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When you are a young student and you learn about these personalities in your history or social studies book, they don’t seem so real to you.  Especially if your teacher is not inclined to ask the how and why as much as the what, where and when, they become not so much more than just names and dates and other trivial facts to memorize.

Manuel L. Quezon was born on the 19th of August, 1878, in Baler.    His parents were Lucio Quezon and Maria Dolores Molina.  We remember him as the president of the Commonwealth of the Philippines.  Though he was the second president of the Philippines, after Emilio Aguinaldo, it is said that he was the first Filipino to lead a government of the entire Philippines.

Beyond those facts though, Quezon, during his presidency,  started programs and supported laws which helped shape the future and the values of the Philippines.  He played a major role in both the Jones Act – essentially the first promise of independence from the US, and the Tydings-McDuffie Act- which was a more concrete promise of independence after 10 years of the creation of a constitution.  He worked towards social justice, economic progress, agrarian and educational reforms.

He had many accomplishments, but reading about him now after all these years, 3 things stand out for me.

One, he supported Women’s Suffrage.  Under his leadership, the government approved an act that provided the holding of a plebiscite asking women if they should have the right to vote.  This resulted to granting the right of suffrage to women, in a nation that’s not even fully independent yet, imagine that.

Quite recently, in 2015, his “open door” policy during the Commonwealth Era, towards Jewish refugees fleeing Nazism, was acknowledged with the awarding of the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation Medal.  Certainly, during that time, he had many problems to deal with, trying to hold the nation together, but he looked past his own worries and reached out to his European neighbors who needed help, despite local critics urging him otherwise.

Lastly of course, we know him as “Ama ng Wikang Pambansa,” with August being the “Buwan ng Wika” in his honor.  Some people disagreed, and perhaps some still do, with his choice of Tagalog as the basis of the national language.  We have to understand though, the significance of pushing for a local dialect to be the third official language of that time, next to Spanish and English.  He was a Filipino with Spanish origins (parents were both Spanish-Mestizos) effectively working for Americans during that Commonwealth period, but he recognized the importance of asserting his country’s identity through a national language.

It’s easy to forget that we did have politicians who put our citizens’ interests first.  I hope many present and aspiring leaders would understand that the lasting legacy is not that of power and money but a good name and excellent service.