The sinking of the S.S. Corregidor, December 16-17, 1941

The S.S. Corregidor of the Compañia Maritima, which sank on December 16, 1941. Photo from Chad Hill.
The S.S. Corregidor of the Compañia Maritima, which sank on December 16, 1941. Photo from Chad Hill.

On December 16-17, 1941 (around midnight, hence the event straddling two dates), the S.S. Corregidor, an inter-island steamship of the Compañia Maritima, hit a mine off Corregidor Island and sank, resulting in a tremendous loss of life.

Here is a map of the area (click on this link for the original scan).

Detail of sketch of minefields around Corregidor island, provided by Peter Parsons.
Detail of sketch of minefields around Corregidor island, provided by Peter Parsons.

There is a very interesting discussion on the disaster, and the question of whether negligence was involved, and if so, who should be assigned blame, in the The Loss of the S.S. Corregidor thread of Corregidor Then and Now Proboards. Within the thread can be found recollections by George Steiger (an officer in Corregidor), Charles Balaza (serving in an artillery detachment on Corregidor) and others.

Here is a dramatic account by one of the survivors of the sinking of the ship, in the memoirs of Jose E. Romero (Not So Long Ago: A Chronicle of My Life, Times, and Contemporaries, Alemar-Phoenix, Quezon City, 1997 reprint):

The S.S. Corregidor Disaster

WAR HAVING BEEN DECLARED, the next day the National Assembly met at the house of Speaker Yulo to pass legislation giving the President powers to be able to cope with emergency. After that the members of Assembly were concerned with the problem of returning home to their provinces and their families. I was very much chagrined that close friends of mine had been able to take passage on the S.S. Legaspi that was making trips to my hometown, Dumaguete, via Cebu, a trip that took two days, without having difficulty from Japanese boats and planes. I was also chagrined to learn that my good friend, the District Engineer of my province who had come to Manila with me a few days previously, had been able to get out of Manila by way of the Bicol provinces and then made it to Samar and Leyte and back to our home province. A few days later, another boat was scheduled to depart for the South, including my hometown of Dumaguete. Passengers, including myself, were aboard when an hour later we were told to disembark by order of the U.S. Army, probably for fear of enemy action.

Inasmuch as the Japanese had already bombed Clark Field, Camp Nichols, Cavite, and Manila itself, particularly the Intendencia building and the Herald building and Santo Domingo Church, I thought it would be safer, being alone in Manila with my houseboys, for me to live in my office in the Legislative building. (The basement at the Legislative building had been sandbagged and was converted into an air-raid shelter.) I immediately arranged with the late Ramon Fernandez, whose boats were making trips to the Visayas, to advise me whenever any of his boats made a trip for the South, but this he never did. I had also arranged with my good friend, Salvador Araneta, who was then one of the principal owners of the FEATI (Far East Aviation Transport Co., Inc.), which owned the planes making trips between Manila, Iloilo, and Bacolod, to advise me whenever there was a chance to get on one of those planes. I was very much worried because, as already stated, I had come to Manila immediately after the election, and being very confident that in case of emergency I could easily return to my province either by a FEATI plane or by boat, I had not made sufficient provision for the maintenance of my family during my absence. In any event we had used up practically all of our financial resources during the political campaign and I had precisely come to Manila, among other things, to make arrangements to meet my immediate financial problems.

Although Mr. Araneta did his best to try to get an accommodation for me on the plane to the South, the man actually running the affairs of the FEATI was so swamped with demands for passage on his planes that even Mr. Araneta’s recommendation could not help me. One night I received a message from Mr. Araneta advising me that if I would go to Batangas that night, I might be able to get a passage on a plane. (The Manila airfield at Nichols had been bombed and was not safe for takeoff and landing of planes.) This was very difficult because the country was then under blackout orders, it was not safe to travel at night, and there was no certainty that I would get on the plane. It was the last trip that the plane made, so I missed this chance.

One day the member of the Assembly were advised that a special train was being reserved for us to go to Sorsogon. From there we could get launches or sailboats for Samar, Leyte, and our respective provinces in the Visayas. At the appointed day and hour many of us gathered at the Paco Station and we were hardly seated in the car when we were asked to come down because the Japanese had landed in Legaspi. A couple of days later, I saw my colleagues who like me had been living in the Legislative building rushing toward the Compañia Maritima office. One of them shouted to me that the S.S. Corregidor was leaving for the South. I immediately packed up the few things that I had and, together with a cousin of mine and his daughter who were living with me in the Legislative building, hied myself to the Compañia Maritima building. It was chaos there, with hundreds of people trying to get into the building to buy a ticket for the trip. A security guard, gun in hand, was at the door trying to prevent people from going into the building. I explained to him that I had an arrangement with Don Ramon Fernandez to get on the first boat going to the south, but he said that he knew nothing about the arrangement and would not let me in. My cousin, his daughter, and I left the building very disappointed when a little farther on we met Don Ramon’s nephew, Carlos, who today is still active with the shipping company. I explained my situation to him and he asked me whether I was really anxious to go on that trip. When I answered in the affirmative, he personally took me inside the office and helped me get a ticket for myself, my cousin, and his daughter. I also bought a ticket for a fellow townsman who wanted to return home but was without funds. But the danger of the trip was made manifest by our being asked to sign a waiver of any responsibility on the part of the shipping company in case a mishap occurred during the trip.

From the Compañia Maritima office and the Muelle de la Industria, we went to the South Harbor where the S.S. Corregidor was docked. There were hundreds of people and it seemed that there were many who got aboard even without tickets. I was delighted to find aboard Senator Villanueva, his recently married son and daughter, and their household help. He told me that he had been trying to contact me repeatedly the last few days, because he was anxious that we should go home together. In times of emergency like this, personal animosities among relatives are forgotten and the old family ties reassert themselves. I also met Captain Calvo of the boat, who had been a longtime friend of mine, with his pretty young wife that he had just married. He told me that I must be anxious to get back home under such conditions of danger. I told him that if he and his wife, my relatives and other people were willing to take the chance, there was no reason why I should not do the same. The boat was being located with ammunition and other military equipment for the South. I was quite nervous and I was told later that he had not wanted to make that trip. This probably partly explains why he was taking his wife along with him. I was also told later that on previous occasions, while passing the mined sections around Corregidor he had been warned that he was passing too close to the mines.

Probably the trip would not have been as risky as it was surmised. The plan was to land at the first port in the South at daybreak and from there the passengers would take sailboats or other means of transportation to the provinces which were still unoccupied by the Japanese. There were many times more passengers than should ordinarily have been allowed aboard. We stayed aboard for several hours and strict blackout was observed. Senator Villanueva and his family and I and my cousin with his daughter seated ourselves directly in front of a lifeboat as we thought we could quickly get on it in case of emergency. We were all furnished life belts and hundreds of other life belts were strewn around the deck. About midnight the boat started to leave in pitch darkness. I was half-asleep but noticed that light signals were being flashed from what I think was Corregidor Island. I was to learn afterward that the signals were to warn the captain of the boat that he was not on the right track. (The passage between Corregidor and the mainland in Manila Bay had been mined.) All of a sudden there was a dull thud and then an explosion. We had hit a mine. The boat shuddered as if mortally wounded. It did not sink immediately and the group already referred to who were seated near a lifeboat got aboard it.

Before the boat left, as already stated, we had been supplied with life belts. My companions were very prudent in having attached the life belts to their bodies, but I only held mine in my hands. A husky Spaniard had been saying that this was a bad joke we were playing with the life belts, but I told him that it was customary, even in peacetime, to have drill aboard the ships and practice the use of life belts. When we hit the mine this husky man grabbed my life belt, since he had not taken the precaution to provide one for himself. I insisted that the life belt was mine, but he claimed that it was his and proposed that we throw the life belt into the water, confident that later on, if we had to struggle for that life belt, as a much huskier man he would have the advantage. But the man from my province, whom I had helped to get a ticket on that trip and for which ticket I had paid, handed me another life belt. Again it was grabbed by another person. This faithful protege of mine handed me another one and still another one, but each time somebody would grab the life belt away from me. Remembering that I was the only one without a life belt and recalling that hundreds of life belts had been scattered on the deck in the early evening, I went down to the deck to see if I could find another life belt. At this moment, there was a second and more terrible explosion. It seemed that it was the boiler that exploded and the boat immediately sank headlong into the water. We were all drawn by the suction and had the water in those parts been deeper, we could not have returned to the surface.

When the boat reached the bottom and there was no more force of suction, I instinctively swam with all my force toward the surface, and when I reached the surface after what seemed an endless effort to reach it, it seemed this was a second life for me. Right in front of me was a life belt and a piece of board just enough for me to lie down on. If ever there are or were miracles, this certainly was one. I had gone into the water without a life belt and here right in front of me was the board of salvation and a life belt. I did not realize it then, but I had ugly cut in the head which must have been caused when the boat touched the bottom and my head hit something hard. I was too weak to tie on my life belt and it was really the board that saved me. I was too weak from loss of blood, so I only hung on to the board which, as I said, was just sufficient to keep my body afloat. Fortunately, it was as long as my body so that my body covered it almost entirely, otherwise other people who were floating around without support might have tried to grab it from me. I just lay over that board semi-conscious for several hours. Fortunately, the sharks that infest these waters must have been kept away by the explosion and by the oil from the sunken ship. About four hours later. I felt as if there were some bright lights. It was one of the P.T. or so-called mosquito boats that had been sent to rescue the survivors. I looked up and one of the American crewmen threw me a life belt which was tied to a rope that he held. I took hold of the life belt and he pulled me toward the boat. I must have looked like a real mess, covered all over with oil from the boat that sank and with the blood of my head over my face. I just lay there on that boat while we were being taken to Corregidor. It was just beginning to dawn when we docked at the harbor of Corregidor. I will never forget, especially after seeing the callousness and cruelty of the Japanese later, seeing one of the American soldiers who had come to the dock to meet the survivors take particular notice of me, saying, “This man is badly hurt.” He immediately ran up the gangplank, took me in his arms, loaded me into the car that he was driving, and then rushed me like mad to the hospital in Malinta Tunnel. The others who were not so badly hurt were taken to Manila. Only about one-third of some one thousand people that were in the S.S. Corregidor were saved. Senator Villanueva and his son, my cousin and his daughter, as well as two of my colleagues, Representatives Ampig and Reyes of Iloilo and Capiz, respectively, perished in the disaster, as did the wife and children of Representative Dominador Tan. Representative Zaldivar, later Justice of the Supreme Court, survived.

In Corregidor Hospital

At the hospital in Malinta Tunnel, which I revisited later, the wound in my scalp was sewn up by a kind American doctor. Fortunately, the wound was only skin-deep and did not fracture my skull. When a Filipino nurse found out who I was, she made a lot of fuss about it and many people were soon coming to see me. (Much later when I was Secretary of Education, on a visit to Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija, I was fortunate to see her again with her husband.) Two of the young officers who visited me in Corregidor were from my town and province. A medic or medical assistant, an American, took very kind interest in me. (To anticipate my story, when I left Corregidor Hospital ten days after I entered it, I was to wear his civilian clothes as I had none of my own. I gave him my address and after the war when the House of Representatives, of which I was a member, was reconvened, one day an American came to my office and greeted me joyously. When I could not quite remember him, he said, “I was the one who sewed up your head in Corregidor.” It was a happy reunion. He gave me his address in the U.S. to which he was returning and when I was Ambassador to London, I unfailingly sent him a Christmas card. I did not receive any reply from him, but after the third or fourth time I sent him a card, I got a reply explaining that the reason he did not acknowledge my previous cards was that he did not know the address of the Philippine Embassy in London, not realizing that it would have been sufficient for him just to put the Philippine Embassy as address. He told me that he was working somewhere in the Middle East and was doing pretty well financially.)

I developed a slight case of pneumonia, but thanks to the sulfa drugs that had just recently been discovered, this danger to my health was averted.

To return to my story, next to my bed at the hospital was that of Captain Kelly of the United States Navy, a man made famous by a book written in the United States by American escapee during the War, entitled They Were Expendable—a bestseller. Like many Americans in Corregidor, they were still confident that military aid would come from the United State and that the Philippines would be retaken. But this was not to be for more than three years.

During my ten-day stay in Corregidor, from December 17, the day of the sinking of the Corregidor, until December 27 when we were ordered to evacuate to Manila, many prominent officials went to Corregidor. Among those who visited me were the Commanding General of Corregidor and the U.S. High Commissioner, Francis B. Sayre, Vice-President Osmeña and his family, ex-Speaker Roxas, and Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos. President Quezon and his family, however, who also arrived at Corregidor on Christmas Eve, did not visit me. When casually one night I saw him and Mrs. Quezon, he did not even talk to me. I think he was ill and depressed when he saw me with my bandaged head and, perhaps thinking that I was more badly hurt than I really was, he simply was too depressed to talk to me. However, Mrs. Quezon who was seated next to me while we were seeing a movie just outside the entrance to Manila Tunnel during a lull in the bombing by the Japanese, held my hand and gave me words of comfort. From Vice-President Osmeña, I learned for the first time that my relatives by affinity, ex-Senator Villanueva and his son, had not survived the sinking of S.S. Corregidor, although the ex-Senator’s daughter-in-law, who was expecting a baby (and who is still very much alive), and two maids survived.

Christmas Eve was celebrated in Corregidor, and in my condition, away from my family, it was indeed a sad Christmas Eve for me. The singing of Christmas carols by the American and Filipino nurses and other personnel only added poignancy to my depressed spirit. On December 27 an order was received from General Douglas MacArthur for the evacuation of all civilians in Corregidor to Manila, as the Japanese were fast approaching Manila. The medic who took such interest in me suggested that I ask President Quezon to contact General MacArthur and get him to make an exception in my case by allowing me to stay in Corregidor. I contacted Mr. Roxas, who immediately got in touch with President Quezon and who in turn tried to get in touch with General MacArthur. However, General MacArthur was busy directing the withdrawal of USAFFE troops to Bataan and could not be contacted. Mr. Roxas urged me, however, to go to Manila. He said that I could get better medical treatment there and, besides, the boat leaving for Manila might be the last one that could make the trip as, with the arrival of the Japanese, Manila would be isolated from Corregidor. So I decided to leave.

We left again in pitch darkness, as complete blackout was ordered everywhere. I shall not forget another American soldier who took me in his car to the waiting ship and then removed his overcoat and placed it over me. After my experience on the S.S. Corregidor, to travel again in complete darkness could not but inspire fear in me, but we made the trip uneventfully. Upon arrival in the South Harbor, we were placed in a covered truck where it was also very dark. The driver had to stop at every street corner to find his way, and finally I was deposited at the Philippine General Hospital which was then under the direction of my good friend, the late Dr. Augusto Villalon. I was placed under the direct care of Dr. Santos Cuyugan, who was a specialist in wounds and burns. Because of the infection of my wound, it took about three months to heal, although it was only a superficial one

The Philippine Diary Project contains several points of view discussing the S.S. Corregidor disaster. The earliest one appears in an entry in the diary of Teodoro M. Locsin, December 16, 1941:

Today the inter-island vessel Corregidor struck a mine near the mouth of Manila Bay and sank in a few minutes. The ship was packed to the gunwales with passengers leaving the city for the southern islands, thus reintroducing the “Samarra” theme.

The number of people on board was estimated at from 600 to 1,000. The exact number may never be known. Government officials used their influence to make the ship’s agents issue them and their friends tickets. Many went up the gangplanks just before the boat sailed, thinking to get their tickets from the purser afterward, when the boat was out at sea. Each, in one way or another, properly sealed his fate.

Later in the day, I was shown a wire from a man in Iloilo asking a friend in the city to secure a ticket for his mistress on the Corregidor. The war caught the woman in Manila and the man wanted her with him. The friend, I need not say, got the ticket.

Locsin, then a young newsman in the Philippines Free Press, would have been among the first to receive important news. Others got the day after. Fr. Juan Labrador OP, December 17, 1941 mentions how most other people got the news, and details that shocked the public:

At noontime, an “extra” of the dailies announced the great catastrophe of the vessel “Corregidor”. This was the heaviest and fastest of the boats anchored at the river. It set sail the night before without previous notice. Nevertheless, it was teeming with passengers destined for the Visayas. Around midnight, it hit a mine near the island of Corregidor and in three to five minutes it was swallowed up by the black waters of Manila Bay. It cannot be ascertained how many lives were lost. The Compañía Marítima does not have a list of the passengers. Many had filtered in without paying the fare, or mounted aboard with the idea of paying later on. Only 200 passengers were rescued, and the number of those drowned is estimated at 600 to 800.

Among the passengers were assemblymen, students from the South, and well-known families, including the brothers of the Archbishop of Cebu, one of whom was a professor and secretary of the Faculty of Law of the University of Santo Tomas; the other was a member of the Assembly. The assemblyman drowned, but the faculty member of UST was saved after swimming and floating for six hours. Those who were trapped in the cabins—women and children, for the most part—are forever buried in the bosom of the sea. Even among those who were on deck and had time to jump overboard, many were drowned for lack of lifesavers or for their inabiity to resist the current of the waves.

It was the first great tragedy of the war, and God permit that it be the last.

A young officer in the Philippine Coastal Patrol (the fledgling Philippine Navy) wrote about the tragedy as he received the news from colleagues in the US Navy. See Ramon Alcaraz, December 17, 1941:

By night time, the tragedy was compounded by the sinking of S.S. Corregidor in our own defensive minefields guarding the entrance to Manila Bay west of Corregidor Fortress.  S.S. Corregidor is one of the best among our inter-island commercial vessels with civilian and military personnel aboard bound for Visayas and Mindanao.

Loaded also are Artillery pieces, equipment and supplies of the 101st FA, and other Vis-Min Units.  From initial scant report I got from my Mistah Alano, ExO of Q-111 that participated in the rescue, he said the ship hit a mine and sunk so fast virtually all passengers went down with the ship including her Captain.  There were very few survivors.  The mined area is under the responsibility of the Harbor Defense and PT RON 3.  I should know more details about this tragedy after I talk with some of my comrades on duty then at PT RON 3.

Five days later, Alcaraz had more information about the tragedy. See Ramon Alcaraz, December 22, 1941:

I also talked with Ens. George Cox, CO PT 41 on duty when S.S. Corregidor sunk five days ago.  He said PT 41 was leading the ill fated ship at the channel but suddenly, all at once, the S.S. Corregidor veered course towards the minefields and his efforts to stop her were to no avail.  There was a loud explosion after hitting a mine, the ship sank so fast virtually all aboard went with her including the ship captain. There were very few survivors.

Events would rapidly overtake the S.S. Corregidor disaster. See December 24-25, 1941 in diaries; The Great Escape of the S.S. Mactan: December 31, 1941Evacuation of the Gold Reserves of the Commonwealth, February 3, 1942The debate on taking the Philippines out of the war: February 6-12, 1942Bataan, 1942: views of a father and his son; Life, death, decisions, during the Japanese Occupation; Diary entries on the Leyte Landing: October, 1944; and The Battle of Manila, Feb. 3-March 3, 1945 for more features on entries in the Philippine Diary Project.

 


Bataan, 1942: views of a father and his son

Victor Buencamino (second from left, second row), with his family in the Pines Hotel, Baguio, 1932. Rightmost on second row is his eldest son, Felipe Buencamino III.
Victor Buencamino (second from left, second row), with his family in the Pines Hotel, Baguio, 1932. Rightmost on second row is his eldest son, Felipe Buencamino III.

The Philippine Diary Project includes the diaries of a father and his son: Victor Buencamino, and Felipe Buencamino III. At the outbreak of the war, Victor Buencamino was head of the National Rice and Corn Corporation, precursor of today’s National Food Authority. His published diary covers the period from the arrival of the Japanese in Manila, and the first half of the Japanese Occupation.

His diary provides an in-depth look into the dilemma facing government officials who stuck to their posts despite the withdrawal of the Commonwealth Government and the occupation of the Philippines by the Japanese. At certain points, particularly from January-April, 1942, he gets intermittent news about his son (who was, on the other hand, participating in clandestine military intelligence missions, even in Manila).

Particularly gripping are his entries for April, 1942, when on one hand, he is wrestling with increasing Japanese interference and intimidation –including his being summoned to the dreaded Fort Santiago, where other members of his staff had already been summoned and in at least once instance, tortured– and on the other, frantic for news about his son, particularly after the Fall of Bataan, when on the same day he received condolence messages and news his son was alive. Then, he recounted the grief of parents and his own search of the concentration camps.

Felipe Buencamino III (topmost, leaning on windshield of jeep), photo taken in Bataan, 1942.
Felipe Buencamino III (topmost, leaning on windshield of jeep), photo taken in Bataan, 1942.

As for Victor Buencamino’s son, Felipe Buencamino III, known to his friends as Philip, was a young journalist who became a junior officer in Bataan, assigned to General Simeon de Jesus and his military intelligence unit. He kept a diary from the time of the retreat of USAFFE forces to Bataan, conditions there as well as in Corregidor, which he periodically visited, looming defeat, the eve of surrender,  and then the Death March and the ordeal of his fellow prisoners in the Capas Concentration Campas well as his classmates. At times, his diary intersects with other diaries, such as the diary of Gen. Basilio J. Valdes, since Philip accompanied the General during one of his visits to the front. He resumed his diary, briefly, in 1944.

A close friend of Philip, Leon Ma. Guerrero, who was mentioned many times in Philip’s wartime diary, wrote about Mrs. Quezon and the ambush in which she was killed, in 1951. In his essay, he also wrote about his friend, Philip:

In Bataan I shared the same tent with Philip Buencamino, who was later to marry Nini Quezon. He was the aide of General de Jesus, the chief of military intelligence, to which I had been assigned. I remember distinctly that one of the first things Philip and I ever did was to ride out in the general’s command car along the east coast out of pure curiosity. The enemy’s January offensive was turning the USAFFE flank and all along the highway we met retreating units. Then there was nothing: only the open road, the dry and brittle stubble of the abandoned fields, and in the distance the smoke of a burning town. We turned back hurriedly; we had gone too far. I am afraid we never got any closer to the front lines. Our duties were behind the lines. We were quite close during the entire campaign until I was evacuated to the Corregidor hospital, and I developed a sincere admiration for Philip. He was a passionate nationalist who could not stomach racial discrimination, and I remember him best in a violent quarrel with an American non-commissioned officer whom he considered insolent toward his Filipino superiors.

On April 28, 1949, Felipe Buencamino III, together with his mother-in-law, Aurora A. Quezon, sister-in-law, Maria Aurora Quezon, and Ponciano Bernardo (mayor of Quezon City) and others, were killed in an ambush perpetrated by the Hukbalahap. The late Fr. James Reuter, SJ, wrote about it in 2005:

On April 28, 1949 – 56 years ago, Doña Aurora Aragon Quezon was on her way to Baler. With her eldest daughter, Maria Aurora, whom everyone called “Baby”. And with her son-in-law, Philip Buencamino, who was married to her younger daughter, Zeneida, whom everyone called “Nini”. Nini was at home with their first baby, Felipe IV, whom everyone called “Boom”. And she was pregnant with their second baby “Noni”.

On a rough mountain road, in Bongabong, Nueva Ecija, they were ambushed by gunmen hiding behind the trees on the mountainside. The cars were riddled with bullets. All three of them were killed. Along with several others, among them Mayor Ponciano Bernardo of Quezon City.

Adiong, the Quezon family driver, was spared. Running to the first car, Adiong found Philip lying on the front seat, his side dripping blood. Philip smiled at Adiong and said: “Malakas pa ako. Tingnan mo” — “I am still strong. Look!” And dipping his finger in his own blood, Philip wrote on the backrest of the front seat: “Hope in God”.

When they placed him in another vehicle for Cabanatuan, his bloody hands were fingering his rosary, and his lips were moving in prayer. This was consistent with his whole life. His rosary was always in his pocket. And on his 29th birthday, exactly one month before, on March 28, 1949, at dinner in his father’s home, he said to Raul Manglapus: “Raul, the Blessed Virgin has appeared at Lipa, and has a message for all of us. What are we going to do, to welcome her, and to spread her message?”

He was echoing the thoughts of Doña Aurora, who wanted a national period of prayer to welcome the Virgin and to spread her message of Peace. Years later, the Concerned Women of the Philippines established the Doña Aurora Aragon Quezon Peace Awards, choosing the name in honor of this good, quiet, peaceful woman.

The blood stained rosary was brought to Nini, after Philip’s death. Many years later, she wrote down the thoughts that came to her when they gave her the bloody beads:

“We had joined my mother in Baguio for Holy Week, 1949. As we drove down the zigzag, after attending all the Holy Week services, Phil turned to me and said, ‘Nini, if we were to have an accident now, wouldn’t it be the perfect time for us to go?’ I said to him, ‘You may be ready, Phil, but I still have a child to give life to, so I can’t go just yet.’ And not long after this, his life was taken, and mine was spared.”

Her life was spared, but she felt the agony of those three deaths more intensely than anyone else. In that ambush she lost her husband, her mother, and her only sister. The gunmen riddled their bodies with bullets, on that rough mountain road. But miles away, with her one year old baby in her arms, and another baby in her womb, the gunmen left her with a broken heart. The ones she loved went home to God. But she had to carry on.

Another friend of Philip’s, Teodoro M. Locsin, whose wartime diary is also featured in the Philippine Diary Project, wrote about the murder of his friend, in the Philippines Free Press: see One Must Die, May 7, 1949:

I knew Philip slightly before the war. We were together when the Americans entered Manila in February, 1945. We were given a job by Frederic S. Marquardt, chief of the Office of War Information, Southwest Pacific Area, and formerly associate editor of the Free Press. Afterward, Philip would say that he owed his first postwar job to me: I had introduced him to Marquardt.

Philip and I helped put out the first issues of the Free Philippines. We worked together and wrote our stories while shells were going overhead. Philip was never happier; he was in his element. He was at last a newspaperman. He had done some newspaper work before the war, but this was big time. We were covering a city at war. Afterward, we resigned from the OWI, or were fired. Anyway, we went out together.

Meanwhile, we had, with Jose Diokno, the son of Senator Diokno, put out a new paper, the Philippines Press. Diokno was at the desk and more or less kept the paper from going to pieces as it threatened to do every day. I thundered and shrilled; that is, I wrote the editorials. Philip was the objective reporter, the impartial journalist, who gave the paper many a scoop. That was Philip’s particular pride: to give every man, even the devil, his due. While I jumped on a man, Philip would patiently listen to his side…

…As for Philip, he was eager to work, willing to listen, and devoted to the ideals of his craft. He was always smiling—perhaps because he was quite young. He had no enemy in the world—he thought.

After the paper closed up, Philip went to the Manila Post, which suffered a similar fate. Philip went on the radio, as a news commentator. He had a good radio voice; he spoke clearly, forcefully, well. He married the daughter of the late President Manuel L. Quezon, later joined the foreign service. But he never stopped wanting to be again a newspaperman. He would have dropped his work in the government at any time had there been an opening in the press for him.

Philip never spoke ill of Taruc. He saw the movement, of which Taruc was the head, as something he must cover, if given the assignment, and nothing more. Belonging to the landlord class though he did, he did not rave and rant against the Huks.

He had all the advantages, and he had, within the framework of the existing social order, what is called a great future. He was married to a fine girl and all the newspapermen were his friends. They kidded him; they called him Philip Buencamino the Tired, but they all liked him. He wanted so much to be everybody’s friend. he got along with everyone—including myself and Arsenio H. Lacson.

When he returned from Europe to which he had been sent in the foreign service of the Philippines, he was happy, he said, to be home again, and he still wanted to be a newspaperman. His wife was expecting a second child and life was wonderful. Now he is dead, murdered, shot down in cold blood by Taruc’s men.

He was, in the Communist view and in Communist terminology, a representative of feudal landlordism, a bourgeois reactionary, etc. I remember him as a decent young man who tried to be and was a good newspaperman, who used to walk home with me in the afternoon in the early days of Liberation, munching roasted corn and hating no one at all in the world.

A few days earlier, the other friend mentioned by Locsin —Arsenio H. Lacson on May 3, 1949— had also paid tribute to his friend, Philip:

Until now, I can’t quite get over Philip’s tragic death. He was first of all, a very close friend of mine. I saw him married, and was one of the best men at his wedding. I also saw him buried, and it is not a pleasant thing to remember.

Philip was such a nice, clean boy, friendly, warm-hearted and generous, so full of life, and laughter, that I learned to love him. Of course he had his faults, but you take your friends as they are, not as you want them to be. And Philip, for all his faults, was quite a man. In all the years that we kept close together, I never knew him to deliberately do a mean thing.

Because he was by nature easy-going and amiable, he exasperated me at time by failing to take things more seriously and using his considerable talents to point out the many evils with which our government is cursed. Actually, he was not wholly indifferent to them. He could on occasions become quite angry over certain injustices, but he had no capacity for sustained indignation, and it was not in him, to fret and worry over the distraceful and scandalous way this country is being run. Life to him was one swell adventure, to be lived and savored to the full, with very little time left for crusades. The world cannot be changed or saved in a day.

And because he was Philip, he would gaily twit me about being afflicted with a messianic itch. Relax, he would say. Take it easy. Things are not as bad as they look. In time, everything would be alright. Perhaps, he had the right answer. I wouldn’t know. But I shudder to think what would happen if all of us adopted a carely and carefree attitude and paraphrasing archie, Don Marquis’ cockroach reporter, say:

no trick nor kick of fate
can raise me from a yell,
serene I sit and wait
for the Philippines to go to hell.

The last time I saw Philip was two days before his death. Linking his arm to mine with a gay laugh, he dragged me to Astoria for a cup of coffee. We joined a boisterous group of newsmen who flung good-natured jibes at Philip when he announced that he was quitting the government foreign service to settle down to a life of a country farmer. Somebody brought up the subject of a certain Malacañan reporter who always made it a point to take a malicious crack at Philip and his influential family connections, and Philip agreed the guy was nasty. It was typical of Philip, however, that when I curtly suggested that he punch the offensive reporter on the nose, he smilingly shook his head saying: “How can I? Every time I get sore, the fellow embraces me and tells me with that silly laugh of his ‘Sport lang, Chief.’ I can’t get mad at him.”

That was Philip. He couldn’t get mad at anyone for long. He liked everybody, even those who, regarding him with envious eyes as a darling Child of Fortune, spoke harshly of him. He was essentially a nice, friendly guy. It was not in him to harm anybody, including those who tried to harm him.

And now he is dead, along with that fine and noble lady who was his mother-in-law, and that vivid, great-hearted, spirited girl who was so much like her great and illustrious father, foully murdered by hunted and persecuted men turned into wild, insensate beasts by grave injustices –men who, in laying ambush for Mr. Quirino and other government officials, brutally and mercilessly struck down innocent victims instead.

Philip Buencamino III had so much to live for: a charming, gracious wife who adored him, a chubby little son who will one day grow up into sturdy manhood with only a dim memory of his father, and another child on the way whom Philip now will never see. Handsome and talented, Philip had his whole future before him. His was a life so full of brilliant promise, and it is a great tragedy that it should have ended soon. He had been a top reporter before he entered the foreign service. With his charm and affability, his personal gifts and family prestige, there was no height he could not have scaled as a diplomat. The pity of it, the futile pitiful waste of it! A nice, clean, promising youngster sacrificed to the warring passions of men who have turned Central Luzon into a charnel house.

Incidentally, a very rare recording exists of Philip during his time as a radio commentator –and a member of the Malacañan Press Corps– you can listen to him being the emcee of sorts, in President Roxas’s first radio press conference.

Readers can access the diary of Victor Buencamino in full, or that of Felipe Buencamino III in full, as well; or, they can go through the entries for April 1942, which include other entries by other diarists who were writing at the same time.


August 18, 1945, Saturday

9:00 p.m. Since 8:00 p.m., a musical program has been going on to celebrate the birthday of Mr. F. C. de la Rama. In the midst of the intense celebration, Mr. Reyes, who with two other internees had been working in the radio office of the Army under Lt. Fernandez of the Signal Corps, suddenly broke into the crowd with a piece of paper in his hand. He beckoned aside Messrs. Paredes and De la Rama, and whispered to them that a radiogram had been decoded by them indicating that we would be released. He was looking for Chief Yulo who was not present at the party. When he went inside the quarters to look for Yulo, a few who were no longer interested in the program followed him. The radiogram as read by Chief Yulo went something like this: “Magic White. SS Mactan arriving tomorrow. Prepare war prisoners to be released.”

Great excitement! Everybody talking all at once! Pandemonium broke out, but everyone was prevailed upon to calm down as the news must be kept secret or confidential. Employees in the radio room are strictly prohibited from divulging contents of messages. The people could not contain themselves, however; they could not suppress their jubilation. But it was done as a part of the birthday celebration for Mr. de la Rama. The celebration became very boisterous and lively. The singers and poets became more inspired. De la Rama was requested to say a few words. He delivered a speech reminiscent of the Moriones meetings in Tondo. He was lavishly applauded. It was interpreted as a bid for election. It is known that he intends to present his candidacy for a district in Laguna. Some remarked that with his Tagalog oratory and his money he could be elected. He said something else which we appreciate very much. He counselled those in the B class to be united among themselves and with us, and to follow the leadership of the Filipino leaders with us. This seems to have impressed the crowd. The party ended with a grand rush for the cigarettes and cakes freely distributed by Mr. De la Rama.

After the program there were all kinds of comments. I stated that our release can be expected to come soon inasmuch as MacArthur clearly stated that we would be detained for the duration of the war as a measure of military security. Now that the war is ended, no further military security is involved.

It was also customary to recall past events to confirm, interpret or clarify the present event. It was recalled that while Col. Gilfilan was having an inspection this morning, he asked, “When do you want to leave?” This question was then taken as a joke. Now we believe that it was done in all seriousness as the Colonel already knew that we would soon be leaving.

We were so excited that very few of us were able to sleep that night. In the first class quarters, talk continued. I could have slept as I generally sleep well, but I purposely kept myself awake to hear a very important and interesting conversation — a conversation that may affect the future course of politics in the Philippines.

Yulo proposes that we be united, that we organize ourselves, and that we form a ticket for the next general election composed of Paredes for President and Alunan for Vice President. The others will run for the Senate or the House, preferably the latter. He said that he had already decided to retire from politics, but he was now determined to run because the leaders in Manila are hopelessly divided. If this ticket triumphs, our full vindication will have been realized. He thinks this ticket will be very strong. Osmeña and Roxas were both “pros” so that their forces would be divided. The people of Pres. Quezon are still intact and have not made their inclination known. They will rally behind the banner of this ticket. Doña Aurora de Quezon will be a very big factor in Philippine politics and she will undoubtedly support this ticket. Alunan and himself (Yulo) were rivals — if they got together there will be almost a unanimous vote in Negros. Paredes controls more votes in Ilocandia than Quirino who may be the vice presidential candidate in the Roxas ticket. A big percentage of the population is being accused of collaboration and this group will support the ticket. As to the platform, Paredes will draw in the radicals, whereas Alunan will attract the conservatives. Yulo and Alunan can count on the assistance of the Americans and other foreigners who also can wield powerful influence in the Philippines on account of their financial hold on Philippine economic life. Yulo reiterated that if this ticket is not launched and the leaders in Manila continue to be divided, he will retire from politics completely.

The reaction to Yulo’s plan was very favorable. Paredes and Alunan agreed that Yulo himself be the candidate. Alunan wanted to show that he is no less gallant than Yulo. Yulo, however, cut short all talk about his candidacy. Paredes was not displeased as he harbored ambition to be Chief Executive of the Philippines some day. Alunan also is not irrevocably opposed.

The entire group in the officer class, except two or three, is very enthusiastic. One of those who remains silent is Sen. Recto — he avoids the issue by just smiling. He continues to be a sphinx notwithstanding efforts to pump him. It may be that he also has political ambitions, although he insists that his intention is to quit politics and devote his time to his big law practice. Madrigal and Sabido not only are lukewarm, but have insinuated disconformity. This is probably due to the fact that they are too closely attached to Osmeña. They intimated that Paredes should be the vice president in Osmeña’s ticket.

Among the enlisted class, there is greater enthusiasm. Paredes has won their admiration with his virile attitude toward the Americans. They are proud of him because he has no inferiority complex towards the whites like many others, and he champions their rights and petitions even if his own privileges are endangered. There are some who show opposition, but they are very few. They are composed of professional non-conformists or “contrabidas” — always saying “yes” when everyone says “no”, and vice-versa, and those who for purely personal reasons hold a grudge against Paredes.

We got up early the next morning, all sleepy but full of hope.


November 2, 1944

Must hurry writing this stuff because Joe’s waiting for me outside. Nothing much today. None of the usual processions to the cemetery to visit the dead. Tribune says that Laurel will give a speech on the heroes that died in O’Donnell.

On my way to Dad’s office, I saw many Jap trucks filled with supplies. They’re spreading their dumps to minimize destruction from bombing. They’re very afraid of raids. You ought to see how they scramble to their dugouts when they hear the siren. The Filipinos laugh at them and they get sore when our countrymen stay out in the streets and watch the U.S. bombers drop their cargoes.

There are sentries in many street corners again. They’re afraid of guerrillas. The City is full of these patriots and nobody can tell when they’re going to attack the Japs. This keeps the Jap on nerve’s edge and he’s very nasty these days.

The Japs are commandeering horses. First, they took cars, now it’s horses and bicycles too, according to Sal Neri. Damaso said that he saw gasoline tins being moved into our former house. Oh by the way, they paid us a couple of worthless Jap bills for rent. I felt like laughing. I don’t know why.

Many Jap soldiers walking in the streets. They haven’t got trucks. Transportation is a big problem for them. They try to bum rides from anybody.

Saw Formosan soldiers –you can tell when they’re Formosans because they’re very thin and underfed– building foxholes and dugouts. I wonder if they’re going to put up a stiff fight in the city.

Three main questions in the minds of people these days

First: When will they land in Luzon?

Second: Will there be heavy fighting in Manila?

Third: Will the Japs bring the Puppet President and his cabinet to Japan?

There is a fourth question any everybody more or less knows the answer but ask it anyway: What will the Americans do to the collaborationists like Aquino and Laurel?

P.S.

Dad have a good one during dinner time today. “Did you ever notice the names of our three Presidents?” he asked. “Yes, why?” I asked. Mrs. Quezon’s name is Aurora meaning Dawn; Mrs. Osmeña’s is Esperanza, which means Hope; and Puppet Laurel’s wife is Paciencia, which means Patience. We had our morning, our birth under Quezon, Osmeña’s regime is now filled with hope; and you certainly have to have a lot of patience during this regime of Laurel.


August 4 and 5, 1944

Long talk with Dr. Trepp the day after the funeral. What an extraordinary career was Quezon’s!–born a village boy in Baler in 1878, of mixed Spanish and Ilongot blood, he spent his childhood in one of the most remote and inaccessible little villages of the southwest Pacific. He died as the President in exile of the conquered Philippines, and was given the most impressive funeral which I ever attended. The cathedral was full and many dignitaries were there. He was buried in Arlington Cemetery–a great military display headed by General Marshall and Admiral King. His body is left there until it can be sent back to the Philippines on an American battleship.

Trepp described to me Quezon’s last illness: Asheville was the “low point” and Quezon began to improve again at Saranac Lake. He was kept in touch with the progress of the war by daily readings from newspapers, and attended now and then to a little executive business by letter and telegram. He wrote to MacArthur two days before his death. He was, however, not unaware of the seriousness of his condition. He told Nieto just a day or two before the end to look out for all his affairs and he had a long and satisfactory talk with his wife. At ten o’clock on the morning of August 1st, 1944, he suddenly had a hemorrhage–about a liter of blood which practically choked him–sank rapidly and died peacefully.

Trepp says that Quezon wore himself out completely by his quarrel with Osmeña over the presidency in November 1943, and never recovered. He was often found in tears in his bed at that time. This, Trepp names as the proximate cause of his death.

Mr. Serapio Canceran, the private secretary of the late President expresses deep concern over the possible killing of General Roxas by the Japanese because he is believed to be the “undercover” head of the guerrillas. He says that two days before he died, Quezon sent a cable to General MacArthur asking him to rescue Roxas and get him away from the Japanese. “This,” replied MacArthur “would be very difficult to do.” Dr. Trepp believes that Roxas will be elected first president of the Philippine Republic.

A few months later, Trepp himself died in Doctors’ Hospital in Washington of cancer of the stomach. I saw him several times in his last days, and this simple and honourable man suffered greatly towards his end.

THE END


September 6-9, 1943

Saranac Lake, N.Y.

This is the first entry in this diary for more than three months. Early in June, Quezon was attacked by bronchitis and soon developed a serious attack of tuberculosis. Dr. Trepp was frankly alarmed–he told me that Quezon was a worn-out man, and expressed himself as uncertain whether he could pull Quezon through this time. I suggested Saranac Lake, of which Trepp had never heard, but he understood at once when I mentioned the name of the famous Dr. Trudeau. So, after a couple of weeks in Washington and an equal period at Doctors’ Hospital in New York, Quezon was taken to Saranac.

Before leaving Washington, Quezon was not allowed to speak above a whisper, and the Cabinet met in his bedroom, where the President designated Osmeña to act for him, and in case the latter was incapacitated (as he then was!), Elizalde was to act as and for the President. This selection, inevitable as it was, created vast confusion among high officials–Quezon’s secretary, Dr. Rotor, and Bernstein, head of the Office of Special Services, were frankly uncertain whether they could (or would) get on with Elizalde!

Meanwhile, Osmeña, who, as already noted, has been suddenly operated on for appendicitis, came through safely, and then developed an infection and a high temperature. The first two occasions when I visited him in his bed in Doctors’ Hospital in Washington, he could not speak–only moved his eyelids. I then thought he might die in my presence. My third visit, a fortnight later found him sitting up in a wheel chair and conversing agreeably; I told him he would soon be dancing again, and to clinch the matter he stood up and did a couple of fox-trot steps. He has been more or less acting as President ever since, somewhat to the surprise of Elizalde, who had expected Osmeña to be out of business for a year.

Quezon’s 65th birthday was at Saranac on August 19, 1943; shortly after that I heard that he was going to send for me; a telegram on September 4, from Rotor asked me to go up to Saranac for a week.

On arrival, I found all the customary “court circle” at MacMartin camp–Mrs. Quezon, the three children and all their usual suite. Osmeña and Bernstein were there, and Valdes and young Madrigal soon arrived. They were all gayer and in better spirits than I have seen them since their arrival in the United States in May, 1942. Quezon was said to have gained five pounds, and was contemplating an early return to Washington to escape the cold weather at Saranac. Trepp seemed resigned to the move, although he was enjoying himself in surroundings which reminded him of his native Switzerland. Quezon had the steam heat on in the house all summer, and part of his “outdoor” porch enclosed!

I found Quezon still on his back in bed, he was obliged to talk in an unaccustomed low voice, and easily became tired. Osmeña, Bernstein and I were at once employed on several alternative forms for a joint resolution of Congress declaring that the Philippines were and of right ought to be free and independent, that independence was to be granted as soon as the invader was driven out of the Islands and was to be secured, and the United States was to make good the ravages of war.

Quezon had received at Saranac a visit from Secretary of War Stimson on the latter’s journey to the Quebec conference. Stinson had been deeply disturbed by the Japanese political maneuvers in the Philippines (as, indeed I have been myself). They feared that the Japanese grant of independence might rally a certain number of Filipinos to aid the Japanese army to resist the coming American attack on them in the Philippines. Stimson told Quezon that if this occurred, he (S.) would feel like committing suicide. Millard Tydings, the Senator from Maryland, Chairman of the Committee on Tertitories etc., had been staying nearby with his father-in-law, ex-Ambassador Joseph E. Davies, and the two of them had come over to visit Quezon. Tydings then told Quezon that he would “father” “any damn thing” to which the President would agree in order to meet this situation.

So, together with Osmeña and Bernstein, I worked for the first day on the various forms offered for the proposed joint resolution. We could see Quezon for only an hour in the morning and the same length of time in the afternoon. That night Osmeña and Bernstein returned south.

Talk with Colonel Manuel Nieto, Quezon’s loyal friend and chief a.d.c. He told me that they had recently seen a colonel (American) who had escaped from the Philippines in July last. He reported that the Filipinos still have 10,000 troops in Mindanao; that there the Japanese held only Davao, Zamboanga, Misamis and the country up as far as Lake Lanao. The Filipinos can operate elsewhere in Mindanao as they wish. Tomas Confesor has a sort of government in existence in parts of Panay and adjoining islands; Samar and Leyte are for the most part unoccupied by the Japanese. Parts of Cebu are still in the hands of Filipino commandos; Luzon is pretty thoroughly occupied by the enemy.

In conversation at lunch I condoled with Mrs. Marcos Roces over the death of her brother-in-law, my good friend Don Alejandro Roces. It seems that the news had been kept from her–I don’t know why! In talking over this with Quezon later he remarked “Roces was better dead than left alive to explain later his attitude in his newspapers (La Vanguardia, Taliba, etc.) which had been pro-Japanese from the moment the enemy occupied Manila.” Quezon added that he would not himself hang any of the pro-Japanese Filipinos upon his return, though he added that “some of them may be killed before we can take control.” The general impression is that the Filipino people can distinguish accurately between those who are really pro-Japanese and those who are merely co-operating formally to preserve what they can of their country. Quezon quoted again the cable he sent to Roosevelt before leaving for Corregidor, that “if a government cannot afford protection to its citizens it cannot claim their allegiance.” It seems that thereupon Roosevelt cabled MacArthur to release the Filipino Army if Quezon demanded it, but also cabled Quezon his famous message “promising to redeem and protect the Philippines and give them their independence.” Quezon added that he had changed the word “redeemed” when he issued to the Filipino people the proclamation publishing Roosevelt’s message, on the basis of which the Filipinos fought the battle of Bataan. Roosevelt did not know that MacArthur had showed Quezon the message allowing him to disband the Philippine Army if Quezon insisted. Quezon praised Roosevelt’s attitude very highly.

He told me that Stimson’s recent visit to London was to insist that a more vigorous war be waged at once. Hence the pronouncements to that effect at the subsequent Quebec Conference.

About the so-called “independence” offered by the Japanese to the Filipinos, Quezon said: “As soon as I heard that the voting was to be done only by members of the Kalibapi, all my anxieties were ended. If it had been a vote of the Filipino people I would never have gone against it–I would have resigned.” (As a matter of opinion, the Filipinos are said to have “adopted” the new constitution by the vote of 181 hand-picked members of the Kalibapi!) This attitude of Quezon toward his retention of the presidency is uncertain in my mind. When Osmeña and Bernstein left after handing him the various forms proposed for a joint resolution of Congress, Quezon in bidding good-bye to Osmeña said “If this resolution passes Congress before November 15th, I shall resign because I am ill.” Mrs. Quezon also told me that when they go back to Manila, it would not be to reside in Malacañan Palace, but in their own house! On the other hand, Trepp says that he knows Quezon is going to retain the presidency, since he has overheard the negotiations on that subject!

After Osmeña and Bernstein had left, I worked for two more days with Quezon on the joint resolution and the various alternative forms were whittled down to one, declaring the Philippines independent, etc., as soon as invader was ejected and reciting Roosevelt’s famous message of promises to “redeem, secure, etc., and to repair.”

Just as I was leaving to return home, well satisfied with the draft of the joint resolution and Quezon’s proposed letter to President Roosevelt, a telephone conversation between Mrs. Quezon and ex-Governor General Frank Murphy in Michigan introduced another uncertainty into Quezon’s mind! Murphy was then quoted as having said that “he did not want the Philippines to be treated like India, and the resolution must grant immediate independence and he was going to Washington to get it!”

Canceran, the President’s private secretary, who had been busy all day for three days typing and retyping forms of the resolution as Quezon thought of new improvements, sadly said to me: “That is the trouble with the President, he always changes his mind at the last moment, upon new advice.”

Well, we shall see, what we shall see.

Roosevelt and Stimson are already committed to the earlier proposition–i.e., independence as soon as the Japanese invader is thrown out. (The other form might look as if the United States were evading their obligations).

It seems that Quezon has had Dr. Cherin, an assistant of Bernstein, working on the re-writing of Quezon’s book this summer, though Quezon told me nothing of that. The real hitch in publication is that Quezon cannot yet tell the full story of the all-important interchange of cablegrams between himself and Roosevelt before the battle of Bataan.


March 5, 1943

Shoreham.

Quezon wired for me to come here for ten days or so to help him finish his book, which he is determined to do, because, no doubt, of Warner Bros’ offer for the cinema rights.

Congratulated him on his Opera House (New York) address last Saturday, which he said had brought him many compliments.

Asked him about political conditions here–whether Roosevelt would seek a fourth term? He said, yes–if he thinks he can be elected, otherwise he will sacrifice Wallace or McNutt. That nobody could make a success of the first post-war presidency. The Republicans had no man in sight who could do it–the United States would be in for very hard times–whoever got in would be a one-term president. Then Roosevelt would try to get in again in 1948 when he would be only 68 years old. He thought the present trend in America was towards post-war isolationism, which would be disaster. The only two leading candidates who were surely not isolationist, are Roosevelt and Wilkie, and the latter was talking himself out of the nomination.

He then turned to the story of my nomination to the Philippines in 1913. He, as Resident Commissioner, had had an understanding that no nomination of a Governor General would be made without letting him know. But one day he read in a Washington evening paper that the nomination of Oscar T. Crosby, a West Pointer and an engineer for the New Jersey traction companies, was being considered. He went right to Tumulty and said he must see President Wilson. T. let him in with the agreement that he would take only three minutes. He asked Wilson if it was proper for him to express himself on a nomination of a Governor General? Wilson said “Yes.” “Mr. President, I have just read in an evening paper that Mr Oscar T. Crosby is being considered, is that a fact?” Wilson replied that it was. Then Quezon said: “The people of the Philippines will not feel that this is what they had expected of you.” “Why not?” “Because it says here that Mr. Crosby is a West Pointer, and that would mean to them that you were sending out a soldier to govern them with an iron hand; then it says that he is an engineer for the great traction interests–that would mean to the Filipinos that he was coming out there to advance American financial interests.” Mr Wilson replied: “That is interesting.” So Quezon went out and straight to the War Department where he told General Frank McIntyre that they had not kept their understanding with him, and that now he could tell them that they would not get their man nominated.

(It must have been shortly after this that I went to see the President at the request of my brother Fairfax, to advocate the nomination of Crosby. Wilson told me that he esteemed Mr. Crosby very much personally but that Crosby was connected with traction interests against which he had been fighting when Governor of New Jersey.)

Quezon then continued by stating that a few days after he had seen the President I came into his office at the request of my brother, to ask whether there was any hope for Crosby. He told me his objections and then said: “Why shouldn’t you get the nomination yourself?” I was somewhat taken aback and asked: “What makes you think I could get it?” He replied: “I don’t know, but I can try.” I asked him to wait a little for me to consider the matter and that anyway I did not want Crosby to believe that instead of advancing his cause, I had only been working for myself.

A few days later, I returned and said that if he found the idea acceptable he might go ahead. He went at once to Representative William A. Jones of Virginia, the Chairman of the House Committee on Insular Affairs and told him he had found the right man for Governor General. Jones expressed himself as much pleased with the idea so Quezon went on to Secretary of State Bryan’s office. He was diffident and rather uncertain in approaching the great man, but was at once admitted to his office. Bryan replied “why he’s the man who has been helping me to fight the reactionaries in the Ways and Means Committee in the tariff revision. I’ll go right into the President and put the matter before him.”

A day or two later my nomination went to the Senate and was confirmed the same day. Meanwhile Quezon had seen Senator Gilbert Hitchcock, Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Philippines, who was believed to be rather a “reactionary” but he agreed at once. Hitchcock, however, was believed to be opposed to Philippine independence.

Secretary of War Lindley M. Garrison, a leading conservative, was fortunately absent on a speaking tour in the West at this time, or else, with the backing of the War Department he might have blocked the nomination. He, like most of the Army officers, was opposed to the independence of the Philippines.

Next we talked over the strong anti-English sentiment in the United States today. I told him of my arguments with Gwathmey and Finley of the University of Virginia two days ago; that I was convinced that the heart of the so-called “democratic” movement in the world today was social: that it was rather a revolutionary struggle, not so much for political rights, as formerly, but a demand for social equality. He agreed, and said that it was rather dangerous to be pronouncedly in favour of the English in the United States today. That Roosevelt was aware of this and had told Lord Halifax so, but was sticking firmly by England. Quezon said that a large part of the dislike of England in the United States today arose from dislike of the Jews who were all-out to help England. Justice Felix Frankfurter had lost his commanding influence in Administration circles because of being so excessively pro-English. I recalled Colonel Lindberg’s Chicago address of August 1941 in which he stated that the principal influences which were pushing the United States into this war were: 1. The Roosevelt Administration; 2. The English; and 3. The Jews. For this, Lindberg was violently attacked in the press.

Quezon told of his own long-standing dislike of the English because of their arrogance in Asia; of how he had cursed them in Corregidor for their failures in Singapore and Hong Kong; how he had come to admire them as men, after Dunkirk and the battle of Egypt, and how the alliance between the United States and England now was the salvation of the whole world. He, himself, had given up for the present, all his own interests and plans for a Malay Federation, etc., and was concentrating only upon the interests of his own country. (This was the advice I so strongly urged upon him when I first joined him ten months ago on May 30, 1942.)

The recently (March, 1943) announced convention of the United Nations soon to be held to debate the world food problems, was originally the suggestion of Mr. Nash, the Minister of New Zealand, in the Pacific War Council. But, after a debate lasting two hours over the subject of wheat, in which the difference of viewpoint between those nations which produced wheat and those which bought it was apparently so sharp, the Council was going to abandon the idea of a convention of the United Nations as likely to serve only to show up the lack of unity among these “allies.” Then Quezon spoke in the War Council in favour of calling such a convention–he said it was quite right that the nations (U.S. and Gt. Britain) which were making the greatest effort in the war, and were spending their money should be the ones to direct the affairs of the United Nations. However it would be wise to allow the smaller countries an opportunity to present their own views. That would make them all feel that they were taking their share of decisions. It is potentially a strong movement to which attention must be paid. “Have the conference,” he said “not in Washington or New York, but in some quiet place like the Warm Springs, Virginia, where the delegates would be thrown into intimate association with one another and could discuss everything in private conversation. Roosevelt could address the conference on the subject of food, select a chairman and let the latter send everything placed before the Conference to Committees, to hear and consider and report later. Let there be no real debates before the conference to disclose or develop sharp differences of opinion, but let anyone discuss what he pleased, even though the ostensible purpose was only the food question.” Finally, these ideas were accepted by the whole Pacific War Council, and the project of a Conference of the United Nations was later announced by the President.

I commented on the loyalty of Roosevelt to his friends and supporters–how he immediately appointed to new posts those of his circle who had been defeated in the elections. Quezon commented: “I never did that.”

Excerpt from Quezon’s letter of March 4, 1943 to General MacArthur in Australia.

I gather from the reports to which 1 have referred above that some of our guerrillas are committing the same mistakes or abuses that were committed by our guerrillas during the fight against the Spaniards and later against the Americans. They are looting and maltreating, and, in some cases, killing Filipinos whom they suspect to be pro-Japanese. From every point of view that is wrong, moreover, it may be of serious consequences.

In the case of Peralta, he has even gone to the extent of criticizing me for not denouncing Vargas and his colleagues. The insolence of this man in attempting to give me a lecture regarding the history of the revolution in which I took part while he was still unborn or a baby, and on the psychology of the Filipino people, would be laughable if it did not betray his utter unfitness for the role that he is aspiring to play in the Philippines.

Not as an answer to Peralta, but only to make crystal clear my stand in this respect, I wish to remind you that even while we were in Corregidor, at a time when a policy of threat or condemnation might have had more effect than now, I studiously avoided saying anything that might give Vargas and the rest of the Filipinos who have now accepted positions under the Japanese Military Administration, the impression I have lost faith in them. The reason for my attitude is that I knew, and have not changed my opinion, that the Filipino can best be won by showing him confidence rather than distrust. Indeed, if threat and punishment would make a Filipino loyal, the whole country would now be pro-Japanese. In other words, I am of the opinion that if we want to keep the Filipinos on our side the commanders of the guerrillas must refrain from persecuting those who seem to be co-operating with the Japanese, unless they help the Japanese to discover the places where our guerrillas are hiding, or kill our men. Prager’s report shows that even our Constabulary and Philippine Army soldiers who are now serving in the Japanese organized police force are, in fact, loyal to us.

Long discourse today by Quezon illustrating his advantage in politics in the Philippines because he knew how to appeal directly to the tao instead of relying like most of the other politicos upon securing the support of the “leaders.” He illustrated this method by referring to General Sandiko’s successful appeal to the people in his province of Bulacan (during Governor Forbes’ administration) against an extra-legal Executive Order of the Governor General which Speaker Osmeña had obligingly ratified by passage through the Assembly.

His best story was of the campaign made by him against the all-powerful Godofredo Reyes of Sariaya, Tayabas, when Quezon was President of the Senate and in control of the Nacionalista party. He put up Primitivo San Augustin and, to the astonishment of all the leaders in Tayabas, San Augustin beat Reyes. Quezon had gone himself to open the campaign and had addressed crowds of taos appealing to them in speeches 1 hour to 1 ½ hours long not to let their caciques vote for them, but to exercise the right of suffrage like free men. This method won that election.

Discussion of the Church and of Masonry. Quezon thinks neither of them count much in Philippine politics–bishops always have been easy to beat, but less so since Filipinos have been ordained as bishops, and the parish priests are now almost exclusively native citizens.

Quezon always states that he became a Catholic again after his “daughters were grown,” but it really was in 1928 when “Baby” was about 7 and “Nini” was, say, 5. Quezon scorns the idea that this move benefited him politically. He explains he did it so that his daughters should not be “ashamed” of him. One can understand how Mrs. Quezon brought pressure on him upon this subject in the home life. In order to be readmitted to the Church, he had to renounce Masonry, since the Church will not tolerate any secret society and is especially violent against Masonry. Quezon argued with his father confessor against the prejudice in the Church against Masonry. The priest said: “Ah! you do not know–they don’t let you know what the real secret purpose of those in control of it cherish–they spit on the cross!” Quezon protested. “Do you know who I am–I am the Cardinal of the Masons–I almost might say their Pope! I am the Grand Master of the Blue Lodge.” But it was all to no effect–he had to give in.

Conversation with Mrs. Quezon on her voyage with Mrs, Buencamino to Java in 1936. The Dutch Government would pay her no direct courtesies because she came unofficially. The American Consul General in Batavia told her of all the precautions the Dutch Government had taken to prevent the Javanese leaders from meeting her. Two of the Javanese leaders, ladies who had been educated in Europe came to Mrs. Quezon’s hotel room after midnight and asked that the door be locked. Mrs. Quezon had already refused the room prepared for her so as to avoid the possibility of dictaphones. These two ladies begged her to help them towards independence. She said in reply that the Filipinos had succeeded because they were united under her husband (!). But the Javanese replied that they could do nothing to that end because they could not assemble to unite–the Government would not even allow more than two of them to meet together after dark.

The Japanese, she said, through their cheap and excellent shops in Java as well as through the excellent manners of their shopkeepers were making great headway with the Javanese.

The Dutch system of rotation of crops included also rotation of agriculturalists–so the native farmers never felt they owned any of the fields!


February 25, 1943

Shoreham Hotel.

Quezon says that when he first came to Washington as Resident Commissioner he, like most Filipinos, believed that when they saw an American man and woman out driving together, whom they knew not to be married to one another, they were sexually intimate. This was the old Spanish idea. But when he got to Washington and made friends with American girls, he soon found out the truth as to our views on the sexes–he was delighted, and when he went back to the Philippines, he convinced them as to the real American situation in these matters.

This conversation arose from an amusing incident–he was at his desk writing a letter to a well-known Washington hostess–a widow, but still young. She had recently entertained him in her house at a diner a deux. This was the first and only time they had met, and she terrified him by stories of the spying of the various secret services which, apparently, has always gone on in Washington. She told how, during the last war, she had warned Bernard Baruch, then a most important official, that she knew there were six police dictaphones in “his” house. He thought the statement ridiculous, but went home, made a search and found six of them–two under his bed! He was so furious that he went at once to President Wilson and resigned his office. The President finally calmed him down. Well, this lady, in return for some orchids which Quezon had sent her after the dinner, wrote him a rather empresse letter–a little coy and pleasantly familiar. He was struggling with his English vocabulary in writing his reply and asked me to help him. I read his letter and told him that it wouldn’t do at all–his phrase: “I was to find that, as the Spanish say, you carry your heart in your hand”–I protested that it was dangerous for a statesman to write such a letter–if a third party found it, use might be made of it. He jumped as if he had been shot–he was only trying to be polite. He explained that the phrase above quoted meant in Spanish only “sincere” or “virtuous” but I again objected that in English “virtue” meant not the old Latin sense of the word, but only referred to sex! He was horrified, entirely rewrote the letter in uncompromising phrases and thanked me rather effusively for saving him. He made a great story for his family out of this!

Quezon, Andres Soriano, Secretary of Finance and myself in conversation. More talk on news from the Philippines, which comes from Colonel Peralta, chief of guerrillas in Panay, through MacArthur in Australia, from time to time, and also, in bits, from returned travelers like Consul Willoquet, etc.

George Vargas, altho head of the government commission under the Japanese is not trusted by them. He is always attended by Japanese “aide-de-camp” when he goes out; Japanese officers live in his house. His wife confessed to Willoquet who saw her alone, that they are not free agents.

Quezon thinks the Japanese have disposed of Manuel Roxas by a feigned airplane accident. Soriano thinks that they have taken him to Japan to hold as a hostage. When Quezon was in the tunnel at Corregidor, he thought he was dying, and wanted to go back to Malacañan. Roxas begged him not to do so. Later when the time came for Quezon to leave Corregidor to join to MacArthur in Australia (an event which was not then anticipated), Manuel Roxas begged him with tears in his eyes not to go from Corregidor. He exhorted him to “think of your fame.” Roxas followed Quezon to Dumaguete, and went with him to Mindanao, though he did not wish to leave Wainwright at Corregidor. Refused to leave Mindanao and joined General Sharp’s forces there. Sharp was ordered by Wainwright from Corregidor, when the latter fell, to surrender explaining that the Japanese would not give any terms to those on Corregidor unless all the military forces in the Islands also surrendered themselves. So, to save the men and women on Corregidor, Sharp and Roxas came in and gave themselves up to the nearest Japanese command. (NOTE–later–Roxas and Commander Worcester, U.S.N.R. fled to the mountains of Bukidnon). General Paulino Santos and Guingona, [who were not in the army, are in Mindanao. They have “gone over” to the Japanese.] Quezon says that Guingona was with him when Vargas’ co-operation with the Japanese was mentioned in Quezon’s presence, and, as Quezon says, when he heard no adverse comment upon Vargas’ action, being a “bright fellow” (Q.), Guingona followed suit. Quezon expressed a desire to know what Guingona had done with the four million pesos of Philippine currency he took to Mindanao to pay the army there–“if he kept it for himself…” I protested vigorously that nobody who knew Guingona could believe such a thing possible. Quezon agreed. “But,” I said “I have now heard you say twice that–if he kept it for himself.” Finally we agreed that he had probably burned the money, as his instructions required.

Soriano asked if he could bring the Spanish Cabinet Minister of War (Bergdorfer?), who is now in Washington, to call on Quezon tomorrow morning? Soriano said B. was an anti-Nazi, and had remarked that Quezon’s fame was now great in Spain. Quezon replied that he could squeeze in a half-hour for the call from B. “which should be long enough if I don’t start making speeches–which I always do!”

It appears that Justice Frank Murphy presented to Roosevelt the plan for the recent announcement that Roosevelt has already recognized the Philippines as possessing the attributes of an independent nation by putting Quezon on the Pacific War Council and asking him to sign the United Nations declaration. Murphy then told Roosevelt quite heatedly that he disapproved the decision to make Hitler the No. 1 enemy, and concentrate on him to the disadvantage of the Pacific area. Roosevelt took Murphy’s objections in good temper and told Murphy to “cool off.”

Somehow, the conversation turned back to Dr. Dominador Gomez. Quezon described him as a pure Malay type, but very big and a tremendous orator in the Spanish style, who swayed his audiences as he pleased. He had been a colonel in the Spanish Army. Was elected in 1907 as a delegate to the First Philippine Assembly. The election was declared void by the Assembly because there was no proof that Gomez was a Philippine citizen. Another election, and Gomez was returned by an even larger majority amid tumults and mob fighting. So they let him in!

When Quezon was Resident Commissioner in Washington he had occasion to make some uncomplimentary remark about Gomez. Quezon, traveling homewards, got to Shanghai on the steamer where he received a letter from Gomez challenging him to a duel. On arrival in Manila Quezon received a visit from the famous Colonel Blanco, also formerly a colonel in the Spanish Army in the Philippines and founder of the Macabebe Scouts, who appeared as Gomez’s second to challenge Quezon and asking who his second would be. Quezon replied: “I shall appoint no second. I do not wish to fight a duel with Dr. Gomez. But you may tell him this: ‘I give him leave to shoot me any time he sees me. Also tell him that any time he comes within one metre of me, I shall immediately shoot him.'” Shortly afterwards, Quezon attended a burial in Manila. With him were his cousin Miss Aurora Aragon–now Mrs. Quezon and Mary Buencamino. They knew about the challenge and were horrified to see Dominador Gomez standing near Quezon and all the more so since Gomez had his hand in his side pocket! Mrs. Buencamino slipped right behind Gomez and stood there to grab his arm, but Quezon pushed right in front of him to look down into the grave. Gomez drew out his hand from his pocket, but produced only a pocket handkerchief to mop his face!

Quezon then told of his marriage to Miss Aragon in Hong Kong in 1919. I (the present writer) was on the Ocean (Pacific) en route for New York when I received a radio from Quezon. “Married Hong Kong.” I went down to Dr. Oñate’s cabin to wake him, and demanded that he should tell me who Quezon had married. He was afraid to commit himself and it was a half-hour before I could get out of him the guess that it was Quezon’s cousin, Miss Aurora Aragon.

The marriage was secretly decided on when Quezon and Miss Aragon were in Hong Kong. Quezon sent his a.d.c. to the American Consul and requested that he should ask the Governor to waive the required 10 days residence, which was done. When the guests and the principals had met in rickshaws at the civil marriage bureau, Quezon turned to Luis Yancko and said: “Do you know why we are gathered here? I am going to be married right now!” Yancko’s mouth fell open with surprise and he stammered “but to whom?” Quezon replied: “To this young lady who stands beside me.” “But, but that’s impossible” said Yancko (meaning because they were within the degrees of relationship prohibited by the Church). “Impossible–how do you mean?” “Well” said Yancko “not impossible but improbable!”

Yancko gave them a beautiful wedding breakfast at the leading Hong Kong hotel.

At lunch today Mrs. Quezon and General Valdes were describing the discomforts of life in the tunnel at Corregidor. Mrs. Quezon got tired of waiting in line before support to get her shower, so she would wait until 2 a.m. and bathe then. Soon others discovered the way, and they began standing in line in the middle of the night. No curtain hung on the alcove which contained the shower. After the heavy bombings, the water main was broken, and for two weeks they had not only to bathe in salt water, but also to cook their rice and make their coffee in salt water, which entirely upset their stomachs.

Colonel Velasquez, a West Pointer, who was in the front lines at Bataan and Corregidor, was recently at the military school at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he says he made himself rather unpopular when the meals were discussed by saying: “Sometimes we may have to go hungry for a long time.” Velasquez told me he thought a campaign like that in Tunisia was necessary to harden the American troops, who were now overfed and thinking and talking all the time about their three big meals a day. He said he thought our American troops were pampered.

Quezon has started work again on his book. Has rewritten the foreword. Warner Bros have offered to make a film of it. Much talk with Bernstein about terms and arrangements. Quezon does not think that Morgan Shuster has been careful enough in editing the English of his ms. He evidently wishes to be thought letter-perfect in English. He says he now wants to finish the book–can’t do it in Washington–too many interruptions. Requests me to go off with him for 20-30 days and work with him on the book.


November 14, 1942

P.M. at the Shoreham.

Quezon pale and tired and talking as little as possible. He was dictating a letter to Mrs. Woodrow Wilson thanking her for some courtesy and expressing to her how much the Filipinos loved the late President Wilson for fighting for their independence and for protecting their rights.

He gave an amusing explanation of the reason why the mass tomorrow is not to be at the Cathedral, as he had directed his chaplain, Father Pacifico Ortiz– instead, it is to be held at the Jesuit Church to which order the chaplain belongs, though there are more steps there than Quezon wishes to climb. “He wants to get more people at the mass than we had at the broadcast. But I told him” said the President, “‘to invite only the Roman Catholics on the list of those whom we had invited to my broadcast.'”

He then talked of his veto of the bill for “religious instruction” in the schools of the Philippines–adding however, that if beforehand, High Commissioner McNutt had expressed to him disapproval of that measure, “I would have signed it. I’ll tell you a secret: I let the Assemblymen think I might sign it–it was, however, so long I couldn’t read it, but would consider it if passed. They offered a conference with me on the terms of the bill, but I refused. When Mrs. Quezon heard that it might fail to pass the Assembly she was greatly upset. She was ill at the time, but I had a talk with her. I asked her ‘Do you trust me?’ She looked at me and said that question was almost an offense–of course she trusted me. I then asked her if she realized that in pursuit of my duty I would sacrifice even herself, our children and myself? She said: ‘Yes, do your duty.’ Then, when the time came to veto the bill, the Bishops whom I defied could not get at me.” Quezon remarked: “Many a ruler has been ruined by priests, especially by his wife’s confessors.”

Quezon then showed me the script of his proposed broadcast which will, as we now know, be heard in the Philippines, where the Filipinos are able to conceal their short-wave radios because, as the President remarked they shift their short-waves every day, and you know how far they can walk in the mountains in one day.

I made one suggestion to add four words to his address, which he adopted. It referred to the guerrilla warfare in the mountains, in which the Japanese take fearful punishment. Their experiences in Formosa have taught them to dread the mountain tribes. Quezon had recently received a short-wave message from Colonel Peralta in Panay which stated that he had just killed two thousand Japanese in mountain warfare there.