Philippine Columbian Speech
The Hon. Salvador H. Laurel, dear officers and members of the Philippine Columbian, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:
Upon the invitation of Tio Vic Buencamino, I am here to say a few words to you about Manuel L. Quezon, as we celebrate Quezon Night, a Columbiano tradition of long standing. As I am not the principal speaker -that honor goes to the Hon. Salvador Laurel, who is working in a mighty way as Chairman of the National Centennial Commission- I will try to be brief.
Since we are honored with the presence of our distinguished former Vice-President, I think it is fitting for me to talk to you about Manuel L. Quezon and his former chief during the Philippine-American War, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, the first president of the Philippines. I do this to illustrate a point that is important to consider as we approach the centennial of our declaration of independence.
As you know, Quezon served on Aguinaldo’s staff. He was even sent on a mission to the Mountain Provinces. But he got bored with shuffling papers and requested assignment to the front. Until he was ordered to surrender, he served under Gen. Mascardo in Bataan. One of the reasons behind his being ordered to surrender was to find out if it was really true that Aguinaldo had been captured by the Americans. It turned out to be true.
Anyway, after the cessation of hostilities, Aguinaldo retired from public life. As Quezon’s career progressed, his former commander occupied himself with his lands and the organization he so cherished, the League of the Veterans of the Revolution. But in the 1920s Aguinaldo emerged from retirement and involved himself in partisan politics. The reason? His belief that Gov. Gen. Leonard Wood was being unfairly attacked by the politicians, including, of course, the chief Wood-hater of them all, Quezon.
Over the next decade Aguinaldo and Quezon would be at each other’s throats. You know the famous incidents: the time Aguinaldo, with great ceremony, expelled Quezon from his veteran’s association, only to be told by an amused MLQ that he had never belonged to it: a case, incidentally, which should make us think over whether or not any group has a monopoly when it comes to nursing the memory of a great event; or how the Aguinaldistas would display Quezon’s alleged Katipunan wife during campaign sorties in Bataan. Or of how the townspeople of Malolos greeted Aguinaldo by shutting all their windows, and hanging black crepe from their houses, they say because of Quezon’s bringing up the Bonifacio execution and Luna assassination issues.
You have heard of how Quezon made the Philippine Legislature withdraw Aguinaldo’s pension, leading to the foreclosure of some of his lands. Or of how Mrs. Quezon laid the cornerstone of the Bonifacio Monument in Kalookan, and how Quezon had Bonifacio’s neglected bones dug up and enshrined in the Legislative building, allegedly in order to glorify the dead Supremo at the expense of the living Heneral. The stories attesting to the bitterness of their enmity are legion. And yet, by 1941, they had buried the hatchet. Recently Larry Henares recounted on television how he witnessed the reconciliation of the two, thanks to the intercession of his grandfather, Daniel Maramba. In fact, on June 12, 1941 Aguinaldo proudly marched with his veterans at the Luneta, the first government-sponsored observance of that date. And, until the date was changed during the Macapagal administration, our flag day was also on June 12, as mandated in an executive order issued by Quezon that same year.
Now that I have told you about Quezon and Aguinaldo, let me point out something to you all. Their bitterness and sometimes ruthless attacks on each other -and their manipulation of the symbols and issues of the Philippine Revolution- may have been unfortunate, but they are understandable. They were not just opponents, after all, but political opponents. As far as Quezon was concerned, the General, by deciding to join the fray, made himself fair game. And as far as Aguinaldo was concerned, he would fight fire with fire. The good thing is that they -who had caused each other so much grief and committed so much injury to each other’s reputations- eventually made their peace.
And that is why today, I can honestly tell people that I admire Manuel L. Quezon and Aguinaldo and Bonifacio , and, of course, others, such as Osmena; something their followers would have been loath to do during their lifetimes. For the same reason I can -and I do- admire Jose Abad Santos and Jose P. Laurel, or Recto and Magsaysay. The reason I can do this is because I happened to have been born after their time. This gives me the chance to try to be detached and give credit where credit is due. And this is true for most, if not all, of us. I like t think that the Filipinos of today are blessed, because we now have the opportunity of recognizing the many different ways greatness and patriotism have arisen in our history.
But do you know what I see? Instead of the wonderful sight of an entire generation of Filipinos coming together to honor all the many different types of people who have tried to serve our country, I see the opposite happening.
Everywhere people seem to be trying to establish hierarchies for our heroes, as if having a pantheon of co-equal heroes is not enough. We seem obsessed in ranking our great men and women to the extent that you would think that they were nobles competing for preferment in the court of a king; an activity that is not only absurd, but disgraceful for a society that professes to be committed to the ideals of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Everywhere we see groups trying to pull down the statues -or the reputations- of heroes, so that their own pet heroes can be glorified all the more. A vendetta between the supporters of Bonifacio and those of Aguinaldo seems to have been revived. Manila -cradle of the revolution- seems to be pitted against Cavite -cradle of the first Republic. 1996 -just next year- seems to be neglected as all eyes are riveted on 1998. Even Rizal has become a controversial subject again. Everywhere we see the misunderstandings, the libels, the hatred of past generations dredged up.
This is behavior that dishonors our heroes. This is behavior that makes us unworthy of the sacrifices of generations. It shows that we have become petty to an extent never displayed by Quezon or his contemporaries, for after bruising battles they always found it within themselves to overcome their animosities and bury the hatchet.
We cannot even match Quezon and his contemporaries when it comes to displaying magnanimity.
Let me close with a quotation. On July 29, 1946, the late Don Claro M. Recto stood before the casket containing Quezon’s remains, and made a speech. Towards the end of that speech, addressing the mortal remains of MLQ, he said the following:
May you never be disturbed by the spectacle of so many moral ills and so much physical misery which now afflicts us -sordid derelicts of the flood that followed the last tempest which imperialist nations unleashed upon our soil. We are reputed to be a nation of heroes but the entire nation is one vast necropolis. We have been liberated but our cities and towns have been left in shambles. We are independent, but we are beggars for alien favors; we are citizens of a republic but we are still characterized by the habits and mentality of colonial peoples… Our dwellings are in deep mourning… not… because of the… dead but because of those who are still living. And total disenchantment gnaws at our hearts and beclouds our intelligence in the face of the serious affairs of our generation and the urgent questionings regarding the future to which we cannot find an adequate answer.
How true, how apt, his words sound today. But I would add one more sentence to what Recto said. I would add,
And may you be spared the knowledge of the way your people have forsaken the magnanimity you displayed; for if you were to see how the enmities of the past have endured, and the way your people refuse to rise above their base instincts, it would break your heart.
I have spoken too long; thank you very much and good evening.