“He is a very bright, intelligent and magnetic young fellow,” Major Dalrymple wrote to my great-grandmother, Maria Peña de Romulo, in 1933, “and he has made just the kind of man that I hoped he would make.”
He was speaking, of course, of dear Lolo, who had just paid him a visit in the United States roughly thirty years after Dalrymple served as teacher and school superintendent in Camiling.1 Alfred Vernon Dalrymple was now the chief of the Bureau of Prohibition in Washington, DC, where Lolo was visiting as a journalist chronicling the progress of the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act, the US law that set a specific date for Philippine independence.2
Lolo was just a boy when they last saw each other. The American-officer-turned-schoolteacher moved into the Romulo home when Lolo was around three years old, offering his father tutoring in English while amusing the children with boxing and dancing lessons. “He . . . was sort of an extra uncle to us children,” Lolo wrote in his memoirs.3
My great-grandfather, Lolo Oyong, probably invited Dalrymple to live in their home soon after the Americans captured Philippine President Emilio Aguinaldo. This was the event that ended the Philippine–American war (technically, perhaps, but not in the hearts of Filipinos, who would continue fighting for the right to self-government). Lolo Oyong, who fought in the revolution against the United States, had in fact surrendered to Captain Minor (the commanding officer in Camiling) two days after Aguinaldo’s capture, on March 25, 1901. Once the Americans established a civil government, the pueblo of Camiling was given new form under the Municipal Council chosen by a limited native electorate.
“My father was elected the town mayor,” recounted Lolo, “and it was a sight to see Major Dalrymple before election day haranguing a crowd of Filipinos in his broken Spanish, making campaign speeches in favor of my father.”4
Actually, Lolo Oyong served first as a municipal councilor. Then, from 1906 to 1907 he was head of the local administration, referred to as Presidente (formerly Governadorcillo or Capitan under the old Spanish system), which essentially meant he was town mayor.
Enemy thus became friend pretty much overnight; and even as the Romulo family took the American into their home, my grandfather still harbored deep resentment toward Americans in general. The war broke out in 1899, just a year after his birth. Consider too that Lolo Oyong fought Spanish colonizers as a guerilla leader before the Americans grabbed power. The Romulos were fiercely patriotic, it’s fair to assume, and Lolo’s earliest experiences cultivated in him a righteous longing for freedom—one that would later extend not just to Filipinos but to all colonized peoples.
Hostilities on both sides continued throughout his childhood, at least until Lolo was around seventeen, and the bitterness of the conflicts haunted him. “I was still thinking of the way my grandfather was tortured and of the hanging of a neighbor by the Americans,” he recalled in 1943. But the big-hearted Dalrymple managed to win him over. He “played with me in the afternoons. He taught me how to box and how to swim, and every time he would come back from Manila he would have a toy or candies for me . . .”
Lolo thus felt conflicted. In the midst of widespread hatred of Americans during this particular period in history, he found it difficult “to believe that this husky American who was playing with [him] could be one of a nation of bad men.”5
Yet hundreds of thousands of Filipino soldiers and civilians were slaughtered in the Philippine–American War, and I’m sure their families felt the United States was a nation of very bad men indeed. Even Americans were opposed to the war:
“Talk about dead Indians! Why, they are lying everywhere,” wrote Theodore Conley of the 20th Kansas Regiment in 1899. “The trenches are full of them. . . . There is not a feature of the whole miserable business that a patriotic American citizen, one who loves to read of the brave deeds of the American colonists in the splendid struggle for American independence, can look upon with complacency, much less with pride. This war is reversing history. It places the American people and the government of the United States in the position occupied by Great Britain in 1776. It is an utterly causeless and defenseless war, and it should be abandoned by this government without delay. The longer it is continued, the greater crime it becomes—a crime against human liberty as well as against Christianity and civilization. . . .”6
The fighting between US troops and Filipino guerillas persisted for more than a decade after President Theodore Roosevelt announced the end of the war. Finally, in 1915, the United States government agreed to return the islands to the Filipino people, but in fact US military troops would remain in the Philippines all the way until 1992, nearly a hundred years after the first shot had been fired in the Philippine–American War.
US military presence in the Philippines would later become one of Lolo’s ongoing concerns and areas of official responsibility; and the necessity that every nation’s sovereignty be respected was a motivating force behind everything he did from the day he was born until the day he died. These are ideas one would expect from the child of a revolutionary, who grew up bound by an imperialist yoke, surrounded by bloodshed and injustice. A little more subtle was a lesson culled from the complex relationship he shared with Dalrymple and other would-be enemies: that even “good” men take part in ill-conceived missions.
“There is a spark of the divine in every human being no matter how bad he may be thought to be,” he wrote not long before his death in 1985. “All it takes is for his spark of the divine to strike the spark of the divine in the other fellow and the result is mutual understanding. Perhaps harmony.”8
It was, therefore, at least as important to build relationships with individuals as it was to develop diplomatic ties with other nations—a nugget of understanding that would serve Lolo well in the United Nations and beyond.
1 According to www.tourism.etarlac.com, Dalrymple served briefly as the Tarlac Division Superintendent from May 1904 until July 10, 1904.
2 At the time my grandfather was editor-in-chief of Don Alejandro Roces’s TVT Newspapers, which included The Tribune (English), La Vanguardia (Spanish), and the Taliba (Tagalog). The Tribune was a morning paper; the other two, evening papers. All three were dailies.
3 Carlos P. Romulo, I Walked with Heroes (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961), p. 32.
4 Carlos P. Romulo, “Why I Fight for the U.S.A.,” The Rotarian, February 1943, pp. 10-12.
8 Carlos P. Romulo with Beth Day Romulo, Romulo: A Third World Soldier at the UN (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1986), p. 40.