Manila Bulletin Online, August 19, 2005

Quezon and Baler

EVERY August 19th, the country commemorates the birth anniversary of Manuel L. Quezon, the first President of the Philippine Commonwealth government, the person who charted the country's journey towards independence.

As the leader of the Philippine participation in the American colonial administration since the 20s, Quezon ceaselessly worked on winning our independence. At the time, our country was the first colony voluntarily relinquished by the occupier. But preparations for national defense, a more robust national economy, and the first efforts to build an independent foreign policy were put to a halt by the country's conquest by Japan in World War II.

After the war, on July 4, 1946, the American government handed the Philippines its full independence. The country's name was transformed, from the colonial "Islas Filipinas" and "Philippine Islands" of the Spanish and American colonial periods, respectively, to the singular "Philippines" as a sign of unity, sovereignty, and national identity. Although the Philippines finally achieved independence from the Americans two years after Quezon's death in 1944, it was Quezon who assiduously worked for our total independence as a nation.

He said, "I prefer a country run like hell by Filipinos to a country run like heaven by Americans." He believed that however bad a Filipino government might be, "we can always change it."

People visiting Baler these days still wonder why the province has remained generally underdeveloped despite having produced the first Philippine President. It is still classified as a fourth-class municipality, accessible mainly through rough roads 230 kilometers northeast of Manila. But also because of its inaccessibility, Baler has preserved its pure natural beauty, unspoiled by the aggravations of modern developments.

That should not be surprising because President Quezon himself did not think in parochial terms. Even in his politics, he placed the country's interests above his own: "My loyalty to my party ends where my loyalty to the country begins."

Last Friday, I went home to Baler to join in the annual celebration of Quezon day and the town fiesta. Gracing the occasion were ambassadors Lim Kheng Hua of Singapore, Ryuichiro Yamazaki of Japan, Axel Weishaupt of Germany, and Peter and Jill Beckingham of the United Kingdom. Jesus Quintana, deputy head of the Agencia de Cooperaciones Espanol, also came, representing Spain's continued endearment for Baler, the last bastion of the Spanish occupation in the Philippines.

The guests find Aurora's lush forests and pristine beaches alluring. The famous nine-foot waves of Baler Bay, a contiguous segment of the Pacific Ocean, is just one of the town's tourist assets, attracting hundreds of surfers in February for the coveted Aurora Cup.

But the town's full development is yet to be realized. Its road network still discourages even the adventurous traveler as it also hampers economic development. Transport of goods to and from the province is costly, given the rising costs of gas and fuel. Given adequate support, I believe that Aurora's potentials would prove truly extraordinary.

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