A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of February 18-24, 2015
PRESIDENTS’ DAY THE FILIPINO WAY
Have you ever wondered why the USA celebrates Presidents’ Day and our home country, the Philippines, does not?
In 1885, US President Chester Arthur set the third Monday of February as “George Washington’s Birthday” to honor “the father of our country.” George Washington’s Birthday became a federal holiday. Much later on, in the 1960s, some reformers wanted to change the name of the holiday to “Presidents’ Day” to include Abraham Lincoln. That reformist move was defeated in Congress, so in fact, the original name of the holiday, George Washington’s Birthday, was actually unchanged. However, since that time, “Presidents’ Day” has been ushered into popular usage, appearing in official communications, advertisements, and event announcements. The reason for commemorating Presidents’ Day in the USA is to acknowledge and honor the contributions of the past Presidents to nation-building and democracy. Our current President, Barack Obama, is our 44th head of state and government.
Filipino-Americans who were born here have learned all about the American presidents in their grade school civics class. As a naturalized American, I would like to supplement the knowledge of my readers with some brief comments about the presidents of the Philippines. In this way, we as Filipino-Americans can also acknowledge and honor the contributions of the past Philippine presidents to nation-building and democracy. President Benigno (“Noynoy/PNoy”) Aquino III is the current and 15th President of the Philippines. But who was the first one? Who was next, and so on?
1. Emilio Aguinaldo, leader of the revolution between America and Spain, was the first president of the Philippine Republic. He was appointed head of a barangay in the province of Cavite by the Spanish government at the age of 17, then later promoted to mayor. Aguinaldo faced some controversies during his day, but he was credited with having declared independence from Spain and the US on June 12, 1898 in Kawit, Cavite. The refusal of the Americans to recognize this 1898 independence resulted in the Philippine-American War. The Philippines started commemorating June 12 as its Independence Day during the term of the 9th president, Diosdado Macapagal, in the 1960s (more on him later). In his 30s, Aguinaldo retired and became a farmer. He died in the mid-1960s at 95 years old.
2. The second president of the Philippines is Manuel L. Quezon, also known as the first president of the Philippine Commonwealth. When the Philippine-American War broke out, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the revolutionary army, later to be promoted to captain. After the war, he practiced law in Baler, Tayabas (now Quezon) and by age 27 was elected governor. His political career eventually catapulted him to the position of resident commissioner in Washington DC. It was during his term that the Jones Act was passed in the US Congress, granting independence to the Philippines. Later on, he was part of a delegation that secured the passage of the Tydings-McDuffie Act, setting 1946 as the year of independence. With the Act’s provision for a commonwealth government, Quezon was elected president until World War II began. He passed away in Saranac Lake, New York.
3. Jose P. Laurel was the president of the second Philippine Republic, or the head of the caretaker/puppet Japanese government. He has an advanced law degree from Yale University. He was appointed Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in 1934. He took office on Oct. 14, 1943 and left office on Aug. 17, 1945.
4. Sergio Osmeña was the second president of the Commonwealth. He was credited with leading the efforts toward rehabilitation of the country after the war. Under General Aguinaldo’s command, he was the staff courier and journalist.
5. Manuel Roxas was the last president of the Commonwealth and the first president of the Philippine Republic. He started as a law clerk of the Supreme Court and later became a governor of Capiz. He was one of the members who drafted the 1935 charter in the Constitutional Convention.
6. Elpidio Quirino, the second president of the Republic, left an important legacy in the form of the Minimum Wage Law and the institution of the Central Bank. The socio-economic measures he implemented during his term resulted in stabilizing the Philippine peso, balancing the national budget, and a notable improvement in Philippine economy.
7. Ramon Magsaysay was the third president of the Republic and many people say that he was the most popular. Magsaysay was a guerilla fighter during the Japanese invasion. After the liberation, Gen. Douglas MacArthur promoted him to the rank of major. Magsaysay will be remembered for opening Malacañang Palace to the people. He broke up big land estates, secured land settlements for the masses, and lowered the price of consumer goods. He died in a plane crash on March 17, 1957. He was 50 years old.
8. Carlos P. Garcia will be remembered for his “Filipino First Policy” and “Austerity Program,” putting the interests of Filipinos above those of foreigners and whichever party was in power. In 1971 he was the president of the Constitutional Convention called by Ferdinand Marcos. He died of a heart attack in Manila in 1971.
9. Diosdado Macapagal began his career as a head of a Department of Foreign Affairs panel that negotiated the transfer of the Turtle Islands from Great Britain to the Philippines. He was also known for his Land Reform Bill which freed farmers from large landowners. He also declared June 12 as Philippine National Independence Day.
10. Ferdinand E. Marcos was the first Philippine president to serve a second term. During his second term, he signed into law Proclamation 1081 declaring Martial Law on Sept. 21, 1972. After a 20-year rule, Marcos and his followers had to leave the country following the EDSA Revolution in 1986.
11. Corazon C. Aquino was the seventh president of the Republic and the first woman in this position. Borne by the protests that followed the assassination of her husband Sen. Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino, Aquino won the snap elections between her and Marcos. The EDSA People Power Revolution on Feb. 22-25, 1986 held back the Marcos government’s troops from reaching the Ramos-Enrile breakaway group. Aquino’s troubled presidency was nevertheless remembered as a transition government of a country on its way to establishing democracy.
12. Fidel V. Ramos, the eighth president of the Republic, first served as the Vice Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines under the Marcos government. Later on he became the Secretary of Defense under the Aquino administration.
13. Joseph E. Estrada (“Erap”), the ninth president of the Republic, became a film actor in his 20s and became a showbiz legend. Estrada ran for mayor in the municipality (now city) of San Juan from 1967, getting reelected until he served for a total of around 16 years. He was then elected senator, then vice-president, then president in 1998. After his involvement in a scandal, people staged another mass protest to oust him from power.
14. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is the daughter of former President Diosdado Macapagal and a former classmate of US President Bill Clinton. When she was still in the Senate, she made waves by working for the passage of bills that have powerful economic impact. She took office in 2001 and left office in 2010.
15. The contributions of current President of the Philippines, Benigno (Noynoy, PNoy) Aquino III, would still have to be determined by history in retrospect. Election year 2016 is coming up. I urge Filipinos in the home country to exercise their right to vote and to vote wisely.
Reference: King, J. “Great & Famous Filipinos,” Manila: Worldlink Books, 2002; Wikipedia.com; Goodsearch.com; http://www.philippine-history.org/
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