Sacrificing His Core Supporters in a Race Against Defeat
MANUEL LUIS QUEZON, President of the Philippine Islands, was a soldier of the Revolution of 1898 against Spain. As a youth he joined the ranks of the Philippine Revolutionary Army, serving under the immediate command of General Mascardo. It is an irony of history that 44 years ago he engaged in military operations in the same jungle-clad Bataan where last spring the Philippine-American Army fought its desperate battle with the Japanese invaders. He rose from the ranks to become a major. He knew how to suffer and he did suffer. In the front line he fought with reckless abandon. He learned about military discipline and its importance. These qualities, so evident in Quezon the revolutionist of 1898, are no less apparent in Quezon the statesman of today.
In the spring of 1941, when the clouds of war gathered over the Pacific, President Quezon, like a sentry in his watchtower, sounded this warning:
In these tragic days when the very future of civilization is in the balance, the defense of our nation should be uppermost in our mind. We have been spared so far the horrors of war, but no one can foretell if and when we shall be involved in this armed conflict. We should be prepared for any eventuality, and every man and woman should be ready to answer the call when the bugle is sounded.
When the situation became even more serious, he saw that it required a categorical definition of the Filipino stand and showed his people the path of duty in the following words:
In this grave national emergency, the stand of the Filipino people is clear and unmistakable. We owe loyalty to America and are bound to her by bonds of everlasting gratitude. Should the United States enter the war, the Philippines would follow her and fight by her side, placing at her disposal all our man power and all our natural resources, however limited these might be. We stand with the United States in life and in death.
The momentous decision having been made, the next step was to carry it to realization. Prior to the summer of 1941, the Quezon Administration had been occupied primarily with the reorganization of a working government, the revision of the tax system, preparation for national defense, the expansion of public education, the planning of a new national economy, the vigorous prosecution of programs of social justice and public health, the development of agriculture, trade and industry, and the construction of such public works as roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, flood controls, radio and telegraph stations, and airports. All these things had been undertaken with a view to preparing the country for the responsibilities of independence.
But from the moment the decision was made to stand firm with the United States in the event of war, the Administration proceeded to vital readjustments needed to harness every ounce of the country's energy for a supreme war effort. A Civilian Emergency Administration was organized, and considerable sums were appropriated for supplies, transportation, communication and air-raid protection. Under the direction of the Civilian Emergency Administration, a comprehensive plan was adopted to buy and store food, fuel and other civilian necessities; rice and corn were imported from Java, while canned meat, fish and milk were purchased in great quantities from the United States. Crop production was fostered and air-raid shelters were constructed in many parts of the islands. Civilians living in congested districts of Manila were taken to evacuation centers outside the city and provided with food and medicine. Many schools were converted into relief centers and emergency hospitals.
What happened on and after December 7, 1941, is well known. Following their treacherous attack upon Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded the Philippines. Our small air force was destroyed on the ground during the first days of the war and the United States Asiatic Fleet was soon forced to leave Philippine waters. The enemy was able to make simultaneous landings in the north, south, east and west. Japanese propaganda, too, was very active.
But in their hurried advance, the Japanese encountered one thing they probably did not expect -- the determined opposition and tenacious resistance of the Filipinos. Under the superb military command of General MacArthur, American and Filipino forces held at bay for many anxious months an overwhelmingly superior Japanese Army.
Let me give you a picture of the situation in the Philippines on December 7. President Quezon was recovering from a long illness and was so weak he could not even walk. Nevertheless, he summoned his associates in the legislative and executive departments and took counsel with them. The Cabinet met frequently in his country home in Marikina and took its fateful decisions. On December 11, the National Assembly, which had been called into extraordinary session, voted to place all the resources of the country at the disposal of the United States Government. All available government funds were appropriated for national defense and civilian protection.
When the question of evacuating Manila presented itself, the members of the Philippine Government would have preferred to stay with their people, to suffer, and, if necessary, to perish with them. Such a course, however, would not have aided the war effort; in fact, Filipino morale would have received a fatal blow had President Quezon fallen prisoner to the Japanese. We prevailed upon him finally to leave Manila. Availing himself of the authority granted him by the Emergency Power Law of December 15, 1941, President Quezon reorganized his Cabinet, reducing its membership, and, upon the advice of General MacArthur, left for Corregidor on Christmas Eve. The four-and-a-half month odyssey that led us finally to Washington had begun.
President Quezon and his Cabinet unknowingly chose to leave Manila at an hour when Japanese planes appeared and began raining destruction on the port. But the Presidential party, which included Mrs. Quezon and her children, escaped injury and embarked on the steamer Mayon, with life-belts fastened and ready. On the same ship were High Commissioner Sayre, his wife, son and staff. We reached Corregidor before dark. Upon our arrival we were informed that Japanese airplanes had just paid the island a visit. From the entrance of our tunnel we could see a great fire off Mariveles. It was the blazing hulk of a French liner, bombed while lying at anchor there.
In Corregidor we had to adjust ourselves to the regulated life of an army post. We were given accommodations in Malinta tunnel. In one of the laterals were the President, his War Cabinet and staff, the United States High Commissioner and his personnel, and some of General MacArthur's staff. In another lateral were Mrs. Quezon, Mrs. Sayre, the daughters of the President and other ladies. Our beds stood side by side, as in a soldiers' barrack, and each group had a common bathroom. Our dining room was the mess hall of the Malinta Hospital, where we ate with doctors, nurses and patients who were strong enough to walk. Our meals -- we got only breakfast and an early supper -- were the same as those given the soldiers.
Life in the tunnels of Corregidor was trying. The bombings were continuous and deafening. In the heavy atmosphere it was no wonder that President Quezon's health deteriorated rapidly. He coughed frequently and soon contracted a fever. I succeeded in having a platform constructed on the slope near the entrance of the tunnel, where an army tent was placed for his use. Thus he was able to get fresher air; and in case of an air-raid alarm it was easy to take him to safety in his wheel chair.
Notwithstanding his delicate health, President Quezon never ceased to exercise his duties as Chief Executive. His main preoccupation was with the condition of the soldiers in the fighting lines, but he attended regularly to important cases of the civil administration and also gave deep thought to the general course which the war was taking. He held two conferences daily: one with General MacArthur and the other with his War Cabinet. In a manifesto issued from Corregidor late in January he exhorted our soldiers to fight to the bitter end.
The spirit of our soldiers at the front could not have been better. Perfect comradeship prevailed between them and the Americans. Frontal attacks of the enemy were vigorously repulsed; flanking movements, well-planned and daringly executed by selected Japanese soldiers, failed before the quick and determined action of our forces. Such enemy contingents as succeeded under cover of darkness in disembarking and establishing themselves in the woods behind our lines were promptly located and annihilated.
As the war progressed, however, the precariousness of our situation became more evident. Food and medical supplies became scarce and munitions began to run low. Hunger and fatigue reduced the efficiency of our soldiers. No reënforcements arrived at Bataan, and the Japanese were steadily augmenting their numerical superiority. Worse, we began to realize that the promised reënforcements never would arrive. Discomfiting news also kept coming in. Mounting casualties, including many cases of malaria, were reported from the front. Telegrams brought complaints from the provinces, which were awaiting action on matters that had long been pending in Manila. Finally the necessity of leaving Corregidor and going to the provinces became plain, in order to show the people that our Government was still functioning. On February 20, therefore, the President evacuated Corregidor with a party of about twenty. We traveled in two groups. Half went by surface ship; the rest of us, including President and Mrs. Quezon, their two daughters and their son, boarded a submarine.
After two days we emerged from the depths and landed on the island of Panay. While we were on that island, and subsequently at Negros and Cebu, we of course were always exposed to enemy attacks from sea and air. Disregarding these dangers, President Quezon together with his Cabinet toured those islands to confer with the civil and military officials on war needs. Rice, corn, coffee, sugar, dried fish, pineapple juice, medicine, military uniforms, fiber sandals and bolos -- everything that could be used in the battle was gathered up and sent to Corregidor. Some of these supplies reached their destination; others went to the bottom with their carriers.
At the conferences with the provincial officials of Iloilo, Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Leyte and Samar, serious problems arose for settlement. One was the lack of currency. This was solved by the circulation of emergency notes. The morale of the troops and civilians alike in these provinces was admirable. Their loyalty to the United States appeared to be complete and unbreakable. This was despite the fact that they had no planes or cannon, and that at many places there was only a handful of soldiers to assume the defense. The situation in the rich, populous Visayan Islands was also daily becoming more difficult. By the time we shifted our headquarters to Mindanao, all the steamships in the vicinity had been either captured or sunk by the enemy. The Princess of Negros which carried us from Iloilo to Negros and Cebu was subsequently captured by the enemy. To get from the Visayan Islands to Mindanao, en route to Australia upon the urgent request of General MacArthur, President Quezon and his colleagues had to take a motor torpedo boat, and thence a Flying Fortress. The decision to make this trip was taken on the night of March 18.
We arrived in northern Australia on March 27, and, proceeding southward through Alice Springs and Adelaide, reached Melbourne three days later. It was pleasant to be able in that beautiful and well-planned city to enjoy quiet for a moment from the nerve-racking roar of enemy planes and the boom of heavy siege guns. But it was plain that President Quezon could serve our country best if he were in Washington, so a few days later we continued with our odyssey from Melbourne to San Francisco aboard a United States Army transport. The presence of a convoying cruiser, the continuous zigzagging of our boat and the blackouts at night made us feel that we were never far from danger.
Every moment of the trip from Manila had required unwavering determination, and President Quezon showed throughout that he possessed it. He disregarded every consideration except the main one that he, Chief Executive of the Philippine Government, must remain free to fight for his country's liberation. He left his country only when he was convinced that nothing more could be done by him there and that he could serve his people better by continuing to lead them from abroad. His presence in the United States is a living symbol not only of our continued resistance against the invaders but also proof that ultimately our freedom will be redeemed. Already world recognition of the Filipino people as a nation has been won by our admission as a full member of the United Nations.
Looking back, we think that we can justly claim to have made rapid progress in preparation for this. In the twelve months preceding the outbreak of war the development which had characterized the first five years of the Commonwealth continued. Sure steps were made toward establishing a progressive democracy in which the common man should have an opportunity to improve his lot and in which he might enjoy not only the form but also the substance of his inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
In emphasizing the services which President Quezon has rendered since the outbreak of war I do not wish to seem to minimize the importance of our highly competent military leadership, much less to underestimate the valor of our men in Bataan. The American soldiers fought well and nobly, living up to the highest traditions of the United States Army; and the Filipinos were no less courageous. The Filipinos are by nature quiet, but they know how to fight and they will fight, with firm determination and bravery, when the occasion demands. In Bataan, they displayed the same qualities that steeled Lapu-lapu, the sixteenth century chieftain of Cebu, to resist Spain. They matched the heroic exploits of Andres Bonifacio and his followers who, armed only with bolos, raised that memorable cry at Balintawak and began their final drive to wrest the freedom of the Philippines from Spain. But, while admitting the fighting qualities of our soldiers and admiring their magnificent stand in Bataan, I must say I expect that future historians who evaluate our determined resistance as a nation will find at the root of that resistance two vital factors: the faith of the Filipino people in the United States, and the leadership of President Quezon.
President Quezon and I became friends in our boyhood, and we have remained friends ever since. We shared a common room in the University of Santo Tomas when we were studying law. We began public life together. We were elected governors of our respective home provinces in the same year, and later were elected members of the first Philippine Assembly. We served together in the Philippine Senate. Finally, when the Commonwealth was established in 1935, we were elected to the executive branch of the government, he as President and I as Vice-President. Last November we were reëlected to the same positions. The year 1907, a year of momentous decision, found both of us in the first representative assembly in the Philippines. Together, we formulated a policy of coöperation with the United States. That policy, which met with the approval of the representatives, has served as the basis of the relations of the two peoples during the last 35 years. It has resulted in true friendship between them, I believe, and mutual understanding. But no satisfaction which I have had in working with President Quezon during all these years has been greater than my pride in being able to take part in the formulation of our national policy of complete coöperation with the United States in this war. I believe that it will win our country its freedom and independence, and under conditions which will make those blessings endure.
Shortly after we arrived in the United States, two events occurred which must have been of the utmost satisfaction to all liberty-loving people and which were of especial importance to the Filipinos. On June 14, 1942, President Quezon signed the United Nations pact on behalf of the Philippine Commonwealth, and a few weeks later he became a member of the Pacific War Council. These events naturally aroused great jubilation among Filipinos everywhere, since it meant that the national identity of the Philippines had been formally recognized. But they had a wider significance than the additional prestige which they gave our nation. They represented the principles of the Atlantic Charter in action. They reaffirm the belief that the pattern of relations between alien peoples which has been laid out by the United States and the Philippines can -- and must -- be applied to the entire postwar world.
In the world after the war the Philippines will have an importance out of all proportion to the size or military position of the islands themselves. Figuratively as well as actually they stand between two worlds. Our four centuries of close association with the West -- particularly with Spain and the United States -- have given us an Occidental outlook possessed by no other Oriental people. We must, therefore, expect to fulfil a rôle of intermediary between the advanced democracies of the West and those peoples of the southwestern Pacific which have had little chance so far to practise self-rule. That relationship must run in more than one direction. We cannot be content to bring to the Orient the "blessings" of the West. We must be on the alert to see that the legitimate aspirations of Asia are recognized by the rest of the world. This is a rôle for which our nation is well adapted.