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Autobiography of Manuel L. Quezon (from a privilege speech)

Note: the following dates from 1933. It was published in full in The Tribune on July 26 and 27, 1933. The speech was in connection with the controversy over the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act. Former Secretary of the Interior Honorio Ventura launched an attack against Quezon for his rejectionist attitude to the law. Quezon attacked Ventura. Ventura attached Quezon. So Quezon made a privilege speech in the Senate, and it was published in the papers as the following autobiography in response. Afterwards, President Quezon said one of the things he regretted most in his political life was making this speech against Senator Ventura, as it was mean. However, Quezon and Ventura made amends shortly before Ventura passed away.

Ex-Secretary Ventura is surprised and resentful because I spoke of him the way I did in my speech in the Senate. He and his friends are responsible for this. He and his friends have been saying that he was my first and most important victim in my persecution of the advocates of the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Law; I warned them that unless they stopped repeating this false charge I would be compelled to tell the truth; they continued in this campaign of falsehood, so, in self-defense, I had to state the reasons why my self-styled victims were driven out from the service. And I said it in rather plain language, because these are days that demand plain speaking, and no one should say anything, unless he can prove it, much less should he say it through dirty insinuations and innuendos. Everything I said about Mr. Ventura is true and no one better than himself knows it, and some of the statements about him I have made, he himself has confirmed in his answer. And I could say more about his conduct in the service -although nothing affecting his honesty.

I said he was a professional politician, without a profession or business calling, and Mr. Ventura confirms this. For he says, in his answer, that as soon as he left college, he entered politics and has been in politics ever since. By not telling us what his profession or business calling was, we must conclude that he had neither. There, in his own words, he is pictured as he is -a professional politician- a man without a calling and living only upon politics. But Mr. Ventura added proudly, “when I entered politics I had more wealth than I have now.” And he told the truth. In fact, he could have said more: He could have said: “I was born rich, the son of one of the wealthiest and most beloved and respected men of Pampanga, who left me a large fortune for my education in the best colleges and universities here and abroad, expecting me to be, with all the opportunities that only few men can have, a great lawyer, to add to the fortune I had inherited and thus be an honor to his memory, to my country and myself. But I could not pass the bar examination and hence could not practice law. I had no ability or inclination to engage in business so I entered politics, the only profession I could make my own, because it required neither ability nor industry.”

Mr. Ventura could also have explained why, having entered politics a rich man by inheritance, he is now almost a poor man. The reason why Mr. Ventura did not say why he has lost his fortune is because he wanted to leave with the public which does not know the facts, the impression that he has lost his fortune because of politics and the great expenses he had to make owing to the high position he occupied. And, of course, this is not true. Mr. Ventura knows that he did not lose his fortune in that way, and I know it too, and the people of his province and many in this city know it as well as Mr. Ventura does.

Let me add -Mr. Ventura is lucky he was a Secretary of the Interior for so many years and he had sisters who are so generous, for having learned his lesson after he had lost his fortune, he was able to save from his handsome salary. May I ask what has has been the profession or occupation of Mr. Ventura since he left the service? Ah, yes. He has been doing a most patriotic work going around and telling the people that the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Law is a real independence law, that if accepted it will make our country free, happy and prosperous; for this reason, Quezon should be damned and driven out of public life and the country, because he is against independence, a traitor to the national cause and -”a man who has spent all his life, like me, devoted to politics; with this difference that Quezon from a shirtless protege of the Dominican Fathers and a famous doctor, now, without having practiced any profession or engaged in business has become according to an article of General Aguinaldo a multi-millionaire…”

As for my previous poverty, Mr. Ventura could have said more than he has said and I am going to say it for him.

I was born a poor man, the son of a school teacher in one of the smallest towns in the Philippines -Baler. My father had, besides his salary, a two-hectare rice-land which he cultivated. While I was a boy and during my early youth, my father saved as much as he could from his meager salary and from what he could get from his rice-field, only to have a few hundred pesos with which to give me an education. During those Spanish days, a Filipino family could live in a small town on four pesos a month and a supply of rice. Thus did my family live for years. When I was at the age of five, an aunt of mine started to teach me to read and write. My own father and mother, and the priest of the town later gave me my primary instruction. At the age of nine I was brought by my father to Manila and began my secondary education at the San Juan de Letran College. First I lived in the Convent of San Francisco serving as a room-and-mess boy for one priest, receiving no salary, except board and room. I could not stay too long in this service, because, being too young, I could not do my work as room-and-mess boy and at the same time study and go to college without hurting my health. I was then sent by my father to the house of an aunt where for some pesos (I do not know how much) I roomed and boarded. The house was located in Paco, too far from the Walled City for him who could only use his own feet as a means of transportation. My classes started at seven o’clock in the morning and I had to get up very early to reach my classes on time. Again this impaired my health and the following year I was taken by my father to San Juan de Letran as an intern. as an intern I remained until I graduated as A.B. with the highest honors. By this time the savings of my father had all been spent on my education. He owed money, and simply told me I had to stop my studies unless I could work my way through university education. I came to Manila and spoke to my Dominican professors, who, by this time, had become very fond of me, and told them of my situation. I wanted to be a lawyer, but could not pay for my expenses. They secured a position for me as one of the helpers in the university of Santo Tomas with room and board and free tuition. Thus I was able to take up the study of law. Before finishing my law course, the revolution came, and soon after the hostilities between American and Filipino forces had started I joined the Filipino army and took part in the war. I remained in the field until all organized resistance to the authority of the United States had been wiped out. I came to Manila, penniless and sick; was put and kept in prison by the United States Army for six months. After my release from prison I stayed in the house of the Alberts (Alejandro) who had become my good friends during the revolution. With them I stayed without paying for my room and board for some time. There I fell sick and was admitted free of charge at San Juan de Dios hospital, thanks to the good offices of my Dominican professors and the generosity of Bishop Alcocer, then the Metropolitan of Manila. For a long time I was in the hospital until Dr. Singian (the famous surgeon) brought me to his house to live with him free of charge, and to be taken care of by him until I got well.

Then I was able to enter as clerk in the Monte de Piedad, at the modest salary of twenty-five pesos a month. I lived for a practically nominal sum at the house of an old couple, until I passed the bar examinations with a very high grade.

Once a lawyer, I did not go into politics at once. First I worked in the office of Judge Ortigas, the largest and most highly reputed firm in the country at the time, at the invitation of Judge Ortigas himself who had known me as a student. I received a salary of P150 a month, at that time a very big salary for a lawyer who did not have any previous practice of the profession, and with the understanding that I could have my own clients and receive my own fees from them. I stayed in the firm for four months, received my monthly salary, won in the courts every single clase alloted to me by the firm, had my own clients in association with another lawyer from Iloilo named Gay and made for me during that time about two thousand pesos from my practice with Mr. Gay.

Then I had to go to Tayabas to file a civil suit to recover the land of my deceased father, which was unlawfully occuped by another party. In Tayabas, I soon began to have clients and seeing a good field there for my profession I came back to Manila, severed my association with Mr. Gay and opened my law office in that province. Immediately some big cases, civil and criminal, were entrusted to me. I charged large fees to the rich and none whatever to the poor. I lost no case.

Then the position of provincial fiscal for Mindoro was offered to me by the judge of first instance of that district and by the late Dr. Tavera, then a member of the Philippine Commission. I hesitated long before I accepting the offer. I was making over one thousand pesos a month as a lawyer and the position of fiscal of Mindoro gave only a salary of P150. I considered the offer of said position as a call of public duty and accepted it. After six months as fiscal of Mindoro I was promoted to Tayabas, without asking anybody for this promotion. I served as fiscal of Tayabas for six months and then resigned to return to the practice of my profession. As fiscal of Tayabas I had a legal royal battle with the five best American lawyers of Manila at the time on some criminal charges for estafa which I presented against an American lawyer, then the owner of the most powerful American newspaper of Manila, The Cablenews, who tried to rob of their property a number of ignorant but somewhat well-to-do Filipinos. I won the case, the lawyer was convicted and disbarred, but he did not land in jail because he escaped from the country, thus forfeiting his bond.

As an aftermath of this and for his own personal reasons, the then governor of Mindoro, Captain Ofley, at my back brought administrative charges of all kinds against me for acts supposedly committed by me when I was fiscal of Mindoro. Without being previously informed of the charges, an ex parte investigation was conducted in Mindoro, witnesses were called in to testify against me in my absence, and under the moral threat of my prosecutor, Governor Ofley. All the serious charges were found absolutely groundless, but some minor ones were declared proven, such as, for instance, that I had attacked someone physically. I was disgusted with the performance, and against the advice of Judge Ross, the then inspector of fiscals who told the then Secretary of Justice, Judge Ide, in my presence, that I was the best provincial fiscal, I resigned the position.

I practiced law again in Tayabas and once more my law office had to decline many cases because I could not handle them. I made several thousand pesos as a lawyer, as everybody knows in Tayabas and then I entered the race for governorship of the province. And I did so on the insistent demands of the poor people of Tayabas. as a fiscal and as a lawyer I had defended them against abuses of the unscrupolous rich and the lawless government officials. They wanted me to render them a constant and effective service as governor of the province, and I yielded to their demands. The richest, most powerful and influential families of the province fought me. The poor and humble stood by me and I won, against my two rival candidates who both belonged to the cream of the society of the province.

I was elected, my election was protested, one of the grounds of the protest being that those who voted for me were uneducated. My election was confirmed and became governor of the province.

It seems evident that before I entered politics I had a profession, practiced it, and made a success of it, both from the standpoint of my reputation as a competent lawyer and as a lover of justice, and I want to add that when I entered politics, I was no longer a shirtless man.

And so when I assumed office as governor of Tayabas, I had a few thousand pesos left from my savings as a lawyer. But I was then a young, unmarried man, fond of dancing and entertainments and what I had saved plus my salary as governor, were all spent in dances and entertainments that I gave.

As governor, not only did I stop every kind of abuses of the people known to me, but when a band of ladrones was organized in my province armed with guns, I personally led the constabulary and the police and the then Colonel Harbord to pursue them in the mountains. After hiking all day and night without sleep and without food, we met the band, had a hand to hand fight with them, caught their leaders and that was the end.

Whether I have been a good and impartial governor can be deduced from the fact that when one year and half after my assumption of office, there was held the first election to the Philippine Assembly, I was elected as the representative from my district, this time with the vote not only of the poor, but also the rich, for my election was practically unanimous though there was a candidate against me and I made no campaign for my election.

As a representative I became the floor leader of the Assembly and chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and after another year and half as assemblyman I was elected resident commissioner, a position I held until I was elected president of the senate, after the enactment of the Jones Law.

And right now let me interrupt my narration of my political career.

As soon as the Jones Law was enacted I informed Speaker Osmena, then the leader of the Party, of my desire to practice anew my law profession, but Speaker Osmena insisted that I should continue in the public service as it was also the desire of my district. Thus I was elected senator without my taking part in the campaign for my election, and when the senate convened I was elected its president.

After serving as president of the senate for sometime, I again tried to practice my profession. All steps had been taken for me to be a member in the firm of Cohn and Fisher, the largest law firm in Manila at the time, and when everything was agreed and all that was needed was for me was to go into the firm, the members of the Senate asked me not to resign as president. I was single, had neither need nor desire to make money, and was persuaded to remain in public life. The only reason why I wanted to practice law was because I loved the profession more than I love politics and I have never been dazzled by the glitter of power. I am a humble man, born poor, lived with the poor in my infancy and youth and the formalities and ceremonies of official life do not appeal to me. I was persuaded by my colleagues and so my understanding with the law firm of Cohn and Fischer went for naught.

Then came the time for me to get married and I did get married. To avoid public demonstrations, and the pomp of a marriage of the first and only president of the Philippine Senate which the customs of our people would have demanded, I went to Hong Kong and there got married, without anyone being present at my wedding except half a dozen men who were traveling with me. Even these did not know I was getting married that day until, to their surprise, the marriage ceremony began. I was dressed in a business suit and my bride had an ordinary dress, no flowers, no celebration, nothing but the absolutely essential.

I was then on my way to the United States heading a mission sent by the Legislature. After I was through with my mission I decided once more to practice law. This time I was determined to carry out my plans. Still in Washington I entered into and signed a contract with Judge DeWitt and the then Attorney General, Mr. Paredes, to form a partnership. And, in order that when I come back to Manila no one could prevent me from carrying out that contract, there was a clause requiring everyone of us -Quezon, DeWitt and Paredes- to put a bond of five thousand pesos to be forfeited in case anyone of us broke said contract.

This time I wanted to practice my profession not only for love of the practice of law, but to make money. I had a wife and was expecting to have children. I had a duty to them. I did not want them to be “shirtless” as their father had been, not because to be poor is a dishonor, but because it is hard. As a good father I did not want my children to suffer hunger and privation as I had suffered. I wanted them to have the same opportunities in their youth that Mr. (Honorio) Ventura had in his. But when I arrived in Manila more pressure was put on me, not to resign as President of the Senate, and I yielded. I had to beg Judge DeWitt, who had come to Manila to carry out our agreement, to release my bond and he did it, just as Mr. Paredes very kindly consented to do the same.

After our first baby came, the need for making money became more evident to me, and I went into a business with Judge Ortigas at his own invitation. He, Judge Ortigas, and Mr. Whitaker, were buying a very big property and they were willing to take me in, as their partner, with one eleventh share. Real estate business can have no possible incompatibility with my duties as president of the senate or senator and I accepted the proposition, provided I found the money that I had to put, which I did not have. Through the guarantee of my friend, Tomas Earnshaw, I secured a one hundred thousand peso loan from the National Bank -Mr. Earnshaw at the time having three times as much deposit in cold cash in said bank. My participation in the real estate to be purchased answered for my debt. The business was a success. I paid my debt to the bank, and from what I made out of the transaction, I have acquired other property. My total income at present is not more than twelve thousand pesos a year, although when I need more money I borrow it, or sell some property of mine. All I have left now is my house in Pasay, another in Mariquina and one more in Baguio. A big piece of land in Baler, over one thousand hectares, which belonged to my father, through occupation, under the Spanish laws, and which he never was able to cultivate.This property which originally was around three thousand hectares, because unattended by me, was occupied by homesteaders, I allowed them to keep all that they were occupying. What was left does not give me a cent and steps have already been taken for its distribution among the people of my town. Besides, I have a coconut plantation -about three thousand trees- in Sariayaya, also worthless at this time; two hundred hectares of land in Nueva Ecija which yet gives me no return, a participation in a real estate in Balintawak from the sale of which I get about six thousand pesos a year, one small lot near University of Santo Tomas, two fishponds, practically the only property which gives me my income, and about six thousand pesos worth of gold mine stocks.

Where are my millions? If anybody has proofs that I have more than I have enumerated let him show it. If Mr. Ventura wants authority from me, I shall give it to him, absolute and complete, so that he may find out from every source possible if I have a fortune which he claims and which he knows I do not have. He can go with that authority to all banks and he will find that all I have in cash is a few thousand pesos, as against about ninety thousand that I owe.

But I do have some property. That which I have related above, and which I hope will provide for the education of my children. So Mr. Ventura is right, I was born poor and now I have a little property made by my brains and my industry. Mr. Ventura was born rich and now he has practically nothing, as he confesses.

There you have two men -one who made himself and the other who wasted his opportunities, the self-made man and the self-unmade man.