MANY people who know about Elpidio Rivera Quirino, who was born on November 16, 1890 and would have been celebrating his 125th birthday today if he had not died on February 29, 1956, think of him only as a politician who became the sixth President of the Philippines.
The late President Quirino was much more than just a politician–especially much more than the kind of politicians we have in our country today.
He was a statesman. And a simple definition of “statesman” is a “political leader who is disinterestedly promoting the public good.” Another definition of a statesman is “one versed in the principles or art of good government” and is “a wise, skillful, and respected political leader.” Apo Pidiong, which was how his fellow Ilocanos called him, certainly more than just fit those definitions.
There is an incorrect general impression of President Quirino that he was a bad president.
This is in the minds of most of those who only know the shrill anti-Quirino accounts in Philippine and American newspapers. These wrong accounts came out in the 1950s. In the last half of his term, the Quirino presidency was being actively undermined by the American Central Intelligence Agency and its agents’ friends in the Philippine oligarchy–businessmen, sugar bloc leaders, politicians and some of the media. Why? Because, contrary to the anti-Quirino propaganda, Apo Pidiong was actually standing up to the Americans and was a nationalist.
He said a truth about himself that our current president cannot: “While I recognize the United States as a great builder in the Philippines, I have never surrendered the sovereignty, much less the dignity and future of our country.”
In the 1953 presidential elections, in which Quirino was running for re-election, his main challenger was his decamped former Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay. Everybody, except the most ignorant of political goings-on, knew that Magsaysay was the US candidate and had American experts in political-intrigue, media spin and psychological warfare working for the campaign to replace Pres. Quirino in Malacañang.
It was ironic that some of the Filipino nationalists in Philippine media, because they were under orders from the pillars of the Philippine plutocracy who also owned the newspapers and radio stations, became co-workers of the CIA in assassinating the reputation of President Quirino.
They were the ones who merrily fabricated tales about Pres. Quirino’s alleged profligacy and therefore his expensive lifestyle requiring corrupt intakes of public funds. This was the opposite of the simple man that Pres. Qurino was.
The most enduring of these ignominious falsehoods are those of Pres. Quirino allegedly sleeping on a golden four-poster and using a golden chamber pot. The columnists who invented these reports were nationalists who in their hearts and secret conversations loathed Magsaysay for being the CIA-boy. They finally confessed they wrote lies to slander Mr. Quirino. Unfortunately, and proving Goebbels right, many commentators today–using the most easily accessible references — prolong the currency of the false tales against Pres. Quirino.
A lawyer, Elpidio R. Quirino entered politics after being a schoolteacher in his barrio. He was 29 years old when he was elected congressman representing his Ilocos Sur district. From that time to the end of his term as president of the Philippines in 1953, he served with patriotism as a statesman.
He served ably as a Cabinet member to Presidents Quezon and Roxas in many portfolios, most notably in foreign affairs but also in education, finance and other departments. He began the work to professionalize the Department of Foreign Affairs.
He initiated the creation of the Social Security System. As president, he balanced the budget and presided over the first years of the post-war rehabilitation of the Philippines. He managed the economy and it achieved GDP growth rates of 9 percent.
He of course cooperated with the United States in fighting Communism and had peace talks with the rebel Hukbalahap (which presaged the New People’s Army). He initiated serious land reform. He facilitated the granting of asylum to thousands of White Russians fleeing the Soviet Union.
As early as 1937 and 1946, he sought recognition of Philippine sovereignty over the Spratlys and he began the studies and efforts, which later President Diosdado Macapagal pursued, to enforce Filipino rights through the Sultan of Sulu, over Sabah.
We urge readers to go visit the Ayala Museum and learn more about this president, who loved and served our country truly well, from the exhibition “Defining Quirino.” It is on until Saturday November 28.