Quezon who?

I grew up in Quezon City. Before, when August steps in, I was one of those who anticipated the assignments and projects our teachers would give us in line with the August 19 celebration. Although it’s declared holiday in Q.C., what I remember clearly about this date was the fact that we either set aside an entire week or month to celebrate the National Language (Pambansang Wika) in commemoration of President Manuel L. Quezon’s efforts to provide our country with one unifying language.

Sixty-six years after his death, what else can you know about El Presidente? Quite a lot, it seems.

Checking out Manolo’s web site (Manuel Quezon III’s www.quezon.ph), I stumbled upon an article written by American journalist John Gunther. He told a lot of stuff about Quezon, who was still alive while he was writing the article. Some of the things I learned from Gunther were the following:

Quezon was not only a noble statesman but a great dancer as well. He was good in ballroom dancing.

Gunther called him “one of the world’s supplest and hardest practical politicians”

He loved cards and alcohol.

Here’s a funny anecdote about El Presidente’s love for alcohol:

He said, “When I left Manila, the doctors told me that I could drink nothing intoxicating. When I reached Java I saw a doctor and he said a glass of beer would not hurt. So I drank beer from Java to Paris. In Paris another doctor said, “You should not drink beer; wine is the thing.” So I changed gratefully to wine. Then a French specialist told me, “You should drink only champagne; it is the only drink for you.” So I drank champagne for a time. Then I reached the United States, and the physicians said, “Don’t drink wines or beer at all, but only whisky.” So now, if I want a drink, all I have to do is decide which physician I shall obey.”

When he was 18 years old, instead of kissing the hand of a local priest (who was also the chief authority in the village) as a sign of reverence, he shook his hand. Dumbfounded, the priest asked Manuel’s father to punish the young Quezon in return. Later on Quezon would discover that the priest was having an affair with a girl from their village. Quezon hanged-out with the girl and paraded the main street with the priest’s handkerchief stuck in his pocket.

One time, while he was courting his future wife, he arrived wearing a spray of orange blossoms. When Aurora asked him why he was wearing the scent, he said he just got married. To this, Aurora burst into tears, affirming what Quezon thought all along — she loved him too.

It was said that Quezon visited political prisoners himself. Once, he asked a suspected bomb maker why he did the supposed crime. The prisoner told him he was a driver of a carabao earning 15 cents a day. Quezon apparently said, “This is ridiculous! No wonder you make bombs,” and set the man free.

People close to him knew when he was bored or grouchy as his eyebrows would shoot up and his nostrils would twitch.

Bright as he was, Manuel was a lazy student when he was a child. His family sacrificed a lot just to send him to Manila to attend San Juan de Letran and later took Law in University of Sto. Tomas (UST) but his studies were interrupted by the 1898 revolution.

Speaking of the revolution, he joined Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo in fighting the Americans and later on refused to believe that Aguinaldo was caught, not until the US troops took him to Aguinaldo’s cell. He himself spent six months in jail.

Furious with the Americans, he refused to learn the English language. He met General Bandholtz who taught him the language by paying Quezon in exchange of taking the lesson. When Bandholtz was transferred, Quezon dropped English and never took it up again until he became the Philippine Commissioner to Washington in 1909.

He rallied for the independence of the Philippines from the hands of the Americans by going back and forth to U.S. to lobby the passage of Jones and the Tydings-McDuffie Acts. The Philippines became a commonwealth of autonomous state with complete independence promised in 1946 through the Tydings-McDuffie Law.

As president, he made surprise inspections anywhere in Manila two to three times a week. He dropped by a local police station, a tobacco factory, a prison, a government department and liked to listen to the people’s grievances. The Commonwealth was interrupted by the Japanese invasion in 941. Quezon and his government were forced to go into exile in the U.S. He died He died of tuberculosis on August 1, 1944, in New York. In memory of this great statesman, the Quezon Institute of Tuberculosis was named after him.

The country observed Quezon’s birth last Thursday. But like the other dates commemorating the lives of Filipino heroes, one can hardly feel the solemnity of the celebration. They say you cannot build the future if you fail to acknowledge the significance of the past. Sadly, we seem to be forgetting our country’s history as the years pass by. I honestly hope that I am mistaken. That more than the latest scoop on the Kris Aquino-James Yap separation or the Robin Padilla-Mariel Rodriguez love affair, we still have a strong grip of historical sense left among us.


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