Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Philippine Commonwealth Government of Manuel L. Quezon Helped 1,200 Jews Escape the Holocaust

President Manuel L. Quezon

The number of Jews living in the Philippines is significantly small however their presence in the country is surprisingly long. Jewish presence in the Philippines dates back to the Spanish Colonial era. There was the story of Jorge and Domingo Rodriguez, the Spanish-Jewish brothers who escaped the Spanish Inquisition and settled in the Philippines in the 1590’s. Both men were charged and convicted of practicing their Jewish faith while outwardly professing that they were Roman Catholics.

After the Spanish-American War of 1898, Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States. During the American colonial period there were American Jews who served in the US armed forces. After their separation from the military service some of them joined Jewish civilians who opted to settle in the Philippines which was then an unincorporated US territory in the Far East. Notable personalities included the Frieder Brothers who established businesses and helped organize the Jewish community in Manila.

The meteoric rise of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party in Germany in the 1930’s was a serious threat to the Jewish people all over Europe. The party headed by Adolf Hitler devised a scheme to systematically exterminate the Jews. Fearing for their lives, the Jews from Germany, Austria and other fascist countries flocked to friendly embassies to seek refuge to countries that would let them in.

The Commonwealth of the Philippines was one of the few countries of the world which heeded the call of the Jewish people for help. President Manuel L. Quezon, Paul V. McNutt, the US High Commissioner to the Philippines and the leaders of the Jewish community worked together to come up with a rescue effort. In relation to it, Quezon granted 10,000 working visas for Jews who would come to the country. In addition resettlement areas in Mindanao were prepared for them.

At first there was only a trickle of Jews who came to the Philippines. Most of those who did were Jews from Shanghai, China who escaped from the Chinese-Japanese armed conflict. But after Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939 the persecution of the Jews increased, and as a result more and more Jews wanted to get out of the fascist regimes of Europe. As the war escalated in Europe, Hitler became more obsessed than ever to conquer Europe and implement the “final solution” to deal with the Jews. In the Philippines the number of Jews that seek refuge from Europe from 1937 to 1941 reached 1,200. The flow of refugees stopped when the Japanese invaded and occupied the country at the outbreak of the Second World War.  

In the Philippines, during the war, some of the Filipino and American officials whom the Japanese perceived as uncooperative were incarcerated, and so were some foreign nationals especially Americans who were considered by the Japanese as “enemy aliens”. Some of the Americans were American-Jews. The Germans though were fortunate of being considered by the Japanese as ally in the war. Since the Japanese was hard put in distinguishing between an ethnic German and a German-Jew, the Jews in the Philippines were not subjected to the same level of anti-Semitism that their brothers in Europe suffered in the hands of Nazi Germans. However, like most Filipinos and Americans, the Jews also suffered the brutalities and the horrors caused by the war.

Quezon died while in exile in the US on August 1, 1944, and the Second World War ended in August 1945 with the defeat of the Japanese. On July 4, 1946, the Philippines gained its independence from the United States. The two events saw the Jews resettling either to the United States or Israel so that the number of them in the Philippines greatly diminished. Just after the war the Jewish population in Manila was just only about 600.

Philippine empathy on the plight of the Jewish people was further shown during the implementation of the United Nation Partition Plan of Palestine when the Philippines became the only Asian Country that voted in favor of it on November 9, 1947. The majority of affirmative votes for the plan paved the way for the creation of the state of Israel.

The world has only little knowledge of the deed of President Manuel L. Quezon and the Philippine Commonwealth to save the lives of 1,200 souls from the horrors of the Holocaust of which over 6,000,000 innocent Jews were victimized by state-sponsored murder and terrorism of the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler. Slowly but surely, however, the Israelis, the Filipinos and the people of the world take cognizant of that exemplary deed by honoring President Quezon and his commonwealth government with the construction and unveiling of the “Open Doors” Monument on June 21, 2009 at the Holocaust Memorial Park in Rishon Lezion, a city south of Tel Aviv in Israel. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

People's March against Crime and Violence

Concerned Citizens of Cagayan de Oro staged their protest march against alarming incidence of crimes in the city on March 17, 2013. The march started at the Rodelsa Circle or rotunda and ended at the Vicente de Lara Park at the Misamis Oriental Provincial Capitol. It was attended by civil society groups, relatives of the victims, members of the police and the military and concerned citizens. In the park, the participants of the march held a brief program in a kiosk where the organizers, the family members of the victims and police and military officers delivered short speech.   


Most heists are perpetrated by criminals riding in tandem on motorcycle. Usual victims are women or those who have lesser physical capability to defend themselves against ruthless criminals who are usually armed with a caliber 9 mm or .45 in. pistol. When opportunity presents itself, criminals on motorcycle grab the bag or other things containing cash or other valuable of the victims. They have no hesitation of shooting and killing a victim if she or he resists or refuses to give his or her money or belongings to them. A person in the vicinity who plays a hero for the victim will be shot too. It is ironic that as of late crimes are committed with the use of guns when COMELEC and other concerned government authorities are supposed to implement the gun ban.

Lately, the criminals become so daring that victims are robbed and killed even near the vicinity of their home, and businessmen are held up inside their establishment even during broad daylight. One recent victim of the spate of crimes committed in the city was a money changer who was about to board a taxi. The robber who was waiting for him in a nearby store suddenly rushed to the victim, shot him and grabbed the bag containing cash and other valuables worth more than a million pesos.

The people of Cagayan de Oro call their place as a “City of Golden Friendship”. The slogan is indicative of their hospitable and friendly dispositions. Those traits made the city a magnet for immigrants and investors from other places. They also made Cagayan de Oro as one of the most peaceful cities of the Philippines. The series of crimes committed against law-abiding citizens of the city is threatening to destroy the good image of a peaceful city on which Cagayan de Oro has been known for.

For a growing city in the Philippines such as Cagayan de Oro crimes are bound to happen. And the normal course of event is to identify and arrest the criminal and bring him to the bar of justice. But the people of the city observe that many of the perpetrators of kidnappings, bombings, robberies and killings are not caught and punished. And it seems that local civilian and police authorities are helpless to do something about the crimes.

Although the number of people who attended the march was significantly small, the participants have conveyed their message to concerned government authorities. The message includes important issue on the safety of the residents, the prevention of crimes and the giving of justice to the family of victims of criminal elements.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Philippine Commonwealth, a Transition Government Leading to Philippine Independence

Pres. Manuel L. Quezon
Since it annexed the Philippines in 1898 as an unincorporated territory, the United States observed and acknowledged the fervent aspiration of the Filipinos to have a free and independent nation. To this end, the American congress enacted in 1932 the Hares-Hawes-Cuttings Act setting specific date of Philippine independence. US President Herbert Hoover vetoed the bill. The congress however overrode the president’s veto and the bill became an act. However, during that time a law pertaining to an unincorporated US territory had to first get the approval of the legislative body such as the senate in the case of the Philippines to become enforceable. Philippine Senate President Manuel L. Quezon opposed the act because of its objectionable provisions such as the imposition of tariffs and quota on Philippine exports to the US and the reservation for American military bases in the Philippines.

Another law was crafted in the US to change the Hares-Hawes-Cuttings act. It was called the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934. Little changes to the provisions of the Hares-Hawes-Cuttings act made the Tydings-McDuffie Act acceptable to the Philippine senate.  It was then signed by the US president and became a law, and the prospect for an independent Philippines became a reality.                                      

The Tydings-McDuffie Act gave the Philippines a 10-year transition period before independence. And until then the Philippines was a commonwealth. Executive powers would be handed over by the American governor-general to the new Philippine president. Taking the place of the governor-general was the High Commissioner of the US to the Philippines who was adviser to the Philippine President on matters involving the two countries. In the interim period, the Philippines would have two elected resident commissioners to the US to act as non-voting Philippine representatives to the US congress.  
Pres. Sergio Osmena
A constitutional convention in 1934 was called in Manila. The convention approved a new constitution on February 8, 1935, and was signed by US President Franklin Roosevelt on March 23, 1935. The constitution was ratified by a popular vote on May 14, 1935. The first Philippine Presidential Election was held on September 17, 1935. Manuel L. Quezon was elected as the first president for a one six-year term.  Winning the vice presidency was Sergio Osmeña.  At first the type of legislature under the constitution was unicameral, but it was later amended into a bicameral legislature. Foreign affairs and military matters were the responsibility of the United States and some legislation required the approval of the US president. In his presidency, Quezon’s advisers included General Douglas MacArthur who was a US High Commissioner. The latter had a rank of field marshal of the Philippines.                            

The attack of the Japanese of the American naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941 precipitated the entry of the United States into WW II. Japanese planes bombed Central Luzon in the Philippines on December 8, 1941. With the advance of the Japanese forces to Manila, General MacArthur declared it as an "open city" to spare it from destruction that might result in battles. American and Filipino forces surrendered to the Japanese in May 1942.                                                                                              

The progress made by the Japanese forces in the war, made Quezon and some of his top government officials move his seat of government to Corregidor. Later, Quezon with his top government officials joined Macarthur in del Monte, Bukidnon and from there they flew to Australia. Quezon proceeded to the United States where he set up his government-in- exile.  On August 1, 1944, Quezon died of tuberculosis at Saranac Lake, New York. Sergio Osmeña took his place as the commonwealth president in exile.

In the absence of the legitimate Philippine government, the Japanese occupation forces set up a government called the Second Republic of the Philippines with Jose P. Laurel as the appointed President. This government turned out to be unpopular because the Filipinos hated the Japanese occupation forces.

In 1943, the tide of battle changed in favor of the Americans and the allied forces in the Asia-Pacific theater of war. The Japanese forces suffered huge losses in terms of personnel and equipment and they were pushed every which way by the advancing allied forces. General Douglas MacArthur along with President Sergio Osmeña returned to the Philippines and arrived in Leyte on October 20, 1944.                                                                                                                                                      

The dropping of atomic bombs in the twin Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945 respectively made Japan surrender unconditionally to the allied forces led by the Americans on August 14,1945. That act formally ended the war in Asia and the Pacific.                                      

With the end of the war, the commonwealth government was restored, and a presidential election was held. The incumbent president Osmeña was the candidate of the Nacionalista Party. His opponent was Manuel Roxas of the Liberal Party. Osmeña refused to campaign believing that his 40 years of dedicated and honorable services to the country were enough to bring him to victory. In contrast, Roxas made a vigorous campaign for the presidency which eventually rewarded him of winning the election in 1946.   
Pres. Manuel Roxas
Despite the interruption of the war, the Philippines would meet its timetable for independence. The historic and memorable day came on July 4, 1946. The commonwealth had ended and a new era of an independent Philippines began. In the grand ceremony, Manuel Roxas declared the independence of the country and retook his oath as its president. The event was attended by top Philippine and American officials including some foreign dignitaries and was witnessed by about 400,000 spectators. The lowering of the American flag and the raising of the Philippine flag was accompanied with the clangs of church bells and the cheers of crowds. The waving of the Philippine flag in the air signified the Filipinos’ realized aspiration for independence and the hope for a better tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Philippine Government during the American Colonial Period and the American Governors-General

President William McKinley
Spain ceded the Philippines in 1898 after the Spanish-American War. President William McKinley appointed a Philippine Commission on January 20, 1899 to exercise legislative and limited executive powers over islands whose people were still recovering from the ravages of armed revolution and wars. At that time an American military governor appointed by the US president was the head of the commission who held executive authority. A second Philippine Commission in 1901 paved the way for the setting up of judicial system, a supreme court, and an elected government in the municipal and provincial levels. Executive powers were exercise by an American civil governor who had executive departments.   The title of the governor was later changed to governor-general pursuant to an act of US congress.                                                                                                  

The Philippine Organic Act of July 1, 1902 which was approved by the US congress called for the creation of Philippine Assembly whose members were popularly elected by the Filipinos. In the new government set up the colonial government had a bicameral legislature. The Philippine Assembly was the lower house while the US president appointed Philippine Commission served as the upper house. The Philippine Commission also acted as an executive body with the US president appointed governor-general as its head. Other features of the Philippine Organic Act included the disestablishment of the Catholic Church and the appointment of two Filipinos as resident commissioners of the Philippines to the US to act as non-voting representatives of the Philippines to the US congress. During that time, in the US, matters concerning the 
Philippines were dealt by the Bureau of Insular affairs which oversaw unincorporated American territories.

President Manuel L. Quezon
The Jones Law or the Philippine Autonomy Act which was enacted in the US congress on August 29, 1916, provided for an elected upper house and lower house in the Philippine bicameral legislative body. In effect it created the Philippine senate which replaced the Philippine Commission. On March 24, 1934, the US congress passed Tydings-McDuffie Act which granted self government and independence to the Filipinos after a ten-year transition period. Under that act the Philippines became a commonwealth and the executive authority of the American governor-general was passed on to a Filipino president. Relative to the new law, the title of governor-general was changed to High Commissioner to the Philippines until 1946 when the Philippines gained independence from the United States pursuant to Tydings-McDuffie Act. However, the function of the commissioner was only ceremonial and advisory since executive power was vested to the Filipino president. Manuel L. Quezon was the first president of the Philippine Commonwealth.

During the American colonial period there were 4 military governors, two civil governors and 11 governors- general.  Three were holding the position in acting capacity. The most distinguished governor-general was William Howard Taft who became the 27th president of the United States. He was also the first civil governor of the Philippines during the American colonial period.  The first military governor was Wesley Merritt who briefly served from August 14-29 1898. The longest serving American governor- general was Francis Burton Harrison who held the office for more than 7 years. Also of note were Lt. Gen Arthur MacArthur, the father of legendary American general Douglas MacArthur and Theodore Roosevelt Jr., the eldest son of US President Theodore Roosevelt.

William Howard Taft
Theodore Roosevelt Jr.
Arthur MacArthur Jr.
Francis Burton Harrison
List of American governors-general in the Philippines during the American colonial period*
Military Governors
Wesley Merritt
August 14, 1898
August 29, 1898
Elwell Otis
August 30, 1898
May 5, 1900
Arthur MacArthur Jr.
May 5, 1900
July 14, 1901
Adna Chaffee
July 4, 1901
July 4, 1902
William Howard Taft
July 4, 1901
February 1, 1904
Luke Edward Wright
February 1, 1904
November 3, 1905
Henry Clay Ide
November 3, 1905
September 19, 1906
James Francis Smith
September 20, 1906
November 11, 1909
William Cameron Forbes
November 11, 1909
September 1, 1913
Newton W. Gilbert (acting)
September 1, 1913
October 6, 1913
Francis Burton Harrison
October 6, 1913
March 5, 1921
Charles Yeater (acting)
March 5, 1921
October 14, 1921
Leonard Wood
October 14, 1921
August 7, 1927
Eugene Allen Gilmore (acting)
August 7, 1927
December 27, 1927
Henry L. Stimson
December 27, 1927
February 23, 1929
Eugene Allen Gilmore (acting)
February 23, 1929
July 8, 1929
Dwight F. Davis
July 8, 1929
January 9, 1932
George C. Butte (acting)
January 9, 1932
February 29, 1932
Theodore Roosevelt Jr.
February 29, 1932
July 15, 1933
Frank Murphy
July 15, 1933
November 15, 1935

*Cahoon, Ben (2000), “Philippines”
Photos (public domain) via Wikipedia

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Malaysia Getting a Dose of Its Own Medicine in the Sabah Conflict

A 19th century flag of the Sultanate of Sulu
The failure of the Philippine government to successfully take the territory of Sabah in Malaysia North Borneo for itself, and the relegation of the issue to the back burner to foster diplomatic and economic relation with Malaysia made the heirs to the Sultan of Sulu take the matters into their own hands over the ownership issue of the resource-rich place.                                                                                                                  

Former Philippine President Diosdado Macapagal’s official reminders to Great Britain that Sabah belonged to the Sultan of Sulu and by extension to the Philippine government  just fell on deaf ears when that country included Sabah in the Malaysian Federation in 1963. President Ferdinand Marcos who succeeded Macapagal made a drastic move to take Sabah by secretly training Tausug recruits in a secluded island in Corregidor to infiltrate the disputed territory. The plan failed when the recruits knew of their mission and mutinied. To cover the plot, their military trainers gunned them down. However, one recruit was able to escape by floating and swimming in Manila Bay. The privilege speech of Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr in the senate revealed the incident which was termed “The Jabidah Massacre”. The report so incensed the Filipino Muslims that it sparked their rebellion in the 70’s.
One of the early sultans of Sulu (second from right, sitting)

(Photo from Wikipedia)
The armed conflict that followed came with a big cost to the Philippine government.  The fighting lasted almost two decades and claimed more than 100,000 lives of soldiers, Moro rebels and Christian and Muslim civilians. It also displaced millions of people in Mindanao and worsened the incidence of poverty in the already economically depressed affected areas.

It is believed that Malaysia added fuel to the fire of the conflict in Mindanao. Sabah Malaysia was used as a safe refuge of Filipino rebels taking a respite from the fighting. It was also used as a training ground for Filipino Muslim rebels and a point where arms and ammunition were smuggled to different landing areas in southern Philippines.

The escape of some Filipino Muslims from the conflict in the 70’s have increased the number of Sulu immigrants to Sabah which is just an hour of boat ride from the nearest islands of Tawi-tawi in Mindanao. Moreover, the Sabah government’s process of aggressive Islamization deliberately encouraged the immigration of Filipino, Indonesian and even Pakistani Muslims into Sabah. From 37.9% of Muslims in 1960, Sabah’s Muslims are now 65.4% of the total population.

The recent conflict in Sabah started when the Sulu Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu landed in Lahad Datu, Sabah on February 12, 2013 purportedly to return to the land that belongs to them. They were given ultimatums by the Malaysian government to leave the area to prevent violence and bloodshed. The Philippine government too pleaded to Sultan Jamalul Kiram to order his men to unconditionally return to the Philippines.

When a peaceful means to resolve the standoff failed, the Malaysian troops assaulted the Sulu Royal Army’s position resulting to casualties on both sides with the Sulu Royal army suffering the heavier losses. Later, fighter jets and artilleries were used to pound the Sulu Royal Army’s position. Ground troops also surrounded the militants. The death toll now is 61 including eight from the side of the Malaysians.

The United Nations ordered a cessation of hostilities. Sultan Kiram then took the opportunity to declare a unilateral ceasefire to relieve pressure on his beleaguered troops. Malaysia however, refused to accept a truce unless Kiram’s army unconditionally surrenders to the Malaysians.

Despite the continuous bombardments from the Malaysians, the Kirams say that their army’s command and control group is still safe and sound. And that most of their fighters know the terrain of the place like the palm of their hands and that they are protected and provided refuge by the Tausugs who are residents of the area. It still remains to be seen whether the Malaysian authorities can annihilate the militants or the later will be able to mount protracted guerrilla warfare against the Malaysian forces and its government.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Why Are Muslim Filipinos Called "Moros"?

The word “Moro” singular and “Moros” plural is a vestige of the Philippines’ colonial past and is rooted with the country’s cultural and historical ties with Spain, one of the former great imperial powers of the world.

Spain’s history has its share of relationship with Islam. In just hundreds of years after the death of Prophet Muhammad, Muslim armies crossed the Iberian Peninsula to conquer Europe for Islam. Crossing the Pyrenees, they were stopped and defeated by the forces of Charles Martel at the Battle of Poitiers in 732. The Muslims retreated into the Iberian Peninsula where they conquered and occupied much of the territories which comprised mostly of what is now Spain and Portugal. The marriage of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile enabled the Christian kingdoms to recover much of the territories occupied by the Muslims. The last Moorish or Muslim kingdom in Granada, Spain fell to the Christians in 1492.

The medieval Christian Spaniards generally called the Muslims as “Moros” or Moors in reference to the Northern African Muslim tribes that crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and conquered and occupied much of the Iberian Peninsula. The Muslims in Spain were a mixture of Moors, Berbers, Arabs and even indigenous Iberians. Spanish Christian during the Muslim era generally called a person professing the Islamic faith “Moro” irrespective of his ethnicity.

The fall of Christian areas in the Middle East, Asia Minor and parts of Southern and Eastern Europe at the hands of the Muslims made it difficult for the goods from Asia to pass through the traditional land trade routes into Europe. This made the European monarchs particularly the Kings of Spain and Portugal to find alternative trade routes to the sea thereby bypassing the land areas controlled by hostile powers. This paved the way for the Age of Exploration when European powers discovered hitherto unknown lands and claimed them for themselves.

Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer in the service of the king of Spain made a voyage to reach Moluccas for its valued spices. What was significant of his voyage was that he intended to reach his destination by sailing westward instead of the usual eastward sea route.  Nearing Moluccas, he “discovered” an archipelago in 1521 which was later named as the Philippines in honor of King Philip II. The Spaniards colonized the country for over 300 years.

The Spaniards Christianized most of the inhabitants. However, the people of the Southern Philippines especially in Mindanao were not disposed of changing their Islamic faith and resisted Spanish rule. The Spaniards in the Philippines, like they did in their country, called the Muslims “Moros”. The Christians on the other hand were called “Indios”. The latter term was a misnomer because the indigenous inhabitants of the Philippines are of Malayan race and not Indians.

Spanish incursions into Muslim territories made the Moros retaliate by raiding Christian settlements in the archipelago. This conflict brought about deep seated mutual distrust and animosity between Muslim and Filipino Christians. In time, the term “Moro” was used by Christians to pejoratively refer to a Muslim. Muslims on the other hand disdained from being called of such derogatory word.                                                     
With the passage of time Filipino Muslims have become receptive of the term “Moro” to refer generally to a Filipino Muslim irrespective of his tribal group. This is apparent with the use of word “Moro” in groups such as Moro National Liberation Front, Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Bangsa Moro. Perhaps for the members of this group the word “Moro” instead of being offensive is a source of pride. It is a symbol of the Muslims’ ever struggle for their righteous aspirations with Islam as their unifying factor.

In the Philippines, in practice, the word “Moro” to refer to Muslims is confined mostly in the print and other media. Filipinos in their conversations call their brothers who profess the Islamic faith as Muslim rather than a Moro. Alternatively, they may mention a Muslim based on his tribe such as Maranao, Tausug, Yakan, and Maguindanao among others.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

UNA's Political Rally in Cagayan de Oro City

First it was the administration’s Team Pinoy that held a political rally at the Pelaez Sports Center in Cagayan de Oro on February 26, 2013. Team UNA, a coalition of political parties that competes with the administration coalition for seats in the senate held its own rally in the city at Rodelsa Circle also called as “rotunda” on the evening of March 3, 2013.

Team UNA is led and sponsored by Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay, Former President Joseph Estrada and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile. The former president and the vice president accompanied the team’s senatorial candidates in their sortie in Cagayan de Oro. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, one of the big three of the team was not able to attend the rally. The senatorial candidates who were there were J.V. Ejercito, Nancy Binay, Jackie Enrile, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Ernesto Maceda, Richard Gordon, Mitos Magsaysay and Ting Ting Cojuangco. Only senatorial candidate Gregorio Honasan was not in the group.

Rodelsa Circle or “rotunda” was filled with thousands of political supporters and spectators who were there to see their candidates in the flesh and to hear their platforms and programs. Those in attendance were composed mostly of the “D” and “E” social classes who are locally known as “masa” or the poor who constitutes the majority of the voters in the city. Although not a candidate, “Erap”Estrada received the warmest applause from the crowd which is an indication that he still possesses the popularity and charisma to win the city voters’ hearts and minds in favor of the opposition’s national and local candidates.

Local candidates of the city led by Mayor Vicente Emano also came in full support of the UNA coalition. The congressional candidates of the City’s first and second district, Benjo Benaldo and Ian Mark Nacaya as well as the candidates for councilors of the two districts also attended the rally. 

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