By Col. Julian M. Malonso (ret’d)
IT is unfair to compare the first president of the Philippines with the present ones because of time and circumstances. During Pres. Quezon’s time, he was president of the Commonwealth government when we were still under the Americans. Quezon had the qualities of the Spaniards who ruled the world then. He was thought to be the son of a priest because his hometown, Baler was under the Franciscan Spanish fathers. It was the parish priest of Baler who enrolled him in Letran College because the Franciscans had no school in Manila. Quezon was an “agraciado” — a bright working student given free board and lodging in exchange for serving the priests in the dining room, and doing odd jobs like shining the shoes of the priests.
Quezon, Vicente Madrigal and Sergio Osmeña were classmates. Although Quezon and Madrigal were “agraciados,” Osmeña was an “interno,” or a boarder paying his tuition, board and lodging because he came from an affluent family from Cebu. Osmeña got higher grades than Quezon, but was humble and passive while Quezon was ambitious and had the qualities of a leader. Madrigal was a successful businessman who with the help of his wife, became a millionaire. Osmena was relegated to the Vice-Presidency, and Quezon became a successful politician and became President of the Philippines after General Emilio Aguinaldo.
Quezon was a son of a retired Spanish soldier, and his mother was a retired teacher in Baler. He insisted on using his second Christian name, Luis. His mother was a Molina. Quezon had a nephew named Pedro Molina, who later became an airforce chief. PQ, as Pedro Molina was fondly called, served as an assistant-aide of his uncle, but for a slight misdemeanor, was fired by Quezon to show he did not tolerate nepotism and favoritism, a trait seldom seen these days.
Quezon married his first cousin, Doña Aurora Aragon who never meddled in the Office of the President, but became his inspiration. They bore three children; Maria Aurora “Baby”, whom Ferdinand Marcos courted unsuccessfully; Maria Zenaida “Nini”, who married Philip Buencamino, who perished in the ambush with Doña Aurora and Baby Quezon. After being widowed, Nini married Alberto Avanceña, son of Justice Ramon Avanceña. The only son, Manuel “Nonong” entered the seminary for a time but left, and married Lulu Casas. Mons. Juan Velasco, a Dominican bishop, is said to be responsible for the marriage of Nonong and Lulu. Nonong has passed away, but left a son Manolo Quezon III, who is giving credit to the name Quezon.
Pres. Quezon worked as an assistant in the law office of Chief Justice Cayetano Arellano after graduating from the UST College of Law. He became a fiscal in Tayabas (now Quezon), and also became governor of the same province. He became Resident Commissioner to Washington, then ran for Senator and lastly, became President of the Philippine Commonwealth until World War II. He transferred the government to the United States when the Japanese occupied the Philippines. He died in Saranac Lake, USA before the liberation of Manila.
Before he died, he gave Nonong three pieces of advice: To be honest, to be grateful, and not to be vindictive, knowing a weakness of Filipinos. This advice should not only be for Nonong but also to most Filipinos who have a tendency to do the opposite.
Quezon was a sophisticated dresser. When he was criticized for buying costly shirts, he said, “Do not expect the President of the Philippines to be in rags.” He was fond of using breeches and knee-high boots with a “bastipol” hat. He was knock-kneed. He used to say, “only fools don’t change their minds.”
When he was offered by Hemady a property on Gilmore, he paid for it by installment, so as not to be beholden to Hemady. When Doña Aurora was ambushed, according to Nini Avanceña, their property in Arayat was put under land reform. Quezon had a farm in Arayat with a chapel, and where the family used to spend their weekends. The only property left is the one on Katipunan and Aurora Boulevard, now NCBA, which used to be Sta. Clara Monastery. This was shared by Nonong and Nini.