Speech of President Quezon at the San Juan de Letran Alumni Annual Banquet, November 7, 1937

His Excellency Manuel L. Quezon
President of the Philippines
At the San Juan de Letran Alumni Annual Banquet

[Delivered at the San Juan de Letran College, November 7, 1937]


The Executive carries the executive power with him wherever he goes and at all times; he cannot dissociate himself from his official position.

I never do a thing not knowing whether I am doing right or wrong, and when I do wrong, I have the courage of admitting it.

In order to be a good Filipino one must love and do everything that will strengthen the Philippines and insure its independence and tranquility.

Liberty consists in exercising a right, and as there is no right without a corresponding duty, the exercise of liberty must be limited.

What makes a government stable is the existence of a responsible majority and a minority party which was not born to be in the minority but which happens to have been defeated in the last election.

Political parties must have only constructive aims; they must not be based on a negative ideal they must be founded on an affirmative, a positive idea.

The desire to imitate everything alien without knowing whether that which we are trying to imitate is good or bad, is due to an evil—to the lack of a real national soul.

A national soul cannot exist where there is not a common language.

The first duty of the children is to respect their parents.


PROFESSORS, STUDENTS, AND ALUMNI OF LETRAN: I shall not speak to you on this occasion of the great services rendered by the College of San Juan de Letran to the Philippine people. The praises of this college have been sung by poets and authors and I have also mentioned them in speeches I made on occasions like the present one.

I shall prove to you that the Rector was quite correct when he said that I am an outspoken man, because I shall speak to you frankly, although the Rector may not like what I am going to say.

Gentlemen: I did not come to this gathering as President of the Philippines; I came to this gathering as an alumnus of Letran. (Applause) But the President of the Philippines cannot dissociate himself from the alumnus of Letran while he is President of the Philippines.

It is not true that the executive Power is the greatest and the judicial power the weakest. I hope my colleague, Mr. Vera, will pardon me if I say so. In a democratic form of Government, the three powers are equal. If any of them is more powerful than the others, I would say that it is the judicial power, because the members of the judiciary hold office for life, and because that power can if it wishes, place itself above the people, in spite of the theory that the people are sovereign where there is a government. I say that when judicial power is powerful, it can even place itself above the people because it can then render decisions that run counter to public opinion. And there is no way of counteracting or annulling its decisions. The executive power and the legislative power, on the other hand, are at all times subject to the rules and dominion of the people, because they do not hold office for life. Hence, if any of them is really more powerful than the others, it must be the judicial power. But they say, and it is actually so in practice, that the executive power is the greatest because it is vested in only one person. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is not the Supreme Court. The Associate Justices of the Supreme Court are not the Supreme Court. They have to function as Supreme Court in order to be able to exercise the judicial power. Chief Justice Avanceña cannot exercise that power now. I could beat him up now without being guilty of contempt of court. (Laughter and Applause) At this moment, Chief Justice Avanceña is exactly like any other citizen. The same is true of the members of the legislative power. None of them represents the legislative power. Speaker Montilla is not the legislative power; nor are the members of the National Assembly the legislative power. It is the National Assembly itself. When our legislators are outside the Assembly, the same thing applies to them that I said with reference to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. If I should beat them up, that would be all there would be to it. (Laughter) The Executive, on the contrary, carries the executive power with him wherever he goes and at all times; he cannot dissociate himself from his official position. For this reason I cannot, as President of the Philippines, ignore acts committed in my presence that should not be committed.

That Franco Hymn should not have been played here. The Franco Government is still unrecognized. The United States Congress has enacted a neutrality law and it is my duty to enforce that law in this country. I would not have said what I have said, and would have ignored this matter, if the Franco rebellion were still in its initial stage; but now that it seems to be winning, there is so much more reason for protesting, as I now protest, against such an act. Let no one say that I yield when a cause is about to triumph. What has happened has been a great mistake and a lack of consideration for the President of the Philippines.

All colleges in the Philippines are now, under the Constitution, subject to supervision by the State. No college can obtain government recognition unless it abides by the mandates of the Constitution. The Dominican Fathers know very well the heart of Manuel L. Quezon; the Dominicans know very well how I respect them. But the President of the Philippines cannot make exceptions in favor of any one.

I rose to my feet when they played the old Spanish anthem, that old national anthem which represents to us a historical remembrance and which represents to the Filipinos the ties of culture and affection that bound us to Spain; but I cannot recognize here anything referring to General Franco, regardless of my personal opinion of him and of the cause which he represents, nor can I express any opinion while I am President. And I am that at the present moment, gentlemen. (Laughter and Applause)

I have considered it necessary to say this because it was my duty to say it.

Gentlemen, it gives me the most intimate satisfaction to have the Master-General of the Dominican Order present here. I consider it happy not only for the College but also for His Reverence, that he has honored this Alumni Day with his presence, because it enables him to see with his own eyes what his Order has wrought. I believe that the Very Reverend Master-General of the Order of Predicants has reasons to be not only satisfied but also proud of his Order in the Philippines.

I have noticed that all the speakers who preceded me are poets. The Master-General has read a poem to us, the Rector of Santo Tomas has pronounced a poem in prose, and there is nothing to be said about Vera and Perfecto. They have given us an exhibition of literature. It would have been necessary for me to get a dictionary if I had been interested in understanding everything they said.

I have never been a lover of literature; but this afternoon, hearing Vera and Perfecto, I realized that Literature has its practical advantages. When I heard them both use the word remanso (dullness), I felt refreshed. Dullness this afternoon, and at Letran!

Do you know why I protested against that demonstration in favor of Franco? I did not do it only as President of the Philippines; but I did it as a Filipino who loves Spain. I do not know if there is any Spaniard who feels more deeply than I when I contemplate the present plight of Spain. I dare affirm that there is not any, for the simple reason that the Spaniards are all divided into two camps. Those belonging to one camp would like to see those in the other perish. Franco’s men will tomorrow kill all men who are with the Popular Front and those of the Popular Front will kill all Franco partisans. I do not wish death to either Franco’s men nor to those of the popular front. What I desire to see is a Spain redeemed and united by the love of all Spaniards. I know neither a red Spain nor a green or white Spain. I know only one Spain; the Spain which spilled blood on all the continents in order to bequeath to them her genius and culture, the Spain which came to the Philippines and lived with us for over three hundred years.

The Spaniards in the Philippines were also divided; they represented different political and economic ideologies. But we are losing time in making distinctions between the Spaniards who were good and the Spaniards who were bad. The human heart is noble and rises above all that. The only recollection that remains of Spain in the Philippines is that of the blessing she left and the services she rendered here. (Applause)

I protest against the campaign now being carried on by the Spaniards, with the Philippines as a theater of operations. Here no one is fighting. Why should they trouble us? We are not interested in the questions at issue in Spain. We must not be interested in them. The Filipinos maintain that every nation has the right to govern itself, and they should be the very last to attempt to tell the Spaniards how they should govern themselves. We must not be compelled to give an opinion on the matter. We must remember that the right to govern oneself carries with it the right to misgovern oneself. That is true of countries as well as of men. When God gave man that liberty which differentiates him from the beasts, he gave him the right to use that liberty not only to go to Heaven but also to go to hell. Is there any human being whose love can be compared with God’s love for His creatures? Nevertheless God, in His infinite wisdom, and without ceasing to be merciful, upon giving man reason to discern, also gave him liberty to act as he saw fits. If man acts righteously, he will gain Heaven; if he does wrong, he will go to hell. You must not forget that the right to govern carries with it the right to misgovern. The Spaniards have the right to govern themselves as they please; it rests with them what government they shall have. That is their business. Why should we meddle with that? Why? Do you believe I would like to see foreigners meddle in our affairs? I have never liked it.

Gentlemen, I am not a hypocrite; I am not one of those who say: “Do as I say and not as I do.” When I condemn some, I condemn others, too. But I do not condemn, I am not irresponsible. I never do a thing not knowing whether I am doing right or wrong, and when I do wrong, I have the courage of admitting it. What the Spaniards, especially the religious, and all priests should do in the Philippines, is to pray for peace in Spain. Do you know that it is a great satisfaction to me to be able, after receiving lessons from the priests, to give them lessons, as I am now doing, with the same absolute power with which they used to impart them? When I was a student and wanted to discuss anything with a priest, I was very liable to get a box on the ear. But it was I who commands now.

That is the Spain we desire. That is the Spain for which we must pray and which we must ask God to enlighten and save. Spain deserves a better fate.

I was in Mexico recently, I know what some silly fools her have said that I was insulted in Mexico because President Cardenas left and would not receive me. What I am going to say now I shall say not to reply to those stupidities which merely show the imbecility of those fools, but to illustrate the subject which I am going to discuss.

I did not go to Mexico as President of the Philippines, and I made statement to that effect. I sent word to the ambassador of Cuba that I was coming as a tourist. I sent word to the ambassador of Cuba that I was coming as a tourist. When I am in the Philippines, I am President at all times; but when I am abroad, that is no longer the case. I continue being president as regards the Philippines; but in my relations with foreign countries I can drop my official capacity when I please.

I sent word to the Cuban ambassador that I was coming as a tourist and for that reason did not desire to be received with the honors due me as head of a state, I said the same thing to the Secretary of State. However, when I arrived at the Mexican frontier, I found the Mexican people waiting for me and with them a military detachment ready to receive me with the honors due me as President of the Philippines. Military honors bother me; but what touched me deeply was the honors paid me by the people of Mexico. I had never been in Mexico before; but whenever I came to a small town I saw the people cheering me. I looked out of the window of the presidential car and all shouted “Viva Quezon.” The same as here, “paris din ng ginagawa natin dito.

Of course, the presidential car was there to receive me. That presidential car cost the Mexican Government $500,000, or P1,000,000. Just think of it! If I bought a presidential car worth P20,000, those of the Popular Front would murder me!

We went on to Mexico, and at all stations there were the same cheers, the same acclamation. We arrived in the City of Mexico in a tremendous rain. There was the whole cabinet, an army escort, the ambassador, of course, and the people of Mexico, acclaiming me. They gave me a national fiesta on the bank of the river to which we were conveyed in pagodas. How that reminded me of the Philippines. The pagodas were exactly like those we are using here. Even the Mexican music resembles Philippine music. At that national fiesta, at which the entire diplomatic corps was present, a Mexican delivered an address on the relations between the Philippines and Mexico.

Gentlemen, I have read many histories of our country and of the relations between Mexico and the Philippines; but I learned more from the address of that gentlemen than from anything I have ever read. That gentleman knew more about the relations between Mexico and the Philippines than any Filipino, dead or alive. And he spoke of the Philippines as if he had been here in the Philippines during the years when our country was governed from Mexico.

The other day I requested from the National Library historical data on the cedula. They brought me the Spanish Government appropriations. Do you know what I discovered? Something incredible! There was a time when the Mexican government contributed one million pesos towards the maintenance of the Government of the Philippines. I did not know that.

Why did they receive me thus in Mexico? Why did the Mexican people cheer me wherever I went? I do not believe it was all for Manuel L. Quezon. True, they know me by name. In all Latin-American countries, the persons who read about what is going on in other countries know my name. they consider me there as champion of Philippine liberty. They received me thus because I am a Filipino. The Latin-American people believe and feel that we Filipinos form part of that vast family, the children of Spain. Thus, although Spain ceased to govern those countries many years ago and although other nation is sovereign in the Philippines, those Latin-American peoples feel themselves as brothers to the people of the Philippines. It is the Spanish language which still binds us to those peoples, and the Spanish language will bind us to those people eternally if we have the wisdom and patriotism of preserving it. (Applause)

Note the phrase I have used: “the patriotism of preserving it.” I said “patriotism of preserving it,” not because I consider that one has to love Spain in order to be a good Filipino; but because in order to be a good Filipino one must love and do everything that will strengthen the Philippines and insure its independence and tranquillity. The Spanish language will do much in that sense for the Philippine people. So long as we speak Spanish, the Latin-American republics, whose influence in the world is growing steadily, will be interested in our future. And, although I do not believe that we should expect those republics to fight for us some day, yet the fact that those republics feel bound to us by cultural and spiritual ties is likely to curb to some extent any attempt to wrong the Philippine people. We must always bear in mind that in spite of the shameless manner in which the international law is now being violated, the offenders still try to cover those violations of international law with protestations of good intentions and moral justifications. It will, for these reasons, always be worth a great deal to the Philippines to preserve the Spanish language. And I am not only as determined as ever to give my full support to the preservation of that language in the Philippines; but also I am thinking of sending cultural missions to the Latin-American countries in order that this tie, this bond which is at present purely ideal or spiritual but which seems to unite us, may find expression in a more practical manner, by the exchange of Filipino professors who shall be worthy exponents of our culture and civilization, with Latin-American professors.

I therefore congratulate Enrique Carrion, my old companion and fellow-student upon his grand idea of donating that cup for the preservation of the Spanish language. I know that Enrique Carrion is a Spaniard and Filipino. He loves Spain and loves the Philippines. I am sure that if his heart were ever opened, his love for one nation would be found to be as great as that for the other. There is no nook in Carrion’s heart where his love for Spain or his love for the Philippines rules exclusively, because love for Spain and love for the Philippines are to be found everywhere in his heart. (Applause)

Gentlemen, do not believe that by advocating the preservation of the Spanish language I mean to say that we shall drop English. No; English is a practical necessity for us. It is the language by which we can make ourselves best understood by the Anglo-Saxon countries; it is the language which is helping us, and will help us, to better understand democratic principles and practices.

I do not know if the Spaniards will like this; but I do not care to keep back what I feel like saying. I am going to tell a story, which concerns the Master-General of the Dominicans. In 1926 I went with Osmeña to Paris and on board we met an Argentine. We immediately became friends. As he spoke French very well and neither Sergio nor I know that language, we not only continued our friendly relations but he also served as a guide to us. The French chauffeurs are the worst drivers in the world because they always go at top speed and do not mind either the police or the traffic regulations—they go at top speed all the time. One afternoon we were going along the Avenue de l’Opera and the chauffeur was going at top speed, as usual. A policeman stopped him. The chauffeur stuck his head out of the window and said something to the policeman that I did not understand. The Argentine then turned to us and said; “That is how the Latin people are; there is true liberty here.” We did not say anything. When we arrived at the hotel (I did not know that Sergio had noticed that), he said to me: “Did you see what the people here and and in the Latin countries understand by liberty?”

The Latin people are we. Yes, we Filipinos are that. We believe here that liberty consists in doing as one pleases. Liberty consists in exercising a right, and as there is no right without a corresponding duty, the exercise of liberty must be limited. Liberty does not consist in punching a man in the face whenever one feels like it.

I am going to speak to you of the French Revolution. You know that the motto of the French Revolution was Liberté, egalite et fraternity. (Applause) With the French Revolution, the Marseillaise was born. Do you know that it impressed me deeply when the General of the Dominicans was first honored with the Marseillaise and was then accorded the honors of the Marseillaise? That shows ability to forget the past and accept what is good in the present. The Marseillaise used to mean “off with the friars’ head.” The most remarkable thing about it, however, is that not only the heads of friars fell but also those of Danton, Robespierre and others who were great personages of the French Revolution. All were decapitated. Now the Marseillaise represents a stable government, a government that loves and respects the General of the Dominicans, a government that accords protection and consideration.

If property were not greatly divided in France; if the French were not in their majority small landowners and thrifty people, France might be as Spain is to-day. Look at the governments in France; they are constantly falling. The deputies of party A get together with the deputies and of party B, and the government falls. Another government is formed, and that falls, too. But in spite of all, the French nation remains united because its citizens are steady, own property, and are endowed with a sense of responsibility. But the government is nothing.

We Filipinos, instead of learning democratic principles and practices from the countries which have been applying them successfully so far, are learning quite the contrary. In England there are only two parties. The same is true in America. What makes a government stable is the existence of a responsible majority and a minority party which was not born to be in the minority but which happens to have been defeated in the last election. In the Philippines we have not anything of the sort. There are some persons here who get up and say: “I want to be with the opposition; I am going to organize an opposition party.” No part must be organized for the purpose of obstructing. Political parties must have only constructive aims; they must not be based on a negative idea; they must be founded on an affirmative, a positive idea. Here, when our people say they are going to organize the opposition, it means that they want to go against Quezon and his followers.

I have said that I am in favor of organizing opposition, that is, of the formation of another party, if those who are to compose that party do not agree with the principles, doctrines, and practices of the party in power. The other day some young men came to me and said: “Mr. President, we are of the opposition. If it is true that you encourage opposition, we may ask you to help us.” “Why are you of the opposition?” I asked them. “Do you not approve of the present government, of the principles for which it stands?” “It is because I you said you desired that there should be opposition,” they replied. “You are fools,” I told them, “and I am not going to help you to be still bigger fools than you are.” This is merely to illustrate how we Filipinos are.

We shall not drop English, because English can be of great help to us in so far as democratic ideas and practices are concerned. Thence we must continue Spanish and English. But I am going further; I tell you that I want neither Spanish nor English as the language of our Government. The Philippines must have a language of her own, a language based on one of the vernacular tongues. (Applause) I am speaking as President, as a Filipino, not as Letran alumnus.

Gentlemen, many of the difficulties or defects now existing here are due to the fact that we have not a common national language of our own. The desire to imitate everything alien without knowing whether that which we are trying to imitate is good or bad, is due to an evil—to the lack of a real national soul. A national soul cannot exist where there is not a common language. We shall never have any genuine national pride until we have a language of our own. We shall always have the sign of inferiority. Copying is all right; but we must copy only what is good, what is adaptable to our idiosyncrasy, and reject what is bad. I never realized how terrible the lack of a common language is until I became President. I am President of the Philippines; I am the personal representative of the Philippine nation, the Philippine people. But, when I travel through the provinces and talk to my people, I need an interpreter. Did you ever hear of anything more humiliating, more horrible than that? I am all right when I go to the Tagalog provinces, because I can speak to the people there in the vernacular, in Tagalog. But if I go to the Ilocos Sur, I am already a stranger in my own country! How can I tell the people what I think and feel when in order to do so I need an interpreter who, in the majority of cases, says what he wants to say and not what I have said? (Applause) That happens, because sometimes the interpreter, either because he has not understood me or because he cannot think of words in the vernacular expressing what I have said, says whatever occurs to him. How often have I not said to some one interpreting for me into Visayan or Bicol; “You are not saying what I have said?”

I am agreeable to having English continued in the schools and I am going to advocate that Spanish be continued, too. But I say that the time has come for us to have a national Philippine language. Until we have that, we shall not be a people.

I remember the time when the American imperialists said: “How can you have independence when you have no common language?” I replied: “It is not necessary to have a common language. In Switzerland, the Italian, the French and the German are spoken, and Switzerland is an independent nation.” And we were well satisfied with our answer. And as those Americans were not educated in a college like that of the Dominicans, where they are so strong on the logic of Saint Augustine or Saint Thomas, they let us get away with that.

They have three languages in Switzerland. If the President of Switzerland chooses to speak in Italian, in French, or in German, everybody understands him. The Swiss, instead of having one language, have three. In the Philippines we have neither English, nor Spanish, nor Tagalog.

Several Filipino ladies who were traveling related to me the following incident: They were speaking English on board a ship before an American girl of about 14 years. Both were alumni of a college of the University of the Philippines. After the conversation, the American girl asked them this question, “Why don’t you speak in your own language?” The American girl was right. Why did they converse in English, being Filipinas? They could not use the vernacular because one was an Ilocana and the other a Tagala.

We must, therefore, have a common national language, and we Letran alumni are losing time if we do not do something positive, if we limit our activity to making speeches which cannot be translated into practice. You men of Letran must acquire the merit of converting into reality the ideal of the Philippine people having a language of its own. The difficulty is that the Ilocanos want Ilocano to be the national language; the Tagalogs, Tagalog; the Visayans, Visayan. And yet, those same Ilocanos who not want Tagalog, accept English as the national language! Have you ever seen anything inconceivable? A Filipino preferring a foreign language to a Philippine tongue? And at that only because Ilocano is not the tongue which has been made the National Language! What I have said of Ilocano I also say to Tagalog, Pampango, Visayan, Bicol, etc.

I am a Tagalog. If the men familiar with the advantages of the several Philippine tongue were to tell me that the vernacular tongue that we must adopt is Mangyan, I would be for Mangyan rather than for any other tongue. You know what I do not speak Spanish well; but I have spoken it from my infancy, the same as Tagalog. I did not speak Spanish of English to my children until they spoke Tagalog. Tagalong is the official language in my family, But I am ready to learn Ilocano, Visayan or any other vernacular tongue so long as we shall have a language that can be spoken by all.

Think of the difference between Japan and China. Why is Japan united? By the language. And why do those difficulties exist in North China? Also on account of the Language. And, why are we Filipinos united now? First, thanks to the Spaniards and then to the Americans.

Do you know, I often ask myself: What shall we do when the Americans are gone, when that stimulus to be united no longer exists? We shall have strife, such as that which existed when we were students here in Letran and when the Tagalogs used to fight with the Ilocanos, the Pampangos with Visayans, the Visayans with the Tagalogs, etc. I have seen that here, and not so long ago, either. I am not old yet, and I have seen the fights we had here. The language is going to save us because no one will remember that he is Tagalog, Visayan, Ilocano, Pampango, Bicol, etc. They will all forget that difference.

There is another thing I will tell you. The majority of you are fathers of families. Gentlemen, the time has come to Filipinize the Filipinos. We have for many years been assimilating first with Spaniards and then with Americans. Let us assimilate ourselves with Filipinos, too, I don’t know whether ours are Filipino or Spanish customs; but we have customs which I have seen since my boyhood that are magnificent. It makes no difference to me whether they came from Spain or from ancient Malaya. For instance, our family life. That must be preserved. Nowadays the children do not mind their parents. They treat them with contempt, especially those parents who have not been fortunate enough to go to college, I must tell you that I have never laid hands on any of my children, I have a daughter who is already 18 years of age, I have never spanked her. But I have disciplined them since they were small. If I had a boy who treated me with contempt, I would laugh at the Supreme Court and break his head for him. (Applause) I saw Gabriel La O applauding me. Gabriel heard me say to one son: “If I were your father, I would break your head.”

Do not accept so-called modern methods from your children. The first duty of the children is to respect their parents. If they become insolent, apply the rod. I don’t mean by that that parents should treat their children like beasts. That was a defect of our parents of yore. Parenthood does not imply lack of judgment. Even though the child be an imbecile, the father has no right to treat him badly. Discipline must be maintained in a proper manner.

You have heard me criticize the luxurious manner of living of our present-day youth. That is not the fault of the children; it is the fault of the parents. It is the parents who give them the money. I am telling fathers that the best way of showing a son that they love him is to compel him to suffer what the father has suffered; to make him work before he learns how to spend money. Let him learn to earn money, then let him spend it. It is the duty of the father to provide everything necessary for life, exclusive of luxuries. If the son wants luxuries, let him work, let him learn to earn money, and if he is unable to make a living, let him go to the devil. Don’t let us permit our sons to sport a fine car or give a sumptuous dance. And we must demonstrate with facts what we tell them. Some parents hurt their own children by getting them accustomed to a life of luxury.

I have been preaching you a sermon and it is time for me to stop. I conclude by thanking you all for your attention and thanking the professors of this college for the interest which they have always shown in our youth. I congratulate the chairman upon the success of this banquet and I wish the General of the Dominicans a pleasant visit in the Philippines and hope that he will visit us again before he relinquishes his office. Many thanks to all. (Enthusiastic Applause)

From Messages of the Philippines, Vol. 3, Part I, pp. 156-171.

Source:University Archives, University of the Philippines Diliman Library