The girl on the beach in Corregidor
Many who knew her were aware that the youngest daughter of President Manuel L. Quezon, Zeneida Quezon Avancena, was a commanding presence wherever she was, although always softspoken and dignified. For those who really knew her, she was also a woman of courage and principle.
I first met Tita Nini, as she was known to many, during the protest marches against the Marcos dictatorship in the streets of Makati and Edsa.
I had the privilege and honor of knowing and working with Tita Nini for many years afterwards when I was the National Commander of the Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor Inc (DBC) and she was the DBC Board Consultant.
For many who participated in the anti-Marcos protest rallies then, it was a pleasant and welcome surprise to find out that the daughter of a former president of the Philippines already in her early to mid-60s was marching along, not just with them, but at the very forefront of the throng, calling for Marcos to account for his sins.
That took courage, but Tita Nini’s bravery was not a one-time fluke. She showed her bravery and love for country at a very early age, at great risk to herself.
During World War II, President Manuel L. Quezon and his family had to take refuge in Corregidor. After Bataan fell, Corregidor Island became the most heavily bombarded piece of real estate during the war at that time.
A number of defenders described to me a scene they witnessed time and time again on Corregidor: a young lady, whom they described as between 18 and 19 years of age, scouring the beaches searching for something in between the increasingly frequent bombardment of the island by the Japanese in Bataan and Cavite. What was the young girl searching for? Cigarette butts. For what purpose? To give to the soldiers, because cigarettes were in such short supply and great demand. She was doing it at great risk. No one knew for sure when the next deadly bombardment would be. That was why soldiers were told never to stray away from their foxholes unless absolutely necessary.
But this young girl did what she had to do, knowing full well she could be killed or injured at any time. She had no foxhole to protect her. And she put herself in danger, as the veterans told me, almost on a daily basis.
Who was the young lady? The veterans told me it was Tita Nini Quezon. I went to Tita Nini shortly after to try to verify the story. She had one question: Did the veterans say who the girl was? “They say it as you,” I said. With the self-effacing but warm smile that she had become famous for, she responded, “Perhaps it was my older sister Baby.” Not satisfied, I went back to the veterans who told me the story. They responded by insisting it was Tita Nini they saw on the beaches of Corregidor trying to help the soldiers in any way she could.
As a clincher, one veteran said with a smile: “We knew it was Nini. She is darker-skinned than her sister Baby. The girl on the beach was morena.”
When I told Tita Nini about the retort of the veteran, she just smiled.
Zeneida Quezon Avancena, 1921-2021.
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Rafael E. Evangelista ([email protected]) is a retired partner of the international law firm of Baker & McKenzie, former vice chair of the board of directors of the Bank of Commerce, and immediate past national commander of the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor.