Renaming Clark: The politics of Diosdado Macapagal

Monday August 27, 2018 ()

A resolution passed by the city council of Angeles City in Pampanga last 7 August requires some stock-taking. It's about the world-class airport at the former Clark Air Base in Pampanga.

Clark Air Base was an American military installation from 1947 until 1991. It was established pursuant to the 1947 Military Bases Agreement between the Philippines and the United States. The facility has a total area of approximately 2,350 hectares.

In 1991, the Americans abandoned Clark Air Base after the Senate refused to extend the bases agreement. The facility was eventually converted to an economic investment hub by the Clark Development Corporation (CDC). Its vast runway became a world-class civilian airport.

Ferdinand Marcos and Diosdado Macapagal
(Former Presidents Marcos and Macapagal)

The CDC later approved a resolution naming the airport the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) in honor of the late President who held office from 1961 to 1965. The resolution, however, supposedly includes a condition that the name must be approved by Congress. For reasons unexplained, Congress never acted on the DMIA label. Being so, the CDC changed the name of the DMIA to Clark International Airport in 2012. It is the name of the airport up to today.

Although the resolution of the city council of Angeles City urges President Rodrigo Duterte to rename the airport the DMIA, only Congress has the power to designate a name for infrastructure owned by the national government.

The city council's esteem for Diosdado Macapagal, "the poor boy from Lubao," is understandable. He was the first President from Pampanga. Historical record, however, suggests that Macapagal is overrated by his admirers.

Upon assuming the presidency, Macapagal tightened the budget of Tarlac province to pressure its governor, Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr., to shift his allegiance to Macapagal's Liberal Party (LP). Aquino was elected earlier under the Nacionalista Party (NP).

The Macapagal presidency was haunted by the Harry Stonehill scandal triggered by a shrewd American businessman who bought influence in high places in government. Public opinion eventually compelled Macapagal to order his Secretary of Justice Jose Diokno to launch an investigation. Upon learning that the results of the investigation threatened to embarrass his administration, Macapagal fired Diokno and ordered Stonehill's deportation.

Before Congressman Macapagal ran for president in 1961, he had to compete with his fellow LP stalwart, then Sen. Ferdinand Marcos, who also wanted to run for president. Marcos enjoyed the support of voters from Northern Luzon — the so-called "Solid North."

According to political historians, Macapagal struck a deal with Marcos. With the support of Marcos' "Solid North," Macapagal was to run for president under the LP banner in 1961 and Marcos' turn was set for 1965. Macapagal intimated that he wanted only one term as president.

Later, when Macapagal changed his mind and announced his plan to seek re-election in 1965, Marcos bolted the LP and joined the NP. With the help of NP stalwart Jose B. Laurel Jr., Marcos became the NP presidential candidate. Marcos won and took his oath in late December 1965.

After bowing to Marcos, Macapagal assumed the leadership of the political opposition. Under his leadership, the LP was clobbered in the 1969 senatorial race, winning only one of eight available seats. The sole LP survivor was re-electionist Gerardo Roxas Sr.

In 1970, Congress called for an election of delegates to the 1971 Constitutional Convention (ConCon), which was to draft a new charter to replace the 1935 Constitution. Macapagal ran and won as a delegate of Pampanga. Soon after that, Macapagal aspired for the presidency of the convention. He lost to another delegate, ex-President Carlos P. Garcia of Bohol.

Macapagal's defeat, however, was short-lived. Garcia died days after his election as convention president. A second election was held and Macapagal emerged victorious.

With Macapagal at the helm, the ConCon worked so slowly that the proclamation of Martial Law in September 1972 overtook it. Despite martial law, Macapagal ordered the convention to finish a draft constitution under his supervision.

Macapagal's draft, however, carried a tell-tale provision. More specifically, the transitory provisions of Macapagal's draft charter created a temporary legislature called the interim National Assembly, which was to be composed of all the incumbent members of Congress and all delegates of the convention who will vote in favor of the draft. That meant Macapagal would have been a member of the transition legislature without having to win an election. That's political opportunism, plain and simple.

After Macapagal got the convention to approve the draft, he went to Malacañang and personally handed over the official draft charter to President Marcos. A photograph of that turnover, showing an elated Macapagal and a delighted Marcos, exists.

Although Macapagal's draft eventually became the infamous 1973 Constitution, Marcos never convened the interim National Assembly.

In 1976, Macapagal's earlier plan to serve in the legislature vaporized because the interim National Assembly was replaced by the interim Batasang Pambansa, the members of which were to be elected in April 1978.

For almost the entirety of the martial law years, Macapagal did not provide any serious opposition to the authoritarian government. Because of Macapagal's inaction, that responsibility fell on the more vocal opposition leaders like Ninoy Aquino and then Assemblyman Salvador Laurel.

In retirement, "the poor boy from Lubao" lived in Forbes Park in Makati, something his publicists seem to avoid mentioning.

It is suggested that the name of the airport in Clark be left as is: Clark International Airport.

Macapagal is honored enough by the highway near Manila Bay which carries his name.

Sources:

  • Before you rename Clark airport ..., Victor Avecilla, August 28, 2018, Daily Tribune

(This article is adapted from the source listed above. We are unable to grant permission for any kind of reproduction other than social media shares.)


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