The Good Fight, by Manuel L. Quezon


FROM the lips of my mother, I learned that I was born in Baler, on August 19, 1878, at seven o’clock in the morning. Since no Filipino resident of Baler at that time had a watch — for they were all too poor to own even the cheapest kind — I asked her how she knew that it was seven o’clock in the morning. “They were ringing the church bells for the first time,” she answered. I understood. The 19th of August was the “town fiesta” of Baler — the feast-day of the patron saint — and it was both a civic and a religious holiday. Under the old Spanish regime, on such occasions, there was a high mass at eight o’clock in the morning and before the mass started they rang the church bells three times — the first at seven, the second at seven-thirty, and the third at eight, just at the moment when the priest started from the sacristy to the altar.

My mother, who was a very devout Catholic, added: “My boy, nothing happens in this world by accident. Everything answers a divine purpose. I believe that the fact that you were born on the day of our patron saint is indicative of God’s will that you follow the vocation of priesthood.”

On the other hand, my father, who had been a sergeant in one of the regiments of the Spanish Army, insisted that I should be a soldier. As a boy he dressed me in the uniform of a “Cabo de la Guardia Civil” or Corporal of the Civil Guard.

Now let me say something about the town fiesta in the Philippines or the feast of the patron saint.

Up to December, 1941 , it was the greatest day of the year for every town in the Islands. The streets were adorned with beautifully woven arches of split bamboo, decked with palm leaves. The brass band which is the pride of every town in the Philippines played without rest throughout the day and on into the night. Fireworks lighted up the evening sky. It originated this way. As is well known, the conquest of the Philippines by Spain was undertaken both for the glory and aggrandizement of the Spanish monarch and the conversion of the inhabitants to the Catholic faith. With Legazpi, the conqueror, went the Augustinian friar, Father Urdaneta, the missionary. As the conquest proceeded and a town was taken by the Spaniards, the friars consecrated it to a patron saint. The patron of Baler is Saint Luis, Bishop of Toulouse. Hence my middle name, Luis, given to me by my mother.

The custom in the Philippines was that the day before the celebration of the fiesta everybody came to town, even the poorest and those who lived in the farthest barrio. Since there were no hotels, those who came to celebrate found shelter in the house of a relative, of a friend, or of the family who owned the land they were cultivating. Every house was full of people who were tucked away as best they could be. The well-to-do kept their houses open to guests all day long, and every table groaned beneath the weight of food. No visitor might leave his host’s house until, whether hungry or not, he had eaten and drunk at the hospitable board.

The most important part of the fiesta, however, was the high mass celebrated in honor of the patron saint and attended by all who came from far and wide. All wore their best clothes, and many poor people spent their savings and even ran into debt to show themselves and their children to advantage.

For the expenses of the public entertainment during the fiesta, which usually lasted three days, contributions were collected. Of course, there was a cockfight — the national “sporting gamble” — during the fiesta. The cockfights always started after the mass and continued until late afternoon. Then the public entertainments began, sometimes with the Carrera de anillo or tilting at “rings” made of gay ribbons. Each ring was given by a fair maiden of the village, and each young gallant tried to carry off his lady love’s ring, so that he might wear her colors for the day.

At night, they had a moro-moro and, at times, Spanish comedies, depending upon the financial capacity of the townspeople to use only local talent or to import actors from Manila. The moro-moro is a play in the native tongue where the protagonists are on one side, a Christian prince with his court and army and on the other, a Mohammedan potentate also with his court and his army. The plot was taken from Spanish literature in vogue before Cervantes wrote his Don Quixote — which effectively killed the earlier sort of novel. All the characters were dressed in costumes of the ancient times, with plenty of gold tinsel and plumage. In the spirited fight with swords and spears which ensued upon their meeting, the Christian prince was, of course, the victor,- sometimes single-handed he killed the infidel hoarders.

This particular year of Our Lord 1878, my father celebrated the double event of the birth of his first son and the town fiesta of Baler, not wisely, but too well. So often, indeed, did he look upon the fiery drink with Americans in the Philippines called Bino that before evening came he had lost all further interest in the proceedings. This unfortunate slip from the straight and narrow path made my mother very unhappy, for in those days, to be under the influence of liquor was considered in my country almost a disgrace. Hence, my disagreeable reaction to the sight of people who are drunk, although I enjoy a cocktail or two before meals and a bottle of good wine or beer with my food.

When I first saw the light of day, Baler was but a tiny and almost inaccessible village. It lies at the mouth of the Aguang River on Baler Bay, a few miles north of Cape Encanto, which sticks out into the vast Pacific Ocean. A ship’s small-boat could not cross the river bar except at high tide. Forty-five miles to the north there lay the little town of Casiguran, accessible only by sea. To the south of us the nearest town was Infanta, a village which likewise could be reached only by sea and was seldom accessible during the typhoon season. Directly back of the coastline lay a range of trackless mountains rising from three to six thousand feet in height and sparsely inhabited by wandering bands of Ilongot head-hunters, the fiercest of the pagan tribes. Inland from Baler, up the river and on the long journey toward Manila, there was in those days only the most primitive and hazardous of trails to the nearest human habitation through some thirty miles of jungle and up and down steep declivities,- this path frequently forded the crystal river in which the best fresh- water fish in the world were found. Finally, by this forest track one reached the frontier village of Pantabangan. The journey was, in those days, made either afoot or on the back of a spirited little stallion.

Baler was then an enchanting paradise on earth,- the hardy inhabitants lived on their tiny rice fields,- an abundance of fish was to be found in the sea and the rivers,- and deer were hunted with bow and arrow in the mountains.

Baler became famous in the last days of Spanish rule because of the heroic siege of the town in which a small Spanish garrison held out until long after held out until long after peace had been declared between America and Spain. My father was a Tagalog, born in the suburb of Paco in Manila. In his youth he was drafted into the infantry unit that Spain maintained in the Philippines, composed entirely of Filipino soldiers, officered with few exceptions by Spaniards. He retired at the end of his regular term as sergeant. His love of adventure took him to faraway Baler. There he met my mother, a Spanish mestiza, the belle of the town, who was the school- teacher for the girls. (Co-education was then prohibited.) Since my father was soon appointed the school-teacher for boys, they formed a friendship which carried them to the altar and held them together for life. Each of them as teacher received a salary of twelve pesos ($6.00) a month, a sum which in Baler was quite an income for those days. They also had a rice paddy of some two acres which gave them enough for the yearly sustenance of the household, and what they did not consume they exchanged for fish, venison, or pork, which with our own poultry, fed us well.

In a community as poor and as primitive as Baler, we were considered the number one family. We were the only family who could speak Spanish and could converse in their own tongue with the three Spanish officials stationed in the town — the military governor of the district who was a captain in the Army, the parish priest, a Franciscan friar,-and the Corporal of the Civil Guard whose whole force consisted of at most six men. The reason for keeping this detachment in my town — not every town had it — was to protect it against the Ilongotes who were then head-hunters, and occasionally from ambush attacked travelers between Baler and Pantabangan, cut off their heads, and took them home as trophies. The worth of an Ilongot amongst his tribesmen was measured by the number of skulls he collected, including those of other Ilongotes from different localities, for they cut off heads without discrimination. Whenever the Ilongotes attacked Christian Filipinos, the Guardia Civil, accompanied by townsfolk armed with spears and arrows, would go to the mountains and inflict a severe punishment upon these savages.

There was also great deal of brigandage during the Spaniards regime, and the duty of the Guardia Civil was to go after these bandits. However, while the towns of Pantabangan and Bongabong to the west of Baler and Infanta to the south, were pillaged now and then by bandits, these never dared to attack Baler because it was known that it had been the custom in our community from time immemorial, when the Moros were pillaging the coastal towns, for every man to rush to the public plaza with his bolo and spear or bow and arrow, and with these primitive weapons to resist the pirates. They also helped one another when we there was fire or some other public disaster like a flood or typhoon. The sense of community interest was so high that every Sunday the men gathered after mass in the municipal building to discuss matters of common importance, and the decisions arrived at by a majority vote of all those present were obligatory for all, including the mayor and the other municipal officials. The mayor of the town presided over these meetings and the other public officials attended them.

My mother taught me to read and write Spanish, the four fundamental rules of arithmetic, and my catechism.

When I was about five years old, I got angry with a boy my age and size and slapped him in the face. My father saw me and beckoned me to approach him. “Don’t slap anybody in the face,” he said. “When you must hit some one do it with your fist. A slap in the face is more than a punishment, it is an insult.”

The following year, I did something my father did not approve of. Instead of calling me to account immediately he let it go until the following day,- so I did not know he had caught me. “Did you do anything yesterday morning that I have told you not to do?” he asked. I answered, “No, sir.” He slapped me in the face. “Do you remember what I told you about slapping a man in the face?” “Yes, sir,” I said. “A liar deserves no respect and may well be insulted,” was his stern admonition. “Always tell the truth regardless of the consequences,” he added.

From that time on, I have never concealed my feelings or my thoughts from either friend or foe. I have heard or read that in politics one cannot be too frank without being sooner or later politically ruined. My personal experience does not sustain this theory. I have never been defeated in any of the innumerable political battles I have gone through. People, I think, are more indulgent with the weaknesses and mistakes of public men if they avow them candidly. It may sound presumptuous, but it is a fact, nevertheless, that few men in public life have held the confidence of their constituents as continuously and as long as I have. Since 1905 I have been holding elective public office without interruption and always in the ascendant, although my opponents have accused me of every crime of commission and omission.

When I was seven, my parents sent me to live with the Spanish Franciscan friar, the parish priest of Baler, who had agreed to teach me religion, geography, history, and Latin. Father Teodoro Fernandez was a saintly but severe man. I still remember how he pulled my ears when I did not study my lessons or got into some mischief.

After I had been living under the roof of Father Fernandez for over one year, Father Angulo, the parish priest of Palanan, where Aguinaldo in 1901 was captured by Captain Funston, came to spend a few weeks with his brother Franciscan in Baler. One morning after saying his mass Father Angulo invited me to go with him to the beach and take a bath. It was the month of January when the northeast monsoon blows hard on the east coast of Luzon. The waves rolling straight from the vast Pacific were big, as they always are during the monsoon season,- sometimes they are almost mountainous,-and the undertow is very strong. Two young men, both good swimmers, came to bathe with us. One was my first cousin, and the other also a relative. A tremendous wave knocked down the priest and me and the undertow carried us out to sea. Our companions came first to my rescue as I was the more helpless, and with great difficulty they succeeded in saving me. They went back for the priest afterwards, but they could not find him. Help came from the town but to no avail. At five in the afternoon the corpse was carried to the beach by the current. It was my first near-meeting with death, a meeting which in after life has been repeated more than once.

Two years later, when Father Fernandez was transferred to the main house of the Franciscans in Manila, my parents asked him to take me with him to be his mess boy in order that I might pursue my studies in San Juan de Letran College. I stayed in the Franciscan convent for one year until Father Fernandez was again sent to the provinces. Then my father took me to the house in Manila of a cousin of his, married to an officer of the Spanish Army where my room and board cost twelve pesos a month. I was not happy in this house. In the first place, it was more than half an hour’s walk to my school in Intramuros — the historic Walled City — and I had to go to and fro four times every day. In the second place, my uncle treated me, as well as his own children, rather roughly. So I requested my father, when I started my second year in school, to take me away. My dear parents, after discussing the matter between themselves, called me and said, “We have decided to enter you as boarder in San Juan de Letran. The cost of your stay there including your matriculation fee and incidental expenses will amount to more than both of us making every year from our salaries, but we have saved some money and our savings plus what we can sell from the products of our farm will be enough to put you through college until you take your A.B. degree. After that, if you desire to take a course in law or medicine or prepare for the priesthood [the only professions besides pharmacy then being taught in the Philippines] you must find some way of supporting yourself and paying for your studies.”

I became a boarder in the College of San Juan de Letran. It was not long before I was having fist fights and taking active part in every conspiracy to break the rules of the house. Since the rod was then still considered the only means of keeping order and discipline, I was receiving almost daily doses of this medicine. However, my teachers were relatively lenient with me because I always admitted my guilt.

It took me five years to graduate as a Bachelor of Arts, Summa Cum Laude. On such occasions, the Governor-General used to attend and preside over the exercises, and I had the great privilege of being called to shake hands with him. I was dazzled by the unexpected honor. Although the trip from Manila to Baler was a hard one, I always longed to visit my home during vacation time. The journey took a week and was made partly in a carromata, a sort of buggy, the rest of the way either on horseback or afoot. The trip, besides being tiresome, was dangerous, for along the trail through the mountains the traveler was likely to be ambushed by the Ilongot head-hunters unless there was a large party composed of men armed with spears, arrows, and bolos, or perhaps some one carrying a shotgun. In that case, regardless of the number constituting the party, the Ilongotes never dared attack, for they had a wholesome fear of this “diabolical” device, as they called it. Since my father was the only man in Baler who owned a shotgun, he always went to Manila to take me home when vacation came. My visits to my home town were a source of great happiness to me. I enjoyed immensely the company of the illiterate boys of my age, just as much as I did before I went to Manila. We played our native games like sipa and palabasan. Baseball was unknown to us then.

Two years before my graduation, my father did not let me come home because he could not go to Manila to fetch me. He was too busy trying to earn more money for his savings were running low and my expenses were increasing. I spent my vacation with classmates of mine who took me to their homes. After my graduation, father sent the father of my future wife, Uncle Pedro, for me, and upon arriving home I found my mother hopelessly ill with tuberculosis. The sight of her broke my heart.

Later in the day my father called me aside and told me that they had spent everything they had for my education and had even incurred debts. He repeated his earlier warning: “If you want to go to the university, you will have to find means of supporting yourself.”

The following day, my father took me to be introduced to the parish priest. I did not know the man. We found him seated in one of those comfortable chairs that the friars invented, with his right leg up resting over one of the long arms of the chair. When we entered the spacious parlor hall the priest did not change his position. Although I had seen the same thing many times before when I was a youngster, on this occasion I felt inside me a sense of revulsion. It was then customary for the Filipinos to kiss the hand of a priest as a mark of respect. My father kissed the hand which the friar held out to him. When my turn came, I merely took the hand and shook it.

The friar did not hesitate to show his displeasure by completely ignoring me. We stayed not more than five minutes. My father made no comment about the incident. Later I learned the priest said that my studies in Manila had spoiled me and that if he were my father he would keep me in Baler and after giving me a good whipping would make me work on the farm.

After visiting the parish priest, my father accompanied me to pay my respects to the Comandante Politico Militar — the military governor of the district — and then to the corporal in command of the Civil Guard. I confess that the reception these Spanish officials gave us, like that of the priest, was no different from the manner in which the representatives of Spanish sovereignty in Baler used to receive my father when I was a boy. But this time, I saw things in a different light. I realized that we Filipinos were treated as inferiors and my racial pride was deeply hurt. In college there were some Spanish students who were not only indolent but plain stupid, and many Filipinos were superior to them in character and in intellect. In my innermost self, I resolved to change that humiliating state of affairs.

In the ensuing weeks, I spent a great deal of time taking care of my mother, until one day, late in the afternoon, she asked me to fetch the priest because she was dying. I rushed to the parish house, conveyed to the priest the wishes of my mother, and ran back to her side. The priest followed me, administered her the last sacraments, and a moment later, she died in my arms. Meantime, I had sent for my father who, with my two brothers, was on the farm. When they arrived, all was over. My father broke down completely and after the burial he became seriously ill. For several months he was almost out of his mind. This prevented me from returning to Manila to start my law course.

While in Baler, I learned more and more about the abuses that the three Spanish officials including the priest, then also a sort of public official, were guilty of in their dealings with the people. The Corporal of the Guardia Civil was the worst of the lot. He was nothing but a beast, a monster of lasciviousness and cruelty. He would go after young girls and compel their relatives through threats, to deliver the innocent creatures to him. Whenever he failed, as he always did except once, he would make good his threat by arresting the person who refused to help him and having him flogged almost to death. I realized then how despicable some of the Spaniards in the Philippines were, and I began to fully understand the why of the “Katipunan.”

To my surprise, this Corporal of the Civil Guard, Pio Enriquez by name, went out of his way to win my friendship. He would pay me a visit and invite me to his quarters which were also the barracks of the small detachment. One night he insisted that I stay for dinner and while we took our coffee he told me, in the most confidential manner, that he had fallen in love with one of my cousins. Then he insinuated that I should use my good offices to convince my cousin to yield to his advances. Knowing the man, I understood what he meant. My first impulse was to pull out the dagger which I carried on my right hip hidden under my coat and kill him. This deadly weapon I had started carrying with me when I learned what a brute this man was. However, realizing that to kill him then was tantamount to committing suicide, I repressed my anger and merely said: “You understand, Sr. Enriquez, that I cannot do what you are asking me to do.” He immediately showed himself in his true color. He called one of his soldiers and said: “Trae el Iatigos” (Bring the lash!) The soldier obeyed and came back with the horrid instrument in his hand. I lowered my arm under the table, gripped the hilt of my dagger, gritted my teeth, and strained every sinew — determined to plunge my poniard through his heart at his slightest move.

He hesitated a while, ordered the soldier to leave and, addressing me, said: “Did you see that lash? Unless you do what I want you to do I shall lash you till you are dead and then bury you in this yard and nobody will ever know what has happened to you.”

The party was, of course, now at an end. As I reached the last rung of the ladder of his house, I vowed to myself that I would get him at the first opportunity.

All night long I tossed in my bed. I saw no escape from the trap I was in. I either had to commit murder or allow myself to be murdered. There was only one choice, and that same night I planned the commission of the crime. I would wait till the first dark evening came. There were no lights in the streets. I would invite him for a walk and upon reaching a deserted place with no houses around, I would attack him without warning. The thought that my dagger would leave his blood on my hands made me shiver with horror. So I decided to hit him in the head with a club and leave him dead on the road. For days, I could neither eat nor sleep. I was terrified at the prospect of being a murderer. I prayed to God for light. I dared not go to my father and seek his advice for I was afraid that he, himself, would kill the man. I avoided meeting Sr. Enriquez, hoping that he might change his mind. But one evening he came to our house and asked for me. In vain I tried to hide although my father got me out of the room. He invited me to go for a walk, but I excused myself on the ground that I had not had my dinner. He insisted, and I promised to meet him later in the town plaza. He left. I took no dinner,- instead I went back to my room and sought the intervention of my mother whose soul I knew was in Heaven, that the Lord might save me from the imminent danger that was awaiting me. I knelt on my knees and prayed with all my soul.

Then I kissed my father good-night, not knowing whether I would ever see him again, and went out with the club which I had prepared for the occasion. I met Sr. Enriquez at the appointed place and he asked me to go to his house. As usual he was carrying a hardwood cane. I suggested that we stroll for a while and he agreed. It was a very dark night and there were no people in the street. I wanted to attack him when he was not on his guard, but the treacherous act was so repulsive to me that it paralyzed my arm. Finally he asked what I had done to comply with his wishes. I stopped. The blood rushed up to my head and I forgot everything. “Canallai” (Dirty dog!) I shouted, and hit him with the club. He fell, six feet long, on the ground. I thought he was dead and ran away from him in the direction of the hills.

I walked the whole night without knowing where I was going, for I was unfamiliar with the thick forest around my town. Every shadow I saw I thought was a civil guard hunting me, and I would stop and wait until satisfied of my mistake. I was torn by the fear of being caught and shot, on the one hand, and by the voice of my conscience crying in my ears the word “murderer,” on the other. With all the vicissitudes that I have gone through during my long and eventful life, that was the worst night I ever had. I was in complete despair and did not even dare to call on God for help for I thought I had been doomed to eternal damnation. Morning found me far, but not too far from the town. I was on the little farm of one of my relatives.

When the woman who owned the farm arrived in the afternoon, on seeing me she asked: “Where have you been? Your father has been looking for you all morning, telling the people that you did not go back home last night.”

Ignoring her remarks, I inquired: “Did anything unusual happen last night?”

She answered, “Yes, the Cabo de la Guardia Civil was heard crying for help in the thick of the night while running in the street,- and when the cuadrilleros [policemen] rushed to his aid, he told them that he had seen an evil spirit which disappeared instantly.” (The belief in apparitions was still common among the Filipinos.) I breathed a deep sigh of relief. Neither hell nor a firing squad was waiting for me. I had not committed murder and my victim was ashamed to admit that a young man half his size had given him a beating.

Now I was more afraid of my father than of the Cabo de la Guardia Civil. I decided to face the music and confess the whole business. I went home and told my father everything from beginning to end. Instead of reproaching me as I thought he would, he merely counseled me to come to him whenever I was in trouble. Then, with wrath in his eyes, he added: “That cabo will never see you again except in my presence, and if he ever attempts to do you any harm, I will shoot him.”

Three days later, the Military Governor sent for my father and me. He was solemn and severe. He told my father that I was a member of the Katipunan, that he had conclusive evidence in his possession proving this fact.

Then addressing me, he asked: “Where were you at ten o’clock, two nights ago?”

I paused a moment to remember if this was the night when I assaulted Cabo Enriquez. No, I was certain I was home, for the assault had taken place the night before.

“I was at home, sir,” I answered.

“And these eyes that have seen you and these ears that have heard you haranguing the people and inducing them to join the Katipunan — are my eyes and ears telling a lie?”

“Señor,” I retorted, respectfully but firmly, “those eyes could have seen me and ears could have heard me only in my own house.”

“Enough!” he shouted. “You will be confined in the school-house [it was vacation time] until I send you to Manila to be tried by a Military Court and shot.”

“At your order, sir,” I replied. We were dismissed and my father who was still the school teacher, took me to the school house and became my warden.

For fifteen days I was locked in the school house and no one but my father was allowed to see me or bring my food. He was forbidden to talk to me, and he complied strictly with the order. We only looked at one another whenever he came with my meals, neither of us showing what our hearts felt, both certain that I was a victim of grave injustice.

At the end of the second week of my imprisonment, my father, with evident sign of joy in his face, came to tell me that I was free, –that he had convinced the Military Governor of my innocence,– and that the governor had consented to my going to Manila to pursue my studies on the assurance given by my father, upon his word of honor, that I would not join the Katipunan or be a revolutionary. My father had discovered that the Cabo de la Guardia Civil and, in a way, the priest, were responsible for my detention. Later the whole town learned the truth that I had clubbed the Cabo de la Guardia Civil, and since the Spaniards were looked upon by the natives not only with respect but almost with awe, my daring wasconsidered as a heroic act, and the good submissive people of Baler hailed me as their hero. My only brother still living has kept the club with which I attacked Cabo Enriquez.

The following day my father and I left for Manila. He still had no money with which to support me and was deeply in debt. During his illness he had received no salary as teacher and our farm had been practically abandoned. I told him not to worry, that I would work my way through the university.

Upon our arrival in Manila, I went straight to the University of Santo Tomas (Saint Thomas) and presented myself to the Director of the Interns, Father Tamayo, who had been my professor in the College of San Juan de Letran, and told him my story. Father Tamayo immediately said: “I will give you free tuition and free room and board. Your work will be to help those students who need coaching in mathematics. You will also do such other work as may be given to you.” I agreed.

I told my father that I was assured of my room and board and that for my clothing and other necessary expenses as a student, I would do some other work in my spare time. My father was the happiest man on earth. “My son,” he said, “I shall be going back home in two hours. I won’t bother you with any advice. Just be good and be just to your fellowmen. No matter how high your station in life may be, never forget that you came from poor parents and that you belong to the poor. Don’t forsake them, whatever happens.”

“God bless you,” he said when we parted. I never saw him again.