The Law of the Sea

Arturo M. Tolentino: I wish people will remember me for The Law of the Sea

A letter to President Quezon on his Re-election

The Free Press, published May 13, 1939

Your Excellency,

Provincial governors, provincial boads, municipal councils, assemblymen, labor organizations, and even members of judiciary, have come out advocating a constitutional amendment to permit your re-election. The national assembly has put in motion the constitutional machinery which will take care of the bare formality of obtaining the sanction of my humble self, the unknown Juan dela Cruz, through a constitutional convention. You have, however, lately maintained a sphinx-like silence on the matter.

Sooner or later, you must define your stand on this question. I know that in the past you have more than once publicly stated that you are against amending the Constitution to allow a presidential re-election. When you made those statements, however, the movement for the re-election was just a ripple on a vast ocean. Now, the ripple has assumed the proportion of a tidal wave; but you keep silent. Never before have your followers defied your wishes on any public question. On this matter, however, they seem to be getting out of control, ignoring your express views. Either this is a mutiny which you have been unable to suppress, and is an indicationof your waning power of leadership; or this movement, gaining momentum each day, has your implied approval – if not your express but concealed initiative and support.

Divorce from Politics

I like to believe, Your Excellency, that you have not change your views re-election. But if the urgings of those around you have made you change front, the common man like myself wants to know it. If you have changed your mind, it would be useless for us to oppose tour re-election; it would be like a quixotic battle against windmill. However, if all this noise about re-election has merely placed you in a twilight zone of doubt between running or not running for re-election, please consider the humble reflection of a common man in making your final decision.

When you were elected to the presidency, you announced that you would divorce yourself completely from politics, indicating that the president is not the tool of any political party. A president should devote his time and energies to the cause of good government, irrespective of he party that maybe affected. The national welfare is bhios supreme goal.

The possibility of re-election destroys this theoretical concept in practice. A president aiming at re-election cannot ignore the exigencies of party politics. He cannot act with as much judicious independence as when he knows that he cannot be re-elected under the constitution. He thus remains, at least during his first term, mere politician. Re-election will make a farce of your doctrine, ”more government and less politics”.

We are entering that delicate stage in our economic life when the Chief Executive, at least, should take a judicious middle ground between labor and capital. “Social Justice” means justice for all; and this is what a president should endeavor to attain, cost what it may. But laborers may construe the phrase as meaning justice for themselves alone. Your pronouncement that each man should be consider himself the guardian of his neighbor maybe misinterpreted as to mean that the proprietor is the guardian of his laborer and the laborer the guardian of none but himself. Labor may make demands based on these misconceptions.

A president barred by the constitution from a second term can act quickly, independently, wisely and fairly on such demands. But a president with the possibility of re-election cannot lightly ignore those who control thousands of votes, even should their demands run counter to his better judgment. He will tend to pamper labor, even at the expense of justice and protection to capital. ”Social Justice” will mean “class justice” in favor of those who have the necessary votes for re-election.

Lamentable Situation

Thus Your Excellency, re-election tends to rob a president of that quality of independence so essential to good government. This is the effect upon the president – any president – of presidential re-election. Less obvious, but more fundamental, however, is the detrimental effect which your re-election will have on the psychology of our people.

Your capacity for the presidency is beyond question. To the layman, you are the greatest living Filipino. We can search our political horizon in vain for your peer as far as fitness for presidency is concern. This notwithstanding, I sincerely believe you should retire from active public life at the end of your present term.

We have failed to develop many leaders amongnus. This is not due to lack of men who have the makings of a leader. It is not possible that you have a monopoly in this country on the logic, justice, foresight, tact, and determination which go to make up a leader.

Your presence at the head of the government, Your Excellency, is responsible for this lamentable situation. Your powerful personality, coupled with the vast governmental and political powers you have continuously exercised during the last two decades, has prevented the rise of leaders among us. We have potential leaders, but their possibilities have never been given an opportunity to develop into dynamic and true leadership. They are stunted under the shadow of a much stronger personality: Manuael L. Quezon. They may be likened to the moon that is lost in the brilliance of the sun at daylight, but can shine in all glory and splendor after the sun has set.

Yes-Men, Not Leaders

We have come to look up to you as the guardian of our governmental and national affairs. Very little initiative comes from us. We have become accustomed to let you run things for us. This has made our potential leaders degenerate into followers and yes-men, because there is nothing else for them to do.

This situation will last as long as you wield political power. You are not to blame for it. But whether you like it or not, it is a fact that the longer you stay in public life, the longer will your overmastering personality dwarf those around you. This makes the development of future leaders almost impossible. If this is carried for a long time, the presentnmen in public life may become so habituated to merely following your leadership that their own potentialities may eventually disappear.

Your greatness looms as the most powerful reason against your re-election.

We and our representatives have become continuously dependent upon you. Even now, our public men, seeming to have no faith in themselves, would amend the constitution to make your stay longer, they are afraid to be left alone to rhemselves. If you allow this dependence to continue longer, you will soon become indispensable in the scheme of our government. Then, if you should suddenly leave public life, either voluntarily or because of death, we should be left with a great void which may be filled with chaos because we would be unprepared for it.

Others Can Learn

Don’t you think it most opportune, Your Excellency, to retire now and let new blood and new brains take on the responsibility of guiding the ship state? The men who carry on will not be as prepared as you are for the task; but they can learn. It is better that they do the learning now; because if there should be any trouble due to lack of experienced leadership the next few years of commonwealth, there is at least the American flag to protect us.

The argument that your re-election is necessary because we are going through a critical period of our national life is a reflection upon your leadership and capacity. When you were elected you knew fully well you have only six years to carry out the task of preparing the country for independence. You made your program and commenced it’s execution. To argue now that your plans are still incomplete is to charge you with negligence and inefficiency. To claim now that you are the only one who can carry out the program you have laid down, is to charge you with lack of clearness, logic, and foresight – for you should have known beforehand that after six years, by force of the constitution, others would have to carry on what you have begun. To think otherwise would mean that even when you started your term your mind was already set on re-election. I like to think that neither horn of this dilemma is true. That is why I feel that your re-election is not necessary.

Only One Man Can Act

Then, there is the matter of amending the constitution, which stands in the way of your re-election. As we face independence, the people should be trained to regard the Constitution as a sacred thing. You are an advocate of strengthening the fibre of our national character. The national mind should be therefore be disciplined to regard the fundamental law with as much respect as the country’s flag. Faith in the Constitution is equivalent to faith in constituted government.

That faith should never be impaired. To amend the Constitution in order to accommodate one man, however great he nay be, is in effect to tamper with it. It will be a reflection on the fitness of the people to govern themselves. Public men should adjust themselves to the principles of the Constitution; but some would alter the Constitution to accommodate individuals. This would be regarding the man as greater than the Constitution itself.

Nothing can be more destructive of the national discipline. It will set the dangerous precedent of altering the fundamental law to suit an individual. Such a precedent will undermine the morale of the nation. It will force the people to an admission that they are a nation that cannot produce leaders among themselves, and that they have to amend the Constitution just to have a leader.

May these humble thoughts, Your Excellency, find a place in the scales as you weigh the pros and cons of re-election. I have not dwelt upon the political phase of the question because the effect of re-election in that regard are too obvious to merit calling to your attention. But so intense is the belief that your re-election is necessary to fill present needs that few have given thought to the future; more fundamental and far reaching , moral loss which a president – any president – and the Filipino people as a nation stand to suffer from an amendment of the constitution just to permit your re-election.

I have addressed myself to you, Your Excellency, because you are the only person who can prevent your re-election. Unless you reiterate your previous stand against re-election – and mean it too – you are as good as re-elected, at the price of the future president’s independence and fairness and at the cost of your people’s dignity and power.