MLQ's OPEN DOOR POLICY
By Rudy A. Arizala
19 August 2009
On 19 August, we celebrate the 131st birth anniversary of the “Paladin of Philippine Freedom” - Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon. It is, therefore, worth remembering his life and times and recall some of his significant achievements for our nation and other peoples of the world.
He was born in Baler, Tayabas (now Maria Aurora province), on 19 August 1878. His parents were Lucio Quezon and Maria Dolores Molina. After learning the fundamental education from his parents and the local parish priest, he went to Manila where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts at the Letran College and then studied law at the University of Santo Tomas. The 1896 Philippine revolution interrupted his law studies. Manuel Luis Quezon joined the Aguinaldo forces in the Philippine–American War of 1899 – 1901, and rose to the rank of major. When the war ended, he resumed his law studies and became a lawyer in 1903. He became a provincial fiscal of Tayabas province; then governor; assemblyman; resident commissioner; and senate president. In 1917, he married Maria Aurora Aragon. And in 1935, he was elected President of the Philippine Commonwealth.
In his inaugural address on 15 November 1935 as President of the Philippine Commonwealth, he said: “Goodwill towards all nations shall be the golden rule of my administration. The peoples of the earth are interdependent and their prosperity and happiness inseparably linked with each other.
International brotherhood and cooperation are therefore necessary. Amity and friendship, fairness and square deal in our relations with other nations and their temporary allegiance to our institutions and law, are the assurances I make on behalf of the new Government to Americans and foreigners who may desire to live, trade and otherwise associate with us in the Philippines.”
Perhaps unknown to many, in pursuance of such inaugural address, President Quezon in 1939, adopted an “Open Door” policy towards thousands of Jews escaping from the Holocaust in Europe. An estimated 10,000 visas were earmarked and extended to escaping Jews. Farm and settlement lands were allocated for them. President Quezon built a housing community for Jewish refugees in Marikina, Rizal, in 1939 and allotted a farm and large settlement area in Mindanao for them.
In his speech at Marikina on 23 April 1940, Quezon said: “It is my hope, and indeed my expectation, that the people of the Philippines will have in the future every reason to be glad that when the time of need came, their country was willing to extend a hand of welcome.”
This Quezon “Open Door Policy” towards the Jewish refugees was confimed to me when I was Philippine Consul General in New York City by a Jewish American businessman who was formerly one of the Jewish refugees in the Philippines, Mr. Jack Nassur. During a Filipino-American Trade Conference at Marriott Hotel, New York in January 1992, he narrated the story of his life and about Jewish immigration to the Philippines in 1939, when President Manuel L. Quezon accepted Jewish refugees from Europe. I made the corresponding report to Manila reminding authorities concerned about the “Open Door Policy” to Jewish refugees adopted by the late President Quezon.
To commemorate the generosity and warm hospitality of President Quezon and the Filipino people, a monument was unveiled on 21 June 2009, in Israel at the Holocaust Memorial Park in the municipality of Rishon Lezion, near Tel-Aviv. The monument was designed by a Filipino artist – Jun Yee. The modern structure consists of three steel doors, frames and marble floor tiles signifying the “courage, hospitality and the determination” of the Philippines to give humanitarian support for European Jews seeking refuge from the Holocaust. The Philippine monument is the only one in the park dedicated in honor of an entire country and people. The rest of the memorials honoring other countries are in a row of red granite blocks.
Thus, as we commemorate the 131st birth anniversary of President Manuel L. Quezon on 19 August 2009, the recent unveiling of the “Open Doors” monument in Israel is a fitting tribute to the courage, hospitality and determination of President Quezon in pursuing humanitarian support to Jewish refugees. It may be stated that such “Open Door” gesture in 1939 was in accordance with his declared policy enunciated in his 15 November 1935 inaugural address that “goodwill towards all nations shall be the golden rule” of his administration.
It took half a century and two decades later before MLQ's “Open Door Policy” to refugees merited a memorial or monument. But it does not matter because an indelible memorial for such humanitarian gesture has long been etched already in the hearts and minds of those who found refuge in the Philippines. Among them, Frank Ephraim, himself a refugee in the Philippines, who wrote a book in
2003: “Escape to the Philippines” narrating the author's and 35 other Jewish refugees' journey to the Philippines, just before it fell to the Japanese during WW II in the Pacific. Preparations were made to accept 10,000 Jews a year, but only 1,200 made it to Manila due to Japanese invasion of the Philippines.
Mr. Ephraim's book inspired then Philippine Ambassador to Israel Antonio Modena to launch in 2005 a campaign for the remembrance of the Philippine's humanitarian support for the Jews. Unfortunately, Ambassador Modena passed away in February 2007, but he had already blazed the trail for the building of a Philippine monument in Israel. His vision came into realization with the inauguration of a Philippine monument in Israel on 21 June 2009.
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