Senator Claro M. Recto is the Role Model Every Philippine Legislator Should Aspire to Be
Today, we commemorate the 59th death anniversary of Claro M. Recto, one of the fiercest senators the nation has ever produced. His brand of politics was notoriously pro-Filipino, and eschewed anything tainted with colonial mentality. Recto was born on February 8, 1890, and died of a heart attack on October 2, 1969. He was 70 years old.
Why Claro M. Recto was considered the ‘Great Dissenter’
Recto was a gadfly, a maverick, and a true dissenter of the status quo that was arguably backwards and plagued with myopic sentiments. As a statesman, Recto’s rhetoric was purely intellectual, based on his strong principles of nationalism. He always demanded the best for the Filipino from anyone in government, regardless of stature. Because of this, he found very few allies and very many enemies. In fact, he opposed President Ramon Magsaysay, the most popular Filipino president, on a number of issues, including the issue of allowing Americans to operate more bases in the Philippines.
Recto was involved in politics at a young age
Recto graduated from the Ateneo de Manila with a bachelor’s degree in the Arts, and then earned his master of laws degree at the University of Santo Tomas in 1916. Shortly after graduating from UST, he immediately launched his career in politics by serving as a legal adviser to the Senate from 1916 to 1919. He finally decided to run for public office in 1919 as the representative of the third district of Batangas at 29 years old. It was at this point when his intellectual acumen would manifest, which both impressed and earned the ire of his colleagues. A mere five years into his political career, he would be selected as one of the Philippines’ representatives in the US in framing the Constitution.
In 1931, Recto was elected to the Senate where he initially served as minority floor leader for three years. In 1934, he was elected majority floor leader and president pro tempore. The Americans took notice of his talents as a lawmaker and a legal luminary, so much so that US President Franklin Roosevelt appointed him Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, for which Recto had to resign his position as Senator. Recto would return to the Senate in 1941, and would lose a bid for the presidency in 1957.
Aside from crafting laws, Recto was also a prolific writer. His numerous legal treatises and literary works on nationalism became textbook standards during his time. These essays on political sovereignty and economic independence are still studied as standard materials in political theory to this day.
Claro M. Recto faced down pro-American politics during the framing of the Constitution
In 1924, Recto travelled to America as part of the Philippines’ parliamentary independence mission, whose goal was to lobby the US Congress into granting sovereignty to the Philippines. The US Supreme Court admitted Recto to the U.S. bar in the same year.
Then, in 1934, the Tydings-McDuffie Act passed into law. It provided a ten-year transition period for the Philippines to become a fully independent nation. In accordance with its provisions, the Philippines formed a constitutional convention, in which Recto was elected president.
Thanks to Recto's audacity and superior intellect, the convention succeeded in framing a constitution, despite the prevalence of pro-American sentiments even within the members of the convention. The drafted constitution enshrined the idea of Filipinos living as free, responsible citizens in a democracy.
The plan for Philippine independence would have gone smoothly, had it not been interrupted by Second World War.
Claro M. Recto served in the wartime cabinet during World War II
When World War II spread to Philippine soil, all of Recto’s hard work for Philippine independence was abruptly thrown aside. Nevertheless, he toiled to protect Filipinos’ interests by serving in the wartime cabinet of President José Laurel during the Japanese occupation.
Sadly, he was arrested and tried for collaboration after the war. To clear his name, he wrote a 208-page book in 1946, aptly titled Three Years of Enemy Occupation: The Issue of Political Collaboration in the Philippines. The book presents the case of the conduct of the Filipino elite during World War II. Recto eventually defended himself in a vicious legal battle in court and was acquitted. He was, after all, known as the Lawyer of Miracles, thanks to his prodigious skill as a lawyer and his innumerable victories in court.
Recto fought the United States on a number of national issues
In 1949, three years after the Philippines gained independence from the US, Recto began a salvo of offensives on the US government, concerning a number of unfair agreements that the Philippines and the US entered into. He exposed the unfairness of the Military Bases Agreement of 1947 (the United States paid a pittance for the bases’ rent), and the Philippine Rehabilitation Act, which required the Philippines to grant Americans unlimited access to its natural resources in exchange for funds to rebuild the country’s infrastructure caused by World War II.
Recto ran for president in 1957, but lost, allegedly because of CIA intervention
For obvious reasons, the United States viewed Recto as a threat to US interests in the Philippines. In 1957, Recto ran for president against Carlos P. Garcia. Recto lost, allegedly because of the US’s Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) covert operations. According to a lecture at the University of the Philippines in 2000, the CIA manufactured and distributed defective condoms with labels that said “Courtesy of Claro M. Recto—the Peoples’ Friend”. How many defective condoms were distributed, we’ll never know, but they were enough to derail Recto’s plans to become president of the Philippines.
Recto died in 1957 after suffering a heart attack immediately after his meeting with two Caucasians in business suits in Rome.
What is Claro M. Recto’s legacy as a statesman?
Claro M. Recto left a legacy of fighting for an independent national government. He opposed numerous treaties that left the Philippines on the losing end of the bargain, including the Laurel-Langley Agreement with the US, the Ohno-Garcia reparations deal with Taiwan, The Philippine Rehabilitation Act which depleted the country’s resources, and other deals that allowed free entry of US goods into the local economy, effectively drowning local products.
If Recto were still alive today, he would likely make clear his positions on a variety of issues, in particular those regarding the West Philippine Sea. If Filipino Senators today need someone to look up to when it comes to pursuing an independent foreign policy, political sovereignty, and economic independence, Claro M. Recto should be the ideal role model.