Today, Aug. 19, is the birthday of Manuel L. Quezon, the president of the Commonwealth of the Philippines from 1935 until his death in 1944. Filipinos will remember him in simple but fitting celebrations of his 144th birth anniversary in various areas and institutions of the country corresponding to the facets of his life that became relevant to such places.
Quezon was a lawyer, revolutionary soldier, diplomat, municipal clerk and treasurer, city councilor, provincial governor, senator, resident commissioner, and a political leader both in times of peace and war.
While Quezon City will have its special day for Quezon, the most relevant and grandiose of these commemoration events will be in Quezon Province, the home province of MLQ then known as Tayabas.
President Quezon was originally from Baler, which was part of Tayabas province with Lucena as its capital.
Quezon’s patriotic leaning surfaced when he temporarily left his law studies at the University of Santo Tomas to join the revolutionaries in 1899. At the turn of the century, he served as aide-de-camp to General Emilio Aguinaldo during the Filipino-American war. He would later defeat Aguinaldo, the nation’s first President, in the country’s first national presidential elections in 1935 to become the Philippines’ second President.
Of the many items in the Quezon legacy, one may find exemplary and worthy of praise any of the following: war time political leadership, women suffrage, advocacy of national unity through one national language, social justice for all Filipinos, and Philippine independence from the United States. We find the last one as his centerpiece, his magnum opus.
President Quezon fought successfully for the passage of the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934, providing for full independence for the Philippines 10 years after the creation of a Constitution and the establishment of a Commonwealth government that would be the forerunner of an independent republic. Quezon was so eager to see the Philippines become an independent republic that he said, “I prefer a government run like hell by Filipinos to a government run like heaven by Americans.”
Following the above “viral” quote which made Quezon a favorite of the American press, particularly the New York Times in the early ’20s, Quezon ended the tradition of having 10 Filipino justices of the Supreme Court headed by an American chief justice. In back-to-back succession, he appointed Chief Justice Jose P. Laurel and Chief Justice Claro M. Recto to head the highest tribunal.
When he was president, Quezon inspired and pushed women voters to ratify the Women Suffrage Law in a plebiscite, saying people are not entitled to enjoy a privilege or a right unless they are interested in it. He affirmed his belief that “women, given a share in the administration of our government, can do more towards the promotion of social justice in the Philippines than when such a task is left in the hands of men alone, for women have a keener sense of justice than men.”
Today, Filipinos will find wisdom in these words of the Great Tayabasin: “People no longer long for a country simply because they were born there. They must see and feel that in that country, they enjoy a happy life, that they have every opportunity to improve their lot. It is my ambition that every Filipino should love and be proud of his country. And this ambition makes me wish to have every Filipino enjoy the immense wealth with which the Creator has endowed this country.”