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Past PHL presidents: Many were lawyers, one a housewife, another a mechanic

The Philippines has had 15 presidents since 1899 and most of them were lawyers but one was an actor, another a mechanic, and still another was a housewife – the late President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, who became the country’s first female chief executive.

According to the Philippine Electoral Almanac (2013), out of 15 presidents, eight were lawyers. In fact, from 1935 to 1953, all five presidents were lawyers:  Manuel L. Quezon (Presidency: November 15, 1935 - August 1, 1944); Jose P. Laurel  (October 14, 1943-August 17, 1945); Sergio Osmeña (August 1, 1944 - May 28, 1946); Manuel Roxas (May 28, 1946 - April 15, 1948), and Elpidio Quirino (April 17, 1948 - December 30, 1953).

The pattern of electing lawyers into the highest office was only broken by another highly popular president: Ramon Magsaysay (December 30, 1953 - March 17, 1957), who was a mechanic, bus shop superintendent, and later manager.

As for the three other lawyers who became presidents, they were: Carlos P. Garcia
(March 18, 1957 - December 30, 1961); Diosdado Macapagal (December 30, 1961 - December 30, 1965), and Ferdinand E. Marcos (December 30, 1965 - February 25, 1986).

Marcos is the last lawyer so far to have been elected president.

Interestingly, the two presidents who were children of former Philippine presidents were both economists: Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (January 20, 2001 - June 30, 2010) and the incumbent President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” C. Aquino III (June 30, 2010 - June 30, 2016).

Arroyo was Noynoy’s economics professor at the Ateneo de Manila University.

Two presidents were soldiers: the first Philippine President Emilio Aguinaldo (January 23, 1899 - March 23, 1901) and Fidel V. Ramos (February 25, 1986 - June 30, 1992).

Only one president was an actor:  Joseph Ejercito Estrada (June 30, 1998 - January 20, 2001).

However, Estrada did not jump from being an actor to become the head of the country. He worked his way up the political ladder, having served as mayor of San Juan (1967-1986), senator (1987-1992), and later, Ramos' vice president (1992-1998).

According to the Philippine Electoral Almanac, Estrada attended the Ateneo de Manila High School until 1953 but did not graduate. On the other hand, Estrada's website says, "His primary education was obtained at the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University. He later took up an Engineering course at the Mapua Institute of Technology."


On the other hand, those with multiple degrees include:

  • Macapagal (Bachelor of Laws, Master of Laws, Doctor of Civic Law, and Doctor of Economics, University of Santo Tomas);
  • Ramos (United States Military Academy at West Point; Master of Science in Civil Engineering, University of Illinois; Master in National Security Administration, National Defense College of the Philippines, and  Master in Business Administration, Ateneo de Manila University);

  • Arroyo, Macapagal’s daughter (Economics, Assumption College; Studies in International Trade, Georgetown University; Masters in Economics, Ateneo de Manila University, and Ph.D. in  Economics, University of the Philippines), and
  • Laurel (Bachelor of Laws, University of the Philippines, Master of Laws, Escuela de Derecho, Doctor of Civil Laws, Yale University; Doctor of Philosophy, University of Santo Tomas).

Lawyer and land surveyor?

Meanwhile, some of the lawyers who became Philippine presidents had other jobs aside from the legal profession.

Quezon was a land surveyor and lawyer. Quezon had served as governor in his province of Tayabas, now renamed Quezon in his honor.

Osmeña, who hails from Cebu, was a lawyer and journalist. He had served in his hometown as fiscal, municipal councilor, and congressman before becoming senator and eventually president.

Roxas had served as an interpreter in the Court of First Instance of the City of
Manila. He was also secretary and law clerk to the country’s first Chief Justice, Cayetano Arellano.

Roxas served in his hometown of Capiz as municipal councillor and Assemblyman. He was elected as Senator in 1941 but did not assume office because war broke out.

Garcia was a poet and high school teacher aside from having been a lawyer. He and fellow lawyer Quirino were also former deans of law schools.

Another poet was Macapagal, who was also a reporter aside from being a lawyer.

Bar topnotchers

Several presidents were bar topnotchers:

  • Laurel: 2nd in the Philippine Bar (1915);
  • Osmeña: 2nd in the Philippine Bar (1903);
  • Roxas: 1st Place in the Philippine Bar (1913);
  • Garcia: 7th in the Philippine Bar (1923);
  • Macapagal: 1st in the Philippine Bar (1935);
  • Marcos, 1st in the Philippine Bar (1939).

As for non-lawyers, the one who received the distinction of being a board topnotcher was Ramos who placed 8th in the Civil Engineering Exams (1953).

Other interesting facts: Magsaysay was a mechanic and bus shop superintendent but he also served in the military as a captain. He was also a congressman and military governor of Zambales. He likewise served as Secretary of National Defense before becoming president.

Mrs. Aquino (February 25, 1986 - June 30, 1992) was a housewife but was US-educated, having taken up Bachelor of Arts Major in French and Mathematics at the College of Mount Saint0 Vincent (1953).

Mrs. Aquino came from one of the richest and most prominent families in the Philippines – the Cojuangco family which owns Hacienda Luisita, a sugar plantation spanning over 6,400 hectares, said to be as large as Makati and Pasig cities combined.

The two women who have served as president, Cory Aquino and Arroyo,  were swept into office by People Power: the 1986 People Power Revolution and the 2001 EDSA Dos Revolution respectively.

2016 presidential candidates

As for the leading presidential candidates in the 2016 elections, lawyers still dominate the crop of contenders.

There are at least four lawyers among those who could make it to the list of official candidates:

  • Vice President Jejomar Binay: Bachelor of Laws; University of the Philippines (1967);
  • Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago: Bachelor of Laws (Cum Laude), University of the Philippines (1969);
  • Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte: Bachelor of Laws, San Beda College (1972), and
  • Rep. Roy Señeres: Bachelor of Laws, San Beda College, Manila (1971).

As for the other leading presidential candidates, one is an economist: former Senator and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, a descendant of the late President Roxas. Mar is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Economics, Bachelor of Science in Economics (major in Finance), 1979.

Senator Grace Poe may be hounded by disqualification cases due to questions about her being a natural-born Filipino citizen, a requirement for those seeking the country's highest post. But Poe continues to rank high in pre-election surveys.

Poe had worked as a Montessori teacher before becoming a manager for a US-based firm, and later Chief Operating Officer of FPJ Productions, a company built by her adoptive father, actor Fernando Poe Jr. 

The question now is: Who will Filipinos elect as their next president? Another lawyer? Or perhaps an economist? Or maybe a former teacher? We will only know come May 2016 but clearly, with all the drama and mudslinging going on among certain contenders, the battle has already begun. -- GMA News