The Akademyang Filipino has scheduled a conference on the presidency. Because of my physical condition, I won’t be able to attend the conference.
Sociologists have a tendency to describe societies as either matriarchal or patriarchal, depending on their perception of whether leadership was vested on a man or woman. Ours is supposed to be patriarchal for the leader is almost always a man. Granted, but what happens at home? We are not privy to it. Let us just accept the fact that many women – as wives – are often the major influence in a man’s career. The wife – but what if there are other women?
Here is my take which is a look at the presidency and the women that influenced it.
Mrs. Aurora Quezon, the wife of President Quezon, was quite reserved, and very few knew how much she influenced the president. Quezon was well known as a womanizer. A lot of the information I have about him on the subject was from his private secretary, Serapio Canceran, who became a very good friend.
General Romulo once told me, Quezon missed an important appointment in Washington because he was in Los Angeles with the movie star, Greer Garson. He also dated another movie star, Marlene Dietrich. I saw only one of Quezon’s girlfriends, the movie actress, Amparo Karagdag. She was petite and truly lovely. She was shooting a scene in front of the Manila Hotel.
In 1938, when I came to Manila, Quezon’s womanizing was already the talk in the tienda. It was said that his tuberculosis heightened his libido. Surely, Quezon was our playboy president.
President Manuel Roxas’ love affair with Jovita Fuentes, the opera singer, was also talked about. Jovita Fuentes celebrated her relationship with Roxas with her composition of that love song, “Ay Kalisud.” When my wife was at the Holy Ghost College in the late forties, she told me that Mrs. Roxas went to the school looking for the daughters of his mistress. Margie Moran, former Miss Universe, is his granddaughter.
The women of the other presidents were not as conspicuous. Mrs. Luz Magsaysay, Mrs. Carlos Garcia, they were rarely on the radar screen the way Mrs. Marcos was. There was some talk that President Marcos was henpecked. This was not true at all. What had happened was that when Mrs. Marcos discovered Marcos’s affair with Dovie Beams, the Hollywood starlet, she used this to clobber the president and get concessions. Hans Menzi, a former presidential aide, told me at a dinner that he had to leave. He got this phone call, and he said he had to go to the Palace to be peacemaker.
President Macapagal’s second wife, Evangelina Macaraeg, was a medical doctor and was obviously an influence on him. She was a shrew. I once visited Malacañang early in the morning, and she was up and about berating the janitors for not doing their job well. She was very tough on everyone in her household.
If President Quezon was a playboy, President Joseph Estrada was a lover boy. Only God knows how many women he has had and how many children, too. But as a true lover boy, he took care of all of them. Dr. Luisa Pimentel, Joseph Estrada’s wife, came to me once; she was a childhood friend of my wife in Iba, Zambales. She told me she was going to leave Erap. I told her not to. So, she stayed and became a senator.
Politicians seek the highest office in the land for obvious reasons. The late Onofre D. Corpuz, who was President Marcos’s education secretary, compared the American presidency with ours, and he said the Philippine president has more powers than the American president, that he could, by presidential decree, formulate orders that do not need legislation. His salary is limited by the Constitution – that is true, but he also has billions in intelligence fund which he can open without accounting for it. If his purpose is to get rich, as the late President Quirino told me, that money will go to him – he doesn’t even have to leave Malacañang. As history has shown, power is also an aphrodisiac.
We had two women presidents, the first, Cory Aquino who reversed the EDSA revolution into the restoration of the oligarchy. Then, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, well-prepared for the office; she did quite a lot, but her regime was marred by corruption. She gave me the National Artist Award.
Looking back, we had some quality politicians, Carmen Planas before World War II, then Geronima Pecson, Maria Kalaw Katigbak, Eva Estrada Kalaw, Letty Ramos Shahani, Miriam Defensor Santiago, Loren Legarda. And I’ll add to this list, Lucy Torres. I am sure there are many waiting in the wings.
Meanwhile, as 2022 approaches, all of a sudden, there is a frenzy of political activity as our politicians search for alliances based on popularity and crowd acceptance. Since none of our political parties are bonded by ideology, it’s the old givens that matter, ethnicity, family and school ties. It was so different when we had only two parties. Perhaps, the proliferation of political parties now is the prelude for change into the parliamentary system. The evolution is slow, and it requires constitutional change.
With all this attention given to politics, I worry about our future – not the distant future, but tomorrow. This resurgent virus is far deadlier than the original virus from which it mutated. Despite the intense global precautions, it seems unstoppable. The government does not have all that money to prevent hunger from destabilizing the country. For shortages will certainly bring riots, violence.
In the face of massive discontent, our Armed Forces cannot shoot our own people. What is to be done? Are our very rich aware of this looming dystopia? They can, of course, flee while they still can. How I wish I can be positive and convince myself this scenario will not come true.
This, my twilight, I pray that the thousands of young, patriotic Filipinos will survive this crisis. May they also prevail?
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