The slaughter of the innocents

Note: The basis of the column was Fr. Reuter’s homily during the Requiem Mass for Aurora A. Quezon. The Quezon family asked him to deliver the homily as he is one of the few people still around who knew her.

The slaughter of the innocents
AT 3:00 A.M. By James B. Reuter, S.J.
The Philippine Star 04/30/2005

On April 28, 1949 – 56 years ago, Doña Aurora Aragon Quezon was on her way to Baler. With her eldest daughter, Maria Aurora, whom everyone called “Baby”. And with her son-in-law, Philip Buencamino, who was married to her younger daughter, Zeneida, whom everyone called “Nini”. Nini was at home with their first baby, Felipe IV, whom everyone called “Boom”. And she was pregnant with their second baby “Noni”.

On a rough mountain road, in Bongabong, Nueva Ecija, they were ambushed by gunmen hiding behind the trees on the mountainside. The cars were riddled with bullets. All three of them were killed. Along with several others, among them Mayor Ponciano Bernardo of Quezon City.

Adiong, the Quezon family driver, was spared. Running to the first car, Adiong found Philip lying on the front seat, his side dripping blood. Philip smiled at Adiong and said: “Malakas pa ako. Tingnan mo” — “I am still strong. Look!” And dipping his finger in his own blood, Philip wrote on the backrest of the front seat: “Hope in God”.

When they placed him in another vehicle for Cabanatuan, his bloody hands were fingering his rosary, and his lips were moving in prayer. This was consistent with his whole life. His rosary was always in his pocket. And on his 29th birthday, exactly one month before, on March 28, 1949, at dinner in his father’s home, he said to Raul Manglapus: “Raul, the Blessed Virgin has appeared at Lipa, and has a message for all of us. What are we going to do, to welcome her, and to spread her message?”

He was echoing the thoughts of Doña Aurora, who wanted a national period of prayer to welcome the Virgin and to spread her message of Peace. Years later, the Concerned Women of the Philippines established the Doña Aurora Aragon Quezon Peace Awards, choosing the name in honor of this good, quiet, peaceful woman.

The blood stained rosary was brought to Nini, after Philip’s death. Many years later, she wrote down the thoughts that came to her when they gave her the bloody beads:

“We had joined my mother in Baguio for Holy Week, 1949. As we drove down the zigzag, after attending all the Holy Week services, Phil turned to me and said, ‘Nini, if we were to have an accident now, wouldn’t it be the perfect time for us to go?’ I said to him, ‘You may be ready, Phil, but I still have a child to give life to, so I can’t go just yet.’ And not long after this, his life was taken, and mine was spared.”

Her life was spared, but she felt the agony of those three deaths more intensely than anyone else. In that ambush she lost her husband, her mother, and her only sister. The gunmen riddled their bodies with bullets, on that rough mountain road. But miles away, with her one year old baby in her arms, and another baby in her womb, the gunmen left her with a broken heart. The ones she loved went home to God. But she had to carry on.

Last Thursday, April 28, 2005 — exactly 56 years after she was assassinated — the remains of Doña Aurora Aragon Quezon were transferred from the North Cemetery to the Quezon Memorial Shrine.

Mass was said at Santo Domingo Church, the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. Then, at the Quezon Memorial Shrine, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo turned over the Philippine Flag to Nini Quezon Avanceña. The urn was placed in a black granite crypt, beside the body of President Quezon. They are finally united, after all these years.

Doña Aurora Aragon Quezon was a lady, in the finest sense of that word. She did not need trappings to prove this. You could see it in her eyes. You could hear it in her voice. You could feel it, in her very presence. She was a soft spoken, motherly, gentle woman — all heart, all love.

I first met her at Christmas time, in 1938. I was studying philosophy at the Sacred Heart Novitiate, in Novaliches. Our Jesuit choir at that time — all male, young seminarians, Filipino and American — sang beautiful Christmas carols. We came in from Novaliches to Manila to sing for the poor, in the charity wards of the hospitals. Doña Aurora invited as to sing at Malacañang. She wanted to thank us for our efforts for the poor. She looked upon all the poor as her special children.

We climbed the majestic stairs of Malacañang in a kind of breathless awe. We were ushered into the music room, where Doña Aurora was waiting for us. She was wearing a simple house dress, absolutely no make-up, and she was in chinelas! She welcomed each one of us, personally, looking straight at us, asking not only our names, but where we came from.

When we sang for her, she listened quietly, saying softly from time to time: “Beautiful… beautiful.” We were not that good. But she was a lady. After the singing, a maid brought in merienda, and Doña Aurora served each one of us, herself. She had no airs. She was just a wife and mother, with a warm heart for all these “poor boys, who left their homes and families to follow in the footsteps of the Lord.” That is what she said to the priest who was with us.

The next time I met her was in Baguio, in 1940. She had built a grotto and a shrine for the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was being blessed. The Jesuits had moved the seminary for philosophers to Baguio, and she remembered our choir. She invited us to sing at the blessing.

She was greeting each one of us, personally, holding our hand with both of hers. Before me in line was Rogelio la O. When he gave her his name, her face brightened. She looked at him closely and said: “Hijo de Maming?” He nodded, and smiled. She patted his hand. She seemed to remember everyone that she had ever met — by their first name! And by their pet name!

She was “Ninang” to countless poor children whom she always remembered, with gifts and love letters, at the proper times. She was known, universally, for three things: her devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, her love for the poor, and the strong support she gave to her husband.

President Quezon was so occupied with official affairs that he sometimes left a little to be desired as a husband. But Doña Aurora never uttered one negative word of criticism. Not a syllable. She was his pillar of strength, always. There in Baguio, the women who were close to her would whisper to us young Jesuits: “She’s a saint, that woman! She’s a saint!”

No one knows who killed her, or why. The Hukbalahaps were blamed for it. But no one hated Doña Aurora, or Philip, or Baby. I am sure that when Aurora arrived in heaven, while her body was still lying warm on the road, she said to Our Lord: “Don’t hold it against those poor men. They know not what they do”. That’s the way she was. She herself never hated anybody.

And putting her to rest beside her husband is a beautiful thing. I judge this from my own family. When my Dad was dying of lung cancer, in Florida, he suddenly said: “I want to be buried beside my mother”. My younger brother, who was a Police Lieutenant, said: “Oh, Pappy, no! That’s New Jersey! It’s a thousand miles! We would have to get police clearance through every State. It’s impossible!” My Dad said: “Couldn’t you fly me up there?” My sister Dorothy said, instantly: “Oh, no! We did that with my boss! It was terrible! We had all the expenses of a funeral on both ends! If we did that, Mom would have nothing left to live on!”

My Dad thought about this. Then he said: “Well, when I die, couldn’t you just sit me up in the back of the car, and drive up north, and have me declared dead when we get there?” My mother remembered this. So, when he died, she flew him up north, and he was buried beside his mother. The strange thing is, his mother died when he was only seven years old. He had not seen her for 66 years. And yet it meant so much to him to be buried beside her.

Then my mother died, in Florida, I did not get home for the death of my Dad, or of my mother. But six months later, I got home to New Jersey for a visit. My sister Rita said, “Good! Now we can have Mom’s funeral!”

I said: “What do you mean Mom’s funeral? She died six months ago.” But my sister said: “Yes! But she wanted to be buried beside Dad. So we cremated the body, and brought the ashes up here. Now we can bury her with Dad!”

So I said Mass, and we went to the cemetery, and buried her with my father. That is what she wanted.

I think that this is exactly what Doña Aurora wants, also – to be laid at rest beside her husband. Because, when a Filipina stands at the altar and says: “I take thee from this day forward; for richer, for poorer; for better, for worse; in sickness and in health; until death she does not really mean: “until death. . . . . “

She means: “Forever!”

James Reuter
Author: James Reuter

5 thoughts on “The slaughter of the innocents

  1. Arsenio H. Lacson on the Bongabon Tragedy

    This is a reproduction of then columnist Arsenio H. Lacson’s article on the Star Reporter after thethe tragic tragic ambush. In November 1949, he was elected congressman, representing the Second
    District of the City of Manila. In 1951, he becane the first elected mayor of the city,
    defeating the veteran politician Manuel de la Fuente. He was re-elected twice, in 1955 and in 1959. On Arpil 1962, he died of coronary thrombosis.

    Philippine Tragedy
    by Arsenio H. Lacson
    Star Reporter
    April 29, 1949

    Mrs. Aurora Quezon, and two very dear friends of mine, her daughter Baby, and son-in-law
    Philip, are dead- foully murdered by the very men for whom the late Manuel L. Quezon had
    initiated his Social Justice program. The dastardly crime, perpetrated, according to reports, by a Huk ban, barely two weeks after Elpidio Quirino’s brazen boast that peace and order has been completely restored throughout the Philippines, has shocked the nation, and alienated whatever sympathy decent people had for Huks.

    I know the peasants have a legitimate grievance against the government, but in Heaven’s name, what possible purpose is served in this senseless andinsane killing?

    Mrs. Quezon was doing so much good. Hers was a life dedicated to the service of our people, to the improvement of the lot of the common man for whom the Huks claim that they are fighting. And Baby, so active in charity work, supporting several schools for indigent children in the noble traditions of her late great father- why did she have to die in the hands of men who claim that they are fighting for a better world?

    That the Huks ambushed Mrs. Quezon and party in the mistaken notion that they were shooting at Quirino and a bunch of government officials who were scheduled to motor to Baler does not in any way mitigate from the neinousness of their black crime.

    It is folly to believe that the Philippines be made a better place to live in by destroying one man. The assassination of Quirino, useless and vicious that he is, will solve nothing. For nothing is ever settled unless it is settled right, and the Huks, whatever their grievances may be, have no right to take the law into their own hands.

    At the same time, the death of Mrs. Quezon and her innocent companions, casualties in the fratricidal war that is now raging in Central Luzon, should teach all of us a lesson. Man at bay is the deadliest and most dangerous game at all. When you hunt him down like an animal and shoot him, it should not surprise you that he turns into a mad dog.

    The responsibility for this lies with short-sighted men in the government whose strategy of force on an oppressed peasantry, impressing on the peasants their lack of human rights, has taught them to strike violently, for violence only breeds breeds (sic) violence.

    The problem of Central Luzon must be solved once and for all, if there is to be peace and order and an end to all these senseless killing of the innocent. It must be solved wisely and decisively. But first, the mad dogs who snuffed out the life of Mrs. Quezon and her companions must be brought to justice, and dealt with swiftly and implacably. By the outrage they have perpetrated, they have forfeited the right to live.

  2. This is a reproduction of Arsenio H. Lacson’s article that appeared in the May 3, 1949 issue of the Star Reporter.

    In Memoriam
    by Arsenio H. Lacson
    Star Reporter
    May 3, 1949

    Until now, I can’t quite get over Philip’s tragic death. He was first of all, a very close friend of mine. I saw him married, and was one of the best men at his wedding. I also saw him buried, and it is not a pleasant thing to remember.

    Philip was such a nice, clean boy, friendly, warm-hearted and generous, so full of life, and laughter, that I learned to love him. Of course he had his faults, but you take your friends as they are, not as you want them to be. And Philip, for all his faults, was quite a man. In all the years that we kept close together, I never knew him to deliberately do a mean thing.

    Because he was by nature easy-going and amiable, he exasperated me at time by failing to take things more seriously and using his considerable talents to point out the many evils with which our government is cursed. Actually, he was not wholly indifferent to them. He could on occasions become quite angry over certain injustices, but he had no capacity for sustained indignation, and it was not in hi, to fret and worry over the distraceful and scandalous way this country is being run. Life to him was one swell adventure, to be lived and savored to the full, with very little time left for crusades. The world cannot be changed or saved in a day.

    And because he was Philip, he would gaily twit me about being afflicted with a messianic itch. Relax, he would say. Take it easy. Things are not as bad as they look. In time, everything would be alright. Perhaps, he had the right answer. I wouldn’t know. But I shudder to think what would happen if all of us adopted a carely and carefree attitude and paraphrasing archie, Don Marquis’ cockroach reporter, say:

    no trick nor kick of fate
    can raise me from a yell,
    serene I sit and wait
    for the Philippines to go to hell.

    The last time I saw Philip was two days before his death. Linking his arm to mine with a gay laugh, he dragged me to Astoria for a cup of coffee. We joined a boisterous group of newsmen who flung good-natured jibes at Philip when he announced that he was quitting the government foreign service to settle down to a life of a country farmer. Somebody brought up the subject of a certain Malacañan reporter who always made it a point to take a malicious crack at Philip and his influential family connections, and Philip agreed the guy was nasty. It was typical of Philip, however, that when I curtly suggested that he punch the offensive reporter on the nose, he smilingly shook his head saying: “How can I? Every time I get sore, the fellow embraces me and tells me with that silly laugh of his ‘Sport lang, Chief.’ I can’t get mad at him.”

    That was Philip. He couldn’t get mad at anyone for long. He liked everybody, even those who, regarding him with envious eyes as a darling Child of Fortune, spoke harshly of him. He was essentially a nice, friendly guy. It was not in him to harm anybody, including those who tried to harm him.

    And now he is dead, along with that fine and noble lady who was his mother-in-law, and that vivid, great-hearted, spirited girl who was so much like her great and illustrious father, foully murdered by hunted and persecuted men turned into wild, insensate beasts by grave injustices- men who, in laying ambush for Mr. Quirino and other government officials, brutally and mercilessly struck down innocent victims instead.

    Philip Buencamino III had so much to live for: a charming, gracious wife who adored him,a chubby little son who will one day grow up into sturdy manhood with only a dim memory of his father, and another child on the way whom,Philip now will never see. Handsome and talented, Philip had his whole future before him. His was a life so full of brilliant promise, and it is a great tragedy that it should have ended soon. He had been a top reporter before he entered the foreign serive. With his charm and affability, his personal gifts and family prestige, there was no height he could not have scaled as a diplomat. The pity of it, the futile pitiful waste of it! A nice, clean, promising youngster sacrificed to the warring passions of men who have turned Central Luzon into a charnel house.

    Mr. Qurino has so much to answer for. These are the wages of impatient ambition, these are the wages of his double-cross of the Huks, and his brutal policy of extermination. Daily in Central Luzon, innocent men, women and children die, caught between those two conteding knights in shining armor. The Huks one one saide, and the PC and their civilian guard allies on the other. Thousands have already died, and many more will die in the days to come now that Mr. Qurino, in an effort to ease his trouble conscience, insanely cries all-out war. Whole barrios and poblaciones will again be shelled and blown to bits, there will be savage retaliation, and the bloody butcher’s list will grow long. It is ironic that a socially prominent and beloved family had to be wiped out before the whole nation wake up to the terrible and tragic fact that Filipinos are dying every day in bloody Central Luzon.

    In the final analysis, it is Mr. Quirino who is responsible for the death of Doña Aurora, Baby, Philip and nine others who were trapped in that Huk ambuscade. Because of Mr. Quirino, they went to Baler. They went trusting his boastful assurance as President and Commander-in-Chief of all the armed forces of the Philippines that peace and order has been completely restored, and they met their death on the highway, riddled by bullets that were mean for Elpidio Quirino.

    The blame for this rests on the conscience of Elpidio Quirino. I hope it rests there heavily. God damn him, and God damn the men who killed my friend!

  3. I am a Filipino, yes, but i cannot be convinced that Quezon was a great nationalist and loved Filipinos so much just because he said this “I’d rather prefer a Philippines run like hell by Filipinos than run like heaven by Americans”. This is bullshit, the truth is, he did not want America to take us, because if they did, he can never be President of this country. Sabi ng great grandfathers namin, sama magmura, a typical espanol. How selfish! cono kasi.

  4. To the so called, PHILIPPINE HISTORIAN,

    I strongly suggest that you hire an editor, or better yet, study english composition before you write any article. It diminishes one’s credibility if he writes an article pockmarked with wrong grammar.

    Another thing, although its nice to theorize on these so-called conspiracies, it is also best practice to do an in depth research on your subject. Always provide proof or statutory basis on articles you write.

    Lastly, Jose Rizal had a jesuit friend and he was also a member of the freemasons. Maybe you should start your investigation with him.

  5. Philippine Historian,

    I suggest you need to broaden your research and check your facts carefully.
    How certain are you that the KofC founder was a jesuit?

    I find your arguments very weak and full of opininated propositions that are not based on facts. I hope you can find time to review your history and review it under an objective eye.

    If you really want to help the Philippines, just concentrate your investigations on the freemasons. They are far older than the jesuit older by the way. This fact alone utterly destroys your jesuit dominion conspiracy theory.

    Hiram Abif

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