Claro M. Recto

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Claro M. Recto

Claro M. Recto (1890-1960) was a Philippine nationalist leader and president of the 1934 constitutional convention. He was one of the most vocal advocates of Philippine political and social autonomy.

Claro M. Recto was born in Tiaong, Tayabas, on Feb. 8, 1890. He worked for a bachelor of arts at the Ateneo de Manila and finished a master of laws degree at the University of Santo Tomas in 1914. From 1916 to 1919 he served as legal adviser to the Philippine Senate. In 1919 he was elected as representative of the third district of Batangas and served as House minority floor leader. He was reelected in 1922 and 1925.

Framing of the Constitution

In 1924 Recto went to the United States as a member of a parliamentary independence mission. In the same year he was admitted to the U.S. bar by the Supreme Court. In 1934 a constitutional convention was held in accordance with the provisions of the Tydings-McDuffie Act, which required the drafting of a constitution as part of the steps leading to Philippine independence. Recto was elected president of the convention. It was due mainly to Recto's sagacity and intellectual acumen that the convention succeeded in framing and approving on Feb. 8, 1935, a constitution which would truly reflect the Filipinos' capacity to frame laws and principles that would govern their lives as free, responsible citizens in a democracy.

In 1931 Recto was elected to the Senate on the platform of the Democrata party. He acted as minority floor leader for 3 years. In 1934 he became majority floor leader and president pro tempore of the Senate. He subsequently resigned his Senate seat when President Franklin Roosevelt appointed him as associate justice of the Supreme Court. Recto left the Supreme Court in 1941 and was elected anew as senator. In 1949 he was reelected on the Nacionalista party ticket. In 1957 he ran for president but was defeated.

Apart from his numerous legal treatises and literary works in Spanish, Recto is noted for his staunch nationalist stand on questions regarding political sovereignty and economic independence.

World War II and Rehabilitation

Recto served in the wartime Cabinet of José Laurel during the Japanese occupation and was subsequently arrested and tried for collaboration. He wrote a defense and explanation of his position in Three Years of Enemy Occupation (1946), which convincingly presented the case of the "patriotic" conduct of the Filipino elite during World War II. Recto fought his legal battle in court and was acquitted.

On April 9, 1949, Recto opened his attack against the unfair impositions of the U.S. government as expressed in the Military Bases Agreement of March 14, 1947, and later in the Mutual Defense Treaty of Aug. 30, 1951, and especially the Tydings Rehabilitation Act, which required the enactment of the controversial parity-rights amendment to the constitution.

A Radical Gadfly

Recto's wit, irony, and sharp analytic powers exposed the duplicity of the diplomatic agreements with the United States and revealed the subservience of Filipino opportunists to the dictates of American policy makers. Recto opposed President Ramon Magsaysay on a number of fundamental issues, among them the Philippine relations with the Chiang Kai-shek regime in Taiwan, the Ohno-Garcia reparations deal, the grant of more bases to the United States, the American claim of ownership over these bases, the question of expanded parity rights for Americans under the Laurel-Langley Agreement, and the premature recognition of Ngo Dinh Diem's South Vietnam government. In all those issues, Recto's consistent stand in favor of Philippine sovereignty and security was proved right by the turn of events.

In perspective, Recto revived the tradition of the radical dissenter fighting against feudal backwardness, clericofascist authoritarianism, and neocolonial mentality and imperialism. He strove to reawaken the consciousness of the Filipinos to the greatness of their revolutionary heritage and emphasized the need to transform the character of the national life by reaffirming their solidarity as a sovereign, free people.

Recto was preparing to launch his Filipinist crusade in the tradition of the Propaganda Movement of the 1880s when he died of a heart ailment in Rome, Italy, on Oct. 2, 1960.

Further Reading

For Recto's ideas and attitudes see his own books, Three Years of Enemy Occupation: The Issue of Political Collaboration in the Philippines (1946); My Crusade (1955); and Recto Reader, edited by Renato Constantino (1965). The best biographical account from a nationalistic sociocultural point of view is Constantino's The Making of a Filipino: Story of Philippine Colonial Politics (1969). For other information about Recto's career consult Hernando J. Abaya, The Untold Philippine Story (1967). For a thoughtful appraisal of Recto's progressive tendencies by a young intellectual see José Maria Sison, Recto and the National Democratic Struggle (1969).

Additional Sources

Arcellana, Emerenciana Yuvienco, Recto, nationalist, Philippines: Claro M. Recto Memorial Foundation, 1988.

Arcellana, Emerenciana Yuvienco, The social and political thought of Claro Mayo Recto, Manila: National Research Council of the Philippines, 1981.

Claro M. Recto, 1890-1990: a centenary tribute of the Civil Liberties Union, Quezon City: Karrel, 1990?. □