Love letters | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Love letters

/ 12:12 AM December 02, 2015

Textbook or Wikipedia history tells us that Elpidio Quirino, was the first Ilocano president of the Philippines (the second was Ferdinand “Anak ti Batac” Marcos), and the second president after Philippine independence was recognized by the United States in 1946 (the first was Manuel Roxas). Quirino was married to Alicia Syquia of Vigan who bore him five children: Tommy, Doddy Vicky, Norma and Fe.

Depending on your Araling Panlipunan or Philippine History teacher, all this useless information, and more, should be committed to memory and spewed out in a quiz or graded recitation. While memorization is a necessary skill to be learned and sharpened, the end result of most Araling Panlipunan is dread of or boredom with history.


Fortunately, Google has made the rote method of history learning obsolete. With proper training, students can now find the best answer to any history question literally with a click of a finger. Unfortunately, some teachers refuse to ride the crest of the technology wave.

In my time the big debate was whether to allow students to use calculators in class or not. Dinosaurs steadfastly refused their use, overriding a minority who vainly argued that calculators coupled with an understanding of basic math will enable Grade 7 students to do integral calculus! Students today have phones with calculators and Internet capability, yet calculus in middle school remains a dream. History teaching, coupled with the Internet, should proceed to the next step—finding connections between and among the “who,” “what,” “where” and “how” to answer the more important question “why”?


Remembering my grade school years was one of the pleasures of the long weekend stimulated by Rene Guatlo’s latest book, “Elpidio & Alicia: The Love Letters” (National Historical Commission of the Philippines, 2015). It has a stunning book cover by John Santos; the interior is slightly overdesigned by Karl Castro who gathered a maze of photographs and texts, interspersed with some of the letters written out in calligraphy by Anne Tamondong and then placed in envelopes. Obviously inspired by the Griffin and Sabine trilogy, the book is placed in a Filipino context and will remind Generations X, Y and Z that people in the past wrote in long hand, and sent letters by post instead of e-mail. Which explains why the former type of correspondence is derisively referred to today as “snail mail.”

A curious Quirino grandson rummaging through cabinets in their Baguio vacation house didn’t find the fabled “golden orinola” but discovered a cache of old letters bundled in a piece of cloth. A selection of the letters that date from 1922 to 1926, translated from the original Spanish by Conchita Razon, is reproduced in the book. Elpidio wrote about 25 letters while Alicia wrote only two—perhaps her part of the correspondence did not survive.

While the letters were written after their marriage they can be considered courtship or love letters because they lived apart, with Elpidio working in Manila while Alicia stayed with her family in Vigan.

It is said that during a party in the Syquia mansion in Vigan, the lights went out and when power was restored Alicia was in the arms of Quirino, so they were wed soon after. What makes modern people gasp is not the “shotgun wedding” but the fact that at the time of their marriage Quirino was 30 and Alicia was barely 16! Modern eyebrows rise because such a relationship is called under another name today.

On Oct. 20, 1924 Quirino wrote:

“My dearest Alicia,

“Today is your birthday. I deeply regret that my duties here have prevented me from joining in the celebration of your coming of age and gaining your complete independence.


“I expected to touch your fresh young cheeks with my kisses, your last kisses as a minor. Yes, Alicia, you are a woman now respectable and respected. On this day, you begin a life that is broader and more sober than you have known, with a more complex and nurtured sense of responsibility.

“From today onwards, you should drink a daily dose of patience, tolerance and love for all. Acquire a lofty view of everything so that you become capable of seeing and forgiving everything. May this day be as exciting and happy for you as I expect it to be. I hope that from day to day you may give me more reason to love you and adore you more and more.

“Your faithful and loving husband, who embraces you and kisses you, as well as Tommy, Elpidio.”

Most of the letters are about mundane things like a comparison of cement prices for the house Elpidio was building in Manila or the price of Ilocos textile, blankets and weaving that Alicia sold at the 1926 Manila Carnival. A glimpse into the future president’s character can be seen when Elpidio advised the well-born Alicia to live simply and, during the election campaign season, to be friendly and not appear haughty.

A letter of Alicia in April 1924 instructed Elpidio to use the money from the sale of her “babuy” to buy: Watson emulsified shampoo from Botica Henson, one queso de bola, and a celluloid toy for Tommy from the Japanese store. She inquired about the dresses she ordered as well as the offers for the jewelry she sent to be sold. Her postscript reads: “Don’t forget my white satin shoes. Try to return [to Vigan] as soon as possible and bring our good ‘little friend’.” Of course, the identity of their “little friend” is left to the reader’s lurid imagination.

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TAGS: Alicia Syquia, Elpidio Quirino, love letters
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