Opposition leader Benigno Aquino’s assassination in August 1983 ushered in the Philippine People Power Revolution of 1986. His killing, probably by government agents, generated intense public opposition to Ferdinand Marcos’s dictatorship and made it possible for his widow, Corazon Aquino, to rise to power.
General Romulo died only two months before Aquino became chief executive and Marcos went into exile. In his final days, all too aware of Filipinos’ growing discontent, Romulo worried that the nation—bankrupt and fast deteriorating—was headed for a bloody revolution. This letter, written by Romulo’s third son, Ricardo, discourages him from resigning from public service, as doing so at such a critical juncture would have had negative repercussions on the already battered economy.
At the time Ricardo wrote the letter, many of Romulo’s anti-Marcos friends and associates were urging him to resign. At the same time, the government was pressuring him to defend Marcos. Concerned about the vilification that would certainly be directed at his father if he did in fact resign, and its effect on him given his advanced age (Romulo was eighty-five at the time), Ricardo counseled him, essentially, to try to stay out of the fray.
(The quote at the end of the letter is from a famous homily entitled Second Spring by John Henry Cardinal Newman of England.)
Romulo took his son’s advice and did not resign immediately despite his poor health. He did, however, start to take steps to retire, which culminated in his December resignation letter (below). He also made known his resentment that Aquino’s assassination destroyed all his work in the US promoting Philippine interests, refused to sign a paid New York Times advertisement defending the Marcos government, and he paid his respects at Aquino’s wake.
“Whoever committed the murder made a big mistake,” he said in an interview with The Washington Post, while undergoing dialysis, in December 1983. “Whoever maneuvered that crude way is blameworthy. My only hope is that the guilty party is discovered and properly punished.”
I remember vividly my last visit with my grandfather. Late morning, August 1985, just before I left Manila to begin my sophomore year at Barnard College. He’d been sick a couple of years already and often complained about the deteriorating quality of his life. He had a lot on his mind, so much so that he didn’t seem all that interested in the usual chitchat about me and my life as a teenager; instead, he shared with me his thoughts about the Philippines and the mess it was in.
I remember thinking that his eyeglasses seemed extra thick and cloudy that day, as if they were preventing him from seeing things clearly. As far as he could tell, we were barreling towards a bloody revolution. Ninoy Aquino had been murdered two years before; the country was bankrupt; people were clamoring for change; and President Marcos, who’d been in power already twenty years and was in poor health, refused to step down.
Wearing a monogrammed pajama set in blue paisley, he looked frail and spent in his reading chair, his two golden cocker spaniels spread-eagled on the carpet beneath him. I felt strangely out of place. First of all, I was having what would be my first and last adult conversation with him. Second, it was rare to see him depressed. His sense of humor was legendary. It was the secret weapon in his armory, and he always had just the right repartee to lighten the dourest mood or diffuse even the stickiest diplomatic situation.
The ever buoyant CPR with his mother (Maria Cabrera Peña de Romulo); brothers Henry, 24, and Gilbert, 17; and sister, Choleng, 18. Having graduated from the University of the Philippines just weeks before, 21-year-old Carlos was preparing for his greatest adventure yet. He was about to attend Columbia University in New York City as a pensionado (government-sponsored scholar).
That was the last time I saw him. A few months later, in the second week of December, my dad phoned me in New York City to let me know that Lolo was in the hospital for emergency surgery—and that this time it was serious. I was getting ready for end-of-term finals but was well aware that it wasn’t just Lolo’s life that was in jeopardy; the Philippine situation, too, had grown critical. The international community was gravely suspicious of the Marcos administration, as the military had already been found guilty of conspiring to assassinate Aquino. Members of the clergy (i.e., Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin) were beginning to criticize openly those in power. Protests were erupting on the streets with more and more frequency. Marcos, in order to prove that the majority still wanted him as president, had called for a snap election.
As if he could no longer withstand the blows to a collapsing Philippines, Lolo died on December 15. His death was attributed to a general collapse of his circulatory system. He was a month shy of his 88th birthday.
Querida hermana Loring: / Para felicitarte en tus cumpleaños y desearte largos años de vida, prosperidad y alegría sin cuento, van esas caras alegres de los que te quieren de corazon. / Tu hermano / Mayo 11, 1919 / 337 Florida, Ermita, Manila; My dear sister Loring: / To greet you on your birthday and to wish you a long life, prosperity and happiness without end, from these happy faces . . . those who love you with their hearts. / Your brother
Tributes and condolences flooded in, assuaging our family’s grief to some extent. Leaders from all over the globe honored us with their appreciation of his years of devoted service to our nation and to the cause of world peace.
“A greatly beloved patriot has passed from our midst. Men of this stature survive even their own mortality, and what history may have missed, our hearts and our memories will recall.” ~ President Ferdinand E. Marcos
“We share more deeply than you know your own sense of loss at his passing, sharing your pride in the singular achievements of this remarkable man.” ~ US President Ronald Reagan
“The passing of Romulo, coinciding the UN’s 40th anniversary, signifies the passing of an era.” ~ UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar
“An outstanding scholar, a distinguished soldier, and an illustrious diplomat.” ~ Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew
“Australia has long valued the outstanding contributions of Romulo in international affairs, both in the UN where he served with distinction as president of the UN General Assembly and Security Council, and in the Asia Pacific region as a long serving and successful foreign minister who contributed to the development of good relations between our countries.” ~ Australia Foreign Minister Bill Hayden
“General Romulo had made invaluable support and assistance in founding the republic of Korea in 1948, and protecting its independence in the ensuing years.” ~ Korea Foreign Minister Won Kyung Lee
“We are losing an adviser, a counsel and friend. We shall all remember him.” ~ Malaysia Foreign Minister Tengku Ahmad Ritthauddeen
“. . . I will remember him for the passionate intensity of his conviction and commitment to the causes he believed in.” ~ Singapore Foreign Minister S. Dhanabalan
Though he died a private citizen, we gave him a state funeral, with President Marcos and the First Lady there to honor him. Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin officiated the mass at Santuario de San Antonio before his body was transferred to the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Each of the governments of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, the United States and the Secretary-General of the United Nations sent representatives. From the CCP the funeral procession pushed onward to the state cemetery, Libingan ng mga Bayani. There under the thick canopy of acacia trees we buried him.
“My father died as he lived,” said my uncle Ricardo Romulo in his eulogy, “indomitable, at peace with God, and in the bosom of his family.”
Response of Ricardo J. Romulo at the funeral mass celebrated by Jaime Cardinal Sin, December 19, 1985
Your Emminence, Excellencies, and Friends:
The secret of his longevity, according to my father, is that he answers “absent” whenever St. Peter calls the rolls. Considering what is transpiring on planet earth, St. Peter must have need of my father’s boundless optimism and unshakable faith in man’s perfectibility because this time Dad’s request for a furlough was denied.
Today my brothers and I are truly orphaned. It is difficult enough to lose a father; it is twice as difficult when he has been an extraordinary one. I was often asked how it is to be the son of a famous man. In jest, and perhaps in irritation, I frequently replied: “It sure beats being the son of a horse thief.” Actually, it was less taxing than you might imagine.
My father never made us feel that we had to compete or equal his accomplishments. He always recognized that we had our own unique personalities and talents. But more than that, he made us an integral part of his life. We never felt shut out. We shared his victories and his defeats, his dreams and frustrations, his hopes and disappointments. No major decision affecting our family was ever made by him without first consulting us. He showed such great concern for our welfare. As soon as he learns that I have caught a cold, he is on the phone urging me to rest. He used to nag Greg and Bobby constantly about their smoking. When the moratorium was declared in 1983, he worried endlessly about how our individual businesses were coming along. And yet, remarkably, my father never worried about money matters during his long life. His finances were simply something my late mother and then Beth had to sort out. He established another tradition in the family. Each grandchild was entitled to a dinner at the best restaurant of his or her choice on his or her birthday hosted by their grandfather.
My father died as he lived: indomitable, at peace with God, and in the bosom of his family. Nevertheless, his death has left us disconsolate. He was so much a part of us, and he left us with such memories, however, that as long as we live, he will be with us. Moreover, we are consoled by the teachings of our ancient faith that death is but the beginning of eternal life; and we take heart in the beatitude so applicable to my father “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”
On behalf of Beth and the rest of the family, allow me to express our deep gratitude for the sympathy, kindnesses, and concern that all of you have shown us during our moment of sorrow, and may I add a special word of appreciation to Cardinal Sin for celebrating this funeral mass and for his generous tribute to my father.
I would be remiss in my duty as a son if I did not also specially thank all the doctors who were unsparing in their care of dad and who labored mightily to save his life.
My last words are addressed to Beth. For the love, devotion, care, and companionship which you gave our father, we shall be forever in your debt. “May God hold you in the palm of His hand.”