Elpidio Quirino’s act of faith in humanity
On each trip to Japan I try to pay my respects to two small, often overlooked, bronze monuments in the heart of Tokyo: The first stop is at the bust of Jose Rizal in Hibiya Park, the second at a monument to Godzilla (“Gojira” in Japanese) in a side street off Ginza.
As a historian, I know that the monument to Rizal is in a pretty side of the first Western-style park in Tokyo. It is located across from the famous Imperial Hotel, and is in a quadrant of the park that faces the Imperial Palace grounds, the Peninsula Tokyo, and the building that once served as Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters.
The area around the Rizal monument is near a tranquil pond and a large wall built of granite blocks that I presume formed part of the palace defenses in feudal times. I was told that many years ago, this side of the park was child-friendly by day and a notorious gay cruising ground by night. It has since been spruced up and is now lighted at night. The spot marks the place where Rizal stayed in 1888; the hotel in which he lodged is no more, but the memory of his visit, including the romantic interlude with the Japanese lady Usui Seiko, or O-sei san, is still strong among many Filipinos.
Godzilla, once known as the “King of Monsters,” I remember from black-and-white films as a destructive fire-spewing dragon or dinosaur that devastated whole cities, flung cars in the air, and made adults hysterical. When I grew a bit older, someone told me that Godzilla was a mutant that grew out of the nuclear weapons deployed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
Godzilla’s connection to the end of World War II I related to the unveiling of a historical marker to Philippine President Elpidio Quirino in Hibiya Park last weekend.
It is not well-known that on July 4, 1953, Quirino granted executive clemency to 437 inmates of the Muntinlupa penitentiary on the occasion of the seventh anniversary of the republic. What made this act different was that of the 437 inmates, 323 were Filipinos convicted of treason or collaboration during the war, and 114 were Japanese nationals.
Quirino, according to the Official Gazette, was driven by “humanitarian motives and the fostering of early restoration of normal relations between the Philippines and Japan.”
Two days later, in a message to his countrymen issued from his sickbed in Johns Hopkins Hospital in the United States where he was recuperating from surgery on his bleeding ulcers, Quirino explained the pardon:
“…I should be the last one to pardon them as the Japanese killed my wife and three children, and five other members of my family. I am doing this because I do not want my children and my people to inherit from me the hate for people who might yet be our friends for the permanent interest of our country.”
He later added:
“I am happy to have been able to make this spontaneous decision as head of a Christian nation. My fervent hope is that the benevolent feeling which has inspired me will strike a responsive chord in others as an act of faith in humanity. Love of fellow creatures will always be the supreme law among men and nations, and the basis of world peace.”
Of the 114 Japanese prisoners of war pardoned by Quirino, 52 were convicted war criminals whose death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment under certain conditions. Nonetheless, all 114 were released and repatriated on July 15, 1953; the 52 war criminals were to serve the remaining years of their life sentence, with no possibility of pardon or parole from Japanese authorities, in Japan. Shortly after, the National Diet of Japan passed a resolution thanking Quirino and the Filipinos for this supreme act of mercy and forgiveness.
Then, before he stepped down from office on Dec. 30, 1953, Quirino again granted executive clemency to the 52 war criminals. As reported in the Official Gazette:
“The President granted conditional pardon to 52 Japanese prisoners of war whose death sentences had been commuted under certain conditions to life imprisonment on June 27 and who had been repatriated to serve their sentences at the Sugamo Prison in Japan. Executive clemency was granted these 52 Japanese war prisoners upon the recommendation of the Japanese government on condition that they will never come back to the Philippines. The grant of executive clemency becomes effective upon acceptance by the prisoners concerned.”
On the grounds of the residence of the Philippine ambassador in Tokyo in Kudanshita, there is a cherry tree by the gate that was planted in 1953 to commemorate Quirino’s pardon of Japanese prisoners of war and convicted war criminals in Muntinlupa, and their subsequent release and repatriation. This cherry tree that blooms in the spring remains a testament to forgiveness in the residence known as “The Kudan,” which also remains a symbol of the postwar friendship between the Philippines and Japan.
Before last weekend, I had only two personal historical pilgrimage sites in Tokyo—the monuments to Rizal and Godzilla. Now that list has grown to three. On my next trip to Tokyo I will also visit the marker for Elpidio Quirino, in remembrance of a man who liberated himself from the past and moved himself, his people and his country forward.
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