Pelaez, the exemplary leader and the ideal and ennobling political culture and behavior that he embodied and upheld in his public and private life. To honor and thank Maning, let us resolve to live and spread the public values and virtues he exemplified and fostered as a brother in Christ, a truly good man, and a great Filipino. He could have been our president in 1965 to 1969, and a second term in stead of Ferdinand Marcos.

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