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Quezon’s reelection game

When Manuel L. Quezon (MLQ) became president of the Philippines on Nov. 15, 1935, his term of office, according to the freshly made 1935 Constitution, was for six years without reelection. He himself was the one behind the idea of no reelection.

In mid-November 1941, six years later, MLQ was still President because the Constitution had been amended, on June 18, 1940, to change the term to four years with one reelection, such that in his case it would only last eight years from 1935. MLQ won easily in the newly called November 1941 election, which thus extended his term, and Vice President Sergio Osmeña’s term, to November 1943.

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Today’s piece draws from Rolando M. Gripaldo, “Quezon on the question of reelection,” and “The presidential succession of 1943,” Philippine Studies, volume 38, 1990, pages 251-262 and 301-315 respectively. The first paper’s abstract says: “The current idea is that Quezon manipulated the reelection amendment because of his desire to stay in power. This essay elaborates the view that Quezon was against reelection. Although he was pressured by his party to serve for two more years, he might do so only if the maximum number of years was limited to eight and the reelection limited to one…”

Immediately after the abstract, and before the essay itself begins, Professor Gripaldo (De La Salle University, retired) quotes Quezon thus: “To tell the truth, gentlemen, I should like to continue being the President if I were sure I would live one hundred years. Have you ever known of anyone who had voluntarily renounced power unless it be for a lady who, in his opinion, was more important than power itself, or because of the threatening attitude of the people? Everybody likes power. It is the greatest urge of human nature, power. I like to exercise power. But, because my main consideration is the interest of the country, I am stepping out of office when the time comes for me to do so. And when I am no longer in office, I will not want to be a boss; I do not want to be a power behind the throne.” [Undated; most likely 1939.]

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The Japanese invasion of early December 1941 prevented the Philippine legislature from convening and officially declaring the winners of the November election. Nevertheless, Quezon and Osmeña took their new oaths of office on Dec. 30, 1941 (in Malinta Tunnel, Corregidor). A few months later they had arrived in the United States, via Australia, and they set up a government-in-exile.

As Nov. 15, 1943 neared, the issue arose of whether Quezon should already turn over his office. Quezon was not eager for it, since his people were raising questions about whether the government was de jure or de facto, and whether or not the 1935 Constitution was operative in wartime.

Ultimately, the two petitioned the US Congress to settle the matter; it passed a resolution on Nov. 12, 1943 authorizing them to stay in office until a proclamation by the US president of the restoration of constitutional processes and normal government functions in the Philippines. On Aug. 1, 1944, Osmeña finally became president upon the death of Quezon, who had been sick with tuberculosis for several years already.

Quezon’s game was poker. He was playing poker with Dwight Eisenhower and his cronies when the idea of allowing a haven for Jews fleeing Europe from Nazi persecution came up.

Poker is essentially a game of deception. One won’t win in this game by believing that one’s opponents are always sincere. Sometimes they are, sometimes they’re not. It depends on how they size you up, and how they think you size them up. One considers the stakes, and takes chances. The only sure way to learn an opponent’s sincerity is to match his bets with your own, and have a showdown.

How sincere was Quezon about caring more for the Philippines than for his office? Don’t listen only to what he said. Pay attention also to what he did.

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Contact: [email protected]

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TAGS: Manuel L. Quezon, poker, reelection, term extension
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