Archive for the ‘News Clippings’ 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.


The House on Garfield Street

Scribbled at the bottom of this photo is “To Mike From Bobby” in childish handwriting—a dedication from Bobby Romulo (around age 11) to his oldest brother, Mike, who had returned to the Philippines to attend law school in 1947.

The Romulos moved to Washington, DC, arriving in the Spring of 1945. After more than three years’ separation, this was a special time for my grandparents and their boys—a period of healing and getting to know each another anew. Critical years had been lost. My dad, now six years old, no longer recognized his own father. “Who’s he?” he asked his mother, as the story goes. Japan had dropped its first bombs on Manila on his third birthday, after all, and immediately afterward my grandfather joined the ranks of the military, disappearing into a crowd of other uniformed men.

By October 1946 they had settled into what would be their home for the next sixteen years. In sharp contrast to their lives on the run from the Japanese, DC was safe, tranquil, and downright luxurious. An article from The Sunday Times (October 3, 1948) offers a glimpse into what it was like:

The Romulos own one of the loveliest homes in Washington, D.C., which they acquired during the stress of the housing shortage immediately after the war. It was the difficulty of getting a suitable apartment that inspired Virginia Romulo to buy a house. The General was in London at the time of the sale and simply received a three-letter cablegram “House bought love” signed Virginia.

A rare shot of the whole family on their front porch. I’m guessing this was taken in the Spring of 1947.

Lola Virginia transformed the basement of the house into “the Philippine room,” where this family portrait (with Greg and Bobby) was taken. The painting in the background was created by Galo B. Ocampo (1913-1985), who was considered one of Philippines’ most distinguished postwar artists, along with Manansala, Joya, Tabuena, Zobel, and others.

He disclaims any credit for the improvement or the décor of the house, giving all of it to Mrs. Romulo, for her wise selection in buying the furniture and the furnishings and her doggedness and perspicacity in hunting up bargains and critical items at the time were none too plentiful.

She spent many weary days shopping around Washington and Baltimore to furnish the three-story white house on Garfield street, but she has been more than amply repaid for her trouble, for she now reigns over one of the best appointed homes in the U.S. capital today, and she does it in an effortless, charming way, as if she had a corps of servants to help her instead of just one capable Filipino maid, who does the washing and waiting at the table, one Filipino cook (Pedro) who lives in his own house, and one Negro chauffeur who doubles as butler when the Romulos entertain, which is quite often.

The house is unfenced, giving extra spaciousness to the yard. All around it grow zinnias in deep reds, yellows and pink; cosmos and other flowering plants which are easy to grow. The beauty of the Romulo garden is that in spite of its lack of a fence, the beautiful blooms remain on the stem until they dry up and no one, but absolutely no one, ever dares to take away one little flower from the patch. There are no children to ask for a flower for teacher, nor are there covetous hands that reap what others planted with loving concern.

The Romulos acquired 3422 Garfield Street, Washington, DC, during the housing shortage after the war (If you look closely at this photo, a tiny figure on the left of the house looks like CPR in uniform.).

Blackout Christmas

Carlos P. Romulo’s Christmas message, 1949, which he wrote while serving as president of the UN General Assembly:

To appreciate Christmas to the full, one must know how it feels to be deprived of its blessings. We had that experience in the Philippines in December, 1941. The invasion of the Philippines had been launched a few hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. By Christmas time, Manila, the capital, had been declared an open city and the withdrawal of the Fil-American forces to Bataan was under way. The long night of the Japanese occupation had begun.

The Filipino people observed Christmas that year under black-out conditions: the enemy was no respecter of open cities and the advent of Christmas did not interrupt his bombing schedules. I was then in the uniform of a major in the army of the United States.

On Christmas eve we felt as though the lights of freedom, of decency, of justice and peace, of everything we valued and cherished, were going out all over the world. This thought came to soldiers in their unlighted trenches, to the refugees huddled along the dark roads and open fields, to the women and children in their black-out homes.

And out of the realization of their loss and their peril was born a mighty resolve to make sure that peace and the blessings of peace shall never again be jeopardized, even if the world should have to be rebuilt in order to make peace lasting as well as universal.

Eight eventful years have passed since that “dark Christmas” of 1941. I am now in Washington and the lights are on, but the struggle for peace continues. A new tyranny darkens many lands and endanger the security of the free world.

Our resolve to win the peace, shared by all the peoples bound together by their resistance to Nazi, fascist and Japanese aggression, gave birth to the United Nations. The trials, disillusionments and vicissitudes of the past eight years have not weakened it.

Despite the “cold war,” the peoples of the world are firmly determined that the efforts to establish a just and enduring peace should continue.

I firmly believe that mankind’s desire for peace will ultimately prevail. The splitting of the atom has made “peace on earth,” the central message of Christmas, a condition for the survival of the human race.

Through the instrumentality of the United Nations, much has already been accomplished. With good will the primary aim of the charter “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” can and will be attained.

CPR Recalls Manila Christmas 1941