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Analysis

Manuel Luis Quezon—a strongman Filipinos need

/ 09:07 PM August 18, 2011

(Edited remarks at launching of the book, “Manuel Luis Quezon,” Aug. 15, 2011, at Sofitel.)

Today Filipinos remember the 133rd birth anniversary of Manuel Luis Quezon, the first president of the Philippine Commonwealth of 1935.

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Four days ago, two notable scholars on Philippine history and culture—Sen. Edgardo Angara and museum curator Sonia P. Ner—launched the most authoritative study in recent years of Quezon, the founding father of what is now the Philippine Republic.

This book is a compelling and incisive study of the leadership style of Quezon and the times which defined the issues of his presidency, and the Philippine democratic political system.

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This book illustrates vividly, through a seamless combination of historical pictures and texts, the saga of the construction of the Philippine Commonwealth as a transition government from American rule to the establishment of the independent Philippine Republic in 1946. It examines the character and political milieu of the Quezon presidency, and situates him in the context of the events that influenced his actions and decisions in establishing the foundations of the Philippine colonial state during the crucial stage of its development to self-rule up to the inauguration of the independent Republic after World War II.

Quezon’s actions in turn reshaped the course of the political and social history of this country. Quezon is truly the founding father of the Filipino nation, in the way that George Washington is the founding father of the United States, Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, Sukarno of Indonesia, Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam, and Mustapha Kemal Ataturk of modern Turkey.

Great men are great because they stamp their personality—their vision, their style of leadership, as well as their human flaws—on the template of nation-building. As some biographers of great men have succinctly put it, “the governments that are created by great men often are tailored for their rule only.”

Quezon was such a leader. He forged the architecture of the Commonwealth Government and the institutions that underpinned it in his own image. The Commonwealth was his mirror image.

This book goes further than any previous book written about Quezon and his times, in that it combines pictures and text in retelling the narrative of Quezon’s charismatic and dynamic leadership in the formation of the Philippine Commonwealth.

These pictures capture the dynamism of the charismatic energy pulsating from an activist, virile and domineering presidency of Quezon. Woven around these photos is the textual tapestry of the construction of the transitional Commonwealth Government.

Quezon awed and dominated his contemporaries with his imperious style and his volcanic temper. Quezon exploded when he was angry, but no one among his political contemporaries resented it when he unleashed a torrent of “puñeta” when they were not up to their public tasks.

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This book arrives at a time when we hear a powerful clamor from many Filipinos for an authoritative leader and yet democratic, acting within the philosophy of constitutional democracy, drafted in 1934, under Quezon’s policy direction. That charter was Quezon’s social contract of constitutional authoritarianism to suit his temperament and decisive style of leadership.

Let there be no mistake about it. Quezon ran the Commonwealth with an iron hand. He was our first authoritarian leader, but he delivered results and did not leave a legacy of appalling corruption and looting of the nation’s wealth or of political repression. This book makes a case for the argument that, despite his authoritarian tendencies, Quezon stayed within the democratic constraints and philosophy of his own 1935 Constitution.

This book tracks Quezon’s path to power and his record in the presidency of the Commonwealth, the seminal structure of the Republic, from 1935 to 1945, when he died of tuberculosis (a malady he battled most of his life). He ruled the country for just nine years, and within that time, built the political foundations of the democratic Republic. But disease denied him the reward of witnessing the redemption of Philippine independence for which he devoted his Promethean energy all his life, despite his medical infirmities.

This book narrates the highlights of the political career of Quezon and the watershed events around which his presidency and institutions of the Commonwealth were built—namely, his rise to power from that God-forsaken (but politically favored) place called Baler; his epic rivalry with Sergio Osmeña over the leadership of the nationalist campaign for immediate and absolute independence, and for the leadership of the Commonwealth; his social justice policies, and his struggle with America proconsuls (the governor generals and later high commissioners) over the independence legislation in the US Congress, and finally over the inadequate defense for the Philippines in the prelude to the Japanese invasion in 1941.

The institutions that Quezon’s leadership, most of all the statist accent of the 1935 Constitution  has bequeathed, are today the sources of contradictions between democracy and strong executive leadership that can govern effectively, and competently. This is the context in which this book is to be read.

To sum up Quezon’s leadership style, let me remind you of what the historian Will Durant wrote: “Men devoted to war, politics and public life wear fast.” To paraphrase him, “all three had been the passion” of Quezon.

Filipinos clamor for another Quezon—not a leader who delegates to his vice president the decision on whether to bury the late and unlamented dictator in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

(Next week, a comparative study of leadership between Quezon and Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey.)

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TAGS: featured columns, Government, leadership, manuel luis quezon, opinion
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