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 A heartbeat away from the presidency
page2 by
Quintin L. Doroquez


Quirino and his men thought their goal of ousting Avelino was achievable. And the nine Nacionalista senators were too willing to lend support to Quirino in the end. After all, if Avelino – the popular and charismatic leader – were down it would be easy for the Nacionalista presidential candidate in November (1949) to beat the weak Quirino. But an immediate cause was needed for a showdown.

Senate president Jose Avelino
Senate President Jose Avelino

In the meantime, Quirino started courting Nacionalista senators to go against Avelino in the event of a showdown. Abstention would not work. So, Quirino started making appointments of opposition or Nacionalista men to important government positions, a quid pro quo, if you will, for expected favor from the Nacionalistas in the event of a showdown for the Senate presidency against Avelino. This was in addition to courting Liberal senators who were aligned for Avelino, just in case one – better if more – could be coaxed.

But the status quo was hard to crack in the Avelino camp; of the 13 Liberal senators 10 were aligned for Avelino, including Avelino himself, were solid.

Witch-hunts, dirty tricks if you will, were resorted to by Quirino and his men. What was he in power for, to borrow the context the press later heaped unfairly upon Avelino?

Ongoing business transactions of Avelino were trailed; past ones were investigated illegally even by standards in those days. Sometimes the civil rights of minor government functionaries suspected of being Avelino supporters were violated by being arrested without warrant. The NBI was utilized to perform illegal surveillance. In due time some minor items surfaced, like the renowned surplus beer transaction blown up beyond proportion by the economic oligarchs’ press, with the appearance of irregularity even when they were connected with the official functions and affairs of the Liberal Party, Quirino’s party, of which Avelino however was president. Even relatively minor transactions, when they could be linked to the big name of Avelino, however illegally proofs had been obtained, readily made headlines in the press owned and controlled by the economic oligarchs, after all Avelino had been perennially their nemesis by supporting labor movements. To those economic oligarchs, now is the time to get even with Avelino.

To make matters worse, Quirino’s operatives made it appear, with the media (radio, newspaper, etc.) as mouthpiece, that Avelino was condoning if not behind corruptions and influence peddlings in the government. Naturally, Avelino started to complain directly to President Quirino against such brazenly conscious-effort of Quirino men to defame and destroy him – Avelino – by smear tactics. Additionally, Avelino was also complaining of Quirino’s appointments of certain Nacionalista partisans while there were men in the Liberal Party and elsewhere in the political spectra and the academe (but not necessarily partisan elements) who were more qualified than those that Quirino had been appointing. Those appointments, as already afore-mentioned were intended to attract support from Nacionalista senators in the event of a showdown against Avelino on the Senate presidency. Avelino’s complaints resulted in the celebrated Liberal Party bigwigs’ caucus of January 15, 1949.

As earlier noted, the caucus was a no-holds barred session. And it was agreed that neither notes were to be taken nor secretarial staff of anyone or any representative of the media would be allowed access.

When his turn to speak came, Avelino spoke mainly in Spanish, the language he was most comfortable with when speaking informally with colleagues and acquaintances of his generation. But, alas, the following morning one Manila daily newspaper – just one – The Manila Chronicle, had the caucus in its headline. What Avelino spoke about, party loyalty and discipline, was the focus of the news. To make matters worse, if not deliberately, he obviously was misquoted or contextually he was. The news story in the Chronicle, written by a younger reporter, Celso Cabrera, who knew very little Spanish, reported that Avelino was condoning corruption, and had “lectured” President Quirino on party matters and that if the president could not condone corruption, he should at least tolerate it.

Congressman Faustino Tobia of Ilocos Norte was among those in attendance at the caucus. He was a Quirino man. For a while, he was tight-lipped after all the Quirino agenda [of destroying Avelino] had worked to the letter. However, evidently conscience-stricken by the excesses of the Quirino camp against Avelino in the 1949 election, he volunteered to talk not to the press for fear of being mistaken as a publicity seeker, but to one of the nearest of kins of Jose Avelino for purposes of giving the family of a maligned man a first-hand account of someone, like the congressman, who was actually present at the caucus.

Tobia, who was fluent in Spanish, offered to Lourdes N. Avelino – a granddaughter of Jose Avelino – to paraphrase, among others, the controversial lines that the late Senate president said in the caucus. He did not encourage Ms. Avelino to publish the interview in the newspaper, etc., but he did not dissuade her either from doing so. In other words, the information the congressman offered is and foremost for the Avelino family. Ms. Avelino may yet publish the interview in its entirety in a book she is preparing.

Mr. Tobia emphatically stated that the statement attributed to “Avelino lecturing Quirino on party matters and that if the president could not condone corruption, he should at least tolerate it” was an absolute fabrication, certainly crafted by someone fluent in Spanish-/English who was a political enemy of Avelino – possibly by Quirino himself or Fernando Lopez – who was in the caucus and had it printed in The Manila Chronicle, a Lopez family publication, under someone’s byline.

Congressman Tobia – in paraphrasing to Ms. Avelino what the late Senate president said – pointed out Avelino’s laments that President Quirino was losing the Liberal Party’s insight into the postwar reconstruction, the country’s peasant plight that was fueling the Huk’s insurgency, and party discipline of those who used their position or influence in government to advance their selfish ends. Further, Avelino reminded President Quirino that before making appointments of men who were Nacionalista partisans, he should consider first more qualified men of the Liberal Party and elsewhere in the political spectra or the academe, where necessary.

Alluding to the perceived weakness of Quirino as a leader, Avelino reportedly in Spanish asked at the end of his informal talk the following rhetorical question, “What for is our mandate from the people?” Essentially, the congressman’s Spanish paraphrase is as follows:

Señor Presidente, no es la verdad que sin hacerlos vigorosamente es traicionar y negar esencialmente nuestros deberes como sirvientes publicos? Para que esta el nuestro mandato del pueblo?

From the congressman’s paraphrase, the following is an English translation with the subject matters referred to in (the Spanish) “hacerlos” set in light print and bracketed:

Mr. President, is it not the truth that not addressing vigorously these problems [i.e., of losing the Liberal Party’s insight into the postwar reconstruction, the country’s peasant plight that is fueling the Huk’s insurgency, and the moral discipline of those who use their position or influence in government to advance their selfish ends, like appointing less qualified men from the opposition party] is to betray and negate fundamentally our duties as public servants? What for is our mandate from the people?

But the creative evil of those who wanted to destroy Avelino had everything twisted! By twist and twit on his concluding rhetorical question, they forced into Avelino’s mouth a Spanish line to suit their malice, “Para que estamos en poder?” – and gave it an English translation that easily lent the meaning of their intended overkill, “What are we in power for?”

Then, in their controlled newspaper, The Manila Chronicle, they went ahead to fine-line and to publish their sinister thinking behind “What are we in power for?” under the guise that the words, like condoning corruption, etc., were flowing without strain from Avelino’s tongue.

Outside the caucus, Avelino [always the gentleman that he was] until his death in 1984 refused to tell anybody about his alleged “lecture” to President Quirino on the ground that what was said by anyone attending the caucus, consistent with the prior gentlemen’s agreement among attendees, was to be kept only to him- or herself. Even at the height of the campaign in the 1949 national election, of which he was the presidential candidate of the Avelino Wing of the Liberal Party, he never broke the agreed-to confidentiality of the discussion that transpired during the January 15, 1949 caucus.

But that translation of what Avelino had said is not the point by any stretch of a logical interpretation of what came out of the Liberal Party caucus on January 15, 1949. What actually was at issue and troublesome was – and still is – the flagrant violation by certain individuals in that caucus! The gentlemen’s agreement – that no notes would be taken or story of any kind would be written [and printed] about the no-holds barred discussions – was supposed to be inviolate. The violation that the Quirino camp perpetrated by smuggling in a newsman – without the slightest idea of Avelino and his supporters who were gentlemanly and expecting only reciprocal gentlemanliness and propriety from the Quirino camp – was dastardly by any standard. For the Quirino camp to fabricate something this sinister for the purpose of destroying an innocent man simply because he happens to be Quirino’s political adversary befits the law of the jungle.

A party caucus of bigwigs in effect is like the session of a board in authority. There are deliberations held closed-door in executive session because the subject matter is so sensitive to be discussed in open session. Any act to break confidentially is treachery and uncivilized.

The fact that only one newspaper, The Manila Chronicle, carried the story in its edition the day following the caucus indicates the Lopez interest – which owned the newspaper, and still does – planted the newsman on behalf of Senator Fernando Lopez who already had an eye on becoming the running mate of President Quirino. Further, there was no doubt, by any stretch of the imagination, that Quirino himself knew the planting of the newsman. In effect, he was responsible for this dirtiest of tricks! If not by prima facie, he was by command responsibility. But then, as earlier noted, he was a tool of the economic oligarchs! And the newsman smuggled in singled out, assuming his account was accurate and untainted, only Jose Avelino. What did other participants say? This question itched in anyone’s mind.

If that Manila Chronicle’s story was not limited to the political destruction of Avelino, any reader would wonder no doubt that President Quirino – for his part – was musing on his plan to allow the birds, the bees, and souls of dead voters, as did happen, to vote for him and his running mate in the November 1949 national election.

If the news story were not limited to the political demise of Avelino, any reader would wonder that presumably Senator Fernando Lopez – for his part – was deep in his contemplation concerning the desire of the Lopez economic oligarchy to bankroll for Quirino and himself the 1949 national election.

If the news story was not limited to the political annihilation of Avelino, any reader would no doubt wonder why Senator Lorenzo Tañada, the solicitor general of the government prior to his becoming a senator, did not prosecute Jose P. Laurel – before President Roxas granted general amnesty to individuals who collaborated with the enemy – for anyone of the l32 counts of treason Laurel allegedly had committed during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in WWII.

If the news story were not limited to the political demolition of Avelino, any reader would wonder that certainly Senator Mariano Cuenco – for his part – was meditating about his obsession to be genuinely recognized as the only political stalwart from Cebu next to or at par with Sergio Osmeña, Sr., in national stature. As did happen in 1941 when he allowed himself to succeed Jose Avelino, on Quezon’s bidding, as secretary of Public Works and Communication.

If the news story was not limited to the political extermination of Avelino, any reader would wonder what presumably Senator Melecio Arranz was thinking for himself – being an Ilocano and President Quirino’s number one axe man in the Senate. And since he could not wield the axe for himself as the ultimate beneficiary, he had to do it directly to benefit Quirino. This is in view of the incidence of high elected political positions strategic distribution in the Philippines then, i.e., when the president came from Luzon, the vice president had to come from the Visayas and Mindanao – and vice versa.

Absence of an account of what other notables had said indicates a case of taint at the least.

When Quirino ascended to the presidency upon the death of Roxas, Avelino had the rarest fortune of – in effect – becoming the vice president, as already noted, by virtue of the Constitutional rule on presidential succession, while at the same time the undisputed leader and incumbent president of the Senate in addition to being president of the Liberal Party. In the unwritten geographic hypocrisy and elitism of Philippine political officialdom, backed by the economic oligarchs, eastern Visayas [particularly Samar and Leyte] has been traditionally frowned upon and looked down on [until now] – by what Addi Batica of Basay, Western Samar, calls “Imperial Manila” and/or what we might call likewise as the “Kingdom of Luzon” – from having a son hold so lofty a position while at the same time wield so awesome a power.

But to the disbelief of “Imperial Manilans”, or of “Royal Luzonians”, and of the economic oligarchs, on April 15, 1948, that son was born in the person of Jose Avelino. And more than just one position, he held three lofty positions. Behind the curtain, at the backstage of political jockeying and horse-trading, these elements were yelling at each other: “Get rid of or decapitate Jose Avelino, politically!” The initial formal salvo of this cabal took place on January 15, 1949, at the Liberal Party caucus in Malacanang, as already noted. At that caucus, those interests coined the phrase “What are we in power for?” and attributed its dirty meaning and practice to Avelino!

The final salvo took place on the third week of February 1949.

Since the January 15 [1949] caucus, the Quirino camp had been watching the Senate day by day that it was in session. As earlier noted, the Senate in late 1948 and early 1949 was evenly divided for Avelino and Quirino. Since Avelino was sitting president of that august body even before the restoration of Independence on July 4, 1946, the Quirino camp could not do a power grab unless the tie was broken. And Quirino feverishly was lobbying the lone remaining Nacionalista senator supporting Avelino – Tomas Confesor – to switch from Avelino. He continued to appoint more Nacionalista partisans, even if not so qualified compared to Liberal and other men, in hope that the Nacionalista Party leadership could prevail upon Confesor. In short, Quirino was still hard at work on buying the Nacionalistas.

Thus far until the middle of February 1949, the Quirino camp could not crack the 12 senators solidly supporting Avelino.

On the third week of that month, however, the Quirino camp saw the chance. Senator Confesor was in the United States for medical treatment and Senator Vicente Sotto was ill in a Manila hospital. On Friday, February 18, Senator Tañada calendared with the Senate secretary to deliver the following Monday, February 21, a privilege speech. After the secretary had formally calendared the speech, it was learned that the speech was intended to embarrass Avelino, the Senate president. And Avelino had no time to study the nature of the speech.

On February 21, 22 senators were present for the session. Twelve of those reporting were Quirino senators. As Avelino banged the gavel for the start of the session, a disorderly crowd in the Senate gallery grew even wilder. Then a commotion ensued when, according to reports, a sound of gunshot was heard. Some accounts strongly suggested a gun was fired by an Avelino partisan. But no one was hurt or spent shell or trace of a bullet was ever found even after thorough investigations. Allegations had been made that the burst was planted by the Avelino camp to be used by the Avelino senators as a pretext to prematurely adjourn the session.

Indeed, Senate President Avelino – upon a motion duly seconded from the floor – banged again the gavel to adjourn for the sake of safety until the gallery could be checked and cleared. Ten senators, including Avelino himself, left the session hall, mostly in hysteria apparently shaken by the sound of “gunfire”.

The twelve senators that stayed behind proceeded to conduct what was called a rump session. Gaiety pervaded in their air as they claimed to constitute a quorum. They were cool and collected, even festive, as they declared the seat of the Senate president vacant. Their proceedings were smooth and showed machine-like precision as they went about on the nomination and election of Senator Mariano J. Cuenco “to fill the vacant seat of the president.” Most of the twelve senators went about their routine as though performing each cast’s well-rehearsed role in a play long expected to be staged. The Senate gallery was now peaceful.

Consequently, neutral observers thought that, if anything, it was the Quirino camp that planted a gunfire (perhaps using a firecracker) to scare primarily the pro-Avelino senators so as to get them to adjourn the session, which just started. They pointed out that the Quirino camp has a history of planting unethical acts. They cited the smuggling of a newsman into the January 15 caucus where, as agreed to in a gentlemen’s agreement, the no-holds barred session was off-limit to the fourth estate.

What happened at the Senate session hall one morning in February 1949 was an adjunct to and a sequel of what happened one evening in mid January 1949 at the Liberal Party caucus, many observers pointed out. The pro-Quirino camp dirty trick, as done in the past, apparently worked to the letter again as planned for that fateful morning of Monday, February 21, 1949.

The fact that the twelve pro-Quirino senators were not scared and instead stayed behind in jovial mode very well indicates – many neutral observers had pointed out in their private talks – that they had a well-choreographed game plan for the day: a power grab. This pre-meditated, well-coordinated dirty trick was obviously stage-managed by Malacañang inasmuch as President Quirino the following day, February 22, very quickly recognized the election of Cuenco as the new Senate president.

This led to the outcry that Quirino was interfering on the Legislative Branch, a co-equal of the Executive Branch [and the Judicial Branch], in recognizing Cuenco.

The case was immediately brought to the Supreme Court for adjudication. However, the court initially refused on the ground that it had no jurisdiction to pass judgment on the deliberations of a branch of government that is the co-equal of the Judicial Branch. Later, upon resubmission of the case, the Supreme Court accepted it on the ground that the government could not be paralyzed by a non-functioning Legislative Branch for lack of quorum. This reasoning, legal gossips in the grapevine had it, of course approaches absurdity.

The majority opinion of the court – six justices in favor and four dissenting – went to Cuenco (and hence to Quirino), but the minority opinion, penned by Justice Perfecto, was hailed by legal minds in the country as well reasoned and scholarly.

Hence, the rest is history for Avelino in so far as his claim to the Senate presidency was concerned.

Today, the conscious effort in the past to denigrate Jose Avelino no doubt continues. And it is easy for those who do in view of the fact that his contemporaries had not come out to present the fact in the name of fairness. Those among them present in the caucus must have held on to the gentlemen’s agreement. His associates and supporters are all gone now, and had not made a resolute effort to set the record straight while they could.

Beneficiaries of Avelino’s humanity, both direct and indirect, especially students from Samar and Leyte that numbered by the thousands, have not been heard at all, possibly a manifestation of the apathy of eastern Visayans for political, social, and educational involvements.

The Liberal Party, as well, for which Avelino sacrificed so much during its incipient years (especially in the presidential election of April 1946 and the mid-term election of 1947), has apparently turned its back. In its website, the Liberal Party shows (only because it cannot ignore) that Avelino was once a president of the party. But he is listed as the fourth president. This is evidently either an oversight or a blatant distortion of record. The late Congressman Agripino P. Escareal, in his book, Here Comes Avelino, published in 1949, pointed out that Avelino was the second president of the Liberal Party, next after Manuel A. Roxas. A Republic is Born, a commemorative pictorial and narrative book on the restoration of the Philippines Independence, published in September 1948 by The Joint Committee for the Inauguration of the Republic of the Philippines on July 4, 1946, as earlier noted, says:

Virtually the incumbent vice president, Senate President Avelino is also head of the Liberal Party.

The Liberal Party website assumes, obviously due to oversight or blatant distortion of record, that President Roxas was also president of the Liberal Party at the time of his death [which is not true by rule of the party, as earlier noted]. If anything he was titular head of the party. Assuming the party website, as now constituted and posted, to be true, this means that in rapid successions – premised on the A Republic is Born account – Quirino, Perez, and Avelino were each president of the Liberal Party for just over a month and a half on the average. That makes the present Liberal Party website totally absurd! Yet the website shows that Avelino was president of the party “from 1957 - ?” That is close to a decade after Avelino retired from public life. Still, the website does not indicate until when Avelino was president of the party. All it does is set a question [?] mark. This invites suspicion of spin or imprudence.

In other words, to say the least, the quality control of the Liberal Party website is in dire need of rectification to be credible. Right now it could be a suspect of record falsification.

[Note: Former Speaker-Protempore Raul A. Daza, president of the Liberal Party from 1994-99 (obviously before the Liberal Party website was created) and now the incumbent governor of Northern Samar, is said to have very recently discovered the discrepancies or inaccuracies of the website. Reportedly, he has vigorously requested that necessary corrections be made immediately.]

In sum, one will wonder why Jose Avelino’s fall from the pinnacle of a brilliant political career was so crashing. Even family members are still constantly in a state of shock – with the exception of Lourdes N. Avelino, a granddaughter, and Jose N. Avelino III, a grandson. Active in ferreting out the truth, both Lourdes and Jose III are the children of Enrique, one of four sons of Jose Avelino.

The late Angel Quimpo, a humanist and prominent legal luminary in Cagayan de Oro City until his death in February 2004 and who originally came from Antique, attributed Avelino’s adverse political fate to geography. “He was a victim of geography. Had he come from Batangas, Central Luzon, or the Ilocos region, Avelino would no doubt have become president of the Philippines, “ Atty. Quimpo pointed out.

A part of Avelino’s debacle was Avelino himself. Unlike his contemporaries from Batangas and other parts of Luzon, he never used his sterling high scholastic achievements [at the Ateneo, for instance] as a vehicle to drum up his public stature. He never was known to have taught law when, until recently, a researcher discovered his record as having taught law at the UST. In his entire brilliant political career, Avelino simply talked about and espoused the cause of the poor and the working class, and the genuine [as opposed to superficial] elevation of women to a level equal with men. He never had orchestrated before anyone to proclaim him the champion of the education of youth, even when he showed his deep concern for them by espousing the establishment of high schools throughout the Philippines as part of post-WWII reconstruction. He never courted the media to lionize him for what he was – the champion of the laboring class.

Whether Avelino realized the role of the press in promoting and sustaining his image as a defender of the poor is not clear. But unlike Manuel A. Roxas and the Lopez interest, he never was known to have bought or organized newspaper and radio chains or procured newsmen for the advancement of his career. Today, as in the days of Avelino, the role of the media in the promotion of one’s political image is invaluable.

Then, as now, there was the economic greed in the entire country gnawing the economic and the political processes of the nation. It gnaws those that it perceives as a potential danger to its very existence. The economic oligarchs were all over Jose Avelino from the moment he organized Gremio de Obreros Stevadores de Calbayog in 1916 until the night of January 15, 1949 when they maliciously fabricated what Avelino meant when he allegedly said, “What are we in power for?” – which is in truth their very own trademark, turned the table around, and pinned it on Avelino’s lapel as his own.

Thus, in his public career Jose Avelino had to face two formidable adversaries – the politics of Quezon and the economic oligarchs. It is clear he had overcome the stigma wrung upon him by the former. However, the blemish on him brought about by the economic oligarchy in the Philippines appears to indefinitely persist for as long as the mix and blend of economic and political greeds in the country, which have been in existence since the coming of two colonial eras, continue to dominate the Philippine society and corrupt the moral fiber of the nation.


Quintin L. Doroquez, Fremont CA

Copyrights ©2006, 2007 Quintin L. Doroquez
All Rights Reserved

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