O.D. Corpuz on Filipino Nationalism, Politics and Leadership

By Jose V. Abueva

In my eulogy of Dr. Onofre D. Corpuz at the U.P. Chapel of the Holy Sacrifice on 1 April 2013, I paid tribute to him as a U.P. colleague, scholar and National Scientist. I pointed to his major works as outstanding contributions to Philippine history, political science, and economic history. Each of his four works is a magnum opus, namely: Public Administration in the Philippines (1957); The Roots of the Filipino Nation (1989); An Economic History of the Philippines (1992); and Saga and Triumph: The Filipino Revolution Against Spain (1999). These books rightfully earned him the distinction of National Scientist.

On a personal note, I was happy and proud in managing the publication of Dr. Corpuz’  first work and writing its foreword.

Here I wish to comment on some of O.D. Corpuz’ valid observations on Filipino nationalism, politics, and leadership.  And also on his clear and strong bias regarding the Marcos dictatorship that he served.

On the zenith and decline of nationalism. In Dr. Corpuz’ view: “The decade 1896-1906 [the period of the Filipino Revolution against Spain and the Filipino war against the imperialist Americans] marked out the watershed of Filipino nationalism.” O.D. Corpuz. Saga and Triumph: The Filipino Revolution Against Spain. p. xii.

From that high mark of Filipino nationalism, Corpuz noted its persistent decline.    To quote him: “The fading away of nationalism as the guiding spirit and paramount value in Filipino politics might be said to have begun with the founding of the Nacionalista Party in 1907. Its leaders were untrue to their party’s proud name.” [from O.D. Corpuz’ Epilogue in his Roots of  the Filipino Nation, Vol. II. p. 568.

For the most part, in Corpuz’ view, the Filipino campaign for independence from the United States was motivated more by the selfish interests of our leaders from Quezon and Osmeña onward. In his own words: “The Nacionalista campaign for independence-without-nationalism ended with the inauguration of a republic in the Luneta on July 4, 1946.” Op. cit. p. 568.

Consequences of lack of nationalism. O.D. Corpuz discussed the consequences of our leaders’ lack of nationalism on our politics, party system, governance, and our people. He lamented the Filipinos’ dependence on, and subservience to, the United States. On this observation, Corpuz was not alone.

Many writers would share the following thoughts on Filipino dependency on the United States and American imperialism. Under U.S. colonial rule (2001-1935) Filipino political leaders were conscious of their “political apprenticeship” and ultimate U.S. political approval of Philippine independence. Post-independence Filipino leaders were subservient to the United States because they needed U.S. support for the rehabilitation of our devastated country. They felt that the U.S. government had failed to protect the country from occupation and destruction by the Japanese, while Filipino soldiers had fought and died in Bataan and guerrillas had resisted the Japanese and assisted the returning U.S. forces in fighting the Japanese army. In fact, the returning U.S. forces probably wrought more physical destruction in Manila than did the Japanese.

And, taking advantage of the destruction of the Philippines in World War II, the U.S. government demanded as the price of its rehabilitation support that the Philippine Constitution be amended to allow U.S. citizens parity (equal) rights with Filipinos in exploiting their natural resources. Under an executive agreement the U.S. also obtained the use of rent-free military bases in the former American colony until 2046 A.D. In 1991 the Philippine government would end the U.S. use of military bases in the country.

Dr. Corpuz was biased in favor of President Marcos’ leadership and dictatorship. For objectivity, I must note here that Dr. Corpuz was biased in favor of Marcos’ destructive and plundering dictatorship which he served as Minister of Education in the Batasang Pambansa (the pseudo Parliament). Neither did Dr. Corpuz mention that Marcos was all the while subservient to the United States that supported his extended dictatorship until it became impossible to do so.

In my honest assessment, the political culture and behavior of President Marcos reflected human depravity and insatiable greed and corruption. It thrives on violence and intimidation to inspire fear and submission. It exploits the frailties of democracy and the people’s vulnerability to deceit and manipulation. It defiles and destroys life in the pursuit of personal aggrandizement. It rejects public accountability in favor of self-enrichment and personal glory. And it suppresses the practice of democracy and human rights and basic reforms that would empower our people and reform our society and politics.” (Jose V. Abueva. Ramon Magsaysay:Servant Leader With A Vision of Hope. 2012. p. 20.

Overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship. In February 1986, President Ronald Reagan was forced to accept the democratic succession and rule of President Corazon Aquino following the heroic and nationalistic EDSA Revolt supported by “people power” and the military mutiny. The American president had to evacuate the ousted Filipino dictator and his family to exile in Hawaii, on February 25, 1986, to save their lives. Earlier in the same month, President Reagan had blatantly observed that there was cheating on both sides during the “snap presidential election” that Marcos claimed to have won.

Incidentally, this biased and reckless remark of the American president prompted four buses of us—irate Filipinos from New York and New Jersey—to motor to Washington, D.C. to stage a rally near the White House. On our way to the U.S. capital we heard on radio the happy report that the EDSA Revolt was in progress. On our return to New York late that evening I got my copy of the New York Times that headlined and reported the patriotic EDSA Revolt in all of five pages.

Dr. Corpuz’ quoted observations relative to Marcos’ declaration of martial law. “It might be said that ‘the discipline of the oath of loyalty to the United States’ governed the politicians from 1907 to 1946. Thereafter they were free of any checks except what each fancied.

The resulting deterioration in administrative institutions and politics in turn led to unmet needs, frustrations and injustice. The lack of one recognized unifying or guiding value in politics and society [nationalism] had to lead to crisis.

“The escalation of violence in the vocabulary of politics was a reflection of the violence in the streets of Manila [the violence of the militant left] and in the countryside [the “New People’s Army,” the CPP, and the National Democratic Front, and the fledgling Moro National Liberation Front], and in Marcos’ relations with his political enemies when he staged his coup d’ etat of 1972. It was an anti-democratic but constitutional coup.”

In President Marcos’ own language it was “constitutional authoritarianism” brought about by “the rebellion of the left” [communism] and “the rebellion of the right [the oligarchy]. So he had “to save the Republic” and “reform society” [bring about the “Ang Bagong Lipunan” or New Society.]

Dr. Corpuz was soft in his judgment of Marcos’ authoritarian rule. In Corpuz’ own words: “Many Filipinos would recall that the martial law regime began well. But it was strained by the oil crisis of 1973, the growing insurgency, and economic crises that massive foreign debts could only partly relieve. Its anti-inflation measures during the early 1980s only mopped up the ‘excess liquidity of the poor.

“The Benigno Aquino assassination in 1983 united all the people that Marcos had hurt and hounded since 1972 in a vast anti-Marcos front. When this front began to move, it was against an isolated Marcos. The general perception was that he was an ageing, ailing man, with a bad case of megalomania, prone to play loose with the constitution, quick to violate his own decrees, unwilling to rein in the outlandish and acquisitive instincts of his wife, and with no sure  loyalty from the restive military. xxx A military-led mutiny won civilian support and exploded into a democratic but unconstitutional coup in 1986. The resulting revolutionary government transformed itself into a constitutional regime in 1987 and had to cope with aborted coups.”

O.D. Corpuz’ forecast of civil war or revolution. So in 1988-1989, during the presidency of Corazon C. Aquino, O.D. made this forecast of our contemporary times: “Inside of a  generation, perhaps before the end of the century [or before 2000], Filipino politics will go through civil war or revolution or coup d’etat. The primary reason will be the proven incapacity of the political system─ its leadership and institutions─ to serve the basic needs of the masses and to win over the politicized youth.

Fortunately O.D. Corpuz’ dire forecast has not come to pass. But I, myself, and others have said that EDSA’s promise of “justice, freedom, and democracy” has not been fulfilled till now, 27 years after that glorious “people power” revolt. Our nation remains weak. We have a “Soft State” with signs of a ‘failing State,” and our democracy has yet to be consolidated. We therefore urged that basic institutional and structural reforms be instituted through constitutional change.

Essentially, the change of our highly centralized unitary system to regional and local autonomy in transition to a future Federal Republic; and a shift from presidential to parliamentary government. These fundamental reforms will also transform our elections and political parties and empower our citizens. Until now too many citizens are poor and insecure.   

I wholeheartedly agree with O.D. Corpuz that we need “nationalistic” leaders to bring about these drastic changes and transformation. I would just add “visionary and transforming” to “nationalistic” leaders. We anxiously await their emergence in our continuing discontent. 


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