Extracts from the diaries of Francis Burton Harrison

Ammanuensis of the Commonwealth

These are some extracts from the diaries of Francis Burton Harrison, former governor-general of the Philippines and, at the the time he wrote these entries, an adviser to the Commonwealth of the Philippines.

Dined informally at Malacañan. Governor General Murphy and his sister very cordial and kind. The Palace much the same as when I left it but is largely refurnished. It is indeed a very romantic old house. Murphy was particularly enthusiastic about the Executive Building which was finished in my time (1920). We talked of Aguinaldo’s feud against Quezon and he told me he rebuked Aguinaldo for giving him so may stories against Quezon; he said he did not believe it all–that anyway Quezon would make no concealment of anything in his past–mentioned the trip of Quezon to Russia in 1911(?). He added that Don Manuel always spoke worse of himself than did any of his critics. Murphy offered us his car, and we used No. 1 with Ambrosio (my old driver) for several days.

November 2, 1935

Then he [Quezon] talked of the Governor General and remarked that it was an outrage that Nick Kamisky, the old caretaker of the Palace, was being taken away from Malacañan but that he wanted my servant Ah King as his butler.

Reception and ball at Malacañan given by the Governor General for the Secretary of War and Mrs. Dern. The large room was practically cut in two by the orchestra; tables on balcony; and dancing on the riverside half of the big room,–but all lights out in dance room making it very gloomy. There was no gaiety perceptible and banks of thirsty men were looking in vain for a drink. The grounds, on the other hand, were too brilliantly illuminated so that all one could see outdoors were lights–no trees or shrubbery were visible.

Secretary of War Dern was affable. General MacArthur whispered in my ear –“This place must be full of ghosts for you”.

{W]ent to Malacañan Palace to the last reception to be given there by an American Governor General. The palace was dark enough for the last scene in Götterdamerung.

Quezon was there in full evening dress. The Governor General was very cordial and seemed happy. Colonel Garfinkel, a.d.c. as a special privilege, got some drinks for our group. Played bridge with Selma Payne, Julian Wolfson and Marguerite his sister–one of the staff came up and commented on the –“first bridge game he had seen in two years at Malacañan–! It was a very small party. Talked with Nick Kamisky, the old palace superintendent.

November 17, 1935

Edge of typhoon. Cancelled trip for picnic at Calamba Sugar Estate. Saw Nick Kamisky; the old caretaker of the palace and talked over the situation at Malacañan with him.

November 19, 1935

First Ball at Malacañan given by President and Mrs. Quezon. Big crush, and a really brilliant affair, with sufficient light in the ball-room. Doria danced with Phil Buencamino in the Rigodon de Honor; she was dressed in a green Mestiza costume with silver flowers. Well done. Home early and to bed.

Saw Nick–everything at MalacaÃñan in great confusion–additional offices are being made from bed rooms in the Executive Building.

Appointment at 7 o’clock at Malacañan with Quezon. He has a sala (or office) next to his bedroom over the front door (where my bedroom used to be, but now reconstructed).

9:30 pm ball at Malacañan–about fifty extremely nice people–the only Americans there besides ourselves were Roy Howard, his wife and son and the High Commissioner and family. The dance was given for Judge Murphy who returns home tomorrow–

Teahan was amusing about the boredom of Baguio. Osmeña danced every dance; Quezon only one tango. Drinks were served on the balcony; Garfinkel, a.d.c., says that no drinks were offered at big parties following the custom initiated by Governor General Wood. I arranged, at wish of Quezon, to have Nick Kamisky stay on as superintendent at Malacañan. Ah King whom I brought from Shanghai as my servant was installed again at the Palace as number one “boy”.

Sunday a.m. Malacañan Palace was thrown open to the public by the President’s orders–crowds of tao sightseers–Quezon’s about to leave on Banahao for Zamboanga with Roy Howard and his family as guests.

Moved into my office in Malacañan Executive Building. It is very cool, quiet and delightful. Put in my first morning at writing Christmas letters to go by air mail to my children–beginning with Kiko [Francis Burton Harrison, Jr.] who was born in the Palace just beside here, nearly 15 years ago.

Quiet day–talk with Garfinkel, a.d.c. at office: he says Quezon is ill again from eating too much; that the President does not like to come to his office at Malacañan and prefers to do his work in pyjamas at his home in Pasay. Nor does Mrs. Quezon wish to move into the Palace–she also prefers Pasay.

Interview with Charles Franks on reorganization. Talk with Colonel Garfinkel who pointed out how unused Quezon was to executive work. Said that today is the first time the President has been in his Malacañan office for ten days, and that, as a.d.c., he was not allowed to make appointments for him because Quezon wanted to be free. I saw the President who told me he was to appoint the three ex-Secretaries of Finance as a Committee on Reorganization of the Government (Barretto, Singson & Unson), and that he wished me to work with them. He then took me over the Palace, pointing out how his library was to be formed by throwing the small office and bedroom into one. We discussed putting the Spanish paintings back in Malacañan. He looked ill and worn out.

Saw the President at Malacañan at 6 p.m.; he was about to start for the National Assembly which was ready to adjourn. He was in the barber chair now established in the Palace and he received my account of my interview with Blunt with alert interest.

In the afternoon at Malacañan from 4-7. Quezon was rather tired and appeared absorbed in refitting the Palace; he is making a new entrance on the street side and all quarters on that side, including the dining room are to be for the use of his wife and children; the old ball room is to be made into a banquet sala; the bedroom where Kiko (my son F.B.H. Jr.) was born in 1921 is now Quezon’s library and office; the downstairs floor-space by the river is to be made into a “club” with bridge tables, dance floor and bar; land on opposite side of the Pasig River is to be bought and made into a park; a new building is to be erected on the opposite bank of the river with guest rooms on the top floor, and the President’s office and that of the Council of State on the ground floor. Thus he hopes to make the (old) Palace “habitable for his family”!

Quezon was interested in Whittall’s suggestion (via me) to have a visitors book in Malacañan similar to those in English “Government Houses.”

Quezon in Malacañan in very good humour and is exercising his strong creative spirit in reorganizing and improving the Palace.

The President said he was going to throw open his “bridge or poker club” underneath Malacañan three afternoons a week to the Assemblymen so that they could drink and play there, and keep out of the gambling houses. That this would also give them a feeling of part ownership of the Palace.

State banquet in the old ball room of Malacañan so used for the first time. Very magnificent–over 100 guests in honor of the High Commissioner, Two Admirals, three Generals, Cabinet, Supreme Court, Consular Corps etc. nearly half an hour’s delay in going to the table. The High Commissioner and President Quezon came in twenty minutes late, but that was not their fault–they were waiting for guests to assemble, as is done in British Government Houses, a custom introduced here by T. Roosevelt, Jr. That particular ceremony only works effectively when the guests are sufficiently self-disciplined to get there first– many of the Filipinos stroll in at any old time–some accept an invitation and never show up.

Luncheon alone with Quezon. I told him how surprised I was at the lateness of some of his guests at the banquet on Tuesday–he said it was the a.d.c.’s fault “the system had been running down” I replied that there was a general lowering of American social manners in the last twenty years. He said he was going to raise the standard of manners and clothes at Malacañan –“you know,”he remarked “how familiar I am with my own friends in private, but in official matters I am going to insist on form.” He was annoyed because Murphy had not brought a full dress coat down from Baguio, so he (Quezon) also had to wear white. Said that recently when guests were late at dinner he had threatened to close the doors and not admit them. That in the future he would accept no excuses except illness and absence from Manila; that he had recently Nieto to “Mike”Elizalde who had pleaded “previous engagement,” and Mr. and Mrs. Elizalde came to his dinner. He said Stimson and I were the two American Governors General who observed proper form at Malacañan. Said he was having prepared Malacañan enlarged photographs of the three Governors General who had been identified with significant progress in Philippine history: Taft, myself and Murphy. We went over the old paintings which had just been brought back from the Museum to Malacañan.I advised him to get the Arellanos to hang and light them. His favourite is the picture of Dasmariñas (the Governor General in 1592) when being persuaded by the head of the Dominican Order to lead Filipoino troops to assist the King of Cambodia (an expedition in which Dasmariñas lost his life). This was painted by the Filipino artist Hidalgo (in Paris?) I advised him to change the position of the Pacto de Sangre which is wasted where it hangs. This led us to talk of Dr. [Trinidad H.] Pardo de Tavera who had posed for Luna in Paris for the portrait of Legaspi signing the Pacto. We both wished he were still with us with his nice wit and culture. Quezon said Tavera was an inveterate enemy of Osmeña and always referred to him as “That Chinese.” Quezon added that Osmeña never forgave anyone and never forgot! I said how sorry I was to have angered Tavera by pardoning the Pajaro Verde.

At luncheon he was waited on by my Ah King and a new Chinese number two boy–I commented upon how wise it was to have foreign servants who did not understand his conversation any too well, and who would probably neither understand nor repeat what was said at his table– he said that was the point. I understand he just added five American policemen to the Malacañan staff– one of them recommended to him previously as the man who had arrested an armed murderer “that’s just the kind of man I want” he replied.

Governor General Stimson took the funds set aside for the new bridge we had planned across the Pasig above Malacañan for some other public works project in which he was interested–hence the traffic jam and dangerous situation of Ayala bridge which is being now, since a year, incompetently and wastefully doubled in width.

Air of repose in the Executive Building–when Quezon is in Malacañan the whole place is like a beehive.

Photographed by Arellano for Malacañan. Quezon wishes to hang up photos of Taft, myself and Murphy as the three Americans most closely connected with significant chapters of the American occupation. Arellano told me that everywhere confidence in Quezon was growing–that he was a real leader.

There were about thirty guests in the old dining room at Malacañan–the first time I had been there under the Filipino Government.

Asked him when he was going to inaugurate his bridge and poker club for the members of the Assembly in the new basement at Malacañan. He replied that it was not quite finished. I told him the Assemblymen were in a mood when it would be a good gesture–he answered: “Not until I have given them a licking!” I laughed, so he had to join in.

Ambrosio–for the past twenty-five years No. 1 chauffeur at Malacañan Palace, came to see me; he says Murphy will not return–(he is now High Commissioner Murphy’s chauffeur); this may be “servant’s gossip”  but Ambrosio is in a position to hear a lot!

May 27, 1936

A. D. Williams was brought in by Vargas, to receive instructions about air-conditioning the President’s room at Malacañan Palace. Was asked to have the work finished in two weeks–Quezon adding: “I don’t want to do it for my successor.”

Small dance in the new downstairs cabaret at Malacañan. The heavy rain from 5-8 p.m. had flooded parts of the Palace, which we entered on planks.

After having his office in Malacañan air-conditioned, Quezon turned the “conditioning” off and sits outside on the balcony to do his office work. (Those of whom I enquire here seem to be of two minds concerning the advantages of air-conditioning–a process new here, tho I first experienced it in Buenos Aires six or seven years ago!)

July 8, 1936

Forty minutes with Quezon in his office in the Executive Building. I think he is bothered by the air-conditioning in the Palace. Had not seen him for 18 days, during part of which he had the flu–he looks rather worn and tired, and seemed under somewhat of a nervous strain. Showed me the eight enlarged photographs which he has hung on the walls of this office—Taft, Murphy and I are the three Americans.

August 11, 1936

Quezon talked of getting rid of the San Miguel Brewery as a neighbour of Malacañan Palace, and making government offices there, so that he could house all the bureaus under the control of the President in one group around him: Civil Service, Auditor, Budget Office &c. Apparently, he contemplates exchanging the Government Ice Plant (now leased for 120,000 pesos a year to San Miguel Brewery and assessed as worth 1,200,000) for the brewery buildings next to Malacañan.

Talk with A. D. Williams over the building activities of Quezon. Malacañan Palace is never quiet; always, there is hammering and moving of walls etc. It appears that while the President is acting Secretary of Public Works and Communications, Under Secretary Cruz has not a jot of authority, and every single decision of his has to be O. K.’d by Presidential Secretary [Jorge] Vargas. Thus it is very hard to get things moving. Quezon asked Williams about making Vargas Secretary of this Department and putting Anonas in as Presidential Private Secretary. Williams replied to him that Quezon could not spare Vargas as his own Secretary, and it would be better to make Anonas Secretary of the Department of Public Works.

Quezon’s banquet for General MacArthur of 144 guests at one table in the central hall in Malacañan. Army, Navy, Consular Corps, Committees of Assembly, Church pundits, etc., etc. Probably the most brilliant and dramatic dinner party ever given in the Palace. The purpose of the evening’s ceremony was to confer an appointment as Field Marshal on MacArthur with the presentation of a gold baton. Quezon’s address opened with an account of his first visit to Malacañan in 1900 as a prisoner of war, he having been sent through the lines by General Mascardo of the Filipino insurrectionary forces to ascertain whether General Aguinaldo was really a prisoner of war.

At Malacañan, Kiko [F.B. Harrison, Jr.] was introduced to the President in his office–which was formerly the bedroom where Kiko was born–Quezon was very cordial to him and had delightful manners with the boy; showed him about the Palace, and I myself was intrigued by all the recent improvements. The fill is completed on the riverside–to be made into lawn only, with no buildings; the water front opposite is to be a private golf course for Malacañan with a little ferry across the river.

December 23, 1938

Staying with the President alone at the Guest House across the Pasig River from Malacañan Palace.

One hundred and twenty guests assembled in the lower reception hall by the river, at Malacañan, for a luncheon given in my honor. The entertainment went off with a bang and real cordiality was shown me by both the Americans and the Filipinos present.

Quezon left nobody in Malacañan Palace because the superintendent, Nick Kamisky was in Baguio; all his papers were left behind there, but he is told that the Palace had not been damaged. The beautiful old Treasury building near the mouth of the Pasig River was destroyed because there were some inter-island boats moored there at which the Japanese bombers were aiming. He said the first lot of the enemy bombers were remarkable shots.

July 14, 1942

Quezon and Osmeña were sent for during Wood’s time to come to Malacañan Palace and were occasionally kept waiting for three quarters of an hour before being received by the Governor General. Wood’s a.d.c. told Crone that on one such occasion Quezon appeared clad in a camisa de chino, chinelas (slippers) and a salacot (big country hat). When surprise was expressed at his costume, he replied: –“well, if I am to be treated like a tao when I come to Malacañan, I’m going to dress like one.”

Francis Burton Harrison
Author: Francis Burton Harrison