About the author: CARLOS P. ROMULO (1899-1985). After earning his AB at the University of the Philippines (1918) and MA at Columbia University (1921), he had a varied and distinguished career. As author and journalist, he was editor of the TVT Publications in Manila (1931), publisher of the DMHM newspapers (1937-41), and author of numerous books. He served as aide-de-camp to General Douglas MacArthur and was promoted to the rank of brigadier general in September 1944. He was Secretary of Information in Quezon’s war cabinet in Washington, D.C. (1943-44), Resident Commissioner to the U.S. (1944-46), acting Secretary of Public Instruction in Osmeña’s cabinet (1944-45), secretary of education (1962-68) and president of the University of the Philippines (1962-68). In the field of foreign service, he served as chief of the Philippine Mission to the United Nations (1945-54), Secretary of Foreign Affairs (1950-52), ambassador to the United States (1952-53, 1955-62), and president of the UN General Assembly (1949-50) and UN Security Council (1957). He was the recipient of honorary doctorate degrees from 47 colleges and -universities.
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This year (1978) the nation celebrates the centenaries of two of the greatest statesmen our country has ever produced: Sergio Osmeña, Sr. and Manuel Quezon. In the city where he was born one hundred years ago, we celebrate the memory of Sergio Osmeña, whom we all remember as the “First Gentleman of the Philippines.”
I consider it important that we call to mind President Osmeña’s life and times, now that we are engaged in a task of national reconstruction comparable to that of the Revolution that he, together with Quezon, sought so hard to complete during their time. In the post-Revolutionary period, the aims of that truncated revolution still had to be won, the foundations of independence still had to be laid. As we of a new era seek to build on the foundations laid by these statesmen, it is imperative that we appraise the legacy bequeathed to us by them. To learn from it is to honor them best.
Mr. Osmeña belonged to a long line of leaders who, as crises developed, emerged from the people to lead them to safety. It is said if God intends a people to survive and prosper, great leaders will surely arise from their ranks as in other lands and other times. Such was the case with Osmeña and with Quezon. They arose to lead our people in a time of defeat and frustration, and when the unity engendered by a common cause had begun to break up from the fractious politics of a system whose intricacies Filipinos yet had to master, and whose strengths they still had to learn. It was a most difficult period when we had neither experience in nation-building nor in statecraft. When Osmeña took over as Speaker of the Philippine Assembly, a post second only to the American Governor-General, he had no experience as a legislator. Both he and Quezon had to undergo much agony and heartache before they could gain a victory, through peaceful means, in what Osmeña himself called a War of Independence.
Quezon did not survive this war, or the other war which was World War II. Osmeña lived on to savor the fruits of that victory when he acceded to the Presidency of the Commonwealth after Quezon’s death, up to and beyond the proclamation of the Independence of the Philippines in 1946, an event which Osmeña himself had done so much to bring about. Osmeña lived on to witness the first tentative steps taken by the fledgling republic in a test of the viability of the democracy established, under American tutelage, to achieve the purposes of the Filipino people. He died in 1961 before he could see the breakdown of that system. His death marked the passing of an era, which I essay to call the Osmeña era.
That era rightfully belongs to Osmeña, for not only did he outlive Quezon, he also left permanent imprints on that era by his sterling qualities and the high standards of political morality which he maintained even as he reached the apex of power. We of the present generation tend to overlook this quiet man because of the unspectacular way in which he lived and worked, and perhaps because, two generations removed from us, he has receded into a past we would rather forget. He belonged to an era to which we seem to have turned our backs. But we do so not because of the life and work of this great man, but because of the inherent defects of the system with which he had to work. In a signifcant sense he is the saving grace of that system.
If we must reject that system, if we must forego the unhappy experiments with it, let us at least retain a happy memory of those who, in spite of it, managed a steadfast and upright course in their lives, achieving great things for their nation. It is this reason why the Osmeña legacy will forever be a part of the history of the political evolution of the Philippines; it is what makes Osmeña a person to admire and to emulate.
It is difficult to speak of the Osmeña era without at the same time mentioning his life-long compañero, counterfoil, and collaborator, Quezon. These two were so inseparably linked together in most of the fateful events of that day that the story of one would not be complete without the story of the other. Some of the finest moments in the life and career of Osmeña were in the affirming of his friendship with Quezon, some of the most heroic episodes were in his asserting his opposition to Quezon. Whether in friendship or in enmity, in alliance or in political combat, these two men generated a great deal of forward movement for the party, government, or nation between the two of them. Never have the lives and careers of national leaders been so interwoven as theirs were; never have they been so vitally linked to the welfare and interest of the nation itself, as theirs were. But if their lives ran parallel courses, if they cooperated, or clashed, over so many common causes, and had, thereby, much to do with each other, their personalities, their styles, their outlook, and for that matter, their political morality, were worlds apart.
I do not intend to pronounce moral judgments, nor to rank either of them in their order of importance. But since we revere both their memories, I think it important that we know why, for what reasons, we give them a place in history.
Quezon was, as we all remember, a meteor in Philippine sides, tracing a fiery path to its extinction; Osmeña, on the other hand, was a steady light. Where one was flashy and mercurial, the other was unassuming and patient. Both knew their people well, but each took different themes of the Filipino character with which to present his case. Where Quezon was always playing to the audience, grandstanding, putting on a display of precocity and endearing himself to a public that demanded to be entertained by the political circus, Osmeña maintained the image of the sage-leader, the figure of the father and elder, speaking softly, and if necessary removing himself from the limelight to stand in the shadows, in order to preserve unity and prevent the splitting up of the party into ineffective factions.
The publicity about Quezon made much of his having asserted, oftentimes in spectacular fashion, the Filipinos’ rights in confrontation with the mighty world power that was the United States of America—our colonizer—as well as for having maintained his supremacy in the tangled world of Philippine domestic politics. Osmeña pursued a less florid approach to politics, unmindful of self, and willingly subordinated his personal ambitions to the bright and shining star that was Quezon’s. In the presence of such a man, a more self-assertive man would have created havoc with the nation’s purposes.
The Filipino public looks kindly at such quiet heroes as Osmeña, but quickly forgets them. For this reason we owe a debt to this man, for history is bound to give him his just due.
I knew him well, I held him in the highest esteem and respect. Quezon knew him well, and held him in great respect, affection, and esteem even in their most bitter contentious moments. He had such high regard for him, and such respect for Osmeña’s political weight, that when Quezon ran for the Presidency of the Commonwealth, a post to which Osmeña himself could have aspired, he insisted that Osmeña be his running mate. That this respect for Osmeña’s drawing power was well-founded was demonstrated by Osmeña’s receiving many more popular votes than Quezon in the elections. But Quezon knew that Osmeña would always accept in good grace the role of a second man, for that was the nature of Osmeña’s dedication to the common weal, to give it precedence over his personal interests. Osmeña was, in truth, as great a follower as he was leader, a number one man. In the political game that Quezon was playing, he was determined to be that man, and Osmeña, team-player that he was, wanted to save the country from a destructive conflict had he opted to contest the position with Quezon. In the ebb and flow of political contention, the true worth of Osmeña as a statesman was manifesting itself.
As I said earlier, Osmeña left us a legacy of political morality. He was of that mould of men who can subsume the insistent urgings of ego to a larger cause, or to the corporate personality of a group. It can be said with little fear of exaggeration that for Osmeña every moment was a consecration to the needs of the nation. A person’s existence could not be divided against itself. We recall a rejoinder he made to Quezon’s famous statement—”My loyalty to my party ends where my loyalty to my country begins.”—a rejoinder that deserves an equal place of honor in our country’s annals. Osmeña’s words on that occasion were: “I have always held that loyalty to party is part of the larger loyalty to country. They are not contradictory but supplementary. Loyalty to party is but a continuation of loyalty to country. That is my concept of loyalty to party, I will never say that my loyalty to my party ends where my loyalty to my country begins. I cannot belong to a party that is not loyal to my country.” To Osmeña as to Aristotle, politics is the whole of human life; it cannot be dissociated from one’s devotion to one’s nation. This indeed was a basic difference of thought between him and Quezon.
It was this profound concept of the unity of political action and life, of the ultimate ends of politics and the ends of human existence, that made it easy for Osmeña to give in when unity demanded one of the parties to give in. It was this unfailing concern for unity that saved many a day for the faltering initiatives of the independence movement when, in his collisions with Quezon, a bid for personal victory and vindication for his views might have resulted in defeat rather than victory for that movement, a loss of impetus toward independence and progress.
No doubt, whenever he gave way to Quezon, Osmeña must have realized he was also giving up a place in history for himself. He need not have worried, for today we gladly assign him a loftier place in history if only for his acts of self-abnegation. Sacrifice of personal glory is history’s measure of the greatness of a leader.
This habit of sacrifice was present even where his personal comfort was involved, when he believed it consistent with his duty to country. He was quick to give up his personal convenience when he considered it at variance with the principles of public service to which he adhered and to the norms of conduct required of the public servant. In Washington I recall he never wanted to hire a big limousine to take him around, or live in a luxurious hotel, but would take a cab instead, or stay in modest quarters, for, he would say, “how could I, when so many of our countrymen live in such misery as they do?”
Giving in, therefore, was a matter of principle for him, and for the same reason he could be just as firm, as obstinate, in not giving in. Always the principle was the welfare of the people whom he was pledged to serve, and no amount of political expediency would make him betray the principle. I remember during his campaign for the Presidency when several veterans’ organizations, who at that time were very powerful, were pressing him hard to grant substantial bonuses to veterans. He vetoed the proposal because, according to him, the nation’s coffers were empty and the country could ill afford to accommodate them. He knew that with such a stand he was alienating the veterans’ vote.
From such incidents we can glean that Osmeña conceived the goals of national leadership as a total dedication to the welfare and advancement of the people, and where others would pay lip-service to this concept, Osmeña tried to live up to it in his daily life. He laid a particularly heavy burden of responsibility on elective public positions, for he had an unwavering faith in the people’s wisdom to select the right leaders. To him, public office was not property to be protected; rather, it was a duty, and an opportunity, to advance the people’s welfare. Because of his faith in the electorate he would neglect campaigning for himself. Whenever he did campaign, he always conducted it at high levels, never indulging in personalities.
Some who go by shibboleths would regard Osmeña as the ideal politician. This would be an excellent label, if we take politics in its proper sense, for he who would indulge in it and practise it well ought to be imbued with the highest ideals, and to illumine their political acts with these ideals. Osmeña was the product of a new and powerful political system that had just come to the islands, a system that embodies many of these high ideals of public service, ideals to which we adhere even more strongly today. Osmeña learned well—perhaps too well—the ideals, ends, and means that the model of American democracy offered to Filipinos at that time.
Osmeña had an unbounded faith in that model, even as he desired to be freed of its grasp; he paid tribute to the Americans’ “highly developed sense of justice, founded on an uninterrupted tradition of liberty.” He shared that faith with many Filipinos, and because of his enchantment with it his nationalism was moderate, and he could accept with tolerance and understanding the shortcomings of that system, its slights towards others, and its betrayal of some of his most cherished expectations.
Steeped as he was in the political lessons of that system and the experience of the American people, Osmeña’s political thought was one of steering a middle path between, on the one hand, the “tyranny of the minority,” and, on the other hand, the “tyranny of the majority,” a danger that students of American democracy had warned against. Osmeña was not so enamoured of that model to blind him to the possibility that, under different conditions as those obtaining in the United States, either one of these excesses would happen. Because of the weakly-developed sense of modern democracy among his countrymen, and the propensity for political groupings to break apart, or to confuse every issue with political log-rolling, he did not deem it the opportune time to foster a two-party system in the mould of the United States. Presaging the present, as he gave way to the aggressive Quezon he knew that in order to accomplish the nation’s purposes, which was supreme, the country needed a strong leader—and for him as for many Filipinos that leader was Quezon—behind whom all Filipinos, all factions and sectors of society, could rally, achieving a mighty unified force.
Cognizant of this need, Osmeña’s tendency was to compromise, to adjust, to subordinate factional interests to a commonly agreed upon goal, and to cooperate where fractious opposition would have made any advance improbable. On these matters he was flexible enough, but Osmeña never wavered in his standing up to the tyranny of a minority and a tyranny of the majority. This is one political lesson he has bequeathed to us.
On one other matter Osmeña was equally inflexible, and that was the matter of the people’s welfare, for which he maintained the strictest norms of conduct for himself and for his followers. It was, as we pointed out, a guiding light in every one of his decisions, even in personal decisions pertaining to his own family. It is for this reason that Osmeña the man could freely roam the mountains of Cebu, talking to dissidents, without a bodyguard.
It is only proper that you of this island, and all Filipinos in all islands of our republic, should render this great Cebuano, this premier Filipino, a small return for the political and personal legacy he has left to all of us. For a start, just as we honored Quezon by naming his province after him, let us honor the memory of Osmeña by naming his province after him, for this man is fully deserving of this and many more honors it is in our power to bestow upon him. But no better honor can we give this man, no higher honor can we render to ourselves in the presence of his example, than to emulate him, and to hold unsullied the ideals of political service that shall for-evermore be synonymous with his name.
9 September 1978