Macapagal legacy casts shadow on today's issues
- Federico D. Pascual Jr. () - September 26, 2010 - 12:00am

CLARK FIELD (PLDT/WeRoam) — The proud Capampangans will turn festive on Tuesday, Sept. 28, to mark the 100th year of the birth of Pampanga’s most illustrious son, Diosdado Pangan Macapagal, the republic’s ninth president (1961-1965).

The center of the celebration will be Lubao town, where Macapagal was born in barrio San Nicolas. He was the second of four children of Urbano Macapagal, who wrote poetry in Capampangan, and Romana Pangan, a teacher.

Gov. Lilia Pineda and Vice Gov. Yeng Guiao will lead the day-long celebration starting with a wreath-laying at 7 a.m. at the capitolio in San Fernando, followed by a motorcade to Lubao. The 20 towns and two cities in the province, as well as schools, will have their own centennial programs.

Under a resolution of the provincial board, activities will include a reading of biographical notes on Apung Dadong and his famous poem “Sintang Cayanacan,” wreath-laying and the singing of Himno ning Capampangan.

Former president and now congresswoman Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the second district will sign with National Historical Commission chairman Ambeth R. Ocampo a deed donating to the government the family’s Diosdado Macapagal Museum and Library in Lubao.

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POOR BOY: The incorruptible “Apung Dadong,” as his cabalen referred to him, excelled in school. He graduated valedictorian from the Lubao Elementary School and salutatorian from the Pampanga High School.

After pre-law studies at the University of the Philippines and two years at the Philippine Law School, where he supported himself with a scholarship and a part-time job, the “poor boy from Lubao” had to drop out due to poverty and poor health.

Going home, he teamed up with his actor-friend Rogelio dela Rosa in producing Tagalog zarzuelas. He married his associate’s sister, Purita, with whom he had two children, Cielo and Arturo. Gloria Arroyo, president from 2001 to 2010, was the widower Dadong’s daughter with his second wife Evangelina Macaraeg.

Having saved enough, he resumed his law studies at the University of Santo Tomas with the help of philanthropist Honorio Ventura, then the Secretary of the Interior. He topped the bar in 1936, and later went back to school to earn his Master of Laws (1941), his Doctor of Civil Laws (1947) and a Ph. D. in Economics (1957).

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FIRST REPUBLIC: Among Macapagal’s significant legacies as president were the correction of the date of Philippine Independence from July 4 to June 12, the pushing in 1962 of the country’s claim on Sabah, and his signing of the Agricultural Land Reform Code of 1963.

Still laboring under the pervasive influence of the United States, the Philippines earlier adopted July 4, 1946, as its Independence Day, which was when the US released the islands as its colony and protectorate.

Putting events in their historical perspective, Macapagal pointed out that the true First Philippine republic was declared on June 12, 1898, by then Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo and recognized by the world community as such. With Aguinaldo as the first president, Macapagal is thus listed as the ninth.

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SHOTGUN MARRIAGE: Macapagal shook up the region and disconcerted allies such as the United States and the United Kingdom when he formalized the Philippine claim on Sabah on historical and legal grounds.

Sabah, then known as North Borneo, was owned and ruled by the Sultan of Sulu, a Filipino, who merely leased it to a British company for a specific sum that even now is still being paid to the sultan’s heirs under the existing contract.

Working overtime, British power brokers rushed in 1963 the creation of the Malaysian federation and annexed Sabah into it. The shaky character of the shotgun marriage that gave birth to the federation was dramatized when Singapore, one of the component states, broke away after only two years.

The Philippines, which has a mutual defense and other pacts with the US, thought Washington would look after the interest of the Philippines in the ensuing dispute, but the US sided with the UK.

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FADING CLAIM?: The complexion and the handling of the Sabah claim changed somewhat when President Ferdinand Marcos emerged as an interested party by having himself appointed attorney by the Sulu heirs to protect their property rights.

After the overthrow of Marcos, President Cory Aquino declared a revolutionary government and adopted the 1987 Constitution whose definition of the national territory was rewritten in a manner that made Sabah a mere implicit footnote.

The current administration of Cory’s son, President Noynoy Aquino, still appears clueless on Sabah. But he surprised some observers when he recognized Malaysia as a third-party facilitator in the upcoming talks on the secessionist dream of some Muslim bands in Mindanao.

This disregard of Malaysia’s ill-concealed designs in Mindanao makes more doubtful the political will of the incumbent administration to pursue the Sabah claim raised originally by the first Macapagal administration.

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AGRARIAN REFORM: Another basic issue that draws into sharper focus the contrast between the Macapagal and the Aquino administrations is agrarian reform.

The vision of the original land reform law under the first Macapagal was social justice centered on the idea that the hands that till the soil must own or control it.

Ironically this idea was refined when, under Cory Aquino, agrarian reform was widened to include sugar plantations, among which was the 65,000-hectare Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac.

There are a number of legal issues complicating the Luisita case, but the legal thrust and the public relations drive of the landowners seem to lead the discussion away from the Aquino-Cojuangco clan’s obligation to give the land to the tenants as stipulated in the contract it had signed with the Government Service Insurance System when it borrowed money to buy the land.

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