Archive for the ‘Miscellany’ Category

Crusade for Liberty

UP debaters Pedro Camus, Deogracias Puyat, Teodoro Evangelista, and Jacinto C. Borja, with their coach, Professor Romulo, and an official from the University of Wisconsin. Later in the evening, before an audience of 450 that included the local governor, the team won by a vote of 173 to 73.

UP debaters Pedro Camus, Deogracias Puyat, Teodoro Evangelista, and Jacinto C. Borja, with their coach, Professor Romulo, and an official from the University of Wisconsin. Later in the evening, before an audience of 450 that included the local governor, the team won by a vote of 173 to 73.

When in 1927 the University of Oregon’s three-man debate team came to the Philippines to argue that we weren’t quite ready for self-government, they were—to use the American vernacular—really asking for it.

Walter E. Hempstead was a senior at Oregon, and general forensic manager. He recalled how his team went head-to-head with the University of the Philippines in what was “the most dramatic evening of [his] life.”1

Having been colonized by foreign powers for more than four centuries, and–even more stinging–having been double-crossed by Americans posing as allies against Spain just thirty years before, no topic incited Filipino passion more than a nation’s right to sovreignty. It is not surprising, then, that no less than ten thousand people descended on the Opera House that night, and two radio stations broadcasted the event across Asia. According to Hempstead, the police came, too, not just to keep an eye on the jampacked theater but also to control the people outside fighting to buy tickets off scalpers.

The Philippine question elicited intense debate even among Americans, many of whom felt they had no business annexing seven thousand islands on the opposite side of the globe in the first place. “There must be two Americas,” Mark Twain said sardonically in 1924, “one that sets the captives free, and one that takes a once-captive’s new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land.”

But those who favored colonial rule—among them some Filipinos—argued that we were incapable of self-government. They also feared that if the U.S. didn’t take control, another power, like Japan, might.

My grandfather, Carlos P. Romulo, was the UP team’s coach in the debate against the University of Oregon. Twenty-nine years old and already an outspoken anti-imperialist, he was probably as shocked as everybody else was as spectators erupted into “cat calls, boos, hisses, thunderous applause,” and even fist fights in the gallery.

The “verbal battle of the century,” as the Philippine press called it, ended with the Oregon team losing, predictably, by unanimous audience decision. The American debaters went on to China, leaving the UP team energized, inspired, and wanting to travel around the world to continue the debate.

Lolo had already traveled to the U.S. several times before, and he knew all too well that most “regular” Americans had no idea what a Filipino was; or, worse, they thought we were half-naked savages living in trees (no thanks, in part, to the 1904 St. Louis World Fair, which featured a sprawling human zoo of Filipino tribal people). In 1919 he traveled to New York to get his master’s at Columbia University. He went again with the Philippine Parliamentary Mission. Led by Senate President Manuel L. Quezon, for whom Lolo served as private secretary, the 1922 mission was the second of what would be a series of eight independence missions.

In addition to assisting Quezon at this point in time, Lolo was working his way up the editorial ladder at The Philippines Herald. He was also an associate professor in the English department of UP, which eventually led him to teach a course in public speaking and coach the debate team.

By the end of 1927, Lolo was sending letters out to universities in the United States, with a request for “immediate action.”

“The youth of the Philippine Islands covet the friendship and goodwill of the youth of the United States,” he wrote, explaining the purpose of the trip. “It is by the interchange of ideas between their representatives and by contact with the national institutions of both countries that the American and Filipino students will learn to know each other, and knowing each other, understand the ideals of each nation. . . .”

Lolo hoped to tour the U.S. with the same three men who had out-debated the University of Oregon on the question of Philippine independence. I am not sure how he managed to pull it off, as the historic debate in Manila had “provoked so much discussion that [U.S.] Secretary of War Davis frowned on the affair and notified Henry L. Stimson, governor-general of the Philippines, that no more debates on that subject could be tolerated by the government.”2

Somehow Lolo managed to organize a team of the three men plus one alternate. All four–Pedro Camus, Deogracias Puyat, Teodoro Evangelista, and Jacinto C. Borja–were law students; each had an impressive record of successful debates. By March 3, 1928, they were aboard the S.S. President McKinley, bound for Seattle, on a fifteen-university tour sanctioned by the U.S. Bureau of Insular Affairs.

Berkeley Daily Gazette, April 6, 1928

On April 4, 1928, dressed in tuxedo, as was the custom for forensic events held in the evening, the UP debaters faced their first opponent, the Varsity Debate Quad of Stanford University, and won by audience vote 178 to 52. The main contention of the team was that the Philippines had a stable government, and was capable of maintaining this government if granted independence.

From California the team traversed the country by train, crushing opponents at the Nevada Bar Association, Universities of California, Minnesota, Utah, and Michigan, Colorado, Illinois, as well as George Washington University and Indiana University. Their eighth debate was against the University of Wisconsin, where acclaimed writer and Philippine national artist Carlos Quirino was an eighteen-year-old journalism student covering the event. On April 24 he wrote that the debate tour offered audiences the opportunity of finally “hearing the Philippine question debated on a basis of first-hand information.” 3 Three days later he wrote another story with the headline, “Philippine Team Wins in Stirring Plea for Liberty.”

The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin), April 26, 1928

When the team arrived at Miami University, Ohio, they discovered that their reputation had preceded them—and they were allowed to give speeches but not to engage in debate. Since the contest was not being sponsored by the public speaking department, the university authorities expressed concern that “any group of students [would] be outclassed by the gifted Filipinos.”

The student newspaper hinted that the real reason was that the “political gentlemen” who had control over the state university’s annual budget might be annoyed by the topic of the debate. After all, the newspaper pointed out, US Republican President Coolidge had categorically stated that the Philippines would not be independent “for an indefinite term of years.”4

By the time they reached home at the end of July, the UP team had drawn a combined audience of a few thousand. They had threatened no less than the Secretary of War and, indirectly, the president of the United States. They had challenged–and defeated–six of the Big Ten schools, along with several southern and eastern universities, including Bates College, Cornell and Harvard.

“We were given a dazzling reception at the pier,” Lolo recalled in his memoirs. “The entire student body from the university turned out along with students of other schools, and we were cheered as heroes and draped with floral necklaces. . . .”

In his 1929 report to the UP Board of Regents, Lolo wrote, “Our mission was purely educational and we consistently kept out of the forbidden ground of politics.” It seems all he wanted was to drive home the point that the Philippines’ right to sovereignty was not about nationality or politics but, rather, justice and truth.


1 Hempstead, Walter E. (November 27, 1927). “Manila Engagement Heated for Oregon Debate Squad: Ticket Scalpers Get Cash.” World Debate Tour Collection, Division of Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon: Eugene, Oregon.

2 “Oregon-Philippine Debate Draws Ire of United States Secretary of War.” World Debate Tour Collection, Division of Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon: Eugene, Oregon.

3 The Daily Cardinal (the campus paper of University of Wisconsin). April 24, 1928.

4 From the column “Slants before the Walk” by Milton L. Farber. The Miami Student, Feb. 7, 1950.


Partnerships for Disaster and Climate Resilience


Natural hazards – storms, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, drought and landslides – occur regularly in the Philippines but disasters have increased in frequency and magnitude in recent years. The latest was Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) on November 8,2013.

The World Risk Report published by the United Nations University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), the German Alliance for Development Works (Alliance), and The Nature Conservancy, ranked the Philippines as the third most disaster prone country among 173 countries in the world, behind Vanuatu and Tonga.

Compounding its vulnerability to extreme natural events, the Philippines has seen three times the global average in sea level rise. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Philippines recorded the highest average increase in sea levels in 2013, at 60 centimeters against the global average of 19 centimeters since 1901. Rising sea levels is a “major force of nature” against which countries like the Philippines can do little. Disaster risk reduction, early warning systems and disaster preparedness can help but sea level rise poses a major additional risk.

Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, Vice-Chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), noted that the Philippines is greatly affected by rising sea levels around the world, and because of this, even stronger storms in the future could wreak more severe damage to the country. He stressed the need for the Philippines to take climate adaptation seriously in order to prepare itself for what are expected to be continuing major risks from climate change. “The Philippines can brace itself for the worst, but there’s no other way than to drastically change the way structures are built in the coastal areas. It’s to build a more resilient society, a more resilient infrastructure, an infrastructure made of housing, of buildings that resist better in extreme events with very high winds, very strong rain events. That is what is called adaptation to climate change and increasing the resilience,” van Ypersele said.

The Philippine Risk Reduction and Management Act (PRRMA) of 2010 defines resilience as “the ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner, including through the preservation and restoration of its essential basic structures and functions.” More than preservation and restoration, resilience involves three elements: preparedness, adaptation and transformation. While effective disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation are essential to containing and coping with the adverse consequences of natural disasters, resilience requires a transformative change in the way society approaches natural hazards and climate change. It calls for a fundamental transformation in business models and mindsets regarding vulnerability in order to create a truly disaster and climate-resilient society.

Building a Resilient Society: Program Objectives

The proliferation of public and private sector initiatives and activities – shows that there is increased attention being given to building disaster and climate resilience in the Philippines. The private sector, in particular, has become increasingly involved in initiatives to make businesses more resilient to disasters and climate change and to contribute to national efforts at building a resilient society. While work is already underway in this regard, much more needs to be done.

It is in this context that the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation for Peace and Development, in cooperation with the Zuellig Family Foundation and the Manila Observatory, will launch a series of events over the next three years, beginning with a conference on July 9-10, 2014, to initiate and stimulate a continuing exchange of ideas and information on how best to build a resilient Philippine society. Beyond better disaster preparedness, risk reduction and climate change adaptation, the conference will give particular attention to the innovative and transformative changes needed to build resilience. The conference is expected to conclude with a statement highlighting the urgency of building a resilient society and proposing a set of concrete follow up measures to help achieve it.

The conference is expected to bring together officials of the Philippine government, experts and scholars, members of the diplomatic community, international organizations, business leaders, local and international NGOs, the media, and bilateral and multilateral aid agencies to explore more effective ways of building resilience in cities and communities throughout the country.

Following the July 2014 conference, the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation for Peace and Development, in cooperation with the Zuellig Family Foundation and the Manila Observatory, will undertake a series of follow-up activities over the next three years, including the convening of specialized workshops/roundtables, to review and assess progress, identify roadblocks and find ways to move forward on resilience across sectors and geographic areas.

It should be emphasized that the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation for Peace and Development as well as the Zuellig Family Foundation and the Manila Observatory see their role as convenors for multi-stakeholder dialogue and for bringing partners and parties together to act in concert on the basis of a shared approach to building a resilient society. Their aim is not to duplicate or take over the work being done by others in this field but to reinforce and add value to their efforts.

Over a period of three years, the follow-up activities will aim at:

  1. Promoting and supporting multi-stakeholder dialogue on building a resilient Philippine society in the face of the country’s increased exposure and vulnerability to extreme natural events and climate change.
  2. Generating heightened awareness on the urgency of building resilience and contributing to concerted and continuing advocacy for this purpose.
  3. Promoting innovative approaches and solutions to resilience.
  4. Supporting and reinforcing ongoing national and local initiatives and activities to build a resilient society.
  5. Fostering the continuing exchange of experiences, lessons learned and best practices on resilience.
  6. Supporting the mainstreaming of resilience into the country’s development plans, policies and programs.

Conference objectives

The conference itself will seek to:

  1. Develop a common understanding of “resilience”.
  2. Review progress made by various stakeholders — the government, the private sector and business associations, foundations and other aid-giving organizations, the media, the academic community and technical and scientific institutions as well as international/regional organizations – on building resilience.
  3. Identify new and innovative approaches and solutions to building resilience in various sectors – resources (water, food and energy), social services (health care, education and livelihood), and infrastructure (shelter, buildings, roads/bridges, information and communications) – and in cities and local communities with a view to developing a roadmap to resilience.
  4. Enlist the support of the media, including social media, to highlight the importance of building resilience.
  5. Promote multi-stakeholder collaboration on the basis of a shared approach to resilience.
  6. Agree on the follow-up events and activities over the next three years.

Places Called Home

Washington, District of Columbia. The men in the Romulo family have always reserved a special place in their hearts for this city. For seventeen years—during the administrations of Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy—the capital city was their home. My dad, Bobby, was just six years old when they reached DC after escaping the war in the Philippines. President Roosevelt died soon after their arrival, on April 12, 1945; my uncle Dick—twelve at the time—still remembers the funeral cortege crawling along Constitution Avenue, thousands of mourners lining the street.

While Lolo served as the chief Philippine emissary to the United States, all the way until 1962, Dad went through grade school, preparatory school, and college, finally graduating from Georgetown University in 1960. It was in DC that he forged friendships that survive until today, almost seventy years later.

1809 24th Street

The first residence the family lived in was 1809 24th Street, a three-story, six-bedroom townhouse built in 1910. Close by were the Dutch Embassy and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson’s house, and about a kilometer and a half away was the Old Chancery building, where Lolo held office as resident commissioner, at 1617 Massachusetts Avenue. He would later secure a second office at Room 304, 2516 Massachusetts Avenue, the office of the Far Eastern Commission, for which he served as representative from 1946 to 1951. (It was in this capacity that he signed the Japanese Peace Treaty.)

The present-day 1809 24th Street (photo courtesy of Google Earth).

President Manuel Roxas made Lolo the country’s permanent delegate to the newly formed United Nations in May 1946, just weeks before the United States relinquished sovereignty over the Philippines. Now with the rank of ambassador, Lolo split his time between New York City (home of the UN) and Washington, DC, commuting back and forth two times a week. His residence in Manhattan was at 277 Park Avenue, between 47th and 48th streets; and beginning in the fall he occupied an office on the 62nd floor of the Empire State Building (Room 6231).

1946 was a difficult year for the Romulos. Lolo’s long fight with recurring malaria (which he caught in Burma in 1941 and then again during the Battle of Bataan) came to a head in the spring, and he had to be hospitalized; but even malaria didn’t slow him down.

That summer, while Lolo was in London chairing the Conference on Devastated Areas, Lola Virginia began her quest for a suitable family home—one with a garden and a garage. It was no easy task, considering the postwar housing shortage; however, she eventually found a simple square-shaped house with a fireplace, and a front porch laced with spindles. Located in the Embassy Row neighborhood, the cross-gabled four-bedroom house, built in 1923, featured bits of ornamentation but was otherwise unadorned in typical Folk Victorian style.

3422 Garfield Street, NW, Washington, DC

“It is in a good residential area, and will not be difficult to sell again,” Lola wrote judiciously to her mother-in-law.1 “Pray to God that He will help us. I’m putting just about everything we have into this house, but I hope to make some profit from it.”2 After a period of minor repairs, and a rather frustrating search for quality furniture, she and the boys moved into the house at the end of October.

While Lola was out shopping for homes, so were the Elizaldes. Joaquin Miguel Elizalde, the Philippines’ first ambassador to the US, purchased 2253 R Street as his official residence around the same time. The Philippine government bought it from Elizalde three years later, although Elizalde stayed on until Lolo took over as ambassador in February 1952.

Despite long absences from the family home, as required by Lolo’s fast developing international career, 3422 Garfield Street would remain the Romulos primary address—their “home address”—until 1962.3 Even when Lolo took on the ambassador’s post and they moved into the R Street residence two kilometers away, they continued looking after the Garfield house, taking long evening walks just to check on it.4 They did, however, lease the property to Lieutenant General William Stratton, head of the British Army Staff in DC (and, afterward, Commander of British Forces in Hong Kong), beginning sometime in 1952. Lolo thus found himself without a home at the end of 1953, having returned to the Philippines for several months that year—first to run for president, and then, after withdrawing from the race, to manage Magsaysay’s campaign. Forced to find a temporary dwelling, he, Lola, and my uncle Dick lived in the Westchester Apartments on Cathedral Avenue while they waited for Lolo’s next assignment.

The Old Chancery located at 1617 Massachusetts Avenue, NW.

While they were back in the Philippines for the presidential race, my uncle–who was in his third year at Georgetown University–had been living alone at the Dupont Plaza Hotel. My dad had shifted from being a day student to a boarding-school student at Georgetown Prep, where he was in the tenth grade. Back in Manila, the two older boys, Greg and Carlos, Jr., were already building their own careers.

On February 23, 1954, President Magsaysay officially named Lolo his Special and Personal Envoy, although this was almost a formality. Lolo had already been serving, unsalaried, in this capacity since his arrival in Washington on November 15, 1953.

2253 R Street, NW, Washington, DC

My uncle graduated from Georgetown University in June 1955. As he began law school at Harvard up north, Lolo was serving as chairman of the Philippine delegation to the UN’s fall assembly not too far away, in New York City; at least, for part of the time. The rest of the time he was reporting to Washington, having been reappointed as ambassador to the US by Magsaysay in September.

With their youngest child almost out of high school, the Romulos moved back into the embassy, this time for the long haul, as Lolo served as the country’s ambassador for another seven years.

Looking back to when the Romulo family at last reached the safety of Washington, DC, having escaped Japanese capture in the Philippines, one can only imagine the enormous relief Lolo felt as a husband and as a father. Weak with malaria but with a fierce resolve to do all he could to help rebuild the Philippines, how fitting it was that he represented his constituency, for fifteen years, in what Charles Dickens famously called the “city of magnificent intentions.”

Print ad (1959) for the Lincoln Premiere Landau (1957 model).

1 Letter from Virginia Llamas Romulo to Lola Maria Peña Vda de Romulo, October 15, 1946.
2 “Ruega tu a Dios que nos ayude. Yo estoy poniendo casi todo lo que tenemos en esta casapeso espero ganar algo tambien despues.”
Lolo served as Secretary of Foreign Affairs from 1950 to January 1952. Dad must have been “boarding” in school from 50 to 52, therefore.
Letter from lolo to Gregorio Romulo, July 24, 1952.