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Manuel L. Quezon (1878-1944)


Manuel L. Quezon (1878-1944) In 1904, while in the Philippines on his very first assignment out of West Point, Lieutenant Douglas MacArthur wrote a pamphlet on reconnaissance for the Philippine Constabulary, the newly established paramilitary police force. Captain James G. Harbord, head of the Constabulary, was so impressed that he took MacArthur out to dinner at the swank Army and Navy Club, overlooking Manila Bay. When he arrived, MacArthur found Harbord with a pair of young Filipino lawyers, Manuel Quezon and Sergio Osmeña. Although MacArthur could not have known it at the time, both men were destined to become Presidents of the Philippine Commonwealth and major figures in his life. Quezon's destiny, in particular, would be interwoven with MacArthur's in ways profoundly important to both of them.

Manuel Quezon was born to Spanish mestizo parents in the remote town of Baler in Tayabas province, on the east coast of Luzon. His father, a former soldier in the Spanish army, operated a small rice farm, but as mestizos the family enjoyed a higher social status than even wealthy Filipinos. Manuel was sent to school in Manila at the age of nine and remained there through college, where he studied law. Although he had supported the Spanish against Filipino nationalists, in 1899 he joined Aguinaldo's guerrilla war against the Americans, and was eventually jailed for six months for allegedly murdering an American prisoner. After being released for lack of evidence, Quezon's sharp mind and considerable charisma caught the eye of American colonial officials, and his stratospheric political ascent began. After serving as a prosecutor in Mindoro, he was elected governor of Tayabas in 1906; the following year, he and Osmeña helped found the Nacionalista party, which would dominate Philippine politics for decades. By 1916, Quezon had become President of the Philippine Senate and de facto leader of the Philippine independence movement.

The friendship between the Quezon and MacArthur deepened in Manila in the late 1920s, when MacArthur commanded the Philippine Department. In 1929 they lobbied Washington hard for MacArthur to be named the successor to Henry Stimson as governor general of the Philippines. The "New York Times" reported in April that it appeared that "General MacArthur can have the position if he really wants it. It is certain that he stands high in the esteem of Manuel Quezon and other political leaders, who are not averse to seeing him in Malacanan Palace.... Close observers here point to the remarkable intimacy of Gen. MacArthur and Senor Quezon, who often are seen together on terms of close friendship." MacArthur's disappointment at being passed over by President Hoover was assuaged, however, when he was named U.S. Army Chief of Staff the following year.

During MacArthur's long and difficult tenure as Chief, Quezon lobbied for legislation in Washington which would give his country its independence. He succeeded with the passage of the Tydings-McDuffie Act in March of 1934, which granted the Philippines commonwealth status, to be followed by complete autonomy in 1946. Quezon led the Filipino contingent that was present when Franklin Roosevelt signed the new Philippine Constitution in the spring of 1935. Six months later was elected the first President of the Philippine Commonwealth. But with his country barely on track toward independence, Quezon confronted a challenge that threatened to undo everything: Japanese imperialism. Having completed its conquest of Manchuria years earlier, Japan clearly had its sights set on further expansion, and the vulnerable Philippines made a tempting target. Predictably, Quezon turned to his old friend. He needed a military advisor, MacArthur needed a job, and Roosevelt wanted MacArthur out of Washington -- so in October 1935 the General set sail for Manila.

Even before he left, MacArthur wrote Quezon, "I am already hard at work drawing up plans and details and by the time I arrive will be able to convince you all that before the close of the ten-year period the Commonwealth, no matter what betides, will be secure from foreign aggression." Such optimism characterized the relationship between the President and his Military Advisor for the first couple of years, as they worked closely together to build an army capable of deterring Japanese aggression. But time worked against them, and by 1938 Quezon had become convinced that Japan might attack long before MacArthur had assembled a respectable force. By the time Quezon made a secret trip to Tokyo that June to discuss neutrality, relations between the two men had deteriorated badly.

But in 1941 necessity drew them back together. With a newly reactivated MacArthur representing American muscle -- the only thing between his country and the Japanese army -- Quezon gravitated back to the General. On the beseiged Corregidor, shared strife and anger toward Washington made for a powerful bond. When Quezon left by submarine on February 20, he gave MacArthur his ring, saying, "When they find your body, I want them to know you fought for my country." Neither man suspected that Quezon would be the first to die. While he led the Philippine government-in-exile in the U.S. for the next two years, Quezon's tuberculosis steadily worsened. He died on August 1, 1944, less than three months before MacArthur's dramatic return to Philippine soil.
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