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Things don’t have to be the way they are

While Filipino historians need to go abroad to dig up primary-source materials for their work, their task is made easier these days because of the Internet. Much of the preliminary bibliographic spadework can be done online, saving a lot of time and money, although there is a romantic thrill in personally discovering a relevant document amid a mountain of related documents. While historians lament the loss of the many rare books and archival documents that perished with the libraries and archives in Intramuros during the Battle of Manila in 1945, more traces of our history await the diligent researcher in Spain, Mexico, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Japan and many other places that conserve Philippine historical and ethnographic material.

These past few years I strayed from my Rizal and 19th-century comfort zone to explore relations with 17th-century Japan. I dipped into the Second World War while researching on Jorge Vargas and the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo, then I have been learning about figures from the Ilocos: from the people involved in the Basi Revolt of 1807, to Artemio Ricarte aka Vibora (Viper), to Elpidio Quirino and Ferdinand Marcos. With Marcos I have spent many nights surfing the website of the historian of the US Department of State for declassified documents that comprise the US Foreign Relations Series.

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The materials made available to researchers are fascinating because they give us the US view on Philippine political life. For example, a memorandum from a deputy assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern Affairs to the US secretary of state on Nov. 20, 1959 provides an assessment of the 1959 midterm elections where eight Senate seats and positions in 54 provinces and 31 chartered cities were contested. The elections were seen both as an indicator of the power of the Garcia administration and the Nacionalista Party (NP) against the Liberal Party (LP), the splinter group led by Claro M. Recto, and the Grand Alliance (GA) formed by people allied with the late President Ramon Magsaysay. It is significant that in this election we see the rise of Ferdinand Marcos.

The comments and analysis are quite timely as we inch closer to the elections next week:

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“Traditionally, elections in the Philippines have been decided largely on the basis of effective party organization on the local level, plus access to funds and patronage. By those standards, the elections should have resulted in a landslide for Garcia’s NP, which had control of all but four provinces and which openly dispensed money and patronage on a lavish scale during the campaign to the chronically un- and underemployed poorer Filipinos. These assets were offset somewhat, however, by the widespread popular dissatisfaction with the Garcia administration’s record of graft, corruption and inaction, and the internecine strife within the Nacionalista Party between President Garcia and the powerful but aging NP party president, Senator Rodriguez.”

Further into the memo it was noted that:

“There is no doubt that the great majority of the rural voters accepted the favors, jobs and money offered by the local representatives of the incumbent NP regime. Given the prevalently low standard of living in the Philippines, and the fact that the NP will be in power for two more years, this practical reaction to the democratic process could be anticipated. However, it is apparent that the voters, doubtless including many who accepted NP favors, cast their ballots for the NP man only when they felt he was not identified with Garcia.

“Particularly significant, of course, are those contests in which the President’s personal prestige suffered … These results are likely to encourage a growing confidence and optimism among opposition elements. Both the 1957 election and this one show that while rural voters will generally follow local political leadership they will no longer accept blindly candidates who are notoriously objectionable either for personal reasons or from the standpoint of clean and effective government.

“Another clear lesson from both 1957 and 1959 [elections] is that no matter how attractive, candidates cannot win nationally without the advantages of local political organization on a nationwide scale. On the other hand, the Liberal Party cannot unseat the NP if there is a third party appealing to the Magsaysay supporters. Responsible opposition leaders in both groups may be expected to press for a political realignment or coalition to bring all anti-Garcia forces together, now probably under the auspices of the Liberal Party. However, many of the able and influential leaders of the LP and the GA may find it difficult to accept the leadership of the present Liberal Party president, Philippine Vice President Macapagal, since they blame him for destroying the LP-Progressive Party coalition which looked so promising earlier this year. On the basis of his strong personal showing this year, Senator Marcos may be in a position to compete for the LP leadership before 1961; this might provide a way for unification in spite of the inflexibility which Macapagal has shown up until now.”

The above memo may be ancient history to millennials, but it tells us there is much in Philippine elections that has not changed since the time of Manuel Quezon. And the details can provide context to our present elections and make us realize that things don’t have to be the way they are.

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TAGS: 1959 elections, Elections 2016, History, internet, research
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