A note on Rafael Antón, the Philippines, and the Spanish Civil War

In 1986, during our visit to Spain, my father took me to visit the Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen). It was a few months after the EDSA Revolution, and Marcos was still fresh in everyone’s minds. It was a somber experience, from the moment we caught sight of the imposing complex. My father immediately pointed out how unfortunate it was, that Marcos had modeled the Dambana ng Kagitingan on Mount Samat in Bataan, on Franco’s memorial to himself and his Fascist state.
Inside,  as we toured the imposing but gloomy Basilica (located near Philip II’s El Escorial, and so, pointedly situated as a companion in grandeur and prestige to Philip II’s vast monastery-palace-monument to Spain and its monarchy), my father kept telling me how the place had been built with forced labor: the captured soldiers and supporters of the defeated Spanish Republic. Though Franco justified the complex as a monument to “reconciliation,” my father kept reminding me it was an effort to perpetuate Franco’s victory.
We looked down at Francisco Franco’s ostentatiously simple tomb:

And here, as we looked at Franco’s tombstone, my father paused to remind me that there were –are– two Spains. The Spain of Franco and the Spain of the Republic; that as Filipinos, our sympathies ought to be, always, with the Spain of the Republic, and the Spaniards who’d fought to defend that Republic; and how it was that Spain that had resumed after the death of Franco, and which had just a few months earlier, been among the first nations to recognize the Philippines as a newly-restored democracy.  This, the new, and not the old, Spain was the Spain that deserved fraternal affection, he said.
He also went on a bit of a harangue over the Spanish mestizos in the Philippines who’d supported Franco, and the clergy (chief among them, his otherwise much-beloved Spanish Dominicans and his alma mater, UST), who had proclaimed support for Franco, before the war. He reminisced about his father’s castigating the Spanish Dominicans in a speech in Letran.
Spanish newsreel of President Quirino’s visit to Spain, where he was received by the Caudillo in 1951: the full panoply of the Spanish State under Franco.
Later on, reading on my own, I encountered an interesting account of how, after World War II, Franco, having survived World War II, his power intact, had to send a ship to Manila to repatriate Spaniards who’d cooperated with the Japanese (edit: Benito Legarda Jr. clarified in an email that “They [the Spaniards] were homeless because the areas where they lived, Ermita and Malate, were razed. The Spanish government protested to the Jap[anese] government about killing Spaniards, and the Jap government paid indemnity to the victims.”); and how Franco had recognized the Spanish-sponsored government in the Philippines as part of a vague but ultimately thwarted scheme, to try to regain the Philippines for Spain. A more recent and thorough exploration of Franco, the Philippines, and Japan can be found in Franco”s Spain and the Japanese Empire (1937-1945), by Florentino Radao.
Last night, as I watched online coverage of the exhumation and removal from the Valle de los Caidos, of the remains of Generalissimo Franciso Franco, I remembered a white-haired Spanish gentleman named Rafael Antón and Tweeted about it. The few times I met him, he was acting as the F&B Manager of Club Filipino. Every time he and my father would see each other, they would stand at attention, and raise their fists, and then warmly embrace. This, it turns out, was the greeting of the Republicans of Spain.
My father told me that Rafael Antón had come to the Philippines before the war, as a refugee: a Republican now deprived of a country, fleeing Franco’s persecution. That is all I knew of him, but the memory –particularly of their broad smiles as he and my father would greet each other with clenched fists– of meeting an authentic Spanish Republican, and the subsequent story of Spain’s restoration of democracy, including King Juan Carlos I’s facing down a coup attempt by the Spanish military, stuck. And I’ve been interested in the story of the Spanish Civil War ever since.
And so, last night, seeing Franco essentially expelled from his own monument, I thought to myself, how Rafael Antón (and my dad) would have been delighted to see the Generalissimo’s removal from the Valle de los Caidos.
After remembering Rafael Antón last night, I became curious to find out more about him and there is actually  quite a bit to be found. And that there’s more to the Valle de los Caidos and Rafael Antón: it now seems to me, that Rafael Antón would only have been partially pleased, because someone else remains enshrined in the Valle de los Caidos.
This brings us to Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera. His tomb, more than Franco’s, is the central focus of the Valle de los Caidos. His tombstone is even plainer than Franco’s, bearing only his given names: Jose Antonio.
A brief Philippine connection is in order: Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, the Marquis of Estella, was the son of Miguel Primo de Rivera, one of the last Spanish governors-general, who fought our forces during the Philippine Revolution. Jose Antonio was enshrined in the Valle de los Caidos as the official founder of the Spanish Falange, the Fascist party of Spain.
Above: the opening episode of the marvelous BBC documentary, “The Spanish Civil War,” includes an introduction to the life and career of Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera. 
Which brings us back to Rafael Antón:  he was a refugee-exile of some prominence because of the role he played in the death of Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera. Writing in The Spanish Community in the Philippines, 1935-1939, Florentino Rodao pointed out that Antón was a lawyer:
Apart from Jaén Morente, the Republicans in the Philippines did not receive many other reinforcements. The only two noteworthy exiles were a Deputy (Diputado) of the Spanish Parliament, Benito Pabón who had anarchist leanings and Rafael Antón, a lawyer who had taken part in the tribunal that condemned to death the Falangist leader, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera. However they were of little help, even for propaganda purposes as the former was accused of being a Trotskyite and in fact later tried returning to Spain once the anti-POUM purges ceased, and the latter aware of the need to maintain a low profile, wrote articles under a pseudonym.
Long after it occurred, it seems Antón had a conversation with a compatriot –a fellow Spaniard, but one fully devoted to the Fascist side, about the execution of Primo de Rivera. On a Falangist website, writing on May 4, 2008, Javier Pérez Pellón recounted a series of conversations with Rafael Antón (here in a lightly edited, and so wobbly, automatic translation):
Covering the goings-on for the TVE about an important meeting of the International Monetary Fund, which was held in Manila, in September 1976, I had the opportunity to meet and treat Rafael Antón Carratalá, who was the youngest vocal magistrate of the Popular Tribunal which, In November 1936, José Antonio Primo de Rivera ended up tried and sentenced to death. Rafael Anton lived, I would say opulently, in a golden exile in the Philippines, where he had founded a merchant company that worked, in turn, for large American companies in that area of the Pacific.
He invited me several times to eat in the most luxurious and delicious restaurants, including those of Chinese cuisine, of Manila and during these convivial days he told me many things about that judicial process. Although he did not hesitate to sign the death sentence of the founder of the Falange, he could not but recognize and admire the extraordinary magnetism and the enthusiastic and generous patriotism that Primo de Rivera exhibited in his personal relations. Admiration that, as is known, was also shared Indalecio Prieto and Manuel Azaña, who did everything possible to prevent the execution of the sentence. Rafael Antón recognized that the execution of José Antonio had been a huge mistake that had done a very weak service to the republican cause because, above all, “it was a stupid and barbaric lynching of a Great Man that Felipe González and his cheerful wartime companion,  Serra Solana would like so much,”  to the point of making him erect a bronze statue on the Paseo de la Castellana in Madrid! See to believe!
The interview with Rafael Antón was lost in that immense trunk of memories where so many pieces of censored film have been lost, because, at that time, as it still is on TVE, this was not a time for joking.
The Falangists never forgot what Rafael Antón had helped make possible. During World War II, Elmer Ordoñez, in an extremely interesting article, added that,
The Republicans who were imprisoned in Manila by the Japanese were Miguel Pujalte (father and son), Tomas del Rio (father and son), Restituto Ynchausti, Ricardo Ariandiaga, Leonor Gonzalez, Rafael Anton, Jose Maria Campos and Benito Pabon.
Writing in Espías vascos (“Basque spies”), Mikel Rodriguez mentioned that this was because of the Spanish Falangists in Manila (English paraphrase mine):
During the [Japanese] occupation, the falangists entrusted to the Military police of the Japanese a list containing the names of those “red active elements” to be interned. Among them were Suárez de Urbina, Rafael Antón, writing under the pseudonym Ramiro Aldave, and Benito Pabón.
In Spanish Falange in the Philippines, 1936-1945, Florentino Rodao says as much, adding that at first the Spanish Republicans were interned in Villamor Hall of the University of the Philippines, but that “after some weeks” most were freed; but that “a group of them who were charged with more serious offenses were transferred to the military prison in Fort Santiago.” According to Radao,
Those who were detained for a longer time were Benito Pabón and Rafael Antón… who were set free in the autumn of 1942 for health reasons despite pressure from [the Spanish consul] Castaño that they should continue to be detained in prison… one should point out that the responsibility of Castaño in the detention of Pabón and Antón were not his alone, inasmuch as he was also urged from Madrid “to request those authorities to continue to detain Benito Pabón and Rafael Antón who were guilty of crimes against civil law, with maximum security and with orders from Spanish authorities for extradition at the opportune time.”
If the Falangists never forgot Primo de Rivera, then Antón surely never did; as seen above, he told a Spanish Fascist he didn’t hesitate to sign Primo de Rivera’s death sentence. But while Franco has been exhumed, Primo de Rivera remains in the Valle de los Caidos, and according to this article, will remain enshrined in that place:

Vice-President Carmen Calvo has said the remains of Spanish Phalanx party founder Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera will remain in situ next to Franco’s former plot.

Calvo said Jose Antonio, son of dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923-1930), will remain in the Valley of the Fallen because he was a victim of the Spanish Civil War, killed early during the armed conflict in 1936.

“Primo de Rivera is a victim of the dispute, for which the permanence of his remains in the Valley of the Fallen is justified on the same grounds as the rest of the victims,” Calvo said on Friday.

Primo de Rivera was executed by the Second Republic for conspiracy and military rebellion on November 20, 1936. He was the founder of the Spanish Phalanx, a military fascist political organization aiming to topple the democratic republic and replace it with a totalitarian government in his father’s fashion.

Primo de Rivera was enshrined by the Franco regime and became a martyr, earning a special place in the honorary cemetery, at the ‘Basilica de Cuelgamuros,’ in 1959.


So it seems to me, this state of affairs would have limited any delight over Franco’s exhumation.
An aside on the Spanish Civil War: there were Filipinos who fought for the Republic too; Elmer Ordoñez mentioned that,

According to Andreu Castells in Las Brigadas Internacionales de la Guerra en España, the total number of Filipinos in the Republican ranks was at least sixteen, one of whom was killed and four injured. But according to one volunteer, Pedro Penino, who was able to return to the Philippines, there were around fifty Filipinos (“pure Filipinos” and “mestizos”) who joined the International Brigade as well as the Spanish Republican Army and Militia.

In a 1938 interview with the Spanish weekly Union, Penino said that among the “pure Filipinos” who fought in defense of the Spanish Republic were a certain Claro, a political commissar, in a Mixed Brigade; a Colonel Santiago (from Tondo) and someone surnamed Mendoza who both held high positions in the general staff of General Jose Miaja of the Republican Army; someone surnamed Manuel; and another militia man in Valencia who claimed to be related to Commonwealth president Quezon.

Apparently there is no record of anyone leaving the Philippines for Spain directly. Most of the Filipinos who served in the Republican ranks either left from the US or Mexico or were already in Spain when the war began. Most of the volunteers were not heard of again. With the defeat of the Republican forces, Franco’s falangists herded thousands of prisoners in camps where many were executed or died of hardships.

Through unlawyer on Twitter, I found out about a German propaganda film from 1939, Im Kampf gegen den Weltfeind — Deutsche Freiwillige in Spanien, with a curious cameo: a Filipino prisoner asked by the German Condor Legion why he went to Spain to kill Germans. The answer, on camera at least, was evasive. Here’s an extract from the film: Filipino in Spanish Civil War 1939.
While what happened to them is obscure, more documented is what the Spanish Republicans managed to do: find refuge in the Philippines. A UNHCR feature details how the defeated Spanish Republicans came to find refuge in the Philippines:

In 1939, Spanish republicans fleeing the end of the Spanish Civil War entered as the third wave of refugees, benefitting from the Philippine government’s policy of absolute neutrality.


Prior to the end of the war, President Quezon had stressed the importance of absolute neutrality in the war to the public. In a letter dated November 10, 1937 to the Rector of San Juan de Letran College, Quezon urged that the Philippines’ interest in the war should be limited to seeing peace reestablished in Spain. Support for President Quezon’s policy came from loyalists to the Spanish Republic, several religious orders and the local Spanish community.


From 1936 to 1939, Spanish Republicans had fled from the fascist Falange Española of General Francisco Franco. Head of the Nationalist movement, General Franco was cracking down on Republicans in Spain forcing 500,000 Spanish Republicans and their families to flee the country for France and North Africa to avoid incarceration or death. From France, refugees struggled to obtain visas to other countries. Among the few countries who did grant them visas were former Spanish territories such as Mexico, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines.


Returning to Antón, a postscript. Aside from the information above (that Antón eventually did well for himself by having an import-export business), an article by Danny Dolor in 2009 tells us that he was a co-founder of Lebran Pictures, one of the Big Four Philippine movie studios of the 1950s. A 2019 article by Alexa Villano adds that his partners were William Brandt, Manuel Valdes, Rita Valdes Araneta, and Carmen Valdes Nieto, and that “Lebran stopped producing films in 1956 due to poor return of investment. Its owners went on to concentrate in the real estate business.” Benito Legarda Jr. in an email told me Antón prospered by marrying his (Legarda’s), widowed aunt, Rosario Valdes de Stevens, and “was given management of the Valdes real estate holdings lodged in Rita Legarda, Inc. ” We know that he eventually became a Filipino citizen: a list of shareholders of the Manila Jockey Club includes Rafael Antón, and states he was a Filipino citizen. And I know he was associated with the Club Filipino in the 1970s. What a life he must have lived.


Manuel L. Quezon III.

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