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Looking Back
Macapagal at 100

By Ambeth Ocampo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:34:00 09/28/2010

Filed Under: history

PRESIDENT AQUINO declared a special non-working holiday Tuesday in the province of Pampanga to commemorate the centennial of the birth of Diosdado Macapagal (1910-1997). Textbook history has assigned him a number as the 9th President of the Philippines (1961-1965); before that he was vice president to Carlos P. Garcia (1957-1961). After his term, Macapagal served as president of the 1971 Constitutional Convention and he faded away from public life during the martial law years.

One of my lifelong regrets was not interviewing Macapagal in his twilight years. Friends who interviewed him for their term papers said he was very accommodating and articulate. He lived down the street from our home. And when I took my morning walk around the village, I would pass by his house and was tempted to ring the doorbell and ask for an appointment.

Diosdado Macapagal is remembered by most in the 21st century first as ?the poor boy from Lubao? and second, as the father of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. If not for the short entries in history textbooks, Macapagal?s other achievements would be forgotten. His Agricultural Land Reform Code of 1963 was supposed to abolish tenancy. He laid claim to Sabah in North Borneo, but was ignored by the British who complicated matters by organizing the Federation of Malaya. In 1963 the Philippines hosted a Manila Summit that gave birth to MAPHILINDO, a proposed confederation of Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia, but the Philippines broke ties with Malaysia the next year over the Sabah claim. Finally, in 1967 the Philippines became a founding member of Asean along with Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

Macapagal served as vice president after being elected in 1957. He defeated Garcia in 1961, but lost his own re-election bid to Ferdinand Marcos in 1965.

Both presidential candidates commissioned biographies by American authors. First to see print was ?For Every Tear a Victory: The Story of Ferdinand Marcos? by Hartzell Spence. The other camp replied with ?Macapagal: The Incorruptible? by Quentin J. Reynolds and Geoffrey Bocca.

Print was then translated to film. Marcos had the block-buster ?Iginuhit ng Tadhana.? starring Luis Gonzales and Gloria Romero. Macapagal countered with ?Tagumpay ng Mahirap? which was not very well received in the box office but reaped critical acclaim for direction by future National Artists for Film Lamberto Avellana (1976), Gerardo de Leon (1982) and Eddie Romero (2003).

In 1962, Macapagal, with the stroke of a historically revisionist pen, moved Independence Day from July 4, 1946 to June 12, 1898. Emilio Aguinaldo found the strength to march and carry the flag during the parade. Congress ratified Macapagal?s move in 1964 setting June 12, officially, as Philippine Independence Day.

Macapagal devoted a chapter to this in his memoirs ?A Stone for the Edifice? (1968) covering the years of his presidency. (This is different from another memoir published posthumously in 2002, entitled ?From Nipa Hut to Presidential Palace: Autobiography of Diosdado Macapagal.?) He wrote:

?When I was a congressman, I formed the opinion that July 4 was not the proper Independence Day for Filipinos and should be changed to June 12?the date General Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed the independence of the Filipinos in Kawit, Cavite, in 1898.

?Having served in the foreign service, I noted that the celebration of a common independence day with the United States on July 4 caused considerable inconvenience. The American celebration dwarfed that of the Philippines. As if to compound the irony, July seemed tantamount to the celebration of Philippine subjection to and dependence on the United States which served to perpetuate unpleasant memories.

?I felt too that July 4 was not inspiring enough for the Filipino youth since it recalled mostly the peaceful Independence Missions to the United States. The celebration of Independence Day on June 12, on the other hand, would be a greater inspiration to the youth who would consequently recall the heroes of the revolution against Spain and their acts of sublime heroism and martyrdom. These acts compare favorably with those of the heroes of other nations.?

What should not be forgotten, however, is the context for the change in our Independence Day. Macapagal was scheduled to visit the US on the invitation of President John F. Kennedy, but this had to be postponed on account of the negative public opinion in Manila following the rejection of a $73-million war damages package by the US Congress.

In his Independence Day speech in 1962, Macapagal repaired the strained US-Philippine relations by saying:

?Let me avail of this opportunity to disabuse the minds of those who suggest that the transfer of our commemoration of independence was prompted by the action of the American Congress in backing out of a material commitment and obligation to our people. There is no causal relation between the two events. We commemorate our freedoms on this day because the permanent truth and historical reality so justify and not for any transient reason.?

Macapagal?s real motives notwithstanding, June 12 is now Philippine Independence Day, a reference point for our sense of nation.

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