FROM LIFE’S CORRESPONDENTS
Quezon on the Spot
Manila, P. I.
Handsome, dapper little Manuel Quezon, the President of the Philippine Commonwealth, is becoming more important every day in the Far Eastern foreign policy of the U. S. The issue is what the Philippines, and that means chiefly Mr. Quezon–will decide to do about their promised Independence. That Quezon would like to see Independence postponed indefinitely beyond 1945, perhaps in the form of a Dominion Government, is common knowledge. But reversing the political doctrine upon which he has based his whole meteoric career is no easy task, even for supple Manuel Quezon.
*Gentlemen,” Quezon once cried at a luncheon of the American Chamber of Commerce in Manila, “I prefer a Government run like hell by the Filipinos to one run like heaven by the Americans.” That, in a nutshell. has been the political credo which he has preached. It carried Manuel Quezon to power but it succeeded too well, for now, under the Tydings-MeDuffie Act, the U. S. stands committed to cut the Philippines loose on July 4, 1945.
Strong factions in Manila, particularly rich sugar men who stand to lose heavily after Independence, have started a movement to up and ask the U.S. to maintain some sort of tie with the islands. Prime factors in this movement are the realization that U. S. withdrawal will smash up the Philippines economically, open wide the door for the Japanese.
Oldtime Americans in Manila say that Manuel Quezon will never learn that chickens must come home to roost. All his life he has been starting things that finally get too big for him to stop. Many observers think he never intended that Independence should go so far, merely used it as a political theme song.
Quezon is as uncertain as a humming bird. Brilliant and brittle, he promises everybody everything. His Spanish is perfect and his English, which he is said to have mastered in six months, is good. He has a gift for coloring his phrases, for making out and provincials laugh. His frequent trips through the islands, made on a swank white yacht. get him close to the people and invariably he dazzles them. Many of his political pronouncements don’t make sense but they sound all right to the Filipinos. It is the way Quezon says them.
Manuel Quezon’s specialty is handling people. With visiting U. S. Congressmen he has long been effusive; with new U.S. High Commissioners he is downright eloquent. Legend has it that he always hauls out the same talk on the departure of U. S. dignitaries who have spent some time in the Philippines, bastes each with a drippy, sugary verbal sauce during farewell banquets.
He will be 69 next August but he looks much younger. Light-skinned and with fine features, he seems much more Spanish than Filipino. His clothes, upon which he dotes, are of an amazing variety. A favorite trick is to appear at several occasions during the same day dressed in different costumes.
The Philippines is Quezon’s show and he wants to be impresario, cast and ticket taker all in one. His flair for living is both proverbial and prodigious. His Malacañan Palace outclasses the White House. His private office is large and richly furnished, and as he talks to visitors he teeters back and forth in a brocaded swivel chair. On rare occasions now he goes dancing at the Santa Ana cabaret in Manila, which used to be a favorite haunt. He has lost none of his love for gaiety.
But there is also Quezon the family man, the greatly adored father of three children. Manuel Jr. (“Nonong”) is still a youngster and very much a favorite. One story is that Quezon and Nonong sleep in the same room, in twin beds, but early in the morning Nonong crawls out and rough-houses with his father.
Until the Philippine Independence Act, Malacañan Palace was the home of the U. S. Governor General. One day in 1935, Governor General Frank Murphy moved out and took a suite at the Manila Hotel, while the Quezons moved in. That was Quezon’s day of days, the high point in life for the little knight who had spent all his life jousting at U. S. windmills.
Basie fear of the Filipinos is that the Japanese will come in and take over if and when the United States pulls out. Less likely than an out-and-out invasion would be a gradual economic penetration, similar to that which has already occurred in Davao.
A little while ago, one Japanese remarked to a Filipino politician in Manila: “If we invade you it will only be to teach you that you are not Occidentals.” The Japanese are jealous of the Filipino standard of living, which is the highest in Asia, while for their part the Filipinos feel superior to the Japanese because of their longer contact with European civilization.
But in Manila the Japanese put one over on the Americans by mixing more socially with the Filipinos, treating them with absolute equality.
The No. 2 bugaboo is the realization that Independence, despite all temporary palliatives, is destined to smash up Philippine economy. Two million Filipinos depend on the sugar industry alone, and it thrives because of U. S. patronage. Finally, the prospects of civil strife are good, once the new nation leaves the safe harbor of U. S. protection.