José Avelino

José Dira Avelino (August 5, 1890 – July 21, 1986) was the first President of the Senate of the Third Republic of the Philippines and the second President of the Liberal Party. He was Senate President pro tempore to President Manuel Quezon prior to the establishment of the Commonwealth.

José D. Avelino
Jose Avelino studio photo.jpg
3rd President of the Senate of the Philippines
In office
May 25, 1946 – February 21, 1949
Preceded byManuel Roxas
Succeeded byMariano Jesús Cuenco
Senator of the Philippines
In office
May 25, 1946 – December 30, 1951
Secretary of Public Works and Transportation
In office
PresidentManuel L. Quezon
Preceded byMariano Jesús Cuenco
Succeeded byQuintin Paredes
Secretary of Labor
In office
November 15, 1935 – 1938
PresidentManuel L. Quezon
Preceded byRamon Torres
Succeeded byHermenegildo Villanueva
4th President pro tempore of the Senate of the Philippines
In office
1935 – November 15, 1935
Preceded byJosé Clarín
Succeeded byPost Abolished
Post later held by Elpidio Quirino
Senator of the Philippines
from the 9th senatorial district
In office
1928 – November 15, 1935
Served with:
Jose Ma. Veloso (1928-1935)
Preceded byPastor Salazar
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Member of the
Philippine House of Representatives
from Samar's 1st district
In office
Preceded byPedro K. Mendiola
Succeeded byTiburcio Tancinco
Personal details
José Dira Avelino

(1890-08-05)August 5, 1890
Calbayog, Samar, Captaincy General of the Philippines
DiedJuly 21, 1986(1986-07-21) (aged 95)
Political partyNacionalista (before 1946)
Liberal Party (since 1946)
Spouse(s)Enriqueta Casal
ChildrenJose Jr., Enrique, Antonio, Baltazar II, Pilar

Early life and careerEdit

Avelino was born in a town called Calbayog in Samar to Ildefonsa Dira and Baltazar Avelino. Avelino was educated at the Ateneo de Manila where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree and the University of Santo Tomas where he graduated with his Bachelor of Laws. Calbayog became a City in 1948 at Avelino's instance, when as President of the Senate he pulled together three contiguous municipalities (Oquendo, Calbayog and Tinambacan) and made it into the 19th city of the Philippines, July 15, 1948, the date President Elpidio Quirino signed Republic Act 328.

Personal lifeEdit

Avelino was married to Enriqueta Casal and had four sons (Jose Jr., Enrique, Antonio, Baltazar II) and has one daughter named Pilar. He is the great-grandfather of actor Paulo Avelino.

National PoliticsEdit

He served concurrently as Secretary of Labor and Secretary of Public Works and Transportation under President Manuel L. Quezon. As Secretary of Labor, Avelino accomplished something unprecedented in the Philippines and perhaps the world – he unified the labor unions by organizing them into two commissions: the National Commission of Labor (NCL) and the National Commission of Peasants (NCP) – and he was designated chairman of these two Commissions. To quote Manila Bulletin: "The new Secretary of Labor José Avelino became not merely the head of the Department of Labor in the government but the head of labor organization, the head of labor in fact."

Avelino is known as the Father of the Philippine Workmen’s Compensation Law; one of the most famous bills which he authored during his term in Senate, which focused on creating a contingency insurance fund for workers as a way to protect the workers from the various economic problems that plagued the post-war economy.

Avelino also founded the first labor union in Eastern Visayas, Gremio Obrero de Stevedores and considered to be a founding member of the Liberal Party. He was instrumental in the passage of the Social Security System and pushed for the establishment of public high schools in every province in the Philippines. The final office held by Avelino before retiring was Ambassador Plenipotentiary under President Elpidio Quirino.

An LP stalwart, Avelino was infamously quoted as saying "What are we in power for?" which was said during a party caucus in Malacañang. The whole statement being:[1]

"Why did you have to order an investigation Honorable Mr. President? If you cannot permit abuses, you must at least tolerate them. What are we in power for? We are not hypocrites. Why should we pretend to be saints when in reality we are not? We are not angels. When we die we will all go to hell. It is better to be in hell because in that place there are no investigations, no secretary of justice, no secretary of the interior to go after us."

The above account is disputed by historian Quintin Doroquez.[2][3] Doroquez claims that Avelino was willfully misquoted as corrupt by Celso Cabrera, a newsreporter who did not speak Spanish.[3] Doroquez claims that Congressman Faustino Tobia of Ilocos Norte confessed to the Avelino family later that the entire quote was fabricated and that the original context of Avelino's comment at the said party caucus on January 15, 1949 was the failure of the Quirino administration to deal with the problems of the country.[3] According to Doroquez, Congressman Tobia offered the following paraphrase as closer to what Avelino actually said in Spanish at the meeting.[3]

"Señor Presidente, ¿no es la verdad que sin hacerlos vigorosamente es traicionar y negar esencialmente nuestros deberes como sirvientes públicos? ¿Para que esta el nuestro mandato del pueblo?"[3]

Doroquez provided a translation of Congressman Tobia's paraphrase.[3]

"Mr. President, is it not the truth that not addressing vigorously these problems [i.e., of losing the Liberal Party's insight into the postwar reconstruction, the country’s peasant plight that is fueling the Huk's insurgency, and the moral discipline of those who use their position or influence in government to advance their selfish ends, like appointing less qualified men from the opposition party] is to betray and negate fundamentally our duties as public servants? What for is our mandate from the people?"

In any case, the quote "What are we in power for?" was the quote attributed to Avelino and reported in The Manila Chronicle which was owned by the Lopez family, the family of then-Senator Fernando Lopez who later would be chosen as Quirino's running mate and be elected as his Vice President.[3]

Avelino ran for being President of the Philippines in the 1949 election, where he became third in a race between incumbent president Elpidio Quirino and former president José P. Laurel. Avelino tried to divide the Liberal Party votes for Quirino by declaring his faction as the other wing of the Liberal Party, but the latter still won with 50.93% of the votes. Avelino garnered a mere 11.85%. His vice presidential mate, Vicente Francisco, garnered a far lower percentage (1.73%).

Later lifeEdit

Avelino retired from public life and devoted himself to the practice of law. Avelino died at the age of 95 on July 21, 1986.


  1. ^ Dante, Simbulan (2006). The Modern Principalia: The Historical Evolution of the Philippine Ruling Oligarchy. University of Hawaii Press. pp. Chapter 5, Page 161. ISBN 9715424961.
  2. ^ Doroquez, Quintin L. (3 November 2007). "Remembering Jose Avelino: A heartbeat away from the presidency (Part 1)". Gugma Han Samar. Retrieved 9 June 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Doroquez, Quintin L. (3 November 2007). "Remembering Jose Avelino: A heartbeat away from the presidency (Part 2)". Gugma Han Samar. Retrieved 9 June 2015.

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
Manuel Roxas
President of the Senate of the Philippines
Succeeded by
Mariano Jesús Cuenco