Friday, April 29, 2011

In History: Aurora Quezón

This is the 74th post in a weekly feature here at Spare Candy, called "In History." Some posts might be little more than a photo, others full on features. If you have any suggestions for a person or event that should be featured, or would like to submit a guest post or cross post, e-mail me at rosiered23 (at) sparecandy (dot) com.

Aurora Antonia Aragón de Molina Vd.ª De Quezón (born Aurora Antonia Aragón y de Molina on Feb. 19, 1888), usually known simply as Aurora Quezón, and sometimes as Aurora Aragón-Quezón, was the wife of Philippine President Manuel Luis Quezón and the First Lady of the Philippines from 1935 to 1944. Though she is recognized as the second First Lady of the Philippines, she was actually the first spouse of a Philippine president to be called as such, the honorific being unknown during the presidency of Emilio Aguinaldo, and thus not applied at that time to his wife Hilaria. Much beloved by Filipinos, Quezón was known for involvement with humanitarian activities and served as the first Chairperson of the Philippine National Red Cross.

Five years after her husband's death, Quezón and her daughter "Baby" were assassinated, on April 28, 1949, while they were en route to open a hospital dedicated to her husband. The province of Aurora was named in her memory.

Within the first seventeen years of their marriage, Manuel Quezón emerged as a dominant figure in Philippine politics. His career reached its apex in 1935, when he was elected President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines. During her husband's political life, Aurora Quezón stayed in the background, involving herself with women's organizations such as the National Federation of Women's Clubs, of which she was the honorary chairperson.

The Quezons were the first presidential couple to reside in Malacañang Palace, but Aurora spent as little time as possible there, preferring to stay in a "nipa house" in Malacañang Park or in her farm, Kaleidan, in Arayat, Pampanga. She nevertheless was an active First Lady, engaging herself in the campaign to give Filipino women the right of suffrage, which was achieved in 1937. She was particularly involved in managing the family's Arayat farm to demonstrate how social justice could be applied to landlord-tenant relationships in an agrarian setting. Quezón was involved in the Girl Scouts of the Philippines and the Associación de Damas Filipinas, a noted orphanage in Manila. She was also the honorary president of another orphanage, the White Cross, located in San Juan.

In 1947, with the active support of Quezón, the Philippine National Red Cross was established as an independent Red Cross organization. She became the first Chairperson of the Philippine National Red Cross, holding the position until her death. She also was named as honorary vice-president of the Philippine Tuberculosis Society. (Her husband died from tuberculosis.)

She continued to be involved in civic work, such as the efforts to rebuild the Antipolo Church. She received honorary doctorates from the University of Santo Tomas, and from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. She was likewise bestowed the Ozanam Award from the Ateneo de Manila University, and the Pro Ecclessia et Pontifice Cross from Pope Pius XII.

On the morning of April 28, 1949, Quezón left her home to travel to her husband's hometown of Baler to open the Quezon Memorial Hospital. She had been cautioned about this trip beforehand due to the frequent insurgency activities in Central Luzon of the Hukbalahap, the military arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Together with Quezon in her Buick sedan was her daughter "Baby", then a law student at the University of Santo Tomas, her son-in-law Felipe "Philip" Buencamino, Quezon City mayor Ponciano Bernardo, and retired Armed Forces Chief of Staff Major General Rafael Jalandoni.

They traveled along the Baler-Bongabon Road connecting Baler with Nueva Ecija, which Quezón herself inaugurated in 1940. At Quezón's request, her vehicle led the caravan, and it soon sped away from the military jeep immediately behind it. As Quezón's vehicle traversed the mountain road, it was blocked by a group of armed men. The men ignored the protestations from General Jalandoni and Mayor Bernardo that Quezón was in the vehicle, and machine-gunfire erupted from the side of the road and from the mountain slopes. It was later estimated that between 100 to 200 armed men had participated in the attack. Quezón, her daughter, and Bernardo were killed instantly, while her son-in-law was mortally wounded. In all, twelve members of the Quezon party and ten of the assailants were killed.

There was national and international condemnation of the massacre. United States President Harry Truman was shocked and simply declared, "It was awful." A nine-day national mourning period was declared. Quezón was buried at Manila North Cemetery. While no Philippine President has ever been assassinated, Aurora Quezón is one of three presidential spouses who have been murdered. The other two were Alicia Syquia-Quirino and Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr.

Manuel and Aurora Quezón are the only spouses to have respective provinces in the Philippines named after them. The Concerned Women of the Philippines have named the Aurora Aragon Quezón Peace Awards after Aurora Quezón.

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