Father of Philippine Independence …
Brilliant, dynamic, charismatic, volatile, decisive, impulsive, and fearless – these are the adjectives historian Teodoro A. Agoncillo used for describing the President of the Commonwealth. His dynamism, indeed, stood out both at the halls of the Senate and at Malacanang.
Enigmatic though he was, our Brother was a Masonic stalwart responsible for the final unification of the Spanish Lodges with the Grand Lodge of the Philippines. Recognised by the early Masons as their leader, he was elected as the First Filipino Grand Master after four American Grand Masters. Despite the brevity of his stay in Masonry, his brilliance lingered in the Craft.
He was born in the sleepy town of Baler, Tayabas (now Quezon) on August 19, 1878. On that day – at 8 o’clock, to be precise – the church bells rang in honor of Saint Louis, the town’s patron.
He was the son of Lucio Quezon, a Spanish mestizo whose roots could be traced to Paco, Manila and Ma. Dolores Molina, also of the mestizo stock. Don Lucio was an adventurous sergeant in the Colonial Army and Dona Dolores was a schoolteacher.
The young Manuel would grow up under the tutelage of a Franciscan friar, Father Teodoro Fernandez, the parish priest of the town. When his superiors called this priest to Manila, the young Quezon went with him. He enrolled at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran, where he graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Arts, summa cum laude.
To help his parents, the young Manuel worked with the Director of Interns, Father Serapio Tamayo, at the University of Santo Tomas. He tutored those who were relatively weak in mathematics. His university life, however, was disturbed by the spread of the Revolution. But he did not join the revolutionaries. He instead, went back to his old town. When the Americans came, he joined the army of Aguinaldo and emerged a Major from the Filipino-American War.
In the bar examination of 1903, he got an average of 87.83 a mark good enough to make him land in fourth place. In the same examination, Sergio Osmeña got 91.66, which was two berths higher than Quezon’s.
Quezon started as a lowly clerk in a famous law firm, with a twenty-five-peso-a-month salary. Later he established his own law office. He became famous in no time. In spite of the fact that he was making waves, he closed his law office to accept the position of Fiscal of Mindoro. Later, he was transferred to his home province.
Quezon disliked politics. Soon, however, willy-nilly, he ran against a wealthy and powerful man of the province for the gubernatorial chair. Backed up by the common people, he started to rise in the political arena.
He ran for the Assembly. He became the Floor Leader of the Assembly, with Osmeña as the Speaker.
The Osmeña-Quezon tandem would last up to 1922. From that year on, Quezon got the solo leadership of the party.
In 1916, he ran for the Senate, of which he became President. Then, in 1935 he ran for the presidency of the Commonwealth. The election was one-sided, but he had to join hands with Osmeña once more.
Brother Quezon was initiated an Entered Apprentice on March 17, 1908; passed to the degree of Fellow Craft on May 18, 1908; and raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason on May 23, same year, in Logia Sinukuan under the Gran Logia Regional de Filipinas.
He was Master of Sinukuan Lodge No.16 from 1918 to 1919. On October 21, 1919, he was elected Knight Commander of the Court of Honor and Inspector General Honorary in 1929. Due to the insistence of his wife, however, he resigned from Masonry on August 18, 1930. Seven years later, he would claim; “I did not actually resign until several months later, and I never renounced Masonry. There is a form, which those returning to the Church from the Masonic Lodge are supposed to sign, but I refused to sign it. Instead I wrote the Archbishop a personal note. ” The note, according to Quezon, said, “I understand I cannot be readmitted to the Catholic Church so long as I remain a Mason; for that reason I am ‘resigning’ from Masonry.”
During the term of Quezon as President, eight Grand Masters occupied high government positions and practically all members, of his official family were masons. As Commonwealth President, he fought for the separation of Church and State. “Nothing,” he would later say, “can stir up the passions and prejudices of men more effectively than religious intolerance, bigotry and narrow-mindedness. History is replete with telling evidence of this fact, and we should not lightly disregard its lessons.” And he would add:
Under the present Constitution of the Philippine Commonwealth, just as under the Jones Act, and in fact ever since the American flag was hoisted over these islands, the separation of the Church and the State, and the freedom of worship, are guaranteed. The State has nothing to do with the Church, nor the Church with the State. I am a Catholic as everybody knows, I, who for the time being am at the head of this Government. As an individual, I worship my God in accordance with my own religious belief. But as the head of the State, I can have no more to do with the Catholic Church than I can with a Protestant domination, the Aglipayan, the Mohammedan, or another religious organisation or sect in the Philippines. And no authority of any church has any right to interfere with the affairs of the government.
The fruit of his labor, Brother Quezon was not able to see. When the United States finally recognised our Independence, he would have crossed the great “divide” to meet his Maker.
During the Japanese Occupation, Quezon and family escaped through a US submarine to the United States -again to be precise, on February 20, 1942. Two years later- on August 1, 1944, he died in Saranac Lake, New York.
During his incumbency as Grand Master, he had a difficult time attending to his Masonic responsibilities, including those of his being a Grand Master. Yet he will always be remembered as the leader of the Filipino group in the early stage of the unification of the Grand Lodge of the Philippines and Gran Oriente Español. His American Brethren helped him to their utmost in ministering to the needs of the Grand Lodge.
Listen to Don Claro M. Recto’s succinct description of our Brother Quezon:
Quezon loved power, and he knew how to keep it. But he kept it, like the realist that he was, in the only way in which it can be kept in a democracy, by winning the faith and love of the people. There must be some psychological similarity between women and multitudes, because Quezon was fortunate with both. He had the instinct for the right approach, for the cajoling phrase, for the charming attitude. He knew when to wait, and when to dash in for the prize. He knew how to couch his desires in accents seemingly irreproachable and sincere. He knew when to command, and when to obey; when to resist, and when to yield; when to begin, and when to stop; when to give the winning embrace, and when to deliver the coup de grace.
Away has passed Bro. Quezon the legend. In our Masonic world, however, that legend has become a LEGACY.