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Quezon’s Executive Order 217

On July 4, Americans will commemorate their Independence Day. For a time, Filipinos did so, too, because of the Treaty of Manila of 1948. It was President Diosdado Macapagal who moved Philippine Independence Day to June 12, because Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo signed our Declaration of Independence on that day in 1898.

Under Spain, Filipinos were educated in schools established by Catholic missionaries until a Royal Decree in 1863 ordered that a public school system be established throughout the archipelago. But quality education was reserved for the elite.

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American troops started opening schools in Manila after the Philippines was ceded to the United States for $20 million through the Treaty of Paris in 1898, and in 1901 a free and compulsory public education system was established along with the first teacher education institution for aspiring Filipino teachers. At the same time, American teachers—the Thomasites— were recruited and sent to the Philippines to jump-start the new and clearly more inclusive public schools. Unlike our Spanish colonizers, the Americans did everything they could to teach our forebears to read, write and speak in English.

Also, young, intelligent and highly motivated Filipino students had the opportunity to study in American universities. These scholars were called “pensionados” because the Philippine government paid for their expenses while they were studying in America. According to the TeacherPH blog, “hundreds of Filipino pensionados were able to study in the US until 1928. From their ranks came the future civic, business and political leaders of our country.”

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During his term, President Manuel L. Quezon sought to make Philippine education less American-like and more culturally relevant by initiating the development of a national language. Quezon also directed Education Secretary Jorge Bocobo to require all schools to teach the Code of Citizenship and Ethics “to develop moral character, personal discipline, civic conscience, and to teach the duties of citizenship.”

The 16-point agenda of Executive Order 217 is awe-inspiring in its clarity and timeliness. It’s probably mentioned in classrooms today only as something to be memorized for the long quiz. It’s our loss, because these should resonate particularly well today:

“Love your country for it is the home of your people, the seat of your affections, and the source of your happiness and well-being. Its defense is your primary duty. Be ready at all times to sacrifice and die for it if necessary.”

“Respect the Constitution which is the expression of your sovereign will. The government is your government. It has been established for your safety and welfare. Obey the laws and see that they are observed by all and that public officials comply with their duties.”

“Value your honor as you value your life. Poverty with honor is preferable to wealth with dishonor.”

“Contribute to the welfare of your community and promote social justice. You do not live for yourselves and your families alone. You are a part of society to which you owe definite responsibilities.”

President Quezon signed EO 217 on his 61st birthday on Aug. 19, 1939. I can’t help but think: We started out so well, and look at how far we’ve fallen. Our Constitution is disrespected time and again. Our values are no longer what they once were, and we are deeply divided. People keep saying that we should leave the past behind and just move on. I strongly disagree. In denying the past, we learn nothing.

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I urge you to fire up your favorite search engine and read Quezon’s EO 217 in its entirety. In all likelihood, you’ll land at the Quezon.ph website. It’s listed in the Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines, but I got a “resource not found” error message when I clicked on the link.

Butch Hernandez ([email protected] gmail.com) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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