Courtesy resignation

Several times in the recent past, President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to resign. He is not the first Philippine president to do so. More than a century ago, Emilio Aguinaldo actually wrote a letter of resignation to the Filipino people and begged them to accept it as their “Aguinaldo” (Christmas gift) to him.

The first reason was his “limited education” which made him, he said “unworthy of being elevated to such a lofty executive office as the presidency of the Philippine Archipelago, and other reasons which we will not go into. But, at any rate, as the Congress of representatives again elects me to direct the destiny of our nation, it seems fitting for me to appeal to my fellow countrymen…to consider electing a better man to substitute me…”

In the next paragraph, he said some men, “…fired by resentment because their wishes are not fulfilled submit their resignations…” but his decision is not a personal matter, “…It is simply in obedience to the strong desire I cherish to see the people closely united; and by reason of my own incompetence. I am perfectly confident that on this, as on other occasions, you will comply with my wishes, and that you will not fail togrant this request, perhaps the last I may make you…”

This letter of resignation, whether courtesy or irrevocable, was written in December, close to Christmas as indicated by the salutation — “Merry Christmas, fellow countrymen!” I don’t know if the original was in Tagalog, it may have been in Spanish, judging from its structure and verbosity. Aguinaldo said that after resigning he would join the military reservists and would always be ready to serve when called to battle.

He gave his countrymen some guidelines for choosing their new president: “You are all aware that there is no office superior to that of the President of this nation; he is honored, he is obeyed, he is the superior of all, distinct from all other eminent personages, so that public order is dependent upon him.   One can desire nothing better if he is to perform his duty rigidly of watching over the welfare of the nation; no other office is to be compared with it, but if he uses it as a means to further personal interests, there is no better office by which to obtain great wealth in a short time. Consequently, it is well to deliberate thoroughly concerning the new president we are to proclaim…”

Aguinaldo exhorted his compatriots to review the personal history of the future chief executive, “…step by step, aside from his present behavior.” He warned the electorate about casting their votes for “…a candidate whose character has not been previously investigated and thoroughly known. And if we cannot refuse his solicitation, we can feign acquiescence and, when the time for action comes, elect the one who deserves the office, for the choice must not fall on any one by whom the country would be imperiled.” That sounds familiar — accept the money but don’t vote for him.

“To be wise is not enough,” Aguinaldo said in his resignation letter, “…for a man may be wise and not be willing to share the fate of the country when in peril. “Neither is it good enough to be rich because, “…in majority of cases, although they see their country threatened by re-enslavement, [the rich] are unwilling to aid with their wealth… and because of these riches, in case of any mishap, they will repair to a foreign land.” Aguinaldo also told Filipinos to beware of men who aspire for important positions without wanting to rise from the ranks. “The primary goal of such a man is his own welfare, not the people’s… I am justified in saying to you that much care is required in dealing with these people,” Aguinaldo cautioned.

Aside from his “incompetence,” his second reason for resigning was “the pain caused “by all the reports of corruption in the military; he cited “odious favoritism,” “desire to enrich themselves, accepting bribes, and making money out of prisoners” —

“commissaries who dare to decrease the allowance of soldiers that are little enough already.” However, he blames all that on the past administration, that is, on Spanish colonial rule, “…those who taught us such a custom,” but he fervently hoped that things would change for the better.

Aguinaldo was also mortified by the behavior of those, “discharging civil offices, especially those who are far from the oversight of the government, who put their own welfare before the common good, and devise a thousand means to further their own ends, even to the extent of gambling. “Where are the police? Are they, perchance, also bribed? Pity, money is so ill spent!”

Barely six months had passed before Independence was declared in Kawit and a Revolutionary Government established. Municipal and provincial elections were held to install new leaders. As it turned out, most of those who held positions during Spain’s colonial times had established their “dynasties” and could not be easily removed from their positions. In a number of towns and municipalities, all the local officials had the same surnames. Aguinaldo admitted that many military and civil officials were arrogant and oppressive, “but when the real enemy comes, they are the first to take flight.” He was proud of the poor men, who with little or no pay, with bolos and stones rush to the defense of the country.

Was Aguinaldo’s letter of resignation irrevocable or mere courtesy? We don’t know but he wanted to print it for national distribution. It was suppressed, for obvious reasons, by Apolinario Mabini and Felipe Buencamino.

(Source: Guerrero, Milagros, C, Luzon at War, Anvil Publishing 2015)