1931–1935, 1941–1946, 1953–1960
|Political Party:||Democrata Party (1919–1933) Nacionalista Democrata Party (1933–1935) Nacionalista Coalition (1935–1938) Nacionalista Party (1938–1942) Kalibapi Movement (1943–1945) Nacionalista Party (1946–1960)|
|Born:|| February 8, 1890|
|Died:|| October 2, 1960|
He was born in Tiáong, Tayabas (now known as Quezon province) of educated, upper middle-class parents, namely Claro Recto [Sr.] of Rosario, Batangas, and Marcela Mayo of Lipa, Batangas. He studied Latin at the Instituto de Rizal in Lipa, Batangas from 1900 to 1901. Further schooling was at the Colegio del Sagrado Corazón of Don Sebastián Virrey. He moved to Manila to study at the Ateneo de Manila where he consistently obtained outstanding scholastic grades, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree maxima cum laude. He received a Masters of Laws degree from the University of Santo Tomás.
He traveled to the United States as a member of the Independence Mission, and was admitted to the American Bar in 1924. Upon his return he founded the Partido Democrata. In 1928, he temporarily retired from active politics and dedicated himself to the practice and teaching of law.
Recto found the world of academia restrictive and soporific. Although he still engaged in the practice of law, he resigned from his teaching job in 1931 and reentered politics when he ran and won a senate seat and was subsequently elected its majority floor leader in 1934. He was appointed Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in 1935 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As a jurist he held his own in famous debates even against the U.S. Attorney General with whom he waged a war of words on the question of ownership of military bases in the Philippines.
He presided over the assembly that drafted the Philippine Constitution in 1934-35, which was in accordance with the provisions of the Tydings-McDuffie Act and a preliminary step to independence and self-governance after a 10-year transitional period. The Tydings-McDuffie Act was created in response to the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act which, through the urging of Quezon, was rejected by the Philippine Senate. The original bill would have allowed the indefinite retention of U.S. military and naval bases in the Philippines and the American imposition of high tariff and quotas on Philippine exports such as sugar and coconut oil. A few minor changes were made and the Tydings-McDuffie bill was passed and signed into law by President Roosevelt.
Together with then-Senate President Manuel L. Quezon (who eventually was elected first president of the commonwealth), Recto personally presented the Commonwealth Constitution to U.S. President Roosevelt. The consensus among many political scholars of today judges the 1935 Constitution as the best-written Philippine charter ever. Its author was mainly Claro M. Recto.
In the 1953 and 1955 elections, Recto denounced the influence and coercion of the Church on voters' decisions—the Philippines having a 90% Catholic majority at the time. In a 1958 article in "The Lawyer's Journal" he suggested that a constitutional amendment be passed to make the article on Separation of Church and State clearer and more definitive. He also rallied against the teaching of religion in public schools.
He served as Commissioner of Education (1942-43), Minister of Foreign Affairs (1943-44), and Cultural Envoy with the rank of Ambassador on a cultural mission to Europe and Latin America (1960). In 1941 he ran and reaped the highest number of votes among the 24 elected senators. He was re-elected in 1949 as a Nacionalista Party candidate and again in 1955 as a guest candidate of the Liberal Party.
Claro M. Recto is considered light-years ahead of his time. He foresaw the demands of a fast-moving global economy which his nation is incapable to meet even to this day. In a memorable speech on the eve of the 1957 presidential election where he raced against then Vice President Carlos Garcia, he petitioned all sectors of society, and like Rizal, implored the youth:
The first task of our young men and women is to develop within themselves the nationalistic spirit of our revolutionary heroes, rejecting pernicious foreign influences. The second task is to participate seriously in the economic development of our country by pursuing those professions for which there is a great need during an era of rapid industrialization. Only a nationalistic administration can inspire a new idealism in our youth, and with its valid economic program make our youth respond to the challenging jobs and tasks demanding full use of their talents and energies.
Recto was defeated and never became president. Since his time, subsequent administrations practiced with fidelity and enthusiasm what he called "subservience and colonial mentality", most of them with greed and rapacious intents. To the judgment of Recto and many political gurus, colonial mentality towards America by the sycophant Philippine government, and its evil twin--servility to the almighty dollar, are among the major contributories to graft and corruption, which in turn have paralyzed the nation's economy.
During the presidency of Corazon Aquino, however, where Aquino initially fought for the R.P.-U.S Bases Treaty but ultimately acquiesced to the will of the people, the Philippine Senate rejected its renewal. In September 1991, by a slim majority led by Senator Jovito Salonga, the lawmaking body rescinded the agreement, effectively ending U.S. military presence in the Philippines.
In the years before English became the principal tongue of the Filipino elite, Recto was known as an abogado milagroso (lawyer of miracles), a tribute to his many victories in the judicial court. He wrote a two-volume book on civil procedures which in the days before World War II was standard textbook for law students.
His prominence as a lawyer parallels his fame as a writer: he was known for his flawless logic and lucidity of mind in both undertakings. He served the wartime cabinet of President Jose Laurel during the Japanese occupation. Together with Laurel, Camilo Osías, and Quintín Paredes, he was taken into custody by the American colonial government and tried for treason. In his defense, he wrote a treatise entitled "Three Years of Enemy Occupation" (1946) wherein he convincingly presented the case of patriotic conduct of Filipinos during World War II. He fought his legal battles and was acquitted.
Recto was one of the most vocal proponents for Philippine autonomy. In 1949, he lambasted the unfair imposition of the U.S. government in the military bases agreement, and later the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951 and the Tydings Rehabilitation Act which required a constitutional amendment to the enactment of controversial parity rights which he believed were inequitably favoring the United States. He exposed what he called "the duplicity of the agreements with the United States and the subservience of Filipino opportunists to the dictates of U.S. policy makers."
In his speech "Our Mendicant Foreign Policy", delivered before the 1951 graduates at the University of the Philippines, he implored an end to what he called the panhandling atittude of the Philippine government and emphasized the drive to self reliance. A mendicant policy, he declared, promotes "a dole-out mentality. A dependent nation cannot expect respect from other nations."
Recto was dubbed by the media as the "Radical Gadfly" and the "Great Dissenter". He was considered the nemesis of President Magsaysay's government, disputing him on a number of fundamental issues, including the Philippine relations with the Chiang Kai-shek government, the grant of more bases to the U.S., the American claim of ownership over these bases, and the expanded rights for Americans under the Laurel-Langley Agreement. He was President Garcia's harshest critic, vigorously opposing him on the Ohno-García (Japanese) reparations deal and the Philippine recognition of the American-supported regime of Ngo Dinh Diem.
During the Formosa crisis, the Philippine Congress, controlled by Magsaysay's party men, issued a resolution pledging support to the U.S. defense of Formosa upon threat of a communist invasion. Congress and the Old Guards of the Nationalista Party supported Magsaysay, and Magsaysay prevailed. Recto severely criticized Magsaysay's pro-American stance and forewarned that involvement in U.S. military intervention exposes the Philippines to imminent danger. Recto's consistent stand was proven right by history's turn of events.
Without his steerage of the Partida Democrata, the party experienced its eventual demise; he founded a second, the Nationalist Citizens Party which espoused neutrality in foreign relations and advocated economic independence from American interests. In that same 1957 election speech, he further said:
I call upon my countrymen to remember that we have not always been so low and so ignoble, that our nationalist revolution of 1896 was indeed the first blow struck against an imperialist power and that the words and deeds of Rizal, Bonifacio, Del Pilar and Mabini once stirred the hearts of liberty-loving men all over Asia. Our national salvation lies first in reasserting the ideals of our heroes in their fight for emancipation, and second in changing the course of our economic efforts by giving emphasis to nationalist industrialization.
Recto sponsored the Rizal bill together with fellow senator Jose Laurel. The bill would require all high schools and colleges to include in their curricula a course in the study of Rizal's literary works, mainly the Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, to provide an in-depth study of nationalism and the shaping of national character invoked in these two novels. Although it met strong opposition from a contingent of Catholic groups because of the books' virulent attack on the Church and their perceived anti-clericalism, the bill was passed and approved on 6 December, 1956 and became R.A. 1425 known as Rizal Law. Today there are many, especially among college and university students, who are calling for a repeal or revision of this law, questioning its essentiality to a high school and college diploma and its relevance to modern-day Filipino life.
The Spanish language was where he was reared and schooled. Alongside Tagalog, it was Recto's mother tongue, although he was equally adept in English. His initial fame was as a poet while a student at the University of Santo Tomás when he published a book Bajos Los Cocoteros (Under the Coconut Trees, 1911), a collection of his poems in Spanish. A staff writer of El Ideal, and later La Vanguardia, he wrote a daily column, Primares Cuartillas (First Sheets), under the nom de plume Aristeo Hilario. They were prose and numerous poems of satirical pieces. Some of his work still grace the classic poetry anthologies of the Hispanic world.
Among the plays that he authored were La Ruta de Damasco (The Route to Damascus, 1918), and Solo entre las Sombras (Alone among the Shadows, 1917), which were lauded not only in the Philippines, but also in Spain and Latin America. Both were produced and staged in Manila to critical acclaim in the mid 1950s.
In 1929, his article Monroismo Asiático (Asiatic Monroism) was published, validating his repute as a political satirist. In what was claimed as a commendable study in polemics, he proferred his arguments and defenses in a debate with Dean Máximo Kálaw of the University of the Philippines where Kálaw championed a version of the Monroe Doctrine with its application to the Asian continent, while Recto took the opposing side. The original Monroe doctrine (1823) was U.S. President Monroe's foreign policy of keeping the Americas off-limits to the influence of the Old World, and states that the United States, Mexico, and countries in South and Central America were no longer open to European colonization. Recto was passionately against its implementation in Asia, wary of Japan's preeminence and its aggressive stance towards its neighbors. In his deliberation he wrote about foreseeing the danger Japan posed to the Philippines and other Asian countries. His words proved prophetic when Japan invaded and colonized the region, including the Philippines from 1942-45.
His eloquence and facility with the Spanish language were recognized throughout the Hispanic world. The Enciclopedia Universal says of him: Recto, more than a politician and lawyer, is a Spanish writer, and that among those of his race (he is pure Tagalog on both sides), there is not and there has been no one who has surpassed him in the mastery of the language of his country's former sovereign.
Claro M. Recto is considered the "finest mind of his generation". Through his speeches and writings, he was able to mold the mind of his Filipino contemporaries and succeeding generations, a skill "only excelled by Rizal's".
He left a mark on the patriotic climate of his time and a lasting legacy to those who succeeded him. Such icons of nationalism as Lorenzo Tanada, Jose Diokno, Renato Constantino, Jovito Salonga, refer to him as a mentor and forerunner.
Teodoro M. Locsín of the Philippines Free Press, defines Recto's genius, thus:
"Recto is not a good speaker, no. He will arouse no mob. But heaven help the one whose pretensions he chooses to demolish. His sentences march like ordered battalions against the inmost citadel of the man's arguments, and reduce them to rubble; meanwhile his reservations stand like armed sentries against the most silent approach and every attempt at encirclement by the adversary. The reduction to absurdity of Nacionalista senator Zulueta's conception of sound foreign policy was a shattering experience, the skill that goes into the cutting of a diamond went into the work of demolition. There was no slip of the hand, no flaw in the tool. All was delicately, perfectly done... Recto cannot defend the indefensible, but what can be defended, he will see to it that it will not be taken."
His critics claim that Recto's brilliance is overshadowed by his inability to capture nationwide acceptance. He could have been an exceptional leader, perhaps a great president, but his appeal was limited to the intellectual elite and the nationalist minority of his time. In the same article, political editorialist, Manuel L. Quezon III, laments this fact: "Recto's leadership was the curious kind that only finds fulfillment from being at the periphery of power, and not from being its fulcrum. It was the best occupation suited to the satirist that he was. His success at the polls would be limited, his ability to mold the minds of his contemporaries was only excelled by Rizal's...But he was admired for his intellect and his dogged determination to never let the opposition be bereft of a champion, still his opposition was flawed. For it was one that never bothered to transform itself into an opposition capable of taking power."
Claro M. Recto died of a heart attack in Rome, Italy, on 2 October 1960, while on a cultural mission, and en route to Spain, where he was to fulfill a series of speaking engagements. He was married to Doña Aurora Reyes, with whom he had 2 sons. He had four children in his first marriage with Doña Angeles Silos.