Today, August 19, the nation celebrates the 143rd birth anniversary of President Manuel L. Quezon, the president of the Commonwealth of the Philippines who served from 1935 to 1944. We remember him as the first chief executive who ruled over the entire Philippine islands, whereas those before him governed only in parts of the territory.
Quezon led an inspiring, colorful life, one that was punctuated with snippets of danger and action on the ground (like running a government while bombs are dropping and exploding everywhere), and political intrigues in high office, as he was president during the war years. He was in every gene a multi-racial Filipino, by blood and by culture, being the son of a Chinese mestizo father and a Spanish mestiza mother, both public school teachers, in Baler, Tayabas.
We note with interest that President Duterte was not the first city fiscal who rose to become mayor, congressman, then president of the nation. Quezon was a practicing lawyer in Tayabas when he decided to become a prosecutor and he successfully prosecuted an American accused of land-related crimes. This popularity led to Quezon’s election as Lucena councilor, then member of the Philippine Assembly representing Tayabas, a senator and Senate President, and the presidency.
An advocate of social justice and nationalism, Quezon’s programs centered on giving the landless peasants a crack at land ownership through land reform, thereby improving their economic status. He also had a plan promoting the settlement and development of Mindanao, which even included the admission into that part of the country some 1,300 Jews who were fleeing the atrocities of the Nazis in Europe.
Quezon also instituted the reorganization of the country’s military defense, as part of the overall government reorganization, and like other presidents, launched a no-nonsense campaign against graft and corruption in government.
The operation of a government-in-exile in the United States during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines is no mean task, but President Quezon proved more than capable of the challenge. And this, despite his failing health at that time, which started when he lived in a small room inside a dark, dingy tunnel in Corregidor to be near his troops who were defending the country.
Aside from planting the seed of a single national language for the nation which he backed to be written in the 1935 Constitution, Quezon was passionate about inculcating the values of labor and industry, thrift, moral character, honesty, self-respect and love of country.
His actions and decisions were geared towards the promotion of these values, and his words live today to impart on the present and future generations of Filipinos his best legacy: his thoughts.
The more popular of these quotes are often heard among government and intellectual circles, such as, “My loyalty to my party ends where my loyalty to my country begins” and “I would rather have a country run like hell by Filipinos than a country run like heaven by the Americans, because however a bad Filipino government might be, we can always change it.”
He also uttered this one on character: “Brains are necessary, but brains are not the most important in a man. They are character, integrity, honesty and loyalty.”
His most inspiring exhortation of his countrymen is now a classic in Philippine literature: “I want our people to grow, be like the molave, strong and resilient, rising on the hillsides, unafraid of the raging flood, the lightning or the storm, confident of its own strength.”
Clearly, President Quezon deserves an important niche in the pantheon of Filipino great.