Looking Back

A letter to Baby Quezon


August is almost over and I have not written anything on Buwan ng Wika, the Philippine Revolution, or the assassination of Ninoy Aquino. Nothing on Manuel L. Quezon, nor the unending debate fired by those who still challenge the choice of Tagalog as our national language. I missed a deadline overwhelmed by the banter at the Luneta march where gays suggested that the Priority Development Assistance Fund should be renamed the Benigno Aquino Development and Assistance Fund or “Badaf.”

A letter from Quezon to his daughter Maria Aurora in May 1937 was made available to me by Edward de los Santos, who collects everything from Voltes V toys to Philippine coins. Here we see Quezon as an affectionate father so different from the image we learn from textbooks and monuments. To remind us that heroes are human and that we too have a capacity for greatness read on:

“Baby my dear:

“After writing your mother, my first letter is to you—my eldest daughter. You see that by virtue of being the eldest, you are entitled to certain privileges, but rights and privileges carry with them always corresponding responsibilities and, thus, the eldest son or daughter have these. For instance, you are bound to help your mother, and to set a good example for your sister and brother.

“You know, my beloved one, I have been very happy at having seen more of you and of Nini and Nonong during this trip. I have watched your behavior and have listened to your talk and felt justified pride in the results of my observations. There is very little that can be said in criticism of anyone of you and I am confident that as each one grows older, those little shortcomings will be corrected by yourselves.

“You must take advantage of this opportunity that you have to learn French and everything else that you may learn while in Europe. Bear in mind that we have taken you to Europe at great sacrifice, not only because such trips as these cost money and we have very little wealth, if any, but more important still, because I have to suffer being separated from you all, whose company is daily getting to be more necessary to my aging life. Above all, please remember, that the knowledge that you may acquire now, you may never have again the chance of gaining later, and then the regret that will come to you, will be of little help.

“Darling, I know whereof I speak. I have not been a good student when I was of school age and I should have been in a better position to meet my responsibilities in later years if I had profited all I could during my student days. No one will ever know the pain and humiliation that I have felt at times when confronted with my ignorance of subjects that have been before and which I could have known if I had been a hard working student.

“Then, let me repeat what you have heard me say so many times before. Don’t take up any subject only for the purpose of passing an examination. You must study to learn what enriches our life—knowledge.

“You have seen many of my own shortcomings. You must have been impressed disagreeably by them. The thing to do is for you to avoid incurring  those defects that you see in me. For instance, don’t let your temper run away with you. How much more happy I should have been and how much happier I should have made those around me if I did not allow myself to be angry on any account. You see anger does not help anybody—it does not make right something that is wrong, and it is not the best method of correction.

“You will never realize how sorry I have been for having shown you and Nini and Nonong my anger at times! It is all right and even necessary to express our disapproval of things that are wrong, especially when the wrong done is intended and affect us directly or indirectly, or when the person who commits or would commit it is under our guidance or responsibility, but we can do this calmly, even if unmistakably expressing ourselves. Sometimes you love your temper, and you must try to control yourself.

“Again, avoid making any show of your talent at the expense of others. You are smart, my dear girl, and should be thankful to God for this. But take no advantage of the dullness of your fellow creatures.

“You broke my heart when I saw you crying the night before I left. I know you love me much and God knows how happy you make me with your love. I shall not tell you not to let your tears drop or allow your heart to feel the pain of the separation from those whom your love. While in the care of Mom it is better that they control their emotions to the extent of concealing them from other people’s eyes, it is not wrong for women to allow some freedom to the expression of their feelings, so long as by so doing they cause no annoyance to their neighbors. Think of me darling and miss me, for I think of you and miss you, just as I think of, and miss all of you.

“When we left Cherbourg the day was sunny and the sea calm. But today has not been very smooth. If mother and Nini have been here they would have been seasick, and, perhaps you too if you were along. Nonong is the only one that stand, like his father, all the rough seas.

“Darling take care of yourself. Don’t let your cold get worse I would worry if you fell ill. Help mother to take care of Nonong and even of Nini. God bless you my daughter. With papa’s benediction and love you should feel happy, Dad.”

* * *

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  • Maglalawis

    I wonder if Kris Aquino received letters such as this from her saint mom. hmmm.

  • kapayapaan_1900

    MLQ’s letter to her daughter reveals the late president’s unquestionable humility rarely seen among parents nowadays. Admitting he falls short of what he should have done during his student days and the humiliations he suffered from the ignorance of any subject he could have learned earlier in school, he exhorted her daughter to pursue knowledge. While others pampered their children with ostentatious extravagant gift like two Porsche cars to a daughter who recently graduated from college, here is a president who reminded her daughter of their limited resources to finance such a trip to Europe and should take advantage of the opportunity to learn something in return. Here is a president who admits faults and shortcomings to his children never to emulate especially his famous temper, his “P” word when in a fury of anger.

    MLQ built character in his children. The now famous Janet Napoles of the PDAF anomalies displayed and passed on vainglory and pride in her children flaunting her wealth.

  • Isagani Gatmaitan

    The names of Philippine statesmen resound in history.. M. L. Quezon, C.M. Recto, J.W. Diokno, L.M. Tanada… Their greatness lives on…

    The names of the present crop of Philippine politicians can only be uttered in the toilet… Enrile, Revilla, Sotto, Marcos, Estrada, Honasan…. Their putrid connotations echo the decay of the Philippine body politic, which they, in no small measure, contributed to.

  • WeAry_Bat

    Great letter with timeless lessons within; thanks for the historical sharing.

  • pilipino_ako6

    A touching letter of a loving father gently teaching his daughter valuable lessons in life. It is almost surreal to envision that we did, at one time, have politicians like Quezon. You wouldn’t think so to look at most of our senators and congressmen now.

  • mariovill1950

    Manuel Luis Quezon un verdadero estadista con amor indiscutible a su pais y al pueblo Filipino.

  • atmar

    if not for MLQ we would be a US territory…..hmmmm sounds better dont you think! :)

  • Mang Teban

    Right. You missed a deadline, Ambeth, and dedicated a whole letter for your column. Well, it is something about August. Much so because your article was on an illustrious man, Manuel L. Quezon. Initially, I wondered what your publisher reacted to your sending an exact quote from a letter and filled up most of the column space.

    As an afterthought though, President Quezon said about his family’s not being so wealthy while telling his daughter about making the most of her trip to Europe and study French. I imagined that the father was almost saying that her daughter come home well-educated in French and make a good return on the father’s investment.

    That did not seem to matter to our other presidents whose children are schooled but made a mediocre return on investment, including the economist-daughter of Diosdado Macapagal who would have been our best president educated with the tools to run the economy but screwed it up later to ingratiate herself with riches she did not work for. For this current president, I suppose almost everyone knows he was a mediocre lawmaker before his catapult to presidency. This is what makes presidents like Quezon worthy to emulate as a father and as a statesman. Not so with the current one – not a father, not a statesman. Simply a symbolic figure of disappointment.

  • markus32

    If MLQ is alive.. I think these words will be heard from his mouth:
    “Mga PU#37& kayo! mga magnanacao ng salapi ng inang bayan!”

  • hssa96

    Thank you Sir Ambeth for sharing this precious letter. Am I just sentimental because I missed my beloved Dad who passed away many years ago? Maybe, but also I also wished that I have lived during the time when we have great presidents that would really make us proud, not today….

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