Quezon, The Press Photographers’ Favorite
by Rodolfo M. De Juan
Administration Magazine, August, 1948–WHATEVER may be said for or against Manuel L. Quezon, it can never be said that he was “mata pobre.” So aver the majority of Manila’s press photographers who, along
with many members of the metropolitan press who have had the privilege of “covering” Quezon during his heyday, have come to worship the memory of their “best friend,” the acknowledged father of his country and the champion of Philippine independence.
Of course the press photographers admit the fact that Quezon, being human, had his faults. Significantly, it was primarily because of these “faults” that the late lamented leader had been endeared to the hearts of the press photographers, if not his countrymen.
The consensus among the lensmen is that Quezon knew he was top man and made no bones about it. Imperious and impulsive by nature, he brooked neither disobedience nor defiance from anybody, and would act swiftly and surely against any man alive who would dare to lift hand or voice in remonstrance to his wishes. Even the humblest menial at Malacañan Palace–who regarded Quezon with awe and respect and adulation bordering on hero worship did not escape the lashings of the Quezon tongue and the Quezon ire. But they knew the man so much that they were able to endure him for years and years on end, remaining faithful and loyal to him as ever, and even willing to sacrifice their lives for him if need be. “Just let him rant and rave,” they would tell vou. “As soon as his ire had been spent, he would be his usual self again the best of mortals if there ever was one.”
Manila’s photographers who were assigned to “cover” him knew this only too well. And so they went about their daily grind, almost always on tenterhooks, expecting every hour on the hour some “palabas” or another “from the grand old man.” And they were not to be disappointed. For Quezon, whose temper was wont to rise at the most unexpected moments, could always be depended upon to make things either “too hot” or “too cold” for the boys of the press.
But there was one thing they can never forget about this man among men. In all his inspection tours, which took him to almost all parts of the country during his heyday, he made it a point to remember the boys–the press representatives and the press photographers–to look after their welfare, their accommodations, even their meals and “merienda.” That is one thing they can now crow about. If Quezon travelled in style, they, too, travelled practically in the same manner. It was not uncommon for him to wake up in the riddle of the night, or at some odd hours during the day or evening, to find out whether the “periodistas” were well taken care of.
Now there are press photographers and press photographers. Press photographers have come and gone, but there are some members of the old guard who are still in harness, working for various papers in Manila. To name a few: Emil (“Fatso”) Maglalang (Malacañan), Jose Claudio and Honesto Vitug (Bulletin), Pedro Nario (Evening News), Marcial Valenzuela and Manuel Alcantara (Manila Times), Pio Carpio (Manila Chronicle), and others. At least two have since died, namely, Vicente Ferrer and Clodualdo Claudio, both of the pre-war DMHM Newspapers owned by Don Vicente Madrigal.
A talk with each of these pre-war press photographers pays forth rich dividends in Quezonian lore.
Emilio (“Fatso”) Maglalang, official Malacañan photographer, waxes nostalgic when and if you can get him to recall the good old days with Quezon.
“My association with Don Manuel,” he says, “dates back to the hectic days when the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Law split the whole country into two camps the pros and the antis. I was then connected with a commercial photographic studio.
“One day, I was called in as an extra in the Herald. Dr. Carlos P. Romulo, then publisher of the DMHM Newspapers, had me assigned to the Quezon beat. So I went over to Malacañan, and somehow found myself inside the President’s office, unnoticed, right when he was having a closed-door conference with the then Secretary Teofilo Sison. The conference was about over when President Quezon and Secretary
Sison noticed me. The President raised his eyebrow in his characteristic way and demanded who I was.
“Remember; Quezon told me after I had identified myself, ‘you are not a reporter, and you have not heard anything that was said here.’ I nodded, mumbled my assent, and hurriedly made my exit.
“I was supposed to be an extra only in the Herald for that day and thought no more about the incident. The next day, however, I learned that Dr. Romulo had ordered a messenger to scour the city for me. It seemed that President Quezon had called up Romulo that day and asked him to assign no other photographer to Malacañan but Maglalang–that’s me. That’s how I got the chance to cover Quezon from then on until he died. And that’s one of the reasons I have since become almost a Malacañan fixture-covering a succession of Presidents, from Quezon and Osmeña and Roxas down to President Elpidio Quirino.”
Jose Claudio, the dean of Manila’s press photographers and the most famous of them all before the war, has a lot of memorable incidents with the late President Quezon. Claudio, who is now doing lens work for the Manila Daily Bulletin along with Honesto Vitug, another Herald and Tribune veteran, was connected with the pre-war Tribune at the time. He reminisces as follows:
“I had a beautiful shot of Quezon at the piers just as he was being borne on a stretcher from the boat which had taken him to the Southern Islands during one of his inspection trips. Having noticed me taking the shot, Quezon yelled: ‘Arrest that man Claudio!’ Detectives and plainclothesmen forthwith converged on me. One of them even tried to wrest my camera away from me, but I dared them to confiscate my camera. I told them they could file whatever charges they wanted against me, but that I would not surrender my camera. to them. I further informed them that I was simply doing my duty, covering an assignment for my paper, and that’s that.
“Later, I learned that the offending picture, beautiful as it was, was suppressed, following pleas for its suppression from the higher-ups.”
Honesto Vitug, who has the distinction of being the only Filipino photographer to be picked by the Associated Press to cover the entire Far East shortly before the outbreak of the war, has a similar story to tell. He says:
“I took a beautiful picture of the President dancing with a charming partner in Baguio. The President’s eagle eyes did not miss me as I was taking the shot. Shortly afterward, he approached me and quietly said: ‘Vitug, see to it that that. particular picture is not published.’ Of course I had no idea why he didn’t want the picture published. His partner was not only charming but also respectable, with not a whiff of scandal attached to her name. Somehow or other, however, I forgot the Presidential injunction, and the picture found its way into the pages of my newspaper.
“The payoff came about a week later. As usual, I went to Malacañan to cover the Presidential doings. Quezon at the time was waiting for a high government official who had just arrived from the States. As soon as this official made his way to the President’s office, I followed him. The President forgot his visitor when he spotted me. His brows darkened as he yelled: ‘I told you not to publish that picture, Vitug! Why did you?’ When I remained tongue-tied, he roared on: ‘Now get out of here. And don’t show your face to me again!’
“But we knew how to handle the grand old man by that time. What I did was to keep out of his sight for sometime until I was sure that he had already forgotten the incident. For Quezon was one not to hold grudges forever-_and we loved him for it.”
About this trait of Quezon–of bawling out photographers left and right and telling them not to show their faces to him again–Marcial Valenzuela of the Manila Times (he was working for the Tribune during those good old days), has an interesting angle. Valenzuela says:
“Why, he had me arrested once at the City Hall when my powder flash boomed right in the middle of a sentence in his speech. Naturally I was detained by police officers in one of the rooms in the City Hall. By the time the President had finished delivering his speech, however, and had left for the Palace without leaving further instructions as to the disposition of my case, the police officers started scratching their heads, and finally had to let me go.”
Valenzuela at another time had another brush with Quezon. This time he was with another photographer, the late Claudio of the Herald, at the Jose Rizal Memorial Stadium where Quezon was scheduled to deliver a speech. Before starting his address, Quezon warned the photographers not to interrupt him when he was in the middle of a sentence because that would distract him. Besides, he said, the flash
powder annoyed him.
“While we were waiting for an opportune moment,” Valenzuela relates, “Claudio was so nervous that he inadvertently released the catch on the flash gun. So, with the inevitable boom of the flash powder, came the peremptory order from Quezon: ‘Arrest those photographers!’
“To avoid ‘arrest’, Claudio and I laid flat on our stomachs, lowered our cameras, and did not stand up until the President had finished his speech and had gone back to the Palace.”
Valenzuela swells with pride every time he remembers that fact that when he was with the Quezon party in Tayabas, the late leader had entrusted to Marcial his (Quezon’s) hat, cane, and raincoat.
Pedro Nario of the Evening News–also formerly with the old Tribune–got his from Quezon in Baguio during a summer respite. “I certainly got a razzing from the old man when I took a picture of him as he was recuperating from an illness,” he says.
Nario is also privy to that classic incident Quezon had had with the late Fr. Rector Tamayo of the U.S.T. According to this story, Quezon had requested Fr. Tamayo to see him. As soon as the good Father arrived at Mansion House, he was announced by the nurse to Quezon in this manner: “The priest is here’ (pronouncing ‘priest’ as if it were ‘press’.) Thinking that the press wanted to see him, Quezon, much
annoyed, growled: “Tell the press to go to hell!’ Unfortunately, Fr. Tamayo heard the remark, and left the Mansion House pronto. The slight misunderstanding, however, was cleared. up later to the satisfaction of the good Father.