The Filipino virtues of hospitality and humanitarianism

Published November 18, 2018, 10:05 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



 Last 27 October 2018, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting occurred at the Tree of Life in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania while Shabbat morning services were being held.  Eleven people were killed and seven were injured.

The sole suspect, 46-year-old Robert Gregory Bowers, was arrested and charged with 29 federal crimes and 36 state crimes.  Using the online social network Gab, Bowers posted anti-Semitic comments against the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) in which the Tree of Life congregation was a supporting participant.  Referring to Central American migrant caravans and immigrants, he posted on Gab shortly before the attack that “HIAS likes to bring in invaders that kill our people.  I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.  Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

The shooting was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States in history.


President Donald Trump, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, his running mate Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, and Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O’Connor released statements about the incident through Twitter.  Trump called the shooting a wicked, anti-Semitic act of “pure evil.”

On 30 October, President Trump flew to Pittsburgh accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump, daughter Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law Jared Kushner.  They first stopped at the synagogue, where they met with Tree of Life spiritual leader Jeffrey Myers and Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer.  Trump’s visit was discouraged by some in the community, with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto saying that Trump should not have come, as the wounds were raw and the community was just beginning to mourn and hold funerals.  Over 70,000 people signed an open letter stating that Trump was not welcome until he “fully denounces white nationalism.”

From 27 to 31 October, all American flags on public and military grounds were flown at half-staff in memory of the victims.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the “horrifying anti-Semitic brutality,” adding that “the whole of Israel grieves with the families of the dead.”

Pope Francis denounced the “inhuman act of violence” in his Sunday prayers in St. Peter’s Square on 28 October, leading prayers for the dead and wounded, as well as their families.  He asked God “to help us to extinguish the flames of hatred that develop in our societies.”

Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif offered his thoughts and prayers to the victims of the shooting and stated that “Extremism and terrorism know no race or religion, and must be condemned in all cases.”

In the week following the attack, Jewish and interfaith communal vigils and solidarity rallies were held around the world.

President Quezon and the Jews

A great irony of life is that an important chapter in Philippine history that we, Filipinos, can truly be proud of, is what is least known to most of our compatriots.  In fact, this part of our history should already be taught in our schools as part of the curriculum both in high school and in college or in the university.  Why?  Because this vital information will help us realize and appreciate our own national identity as a people, and make us proud to be Filipinos.

I am referring to that moment in time when the Philippines, through President Manuel L. Quezon (MLQ), saved some 1,300 Jews from certain death with Adolf Hitler’s Holocaust in the late 1930s and early 1940s before World War II broke out in the Philippines.  It must have come as a welcome surprise for the Jews in Europe that there is this little-known country in the Pacific Ocean – a Commonwealth of the United States of America – that was more than willing to accept and welcome them when no other country in the world would!

In 1938, both President Quezon and US High Commissioner Paul V. McNutt agreed on the figure of 30,000 Jewish families – or more than 100,000 Jews – who would be allowed to settle in the Philippines.  The idea was for most of them to resettle in Mindanao, particularly in Bukidnon, to be involved in farming.  Israel Ambassador to the Philippines Effie Ben Matityau and Prof. Sharon Delmendo elaborated on it during a lecture and documentary film showing titled “Doing the Right Thing in Time of Need:  Open-Door Policy of President Manuel L. Quezon on Jewish Refugees” held at the Ayala Museum, Makati City on 24 March 2016.

The Arab refugee crisis

As we know, the “Arab Refugee Crisis” started seven years ago in 2011 with the civil war in Syria.  The estimated time of the resolution of the conflict then was only three years, but the 2014 assessment of the US State Department predicted that the situation in Syria would last longer to 10 years.  The so-called “Arab Spring” of 2011 has deteriorated into the Middle East and North Africa disaster with the emergence of the ISIS.

Over the past years, there has been the exodus of millions of Syrians and other Arabs to neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.  With their desperate situation, these people together with thousands of Iraqis, have left their homelands and have gone as far as Europe to escape persecution and/or certain death.  We have watched on television and read in the newspapers about this gripping refugee crisis that has haunted humanity and underscored the need for our immediate, compassionate response.

President Barack Obama announced in November, 2015, that the United States was willing to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees.  His good neighbor Canada said they were willing to accept up to 25,000 refugees.  In Europe, Germany allotted a one-million quota for refugees.  Austria and France would welcome some 30,000 refugees each, and the United Kingdom would admit 20,000 refugees.  Australia would also accept some12,000 refugees.

Filipino hospitality and humanitarianism

The Philippines has a rich history and tradition of hosting refugees from all around the world.  First, the Jewish people to whom our country gave sanctuary in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

During the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939, droves of Spanish Republicans fleeing the fascist Falange Española of General Francisco Franco came here.

Then came the “White Russians” when they fled from Shanghai in 1949 as the Communist Red Army was about to lay siege.  Some 6,000 of our Russian guests lived in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, for 27 months.  They later relocated to America, Canada, and Australia.  Others opted to remain in the Philippines.

Twice, Chinese mainlanders were given refuge and the opportunity to prosper by the Philippines.  First in 1940, when Chinese refugees fled to the Philippines thru Hong Kong to escape the atrocities of invading Imperial Japanese forces.  Second in 1949, when some 30,000 Chinese mainlanders belonging to the Kuomintang also sought sanctuary in the Philippines to avoid capture by Communist Chinese forces.  Here, like all foreign refugees that we had welcomed with open arms, they nurtured their families and businesses to their full potentials.

From 1975 to 1995, the Philippines, in cooperation with the UN, provided food, healthcare, education and safety to 400,000 Indochinese refugees (Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians) in Morong, Bataan and Puerto Princesa, Palawan, prior to their relocation to other countries.

During FVR’s administration in 1996, after the UN refugee programs had ended, some 3,000 Vietnamese refugees were allowed “indefinite stay” in “Viet Ville” settlements in Palawan and elsewhere, supported by the CBCP’s Center for Assistance to Displaced Persons (CADP).

Last 30 May 2011, President Benigno S. Aquino III signed the instrument of ratification to the 1954 UN Convention Relating to Stateless Persons. Thus, the Philippines continues to provide humanitarian aid and sanctuary to refugees and stateless migrants.

The importance of such promotion of our Cultural Legacy cannot be overemphasized.  And part of that legacy are our virtues of hospitality and humanity that we readily extend not only to fellow Filipinos, but also to foreigners like the Jewish people who lived far away on the other side of the world during the time of President Manuel L. Quezon.

Kaya natin ito!!!

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