A heartbeat away from the presidency
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
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
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
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  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
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
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
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
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
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
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
[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
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
Quintin L. Doroquez
All Rights Reserved