Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Aurora Quezon’s bomb fuse

It is 60 years to the day that Aurora Quezon, the First Lady of the Philippines from 1935 to 1944, was assassinated en route to open a hospital dedicated to her husband, Manuel Quezon, the country’s first nationally-elected president, who had died of TB five years earlier. And this anniversary seems as good a reason as any to draw attention to The Philippine Diary Project, a freely accessible website with interesting historical material, not least about Aurora.

Wikipedia has a good biography of Aurora Quezon, as does a website run by Manuel L. Quezon III. She was born in 1888, in Baler Province (part of which was renamed Aurora Province in her honour). During the Philippine Revolution, which lasted until 1898, her father was imprisoned by the Spanish, and for a while she was taken in, and taught, by her aunt, Maria Dolores Molina, the mother of her future husband.

In 1911, she went to Manila to study teaching but suffered from poor health. Then, in 1918, she married her first cousin Manuel Luis Quezon. He had become the first President of the Philippine Senate two years earlier, and would remain in that position until 1935 when he was elected President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines. Aurora, meanwhile, involved herself with women’s organizations, such as the girl scouts, and was active in the campaign to give women the right to vote (achieved in 1937).

President Quezon was re-elected in November 1941, but the country was immediately beset with a crisis when Japan invaded the following month. The first couple evacuated, first to Corregidor, an island in Manila Bay, and then, in February, out of the country, making a long journey and only reaching the US in June. Manuel Quezon died of tuberculosis in 1944. Thereafter, Aurora moved to California for a year or so before returning to the Philippines in 1945. There she campaigned actively for Manuel Roxas, who became the first president of an independent Philippine Republic, and she helped launch and run the Philippine National Red Cross.

On 28 April 1949, 60 years ago today, Aurora Quezon was on her way to Baler to inaugurate the Quezon Memorial Hospital. She was travelling with her eldest daughter, Maria Aurora, and her son-in-law, Felipe Buencamino III, in a convoy of 13 vehicles. As they travelled along a mountain road, they were attacked by a group of armed men. All three of them were killed, along with another nine in the party, and ten of the assailants. It was widely believed that the Hukbalahap - the military arm of the Philippines communist party - were responsible. Wikipedia notes that while no Philippine President has ever been assassinated, Aurora Quezon is one of three presidential spouses to have been murdered.

When I first put Aurora Quezon’s name into Google looking for a diary connection, I really didn’t expect to find one. But The Philippine Diary Project emerged very quickly. I think it was set up by Manuel L. Quezon III about a year ago, although this information doesn’t seem to be available on the site itself. The aim of the site is ‘to make diaries of prominent individuals from Philippine history available to the general reader’. About 12 diarists feature on the site at present, some from unpublished works, and some from editions that were either limited, or are no longer in print. As much as possible, the site author says, the diaries are ‘either in the public domain or permission has been given to reproduce them here’.

Here are three entries on the website about Aurora Quezon, all taken from January 1942, just after the start of the Japanese invasion, when she and her husband were on the island of Corregidor. Two are taken from the diary of Felipe Buencamino III, and one from the diary of Diary of General Basilio Valdes, chief of staff of the Philippine Army during the war.

2 January 1942 - Diary of General Basilio Valdes
‘After luncheon the President, Mrs. Quezon and their children were seated in the hospital tunnel [Malinta Tunnel, Corregidor], between laterals 11 & 9 where we were lodged. Two bombs fell on the hill on top of the tunnel, one of them near the main entrance. The whole mountain shook. Suddenly a terrific explosion was heard. A bomb had fallen 20 yards from the kitchen exit of the hospital tunnel. The lights were extinguished as a bomb had hit a generator. As the noise of the explosion was heard, simultaneously with the extinguishing of the lights, someone ordered aloud “everybody lie on the floor”. I did not do it as I thought it was absurd and ridiculous. I went to lateral 11 to get my flashlight from my bed and when I entered it I found the High Commissioner, Mrs. Sayre and his assistants lying on the cement floor. Someone turned on a flashlight. I saw the President, holding Mrs. Quezon moving towards his bed. There they sat. I took my flashlight and rushed back to the main hospital tunnel to see if someone else was been hurt. No one - Thank God! I sat down and waited.’

8 January 1942 - Diary of Philip Buencamino III
‘Malinta Tunnel. I don’t like this place. Yes, it’s safer and bombproof but the air is damp and stuffy. Give me the cool mountain breezes and the starlit skies of Bataan anytime. . . Corregidor is a wreck. The docks have been bombed and rebombed. The chapel is partially destroyed and nothing remains but the cross and the altar. . .

Mrs. Quezon brought me to President Quezon. The President was wearing a white shirt and white riding pants, a striking contrast to the khaki of the soldiers in the Rock. He was carrying a short whip. He looked thin but smart and snappy. The President said that he was glad to see me fighting for my country. He said: “I was in Bataan too during the revolution as an aide to Gen. Mascardo. I know every nook and corner of that place. I got malaria there too.” . . .

At about noontime, I walked with Nini to the hospital lateral. Then suddenly the lights went out. The tunnel walls began to shake. Japs were dropping 1000 pounders. Air inside tunnel was pressing against the lungs. More bombs dropped. Detonation reverberates louder in tunnel than outside. Nurses started mumbling prayers. Salvos of AA guns shook cement under our feet. Then I saw a flashlight. It was Mrs. Quezon. She was looking for her children. Nini said: “We are here mama.” Mrs. Quezon was afraid Nini and Baby were out in the open and felt relieved. There we were - Mrs. Quezon, Nini and I - cramped between soldiers and laborers who rushed inside the tunnel when the raid started. It was the equality of war. Then came the parade of the wounded. Filipino soldiers were rushed in on stretchers. There were cries of pain. Many were unconscious. I saw Fr. Ortiz giving blessings, hearing last minute confessions. He was here, there, everywhere. I saw an American whose leg was covered with blood being rushed to the medical department. Gen. Valdes who is an expert surgeon was busy assisting the wounded. The raid continued. I tried to remain cool even as the tunnel shook with the detonation of bombs and the firing of AA guns, but inside I was getting afraid. I kept telling myself it is safer in the tunnel, not like in Bataan. But I guess fear is contagious and there something about the tunnel that makes one feel asphyxiated. . .’

21 January 1942 - Diary of Philip Buencamino III
‘Mrs. Quezon is slightly thinner. She says she cannot sleep well at night because her son who sleeps in the upper deck of her bed “moves too much.”

Mrs. Quezon showed great concern over hardships suffered by boys in Bataan. She said she was proud of the great stories of heroism of Filipino troops in Bataan. “The whole world,” she said “is talking about it.”

The President’s wife showed me the fuse of the first bomb dropped by Japs in Baguio on Dec. 8, 1941. “I’m keeping this,” she said in her slow, calm manner, “because this is historical.”

She said she was in Baguio when Japs first bombed Philippines. “We thought the planes flying were U.S.,” she said.

Mrs. Quezon told me to send some of our operatives to Arayat to find out what has happened to her farm. I said there were men in Arayat now looking into the matter.

Mrs. Quezon recounted how she and her family went to Corregidor, how they crossed Manila Bay and how an air-raid signal was sounded in the City when their boat left Manila.

She told me to see her before I leave for Bataan because she had some canned stuff for me.

Mrs. Quezon spends her time in the Rock reading, sewing, visiting some of the sick and praying. I think she prays most of the time. She is a very holy woman.’

1 comment:

mlq3 said...

Very many thanks for pointing out the blog. One reason I haven't been updating it as much is the problem of historical dates, it seems to be a problem other people with historical diary blogs are having: you enter a date, day January 11, 1942 and when you post it, the system makes it today's date. Frustrating!