(Extemporaneous Speech before Manila Lions, August 19, 1950)
For almost two hours and a half I sat patiently by the side of the previous speakers listening to every word and scanning ever gesture during their delivery of their beautiful speeches, expecting to get or receive some illumination regarding the ways and means by which this government, so unpleasant, so apparently weak and powerless, may reconstruct and strengthen itself. At the same time, I expected to be able to find a way to achieve these purposes from the intelligent discussion with which we would be treated here this evening.
When I entered this hall, I left behind me the title of President of the Philippines. There were misgivings about my coming here this evening. My close friends and there are still many of them who love me – cautioned me not to come, saying I would receive the greatest disappointment in my life by hearing these speeches that would perhaps hurt me and affect my efficiency in the administrator of the national affairs; others, believing that this gathering was being constituted by a great majority of the ill-wishers of the government, thought that this was not the audience that I should address because I must protect not only the name and prestige of the party but also the little dignity that I have as head of this nation. I turned a deaf ear to all of them.
We have not yet been able to utilize that Roxas Park of Liberty where everybody can talk and outtalk anybody else and attack the government, individuals, and even their God freely and with impunity, a place which we might call our Filipino Hyde Park. Unfortunately, it is not yet available.
I came to this place relishing the opportunity to hear the most eloquent brickbat that I have ever heard in my life. And I think I have been in public life longer than Dr. Laurel. Forty-four years ago, in 1906, I entered the public service as a barrio school teacher. I have gone through the whole gamut in the government administration, going from one branch of the government to another, from a barrio school teacher to clerk, to Representative, to Senator, to Cabinet member, to Vice President, until I came to the position that I am now occupying.
I have heard unkind remarks everywhere. In my political speeches and campaigns, I have received the hardest attacks from the very beginning, but there was nothing so unsavory, so ungentlemanly as those I have just heard from the lips of Senator Tañada. I thought that our country was becoming politically civilized enough and that we were educating ourselves in a democracy so that we would know the proper time when to say “sonna-ma-gun“ and when to insult a man, attacking his own integrity, connecting with a lousy deal such as the Tambobong and Buenavista estates. I want to challenge you, Senator, to tell me that was a family affair. I want to imitate what President Quezon said to Laurel: “If you find that there is anything wrong in connection with my actualities there, my life is your own. It is yours and the people’s.“ (Applause)
Poor as I am and having come from the bottom, I have so conducted myself in public as well as in private life, that I can always look straight into any man’s eye and tell him to go to hell. (Applause).
That is just an introduction. You and I, my friends of the Lion’s Club have paid fifteen, twenty or fifty pesos to come to this hall and hear these three speeches. I regret that you had to pay that much to hear something unedifying and unpleasant. I really had hoped that I would be revealed to myself, that my political picture would be drawn here in all honesty and sincerity and that I might take advantage of any description of myself as a public official or as a private citizen. But all I learned is the personality of the cartoonist. I want to congratulate Dr. Laurel (Applause) for the high-minded statesmanship, constructive suggestions, and highly patriotic fervor in expressing his view in response to the requirements of the moment.
My friends, the three of us who are here with you. have been on various occasions in the same party. When we organized the Collectivista Party, Dr. Laurel and I were there. When we organized the Liberal Party, Senator Tañada and I were there. Now we belong to three different parties. This reminds me of what transpired when two English authors, Chesterton and Beelock, were discussing the cause of drunkenness. One said, “I am drinking everywhere all sorts of wine. I don’t know which causes drunkenness more, whisky or brandy or gin. If I drink whisky mixed with water, I get drunk. If I drink gin and mix it with water, I get drunk. And if I drink brandy with water, I still get drunk. So my conclusion is that no matter what you mix water with you get drunk. So, I conclude that water is the most pernicious and intoxicating beverage ever.” Well, perhaps I am the water. I didn’t come here drunk with power. I didn’t come here drunk with dignity. I didn’t come here drunk with dreams of greatness or illusions of grandeur. The greatest evidence that I believe in democracy is that I can stand here contrary to protocol and listen to what my friends think or fancy I am without feeling offended unless they attack my personal character. I invite you, my friends, to follow me to those old days since 1906 through all these offices that I have held and you can ask all my associates, my relatives, my friends, and even my enemies in my home province, about me – in fact, all those who know me intimately in public as well as in private life. I think that God will bear me out that there is not a scintilla of evidence that will show lack of character, lack of integrity, or lack of earnestness to serve my country.
I wish to remind you of the great issue of the day when we were still fighting for our independence. When we begun our campaign for the freedom of this country, our people were divided into two schools – one thought was that we should not have independence because we were not yet economically prepared; the other was for immediate, complete, and absolute independence, to which President Quezon, Osmeña, Palma, and all the rest of us who were disciples of President Quezon, belonged. At that time there was no issue but independence. It was only a question of timing. While one party thought it was too early, the other party said, “No, it is timely.”
America thought for decades of the advisability of granting the Philippines her independence. America was sincere in preparing us for the boon of freedom. America prepared us for forty-eight years to achieve it. America spent her own money in that preparation. She sent school teachers here, and some of the worthy sons of the United States made crimson the shores of Jolo, of Lanao, and of other places when the recalcitrant Moros were fighting the government established by the Americans, believing that they were going to be sacrificed to the independence that was going to be granted to us. It took American decades to consider whether or not we should be given our Independence. The only issue was whether the Philippines was already prepared to be independent. Even we, who were called Inmediatistas were doubting whether this country could rise on its own feet once independence was granted. But we dared. We braved the future, believing that if independence was placed in our hands, we would be able to work out a system of government which would enable us to enjoy the liberty and freedom that we now have. It was only after the last war when everything had been demolished, when our country was devastated, when every home, every industry, every constructive activity of this country was bulldozed, so to speak, as a price of our loyalty to the United States that we all were convinced it was worth the sacrifice to accept independence. We had hoped that America would stand by us, support us, encourage us, and give us strength to be able to show that democracy can thrive on our soil. So independence was declared on July 4, 1946. We built a very small house, a very poor one, a barong-barong we might call it. We had no money. We had barely one million pesos in our coffer. The eighteen million pesos that we had in deposit in the United States was brought home as part or a remnant of our Commonwealth Funds deposited there when our Commonwealth Government was functioning in Washington as an exile government. Our people were still bleeding. Their wounds had not yet been healed. Our farms were not rehabilitated. Our people were still in tatters. People were going in rags in the streets extending their hands to the American soldiers or anybody who could throw them a cigarette, a can of food, or even the crumbs of the soldiers in the street corners, in fact anywhere.
We forgot indignity. We accepted every wee bit. We accepted every assistance. We accepted all graciously in the greatest confidence that the US, our Big Brother, wanted us to be free and would want us to continue enjoying freedom. From such assistance, we felt America would derive pride in the future because of her successful, benign colonial policy in the Orient. What happened since then, my friends? We have never been ourselves since 1945. We were broke – we still are broke. We had to borrow from the United States sixty million dollars to meet our budgetary requirements. We had to spend everything that we had as trust funds, yes, but it belonged to us, and the trust fund is not earmarked. It is put in the treasury. Whenever the Congress authorizes the expenditure of that money, it is withdrawn.
You are not going to charge President Osmeña, President Roxas, or myself with having taken advantage of that deposit in order to fatten our pockets. Extraordinary expenses had to be met and authorized. During the time of President Osmeña what did he do? He had to rehabilitate the banks, the insurance companies, our industries. President Osmeña had to give funds as loans to provinces and municipalities in order to rehabilitate those political subdivisions of our country. And we compelled our people to pay their taxes though they, too, were rising from their prostration. Our people, responsive to the demands of the government, paid those taxes fro over one million pesos in 1945 gradually increasing and increasing up to 310 million pesos in 1949.
We made sacrifices, yes. We borrowed money, yes. But the extraordinary expenses that we had to bear were for the rehabilitation of our industries, of our institutions. Our object was to derive benefits from such capital investments, the wherewithal of our future Philippine Republic. My friends, you tell me now, our country is broke, the house that we constructed is a barong-barong. You asked President Osmeña to go up and construct the house properly. He didn’t have enough time to stay there. Then the country wanted President Roxas to go up there and do the same thing. He, too, lacked the time to do that. He had wonderful plans. We still have plans. Destiny has made me the successor of these two men. But the circumstances have not changed. We are still broke. But we dared our future because we preferred to die a free man even in hunger rather than be a mere colony of the greatest, wealthiest, and the most powerful nation of the world. (Applause) That is what we have been fighting for since the very beginning. Rizal made a sacrifice to realize that dream. Del Pilar, too, suffered and all the rest of our patriots at that time in Spain. All their successors have fought hard – for what? For our freedom and independence.
And now this house is still a barong-barong; its posts perhaps are not strong enough, the walls are not thick enough to withstand the weather, and the roof is still leaking. I did not assume this office alone. The people selected me in 1946, as Vice President. By the constitutional mandate I had to succeed when President Roxas died. I did not vote for myself alone despite the belief of Dr. Laurel that I was not the legitimate choice of the people. The fact is, after I have assumed office and our people have accepted me as the President of the Philippines, I have become a symbol of this country and you have no right, not even if it were a beast of burden, to abuse your own symbol. I am a servant of the people, but that does not relieve you of your responsibility to respect the position and not to deprive me of the dignity and decency of my office. (Applause)
Now, let me turn to actual facts. You say there is graft and corruption. I admit . Why am I cleaning this government? How many people have been taken to court? How many have been kicked out of the government since I assumed office? I can well compare this Administration of mine for the last three or fours years, for two years and a half at least, with the record of any previous administration. I ask you to find out who has succeeded in dismissing more officials and investigating more functionaries of the government than I during this administration.
Now, I cannot be a judge, a fiscal, a sheriff, and a general at the same time, my friends. If you believe that the man who went up to repair or has continued reconstructing that house as it was in 1946, is weakening because he cannot bear the burden alone, you are not going to get a club or pick up a stone and throw it at him. As was well said by Dr Laurel, you are as much a Filipino as I am, and don’t think that you have a monopoly of patriotism. I did my best. If my hand is weak, give me strength to enable me to strike down on the anvil of adversity in order that I many be able to shape the future of this country properly and constructively. Give me that strength so that I may discharge properly the duties imposed upon me by the Constitution. There is no sense in just crying aloud everywhere, because of pinpricks, attacks, or criticisms. I am used to them. In fact, I think I am getting calloused to them. But as I said once, in the spirit of a Spanish traveler,
“ Si he de parar
para oir ladrar
al perro en el camino
nunca llegare a mi destino.”
(If I were to stop to hear the barkings of a dog on my way, I shall never reach my destination.) And, my friends, that is my predicament today. Graft and corruption – did I tolerate them? Did I associate with any of them? Be more kind. Who started the investigation of the Surplus Property Commission? Who started the investigation of the supposed immigration racket? Who started investigation in all the offices? And who appointed the Integrity Board, constituted by men and women who have the confidence of the country because of their honesty, sincerity, and integrity? Shall I have to answer for every detail? You will say, well, Quezon did this, Quezon did that. Yes, but how many Quezons do we have in the Philippines. Don’t expect me to be a Quezon. Every dog bays and barks differently. Of course I learned a great deal from President Osmeña. I learned a great deal more from President Quezon, and I tried to profit from both. In all my life, I can never be an Osmeña or Quezon. All I can do is to learn the good things that I have been taught, and I want to tell that I am learning and devoting every minute, every second of my life, religiously to my country. What else, my countrymen, do you expect me to do? “Kill me,” as President Quezon said. Go ahead. But President Quezon taught me one thing which I am following now.
One Sunday morning, way back in 1934, he called me up by telephone. He was then President of the Senate, and he was living in Pasay.
“Quirino are you busy?” he said.
“No, Mr. President.”
“Come over and see me right now. “
I reached his place. He was busy packing. “Mr. President, what is this?”
“Quirino, I am getting ready to leave this country.”
“But, Mr. President, after securing the approval of the Tydings-McDuffie Law…” (We had just returned from the United States.) “How come that now you are going to leave the government?” Because, he said, he was going to retire in Switzerland with a plan of writing his memoirs on one of the slopes of the mountains beside the beautiful lakes of Switzerland.
And he said, “I have really worked hard. I prepared all of you people, but some of our intimate friends, those in whom I have great confidence, are betraying me. When I was away, they did this and that. They are dragging me down in this administration. I may just s well leave you all and be at peace with my mind free from this atmosphere.” In the midst of the conversation, he asked me, “Have you been to church?”
“Well, you go with me.”
And we went to San Beda church to hear mass. We went almost to the sacristia, and there (two of us were still in that corner waiting for the priest to say mass) he repeated his plan of leaving for Switzerland, resigning as President of the Senate and abandoning us in the Philippines. At that moment, I did not know what I felt. It was a supreme moment for me, and I looked at him and said, “Mr. President, remember that you prepared us.”
“Yes, and you prepare to fight even if you have to fight me in order to be able to carry on the government. I want you to send the crooks out of this government.”
“Mr. President, if that is my mission, if that is our mission, why in hell are you going to leave us now? Why do you have to abandon us when the work requires that you be here and help us clean the government which you want to establish to be free and independent? That is not right; it is not fair. It is almost cowardice for you to leave us at this time.”
The old man bowed his head without saying a word. After mass, he got me by the arm and said, “Let’s go.” He dropped me at my residence in San Anton, Sampaloc, and asked me, “Quirino, I want to see you at 5:00 o’clock. Let us meet at the Philippine Columbian Club this afternoon.”
“Yes, at 5:00 o’clock in the Philippine Columbian Association.”
I saw him there. He was the first to arrive. He was sitting beside Dr. Antonio Sison. The President was then playing domino with somebody else. As soon as he saw me approach, he got up and, utilizing his swagger stick (he was fond of carrying a swagger stick at that time), waved to me and said, “Quirino, you were right.” He embraced me, took me out, and said, “I am not going.”
Evidently, he was haunted or obsessed with an idea that he was going to fail in the administration of government. And frustrated as he was, he wanted to have the opportunity of an elegant exit from the government. But because of that decision, he went back to the United States. I knew that his kidney trouble was ailing him. He went to Baltimore, to Johns Hopskins Hospital. When he was released there, he did not resign; he did not go to Switzerland. He came home and fought as he never fought before. He regained the confidence of the people in the government and held us all around him.
Well, I had a feeling also that one of those days when I am so beset with troubles here, attacks there, unsavory remarks here, unkind observations there, I would think that it is not necessary for me to continue because I have already served the government. But as long as my term is still unexpired and I have sworn to comply with my duties under the Constitution, I cannot renounce my position no matter who wants to deliver the reins of government to another. I cannot renounce my responsibility to continue devoting my whole time to the defense of the interests and the integrity and the honor of the government for which I have sacrificed everything for the last forty-six years. (Applause)
These are really hard times. Under the leadership of President Quezon and President Osmeña and during all those days when our foremost leaders were fighting for our independence, from the time of Rizal to the revolutionary period and from the time of Quezon to the day until we achieved our independence, the only issue was political independence of our country. But once that political independence was achieved, the only issue has been economic independence, and economic independence, my friends, is not an issue that can be successfully carried out by merely delivering speeches, by persuasion, by inspiration.
Economic independence now means hard work, hard toil, cool calculation, patience, tolerance, and even humiliation and indignity. We have to tell the people how to work, how to dig, how to build. It is not a campaign of inspiration; it is a campaign of perspiration.
And that is my luck; it is your luck, and if you love your country, my friends, don’t pull me down while I am holding one of the rafters in the midst of this economic or financial storm in this country. Help me; give me your hand, if you really are a patriotic Filipino. You must not pull me down. Lift me there because the Constitution provides that you have to respect my term of office.
My friends, we are talking sharp. I did not expect to speak so earnestly this evening as I had to. In fact, when my friend Dindo Gonzalez asked me to be here, I told him fondly I want to have a pleasant time. We even thought of having somebody here render some musical numbers. He said there would be some sort of enticing voice, and I was attracted. He said the central idea was cooperation. Good, that is what I need. I didn’t ask him to organize this evening’s banquet. That was their original idea, and I was very happy to be invited to this banquet because I thought it was an opportunity to hear the other side, to hear another kind of talk from people who don’t belong to my party. It is not true that I do not care for advice. On the contrary, I am being criticized for hearing too many advices. Nobody is self-sufficient, as Dr. Laurel aptly said. I shall not presume to be one. But, my friends, let us be more practical and sensible. Our country is not only unstable financially but we are being threatened with extinction because of present world conditions.It is necessary that we employ all our intelligence, organize our energies, and pool our efforts in order to save this country of ours because this country, after all, is not mine alone, and the ruler of this country is not Quirino alone. It is the government that rules this country. Quirino is only incidental.
At a time such as this therefore, it is opportune to talk of cooperation, the kind of cooperation – constructive cooperation – that helps.
We are tired of negative talk, my friends. What do we get by going tomorrow or the day after tomorrow everywhere, in a street corner, denouncing every once in a while that So and So is a grafter or that there is graft and corruption the government; that our finances are poor, when you cannot offer anything to solve our own problem?
If you want to help me clean this government, tell me who is the man to be fired. Don’t just make blanket accusation that this government is corrupt. I have the Integrity Board. You have Dr. Bocobo there; you have Justice De Joya of the Supreme Court; you have Judge Diaz; you have Mrs. Lim. All these people are in earnest trying to help the government clean its ranks of undesirables. Why don’t you go to them, why don’t you come to me and tell me “this sonnamagun is a grafter.” But tell it to me. If you don’t have the evidence, I will look for it, but tell me who is the man. Don’t keep me guessing. It is true that there are really some people who are taking advantage of their office; there are some. But this is a country which has established a democratic process of procedure to go after the grafters. I can, of course, accept their resignation. But it is not yet the time to do so because I am reorganizing this government. The Reorganization Commission report is not yet in. I see Mr. Paez here, a member of the Commission; and Mr. H. B. Reyes, who is here. The target date for the report of that commission is August 31 of this year, and my authority to reorganize the government extends up to January 5. Let us not make haste because haste makes waste. If you could endure to see the members of the cabinet or the other officials who are appointees of the President for the last four or five years or even much longer, you could wait for another one or two weeks.
My friends, the problems of the country today are so complicated, so multifarious, so pressing, and so important that even if you called Rizal, I dare say he would not be able readily to solve our problems, in one month, in two months, or even in one or two years. Even if President Quezon were alive today, the same problems would harass him. The people that would take advantage of their position will be the same men. We have been able to select some of those we could salvage during the last political debacle in this country but some of them are getting old. We are preparing new men; we are preparing new elements. I am preparing some of the Jaycees; I remember some of them – Ramon del Rosario, Ramon Araneta, Carlos, and several other young men and young women. I am even trying the women elements, placing one member in each board – the Integrity Board, and all the other advisory boards that I am creating, giving the opportunity to our women population to come here and contribute their share to the solution of our problems.
I offered a position to one who is rich. She turned me down and said, “Leave me alone; I can help you from outside.” I offered the same position to another one, a wealthy one, “Oh,” she said, “somebody else is more fitted for that position than I.” My friends, I must confess that there must be more civic spirit, a spirit of self-sacrifice. When President Quezon said, “My loyalty to my party ends where my loyalty to my country begins,” he forgot that there are individual ambitions or interests that will intervene. He should have added also, “My loyalty to myself ends where my loyalty to my country begins,” because everybody here thinks of himself. He believes that he is a leader; he believes that he can do everything that can be done under the sun.
My friends, let us disabuse our minds. We need to organize, coordinate, and systematize our efforts and energies, our intellect, our experience, in order to be able to cope with the present situation. Now, whey do we have here in the Philippines one of the most distinguished missions that were ever sent by the United States to this country upon my invitation – the Bell Mission? It is an acknowledgment, a confession, that this country is really in need of some technical assistance and advice from the United States. Knowing how fatherly that country has always been to us; knowing the continued concern of the United States of America for our future, not only for our independence but for the freedom of the democracies in this part of the world, I dared ask President Truman to help us and assist us in the preparation of an economic program that will fit better our situation and save our country from debacle.
My friends, that mission is still here, while we are exchanging brickbats telling “He is a crook. He is another one. Your government finances are wrong. Your program is wrong,” and repeating all those things to them and to the whole world without making any suggestion as to what we should do. Even if you have suggestions, if you just keep them to yourselves, how could you assist the mission and how could you assist finally this country in working out an economic and financial program that could be the basis of an economic and financial stability so that we could continue enjoying the freedom and liberty that we now enjoy? My friends, I appeal to you for more sense of proportion and value, for more practical sense of approach to our problem and for more patriotism, forgetting ourselves. I regret that there is no time left so that I could consume as much as my two previous speakers have consumed. As a matter of fact, I think they even forgot that there was a third speaker and so they consumed all the time that I should have used in order to clarify more in detail the position of this country. But it is not necessary for me to be too analytical at this moment because you and I know our situation, hence you are denouncing every day our defects.
The question is who will come forward honestly and sincerely and patriotically and offer to solve our problems? I challenge everyday to come forward.
I am very happy to have heard from Dr. Laurel such sensible approach to our problems and his readiness to serve the country even if he is not going to be in the government. That is the kind of patriotism that we need today. (Applause)
Charity is the central idea of this reunion. I understand that the fifteen, twenty, or fifty pesos that you had to contribute in order to be here will be distributed among charitable institutions. When you go out, I hope that in your heart of hearts you will feel that sense of charity that whatever has been done or said here you will consider with charity, at least for me, and with malice to none.
Jose P. Laurel, President during the Japanese Occupation
Source: Juan Collas, The Quirino Way : Collecton of Speeches and Addresses by Quirino, Elpidio (Manila: Juan Collas, 1955), p 212-223