Manuel L. Quezon

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To read this article in Filipino, see Manuel L. Quezon.

Manuel Luis Molina Quezón (19 August 1878 - 1 August 1944) was the first Filipino president of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, serving from 1935 until his death in 1944. He is considered as the second Philippine president after Emilio Aguinaldo, though the latter’s República Filipina did not receive international recognition at the time and he was not considered the first Philippine president by the United States. Quezón was among the Filipino politicians who pushed for the independence of the Philippines from American rule. Having declared Filipino as the national language via an executive order issued on 30 December 1937, he came to be referred to as "the Father of the Philippine National Language",

Quezón was the first Senate president of the Philippines to be elected to the presidency, the first president elected through a national election, and the first incumbent to secure reelection (for a partial second term, later extended, due to amendments to the 1935 Constitution).

Early life and career

Manuel L. Quezón, a Filipino-Spanish mestizo, was born on 19 August 1877 (official birthday: 19 August 1878) in Baler in the district of El Principe (now Baler, Aurora), to Lucio Quezón, a primary grade school teacher from Paco, Manila and retired sergeant in the Spanish colonial army, and María Dolores Molina, a primary grade school teacher in Baler.  

Quezón was privately tutored from 1883 to 1887; afterwards, he boarded at Colegio de San Juan de Letrán, where he finished secondary school in 1889.  His mother died of tuberculosis in 1893, before he graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Santo Tomás (UST) in 1894. In 1898, his father Lucio and brother Pedro were ambushed and killed by armed men while on their way home to Baler from Nueva Écija allegedly because of their loyalty to the Spanish government.  

Quezón’s law studies at UST were cut short by the Philippine-American War, during which he joined the Philippine Revolutionary forces and later served as aide-de-camp to Emilio Aguinaldo from 1899 until Aguinaldo’s capture in 1901. After the war, he completed his law studies at UST and placed fourth in the 1903 bar exams. He then worked for a time as a clerk and surveyor, before entering government service as an appointed fiscal for Mindoro on September 19, 1903, and later becoming fiscal of Tayabas in March 1904, where he filed 25 cases for estafa against Frank J. Berry, an influential American lawyer and publisher. He resigned as fiscal of Tayabas in November 1904 and went into private practice from 1904 to 1906.

On July 13, 1906, the Supreme Court found in the case of U.S. vs. Querijero (G.R. No. L-2626) that the perpetrators in the killings of Quezón's father and brother were “soldiers in the insurrection against Spain and that it was committed by order of a superior officer and for the purposes of the revolution.”

Early political career

In 1906, Quezón was elected councilor and later became governor of Tayabas. On July 25, 1907, he resigned as governor and ran for the Philippine Assembly. From 1907 to 1909, he was a member of the Philippine Assembly, and the floor leader and chairman of the Appropriations Committee. In 1909, he was elected by the Philippine Legislature to serve as the resident commissioner to the United States Congress.

As resident commissioner, Quezón could be heard but not vote during deliberations of the U.S. Congress. Even then, he was outspoken in advocating the Philippine bid for independence.

After a speech at Tammany Hall for the American Fourth of July in 1911, Quezon told the New York Times, “We are grateful to Mr Taft and to the American people for what they have done but we don’t want to be colonized. We want our freedom.”[1]

In response to the New York Times article “Philippines the Key to our Success in the Far East,” Quezón told the paper (as printed in its September 15, 1912 edition) “It is time for those who look upon the Philippines as a business enterprise to come out and say so frankly when they are advocating the retention of the islands, instead of covering their real purpose with the arguments, insulting to the national pride of the Filipino people, that ‘the United States is in the Philippines, not for territorial expansion, not for commercial gain, but to supply the islands with a benevolent and wise Government, that the Filipinos are incapable of establishing and maintaining from within.” Quezón warned that the Filipinos only accepted American rule with the understanding that they would be given their full independence in time, and if the Filipinos became convinced that America intended to remain permanently, they would “make it a very expensive task for the American Government to govern the islands, and a serious menace to the success of American enterprises.”[2]

In 1916, Quezón brought home the Jones Law, which promised recognition of the independence of the Filipino people.


Manuel L. Quezón was elected senator for the fifth senatorial district in 1916 and became Senate president, serving continuously until 1935, for a total of 19 years.  

On December 9, 1918, he sailed for the United States as the head of the first independence mission to the U.S. Congress, marrying his first cousin, Aurora Aragón y Molina, along the way in Hongkong on December 17. They had four children: María Aurora “Baby” (1919-1949); Maria Zeneida “Nini” (1921-); Luisa Corazón Paz "Nenita" (b. and d. 1923); and Manuel Jr. “Nonong” (1926-1998).

On May 10, 1920, Quezón delivered his maiden speech in front of the U.S. Congress, containing the lines "Despite it all, we still want independence," "Moreover, large investments of American capital in the Philippines will result in the permanent retention of the Philippines by the US", and "If the preordained fate of my country is either to be subject people but rich, or free but poor, I am unqualifiedly for the latter."

In 1922, Quezón challenged what he described as Speaker Sergio Osmeña's "unipersonal leadership" as opposed to "collective leadership," which he advocated. On February 24, 1922, Quezón broke with Osmeña and the Nacionalista Party, stating: "The party never has been and never will be the people. My loyalty to my party ends where my loyalty to my country begins." He won the struggle to remain as Senate president, with Osmeña becoming Senate president pro tempore.[3]

Following the election of Warren Harding as president of the U.S.A. in 1920, Francis Burton Harrison was replaced by Leonard Wood as governor-general of the Philippines. As governor-general, Wood implemented policies which were considered by the Filipinos to be harsh. In 1923, during the campaign period for the special election for the fourth senatorial district (then comprising Manila and the nearby provinces), Interior Secretary José P. Laurel resigned to protest Wood's interference in his department. The opposition party, Partido Democrata, pledged cooperation with Wood. Quezón called the Partido Democrata “Americanistas,” saying that a vote for their candidate was a vote against Philippine independence, and further stated: "I prefer a country run like hell by Filipinos to a country run like heaven by Americans, because however bad a Filipino government might be, we can always change it.”

In 1931, the OsRox mission headed by Sergio Osmeña and Manuel Roxas went to the United States to lobby for independence and brought home the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act. Quezon vehemently opposed this act because it provided that American military bases would still stay in the Philippines even after independence. Although the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act had already been approved by the U.S. Congress, the Philippine Legislature rejected it in October 1933. In November 1933, Quezón was on his way back to Washington. In 1934, he brought home the Tydings-McDuffie Act, which did not provide for the retention of the American military bases, and it was approved by the Philippine Legislature.

On July 30, 1934, the Constitutional Convention formally opened and on May 14, 1935 the 1935 Constitution was ratified.


Quezon ran in the Philippines' first presidential election held in November 1935 and won against former revolutionary president Emilio Aguinaldo (for whom he had formerly served as aide-de-camp) and Bishop Gregorio Aglipay.


During his first term, Quezon, in cooperation with United States High Commissioner Paul V. McNutt, facilitated the entry into the Philippines of Jewish refugees fleeing fascist regimes in Europe.[4] Quezón was also instrumental in promoting a project to resettle the refugees in Mindanao.

From 1901 to 1935, although a Filipino was always appointed chief justice, the majority of the members of the Supreme Court had always been Americans. Complete Filipinization was achieved only with the establishment of the Commonwealth of the Philippines in 1935, when Quezon, as president, was given the power to appoint the first all-Filipino Supreme Court of the Philippines. Claro M. Recto and José P. Laurel were among Quezón's first appointees to replace the American justices. The membership in the Supreme Court increased to 11: a chief justice and 10 associate justices, who sat either en banc or in two divisions of five members each.

In 1935, former United States Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur, whom Quezon had known for many years, returned to the Philippines as military advisor for the Philippine Commonwealth, tasked with evolving a national defense plan and organizing and training a Philippine army. When MacArthur retired from the U.S. Army in 1937, Quezon offered him the position of field marshal.

In 1936, Quezón issued E.O. No. 23 prescribing the technical description and specification of the flag of the Philippines.

In January 1937, Quezón created the Institute of National Language with the view of creating a common national language for the Filipinos. In November 1937, the Institute recommended the adoption of Tagalog as the national language (Filipino: wikang pambansa). On December 30, 1937, Quezón proclaimed Tagalog as the Philippine national language, and in June 1940, ordered that it be taught as a subject in schools.

Quezón championed social justice; one of his best-known statements is: "Social Justice is far more beneficial when applied as a matter of sentiment, and not of law.". In 1937, he signed the first minimum wage law in the Philippines. Women also voted for the first time in a plebiscite on women's suffrage.

On 12 October 1939, Quezón signed Commonwealth Act 502, creating a city located in Diliman, just outside of Manila. The city, which he had founded and developed to become the nation's capital, would be named after him—Quezon City.

Quezón's original six-year term was extended by constitutional amendment, allowing him to serve two additional years for a total of eight. He was reelected in November, 1941.

World War II and government-in-exile

On 8 December 1941, when Quezón had just been recently reelected as president, Japan launched an aerial attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, followed by aerial attacks on various other American installations in the Philippines. When Japan invaded the Philippines, Quezón evacuated to Corregidor, where he was sworn in for his second term as president on 30 December 1941, in front of Malinta Tunnel (term extended by Act of U.S. Congress, 15 November 1943). The next month, Quezón was forced to flee Corregidor to go to the Visayas via submarine, and from there to Mindanao. Upon the invitation of the US government, he was further evacuated to Australia and then to the United States, where he established the Commonwealth government in exile with headquarters in Washington, D.C. There, he served as a member of the Pacific War Council and wrote his autobiography, The Good Fight (1946).

On 14 June 1942 at the White House in Washington, D.C., Quezón signed the United Nations Declaration on behalf of the Philippines. For the first time, the flag of the Philippines was raised alongside those of other nations, and, although still a Commonwealth, the Philippines was given an international personality in anticipation of its eventual independence.


  • Independent (1906-1907)
  • Partido Nacionalista (1907-22)
  • Partido Colectivista Liberal (1922)
  • Partido Nacionalista Consolidado (1923-33)
  • Partido Nacionalista-Democrata (1934)
  • Nacionalista Coalition (Coalition Party) (1935-1937)
  • Partido Nacionalista (1937-1944)[5]

Orders and Decorations

  • Grand Cross, Order of the Crown of Belgium, 1933
  • Officer, Legion of Honour (France), 1934
  • Grand Cross (Band), Order of the Republic (Spain), August 1, 1935
  • Grand Cross, Order of the Crown of Italy, 1937 (authorised by CA 482, June 18, 1939)
  • Grand Cordon, Order of the Brilliant Jade (Republic of China), January 28, 1937 (authorized by CA 252, December 21, 1937)
  • Order of the Defenders of the Republic (Mexico), April 10, 1937
  • Collar, Order of the Golden Heart (posthumous), August 19, 1960[5]


Quezón died of tuberculosis on August 1, 1944 in Saranac Lake, New York. He was first buried at Maine Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, in Washington D.C. His body was later carried by the USS Princeton (CV-37)[6] and re-interred in Manila, at the Manila North Cemetery on August 1, 1946. Finally, it was moved to the Manuel Quezon Memorial Shrine, within the monument at the Quezón Memorial Circle in Quezon City on August 19, 1979.

The epitaph on his tomb reads: "Statesman and Patriot, | Lover of Freedom, | Advocate of Social Justice, | Beloved of his People."

On September 23, 1955, President Ramón Magsaysay declared August 13 to 19 of every year to be Linggo ng Wika (National Language Week), the celebrations culminating on the birthday of Quezón, the man who first pushed for the creation of a Filipino national language.

On January 15, 1997, President Fidel V. Ramos declared the whole month of August to be National Language Month.

On April 28, 2005, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had the remains of Quezón’s wife, Aurora Aragón Quezón, who had been killed in an ambush on the Bongabon road in Nueva Écija on April 28, 1949, re-interred at the Quezón Memorial beside those of her husband.


In their column on the pronunciation of names, The Literary Digest wrote "The President and his wife pronounce the name keh'-zon.  The pronunciation keh-son', although widely heard in the Philippine Islands, is incorrect." (Charles Earle Funk, What's the Name, Please?, Funk & Wagnalls, 1936.) The correct pronunciation is "keh-son" or "keh-thon" as per Spanish.




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