Death in Malacañang, 1930 | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Death in Malacañang, 1930

It is probably a professional bias, but each time I open the Inquirer online, I scroll to the grayscale page that is a reproduction of page one from the past. Yesterday, the front page story of choice from April 18, 1992 was a report on 14 penitents who were crucified in Kapitangan, Pampanga, an event which draws both the curious and devout each year on Good Friday. Then there was a story on the introduction of the “sablay” at the University of the Philippines commencement for the first time, replacing the traditional, Western academic gown or “toga.” It is strange that sablay, the piece of cloth draped on a graduating student’s shoulder, in colloquial Filipino is the verb that means “to fail.” Front page stories today are drafts of history, front pages from the past when viewed today are history.

Of the many prewar periodicals I went through over the Holy Week, one that had me reading more than the front pages were issues of the Tribune whose motto “ALL THE NEWS—ALL THE TIME” is not possible even in the age of digital journalism. Tribune was published every morning except Monday. The headline for Wednesday, Nov. 5, 1930 was “Yriarte Dies During Malacañang Ball. Death Smites Beloved Society Leader While Marshalling Rigodon.” Manuel de Yriarte is the name that does not ring a bell except to historians and cultural workers as he served both in the Spanish and American colonial administrations, first as secretary of the interior secretary until his appointment as Bureau of Archives and later National Museum of the Philippines director. He is one person who literally left with a bang.

Tribune reported: “Death stalked gayety at Malacañang Palace last night, and as hundreds thronged the magnificent rooms and brilliantly decorated gardens of the Executive Mansion, it touched with its icy hands one who had for years been intimately associated with the social life of the Palace.

“Manuel de Yriarte, struck down by cerebral hemorrhage while apparently in prime health, passed away in the very act of concluding for the last time, the stately measures of the Rigodon de Honor.


“The traditional dance, which years gad ushered in the gubernatorial functions was nearing its close, and Don Manuel, as always was the most prominent figure in guiding the intricate evolution with the skill of long practice and with the enthusiasm which he always brought to this, to him the most congenial task. It was almost exactly 10:30 o’clock, The ‘cadenilla,’ last of the measures of the dance was about to begin and Don Manuel, in signal stamped his foot sharply. As his shoe struck the polished floor his face changed color. The ruddy glow of health deepened to a dull crimson. His knees bent slightly, and slowly, as the dancers and the gay throng packed about them gazed in horror, he sank, falling forward to the floor.

“As his head struck the floor he turned slightly and those nearest him saw him open his eyes and gaze, with slowly dimming glance. [People who were the first to assist him] were brushed aside by Governor-general Davis, who stood some six paces away. With Mayor Tomas Earnshaw, the governor-general lifted the limp body and bore it tenderly in the governor general’s rooms … A few moments later Mr. Davis, his eyes dimmed, emerged from his rooms and informed several army officers grouped about the entrance that Don Manuel de Yriarte had passed away, and the ball was over.”

Dwight Davis is better known today as the benefactor of the annual Davis Cup tennis matches than being governor general of the Philippines. While two Philippine presidents have died in office and lay in state in the Palace, they expired elsewhere: Manuel Roxas of a heart attack in Clark Airbase in 1948 and Ramon Magsaysay in a plane crash in Cebu in 1957. This makes De Yriarte’s death on the Malacañang dance floor most notable. At the head of the VIP guests at the palace that night were Acting Senate President Sergio Osmeña and House Speaker Manuel Roxas. Conspicuously absent was Manuel L. Quezon who was in the United States. An Associated Press report in the inside pages of the Tribune reported that the Paramount Motion Picture Company recorded a “talkie” from his sickbed appealing to the US for Philippine independence:

“Thirty two years ago the United States assumed sovereignty over the Philippines.” Quezon said, “It assured the Filipino people that it wasn’t its purpose to subjugate them or exploit their country, but to help them stand on their feet and establish a free government.


“Uncle Sam has been a wonderful teacher and the Filipino a marvelously apt pupil … Now the pupil says to the teacher ‘I have mastered my subject, I am ready for my degree,’ but America has failed to heed the appeal on the alleged ground that there are obstacles in the way of a very serious nature and grave consequences not only to the Filipinos but to the world at large, especially the region of the Pacific bordering the Philippines … My appeal to the people of the United States is: Let us settle the Philippine question now and let us settle it right, in accordance with the plighted word of America.”

Our President has just met with the US president and Japanese prime minister in Washington to talk about security in our part of the world. Is it coincidence or is this news item on Quezon from 1930 reading like the present?



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