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A leader from and for the poor



THE great statesman, Manuel L. Quezon. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF MALACAñANG

To commemorate the 142nd birth anniversary of the late President of the Philippine Commonwealth, Manuel L. Quezon, Daily Tribune invited his grandson, Ricky Quezon Avanceña, to be the guest in TribuneNOW’s Spotlight, our live online magazine show. With me as my co-host was Dinah Sabal Ventura, Tribune’s Lifestyle editor.

Ricky, the son of Quezon’s only living daughter, Nini Quezon Avanceña, obliged us, for which we are grateful. A year ago, we had asked him for an interview but he was quite busy preparing for the annual celebration of his grandfather’s birthday since he had organized a walking tour of the Quezon Memorial Circle.

Ricky’s elder brother, Tito, is married to my first cousin, the former Peachy S. Nieto, making me somehow related to the courageous leader who stood up to the Americans and fought them back when they began acting superior in a country that, of course, was not theirs.


Setting aside imagined or contrived links to greatness, I must admit it was an informative interview, although it is quite heartwarming since it was done with a family member who spoke of the president as his own lolo and shared stories that could only have been handed down to him by his mother Nini who, in a certain period of our history, had shown her teeth in fighting against oppression and abuse of power.
Here are excerpts from the interview with Ricky:

Daily Tribune (DT): Have you been traveling to Baler?

Ricky Avanceña (RA): I was there quite often before the pandemic. But now, it’s quite strict in Baler but that’s good because aside from Batanes, Baler is the only province in the Philippines that is COVID-free. It’s because of the geography, right? Because to get there, you have to go through the Sierra Madre mountains. From Nueva Ecija, there are only two roads coming in. And then from the north, in Quirino and Isabela, there’s also one. It was pretty easy to impose quarantine protocols at the boundary. However, they did a magnificent job and the proof of that is that it is still COVID-free as of today.

RICKY with his mom, Nini Quezon Avanceña.

DT: Not very many people know you. Please tell us something about yourself.

RA: I’m the eighth of the nine children of Nini Quezon, the only living daughter of President Manuel Quezon and Aurora Quezon. I should tell you more about my mother and the family history She turned 99 in April. She was married first to Phillip Buencamino III who died shortly after my mom got married.

About two years after, my grandmother, Aurora Quezon, together with my mom’s only sister, Baby Quezon and my mom’s husband then, Phillip Buencamino III, were in a convoy going to Baler. They were ambushed on the way so my mom lost her mother, her sister and her husband then. My mom was unable to go because she was pregnant with her second son so she became a widow and married my father, Bert Avanceña, and had seven kids by him.

So we are eight boys and one girl in the middle and I am the eighth of the nine. Tito, Jojo’s cousin-in-law, is the eldest Avanceña. There were two Buencaminos, Phillip Buencamino IV and my brother Nonie or Jose Antonio.

DT: Please tell us about your roots.

RA: A couple of years ago, maybe six years or so, a group of relatives and people from Aurora Province set up this socio-civic organization. I guess we were tracing genealogy and all that and it’s quite interesting. We actually have traced the origins of Manuel L. Quezon. Apparently, Manuel L. Quezon is a grandson of a Spanish friar who was the parish priest in Baler. His name was Friar Jose. He came from the province of Extremadura in Spain. He was a Spanish priest in Baler and he got a woman pregnant. So, they had four children, three daughters and a son. One daughter, Maria Dolores Molina, became the mother of Manuel L. Quezon. The other daughter, Maria Zenaida Molina, was the mother of Doña Aurora Quezon. Of course, they could not carry the family name of the friar.

So, Manuel L. Quezon and Aurora were first cousins. Eventually, when Aurora was orphaned, and my lolo by then was the governor oaf Tayabas, his family took care of her. It turned out they were childhood sweethearts. And since the father and mother of Lolo Quezon were the Spanish teachers in Baler, both Manuel and Aurora spoke Spanish fluently.

Lola Aurora in time began living with Lolo Quezon but they could not marry because the elders were still around and would not permit it. Finally, when the mother of Lola Aurora finally died, Lolo Quezon and Lola Aurora went to the Archbishop of Manila so they could marry. But the archbishop said he could not marry them because they were first cousins. So, what did my Lolo do? Together with their closest friends, they went to Hong Kong and asked to be married by the Archbishop of Hong Kong who was clueless about their first-degree relationship. Lolo Quezon then sent a telegram to the Archbishop of Manila, saying “We are in Hong Kong stop, just got married.”



DT: Growing up around relatives and people who knew your grandfather, you must have heard a lot of stories about him. Based on those stories, would you tell us what kind of a leader he was?

RA: It’s all in the history books but the best window for me was to get to know his personal side through my mother. My mom has always been very nationalistic and she always related that when he left Baler to go to school to Letran, his father admonished him, ‘Wherever you get into this world, always remember that you come from the poor.’ So, the pillars of his government were the social justice program, the land reform program and his preferential choices for the poor. My grandmother set up the Philippine National Red Cross and many organizations but basically it was because of the love for those who are disadvantaged in life.

The misconception is that Quezon is this mestizo from an elite family. But of course he played a part. And he surrounded himself with his fellow mestizos.

You know how it was especially during those days. If you had a mestizo complexion, you stood above the rest. And my Lolo never gave up that advantage, but he came from the poor.

DT: And he stood up to the Americans.

RA: That’s another thing, his nationalism. He was very proud of being a Filipino. Because he was a descendant of a Spanish priest, he didn’t join the revolution against the Spaniards but when it was already the Philippine-American war, he immediately joined it and, in the end, he became a major in the Philippine revolution. He was an aide to General Mascardo and in the end he was imprisoned and was incarcerated in Fort Santiago and that’s where he probably developed his tuberculosis.

He fought in the Fil-American war and then after his imprisonment, he gave his American citizenship a chance, and he became a lawyer, fiscal, governor, assemblyman, senate president and then president of the First Commonwealth. The first time they elected a president. He was consistent in his nationalism. Even if the commonwealth government were under the Americans, he never gave up the fight for independence. So being under the Americans was a temporary thing. Independence was his ultimate and immediate goal.

DT: Ricky, how is it like having Nini Avanceña for a mother?

RA: My grandfather and grandmother had four children but one of them died in infancy so there were three. Maria Aurora Quezon was my Tita Baby, and then my mother, Maria Zenaida Quezon, and then the youngest was Manuel Quezon Jr. He was a seminarian and became a priest but people always said that it was my Tita Baby who got my Lolo’s temperament. She was the one who was into politics and she became a lawyer.

At a certain point, when my grandfather was president, my Lola who was not so sociable, stood in the background of my Tita Baby who was doing First Lady functions. My Tita Baby was more like Lolo Quezon. They say that my mother is more like Mrs. Quezon who was more approachable.


PRESIDENT Manuel L. Quezon and his First Lady, Aurora.

My mom is also more involved in socio-civic functions, and is away from politics. And my mom said that’s how she grew up. She didn’t really know what was happening around. But one thing she always tells us is how her father was always there for them to the point that even if he was busy, he was always there for them.

One story that I really like was one time, I think she was in Sta. Teresa, and then the nun asked her to join a play. She was given only one line because she was the shy type. But my grandfather made sure to go watch that play. Of course, their hearts were filled. The President was there only to hear my mom speak one line. I think the line was, “Here we are, we have arrived.” He was really a good family man.

DT: Tell us about your Avanceña side of the family.

RA: My father was Alberto Avanceña. My father’s father was the Chief Justice Ramon Avanceña. To this day, Chief Justice Avanceña holds a record of longest-sitting Justice in Supreme Court. And then he was Chief Justice until the time that Americans were in power. Until the time that the Commonwealth Government was established. So, my pride in my genealogy is that my grandfather from father’s side Chief Justice Ramon Avanceña swore my maternal grandfather, Manuel L. Quezon, into office as President of the Philippine Commonwealth. If you look at this famous picture, he was swearing in and those are my two grandfathers. And my father, Alberto, was his secretary in Supreme Court. So after my mom was widowed from Felipe Buencamino III, what she did was to be involved in sports. That’s where they met each other — playing tennis. When she was widowed, they got married and they had Avanceña kids.

DT: Ricky, what would you like to tell the people especially the younger ones about Manuel Quezon?

RA: In this time when people are feeling low and disconnected, let’s all keep in mind the plight of those who have less in life. Let’s try to help those who are in need, those who don’t have food, those who are out of work. This is the time to show that we Filipinos truly care for each other. In the end, we can only depend on ourselves. Let’s dig deep, be kind, and when we are kind, let’s try to even be kinder.