Prewar political harassment
Scandal and corruption in government have become staples of Philippine life, such that we often see these reported in the papers but do not give these much thought. The alleged Binay billions, however, shock us to attention because of the scale, which has led one disgraced government official to remark: “If this is true, I am a mere pickpocket compared to Binay!” In the face of all this, the Vice President merely shrugs his shoulders and cries political harassment. Only time will tell who is telling the truth, which is why most officials in the same tight situation declare: “Let history be the judge.”
The late Teodoro A. Agoncillo used to say that one needs to wait at least 20 years before commenting on something as history because that time should provide the perspective and hindsight to see things clearly. Unfortunately, a people who have to elect a new president next year cannot wait 20 years for the truth to emerge.
We are told that many years after their political rivalry, Emilio Aguinaldo and Manuel Luis Quezon became civil to each other when they met in public. But in the run-up to the presidential election of 1935, these two men fought in the newspapers, making the issue relevant today as we ask how the Vice President could amass billions on his government salary.
In a previous column I wrote about the Bureau of Lands asking Aguinaldo to pay for government land he had occupied before it was put up for public auction. Sensing political harassment, Aguinaldo kicked Quezon out of the Association of Veterans of the Philippine Revolution. The story does not end there because the Sunday Herald of July 14, 1929, carried this headline: “Bank demands payment of Aguinaldo debt.” Part of the story reads:
“Demand for payment of Aguinaldo’s debt to PNB (Philippine National Bank) amounting to over P30,000 was recently made by the attorneys of the bank, after, as sources claimed, his attack on Senate President [Quezon] was published recently.
“Aguinaldo was given five days to settle his debt or face court action. It was believed that Aguinaldo has a longstanding obligation with the bank that dates back to ten years ago. The interest amounted to P30,000. Despite repeated efforts of bank officials to collect the payment, Aguinaldo never settled his debts.”
Elsewhere in the same newspaper was an article titled “Scathing reply to Aguinaldo is made by President Quezon. President quotes Mabini to prove that general is failure as republic head.” Here Quezon described Aguinaldo as:
“The worst enemy of Philippine independence, the bitterest propagandist of our alleged incapacity for self-government… Aguinaldo the fallen leader of our people wants to come back to power, and in his desperate attempt, since our people would not have him, he now seeks to have them deprived of the right to elect their own officials… he wants to build tyranny, a dictatorship. And this is the man that professes to have but one ambition—the liberty of his people!
“…General Aguinaldo has said that under my leadership independence is farther away than ever, and that we cannot expect to get it even [within] a thousand years. And to think that the very man in whose hands the cause of independence itself completely went to pile. General Aguinaldo, though he had a government and an army, and in spite of the support and cooperation of the entire country, failed to secure any right for his people… His incompetence both as a military leader and as head of the government brought total defeat… Who, then, will dare to affirm that we are today farther, much farther away from independence than on that tragic day when General Aguinaldo signed [in 1897] the famous document [Pact of Biyak-na-Bato] of his unconditional surrender?”
Aguinaldo’s response was to make public a list of Quezon’s assets and to ask how the Senate president was able to amass these with a yearly salary of P16,000. Quezon, according to Aguinaldo, was “a living example of government officials who enter politics with nothing but now possess large fortunes.” Aguinaldo called on Quezon to explain that his fortune did not come from “mala manera” (bad means). Quezon replied: “Pruebenlo (Prove it)!” So Aguinaldo enumerated the following:
- Land measuring 2,700,000 square meters in the Dominican friar estate of San Felipe Nery sold as individual lots.
- Quezon’s house in Pasay valued at P100,000.
- A house and lot acquired by Quezon from Judge Johnson at P75,000.
- A house acquired from Mr. Hoskins in San Juan del Monte at P45,000.
- Interest in a sawmill company in Calauag, Tayabas, in the amount of P50,000.
- A fishpond in Pampanga worth P60,000.
- A coconut plantation valued at P25,000 and livestock in Tayabas.
- A third of the Balintawak estate valued at P3 million, where the projected capitol of the country would be built.
- Great landholdings in Baler and Infanta on which the railroad will pass.
- Interest in many companies.
Journalism may be history in a hurry, but the historian reading old newspapers with the benefit of hindsight and perspective has an enviable 20/20 vision. Someone should write about Aguinaldo’s later life to make sense of all these and separate truth from political harassment.
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The sum of acreage of two pieces of land that Rizal owned in Dapitan in my last column should read 35 hectares instead of 25. My mistake, not Retana’s or De la Costa’s.
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