‘Not only luck but also business foresight’
BANGKOK—[email protected] provided an opportunity to look back into history and ask how much of the hopes and expectations were delivered and how many promises were broken, resulting in the mess we now endure. With the annual Edsa commemoration over, we return to the election campaign and look forward to the rest of the Pilipinas 2016 presidential debates.
I reviewed on YouTube the first debate held on Feb. 21, and the barbs thrown around by the candidates reminded me of a debate between Emilio Aguinaldo, the retired first president of the Republic, and then Senate President Manuel L. Quezon that appeared in the press from July to August 1929. Aguinaldo presented a list of Quezon’s assets and asked how these were obtained on the latter’s annual salary of P16,000. He added that Quezon was a living example of government officials who enter public life with nothing and end up with a fortune.
Aguinaldo challenged Quezon to explain that his fortune did not come from “de mala manera”(bad way). Quezon’s reply: “Pruebenlo (Prove it)!”
As a background, it should be remembered that Aguinaldo refused an invitation to join the 1922 Philippine Independence Mission to the United States, saying it was a junket and a waste of public funds. During the so-called Cabinet Crisis of 1923, Aguinaldo sided with US Governor-General Leonard Wood against Quezon. In a January 1927 meeting of the Veteranos de la Revolucion, Gen. Pantaleon Garcia described Aguinaldo as “the instrument of imperialism in these islands.” That same month the Bureau of Public Lands said Aguinaldo was squatting on public property in Paliparan, Cavite, and gave him the option to acquire the land or else it would be put up for public auction. Aguinaldo reacted by expelling Garcia, Tomas Mascardo, Quezon and others from the Veteranos de la Revolucion.
In July 1929, the Philippine National Bank made public Aguinaldo’s outstanding debt of P80,000 and demanded payment. Aguinaldo replied by presenting a list of Quezon’s assets, as follows:
Quezon’s home in Pasay valued at P100,000 and a number of cars parked inside; business interests in many corporations and companies (not fully detailed except for a P50,000 share in a compania aserradora or lumber mill in Calauag, Tayabas, his home province); vast properties that include a coconut plantation with an estimated 25,000 trees and cattle pasture in Tayabas, as well as land in Baler and Infanta that were in the path of a future railroad track; a fishpond in Pampanga valued at P60,000.
Properties in suburban Manila (later integrated at the beginning of World War II as “Greater Manila”) included: property in the Mandaluyong Dominican friar land of San Felipe Nery measuring 2,700 square meters that were sold as lots; a house and lot in San Juan del Monte acquired from C. M. Hoskins, a real estate owner, at P40,000 (in another list, assessed at P45,000); a house and lot acquired from a certain Mr. Gibs, son-in-law of Judge Johnson, for P75,000; and the crown jewel: a one-third stake in the Balintawak property then valued at P3 million, that was to become part of the future capital we know today as Quezon City.
In response, Quezon said he was not as rich as Aguinaldo had painted him out to be. He explained that he was able to acquire property from the earnings on his Mandaluyong property that was a mere 1/11 share of an estate he bought from Mr. Whitaker and Mr. Ortigas in 1920 for P100,000 that he borrowed from the Philippine National Bank with a guarantee from Tomas Earnshaw. He also said he earned much from his property in San Juan that was reinvested, adding to the property he bought from Hoskins with an adjacent lot acquired from Antonio Brias at P12,000.
Surprisingly, Quezon did not stop at explaining all the properties in Aguinaldo’s list. He even provided, or bragged about, assets that Aguinaldo did not know of, which included: P10,000 profit on a house and lot he had bought and resold; land acquired from Brias for P12,000 that was adjacent to the Hoskins property he owned; P24,000 profit on shares that he held in the English-language newspaper Manila Times and the Spanish-language La Vanguardia.
What is intriguing in Quezon’s reply to Aguinaldo is the admission that he received some rather expensive gifts of land: property in Sariaya that was presented to him by the Rodriguez family for reasons not stated, and property in San Juan del Monte that he had christened “Dalagang Bukid” (a reference perhaps to the 1919 film starring Atang de la Rama), received as a present for bringing home the Jones Law!
I can only imagine what the feisty Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales would have made of these gifts if these were made to a government official today.
Quezon’s reply to Aguinaldo’s challenge was quite telling: “The only thing that my business transactions show is that not only have I been lucky in some of them, but also, in all modesty, I may say that I am not entirely lacking in business foresight.”
The question that historians will have to answer today is: Were Quezon’s assets gained from business foresight, or was the urban development of Manila tied to the rise of Quezon City?
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