Protocol, tradition make transfer of power smoother | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Protocol, tradition make transfer of power smoother

On June 9, 2010, I was invited to a meeting in Malacañang to discuss plans for the inauguration of Benigno S. Aquino III as president of the Philippines and the ceremony that would mark Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s return to private life.

If we are to go by the template set by previous inaugurals, the procedure goes roughly like this: The president-elect arrives in Malacañang and meets with the outgoing president. They descend the grand staircase together and board the presidential limousine for the short ride from the Palace to the Quirino Grandstand. After arrival honors, the president-elect ascends the grandstand while the outgoing president departs in a private car. If things go like clockwork, the president-elect takes the oath shortly before noon and formally assumes office as the outgoing president arrives home, a private citizen once more. From the grandstand, the new president motors back to Malacañang to take possession of the seat of government, ascends the grand staircase and presides over his or her first Cabinet meeting.

The complication in 2010 was that the president-elect preferred an inaugural in Quezon City instead of at the Luneta. Then there was the awkward five-minute car ride where the president-elect and outgoing president had to make small talk or sit in silence. What they discussed in the car is lost to history, although the driver and the aide-de-camp sitting in front overheard it all.

On June 10, 2010, the media made a splash over our meeting and inaccurately labeled the Inaugural Committee as the “Transition Team.” Since I was only consulted on the history of inaugurals, I dodged reporters who wanted to know more than I knew.


I do remember that a uniformed military man suggested that arrival honors be given the president-elect at the Quirino Grandstand. I had to remind the overzealous military man that Mrs. Arroyo was still his commander in chief until the president-elect had taken his oath, so I suggested that arrival honors be given Mrs. Arroyo at the Luneta since she would take her private car home afterwards and the newly minted president, P-Noy, could be accorded departure honors at the Quirino Grandstand and arrival honors at the Palace.

All these seem like trivial details now, but these brought home the point, at least to me, that protocol and tradition are in place to make transitions smoother. Through symbolic arrivals and departures we dramatize the peaceful transfer of power from one president to a successor.

Change is indeed coming as this will be the first time  an elected President and an elected Vice President will be sworn in at separate venues—Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang and Leni Robredo in Quezon City.

In 1986 we had two presidential inaugurals: Ferdinand Marcos in Malacañang and Corazon Aquino in Club Filipino. It is good to have protocol and tradition, but these can change depending on the time or the situation. Presidents Manuel Quezon and Sergio Osmeña took their oath abroad because they were heads of a government-in-exile during the Japanese occupation. Two presidents—Emilio Aguinaldo (1898) and Joseph Estrada (1998)—took their oath at Barasoain Church in Malolos; therefore, no superstitious president will ever take the oath there again because both men did not finish their terms.


Duterte will be the 16th President counting from: Aguinaldo, Quezon, Laurel, Osmeña, Roxas, Quirino, Magsaysay, Garcia, Macapagal, Marcos, Corazon Aquino, Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo and P-Noy. It is said that the superstitious Estrada did not like his being 13th in the roster of Philippine presidents. There was an attempt to start counting from Quezon instead of Aguinaldo to make him No. 12. Another suggestion was to drop Laurel (on grounds that his was a “puppet government” run by the Japanese) to make Estrada No. 12. A friend told me, on condition of anonymity, that a Palace official tried to allay Estrada’s fears by declaring: “Mr. President, you are the eighth president of the Fifth Republic.” It allegedly led Estrada to growl: “G*go! Eight plus five still makes 13!”

Duterte will take his oath in the Malacañang ceremonial hall three decades after Marcos did so in 1986. The other two presidents who took their oath in Malacañang did so only because they assumed office from presidents who died in office: Quirino in 1948 succeeded Roxas, and Garcia in 1957 succeeded Magsaysay. Aguinaldo, Quezon, Laurel, Osmeña, Roxas and Quirino did not swear on a Bible, while Magsaysay and Marcos took their oath on two Bibles: Magsaysay in 1953 used a Bible passed down from his father’s family and another from his mother’s side; Marcos in 1965 used a Bible owned by his father and another given to him as a gift by his wife Imelda. In 2010 P-Noy used the same bible that his mother swore on in 1986.


It is interesting to note that both Aguinaldo and Laurel had no vice president.

Only Aguinaldo took his oath in Spanish. Those who took their oath in Filipino were: Laurel, Marcos, Ramos, Estrada and P-Noy. The rest took theirs in English. Marcos had the most number of inaugural addresses (in 1965, 1969, 1981 and 1986), followed by Quezon (in 1935, 1941 and 1943).

For more interesting facts on inaugurals, check out the website of the Presidential Museum and Library.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Leni Robredo, malacanang, presidential inauguration, Rodrigo Duterte

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