Quezon of ‘QC’
Have you noticed how August has become, in many schools, “Filipiniana month”? I hear parents grumbling about their children having to practice for some Philippine-related activity, usually a cultural show, decked out in expensive Filipino “costumes.”
That term “costume” should be banished. Do you ever hear people referring to a coat and tie as a western costume? After the month is over, we put away the “costume” and forget we are Filipinos, living in the Philippines.
Some schools will remind students that it is the buwan ng wikang Filipino, the month of our national language, in commemoration of President Manuel L. Quezon, who was responsible for the creation of a national language in the Philippines. August was chosen because it is the birth month of Quezon (he was born on Aug. 19, 1878).
I was asked to deliver a speech yesterday at ceremonies marking his 136th birth anniversary, and as I gathered research materials on his life, I realized what a remarkable nationalist this man was and we should be doing more to remember him, not just in August but throughout the year.
Many Filipinos are unaware that Quezon stopped his law studies at the University of Santo Tomas to join Emilio Aguinaldo’s forces in resisting American occupation.
After Aguinaldo’s capture, Quezon returned to his studies and went into politics, rising through the ranks. He fought hard for the Jones Act, which would provide for a transition into a regaining of our independence.
We forget his many accomplishments as president of the Commonwealth, which was established as a step toward independence.
It was during his term as president of the Commonwealth that Quezon initiated steps toward a national language. His reasons for advocating a national language are explained in a speech he gave during a banquet for Letran alumni. He noted how, in his trips around the country, he had to rely on interpreters. He was worried about how, after independence and without a national language, the nation would fall into civil strife.
This year, beyond the national language, we should be remembering Quezon for another important social reform: establishing Quezon City, which on Oct. 12 will launch its Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
Quezon pushed for building a new capital city because he was worried that Manila was vulnerable to naval attacks from foreigners. He wanted a city that was more inland. (Little did he know that when we were finally attacked in 1941, by the Japanese, it would be by air.)
The original name proposed for this new city was “Balintawak,” but legislators came up with “Quezon” to honor the president. The bill was passed but Quezon never signed it, probably out of delicadeza, and instead of the “City of Balintawak” we got “Quezon City.”
To get the new city going in 1938, President Quezon established a People’s Homesite Corporation that purchased 1,529 hectares from the Tuason family. This was to be developed later into Barrio Obrero, followed shortly after by Barrio Obrero II.
The use of “Obrero” was not accidental. Quezon and his advisers wanted Quezon City to be a home for workers. The People’s Homesite Corporation, the precursor of the National Housing Authority, was intended to help middle-class workers, mainly in government, to have their own homes.
Quezon’s advisers left no stone unturned in coming up with this workers’ city. Because the capital was still in Manila, Quezon’s advisers put up a transport shuttle service between Manila and the new housing areas in Quezon City, with fare set at 5 centavos.
The emphasis on housing for the workers and the middle class was to continue into the 1950s and 1960s. Notice how Quezon City is divided into “projects” (Project 1 is, today, the Roxas district); these were in a sense subdivisions, with lot areas of 200 square meters sold to government workers at very affordable rates.
I would not be surprised if Quezon had a personal hand in formulating this pro-middle-class housing policy because, as president, he had many other programs oriented toward social justice, from a Rice Share Tenancy Act of 1933 (which failed because of opposition from landowners) to several labor policies that included setting a minimum wage and an 8-hour working day.
John Gunther’s “Inside Asia,” published in 1937, provides many interesting anecdotes on Quezon’s social awareness, which goes back to his having had a difficult life, and his gratitude to those who helped to overcome poverty.
We learn, from Gunther, that as a young lawyer, Quezon “charged the poor no fees, and soaked the rich.” Gunther also wrote about how Quezon’s wife once complained to him that their cook was a communist. Quezon went to the kitchen, talked with the cook, and came back to his wife with this explanation: “The cook is not a communist. If he were a duke, he would be for the dukes. But he’s a cook, and so he’s for the cooks.”
Apart from its thrust of social justice through housing, Quezon City was also meant to be a green city. Quezon’s advisers included William Parsons, who worked on Manila earlier in the century, Harry Frost, Juan Arellano, and others. They envisioned a core of 480 “green” hectares, bound by four avenues: North, South (Timog), East and West. (I have wondered why we use only one Filipino name, Timog.)
Quezon City was supposed to be a garden city. Notice that Roxas District’s streets are all named after flowers: Gumamela, Dahlia, Rosal, and many more.
President Quezon died in 1944, in the United States, still in exile because of the war, away from his beloved Philippines and the city he had founded.
What would he say if he were around, and came to visit and found streets in Quezon City named after cigarettes and car brands? Many of the houses in the “projects” of Quezon City have not been maintained, and some areas have even been taken over by informal settlers. The city, now the largest in the Philippines in terms of population, is home to some of the largest concentrations of urban poor. That includes some 70,000 informal settlers living within the University of the Philippines Diliman, the national university.
The current administration of Quezon City is looking again into housing for the low- and middle-income poor, a welcome development to honor the man after whom the city is named. It will do well to draw on Quezon’s vision, housing integrated into a wider social reform agenda, for all our cities.
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