Tomorrow, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. takes his oath of office in front of the National Museum, a postwar reconstruction of the former Legislative Building, where three other Philippine presidents took their oaths of office: Manuel Luis Quezon (Nov. 15, 1935), Jose P. Laurel (Oct. 14, 1943), and Manuel Roxas (May 28, 1946). Marcos Jr.’s inaugural speech will join the roster that goes all the way back to Emilio Aguinaldo’s speech in Barasoain church in 1899. All these inaugural speeches are best read in retrospect if only to check what came to pass and what remained broken or unfulfilled promises.
For the record, Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was not the only Philippine president to win reelection. Manuel Quezon had two terms: 1935-1941 and 1941-1944. He died in the US during the war, as head of the government-in-exile. Laurel’s term was cut at the end of the war. And Roxas actually took two oaths of office: the first, as the last president of the Commonwealth, in front of the ruins of the Legislative Building, on May 28, 1946; the second, as the first president of the independent Philippines, in a temporary platform facing the Rizal monument, on July 4, 1946. Succeeding inaugurals were then held in what is now known as the Quirino Grandstand.
From the previous speeches delivered in front of the Legislative Building, it seems that Roxas faced the biggest challenge. Quezon’s was hopeful since it was the beginning of the Commonwealth, preparation for complete independence from the US. Laurel’s was sham independence made in the shadow of the Japanese Occupation. Roxas faced the task of rebuilding the Philippines from the ashes of the war. Knowing he could not accomplish this alone, he opened his speech by asking “from the nation the full and undivided support of heart, mind, and energy for the necessary tasks which await us.”
Faced with unemployment, inflation, hunger, disease, lawlessness and criminality, inadequate housing, education, and health care, plagues of rats and locusts, etc. Roxas rattled off a catalog of ills and said:
“I have sketched a dark landscape, a bleak prospect for our future. I have not meant unduly to dramatize our ills. I do not wish to parade the sackcloth and ashes of our people. Nevertheless, it is necessary to know the truth. Many of us live today in the chambered Nautilus of our own mental construction. There are those who close their eyes to the problems that confront us, and prefer to direct the national attention and the national energy at objects outside ourselves, at fancied enemies, at fancied fears of imperialistic aggression.
“The coincidence of easy money and high prices gives to some of our people the false illusion of national prosperity and the mad notion that we have time to dally and debate. The prosperity of money and prices is a hallucination, a nightmarish dream resulting from the scarcity of commodities and the influx of a half billion dollars of troop money. Soon, very soon, we must awake from that dream. We will find that mere money, bloated by inflation and circulating in narrow channels, does not bring about prosperity and national well-being.
“Everyday, that money is being siphoned from our land by more and more imports—not productive imports, but imports of consumption. The well-being of the tradesman alone is not the well-being of our people. Disaster awaits us tomorrow if we do not rouse ourselves and get back to work, to productive work.”
Roxas’ blueprint for reconstruction and development is clearly spelled out in his speech. Rebuilding the economy required: industrialization, full employment, adequate wages, foreign capital, new machines and technology for agriculture, rights of organized labor must be protected, “encouragement of production for consumption and the increase in the purchasing power of the masses are parallel paths which we must travel.” Unfortunately, Roxas died in office, leaving the remainder of his term with Elpidio Quirino. Looking back on the Roxas speech makes for painful reading because three-fourths of a century since we seem stuck in square one. My favorite line in Roxas’ speech is: “A nation is something more than the people who inhabit a geographic area. It is a spirit, a tradition, and a way of life.” One can only wonder if we have grown or nurtured that spirit since 1946.
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