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Doña Maria Peña de Romulo

Doña Maria Peña de Romulo

In his lifetime Lolo earned countless honors and wore many hats. He distinguished himself as a soldier, journalist, educator, author, and diplomat—topping each field and moving on to conquer the next. Much has been written and said about his career, but he was first and foremost a devoted son to his mother, Doña Maria Peña de Romulo.

“There was never any doubt in our home as to the real source of family authority,” he wrote in his 1961 autobiography, I Walked with Heroes. “My mother ruled us with a velvet scepter. Small and soft-spoken, she reigned with the discipline of love. She had been a beauty when she was young, and she carried the authority of beauty until she was very old.”

“After MacArthur returned to the Philippines . . . American soldiers liberated Camiling. Frank Hewlitt, interviewing my mother for the United Press, described her as a small woman, widowed, and ‘with the dignity of a Spanish queen.’”

Two and a half years after Liberation, Lolo and his mother reunited at their ancestral home in Camiling, Tarlac, March 7, 1947.

“One of my favorite childhood memories of her is of the day our house caught on fire. Mother calmly called her six children about her, ushered her brood out of the house as sedately as if we were going to church, and stood us in line in the middle of the street. She counted us quickly, ‘One-two-three-four-five-six,’ warned us not to move, went calmly back into the burning house, and came out carrying boxes containing family documents. Putting these down beside us, she made a brisk recount, ‘One-two-three-four-five-six,’ warned us again not to stir, returned into the house, and came back with more valued possessions. She did this again and again until the fire was out, and each time she counted us in line like an army on parade.”1

Born Maria Cabrera Peña on September 2, 1869, in the neighboring province of Pangasinan, she became known as Tia or Lola Titay to younger generations. For young Carlos, however, with her unwavering strength and love, she was undoubtedly one of life’s greatest heroes.

Doña Maria Peña de Romulo (Lola Titay) died less than a year later, on May 24, 1948. Lolo’s eldest son, Carlos, Jr., takes the arm of his grieving father. In the foreground, wearing a black armband, is Lolo’s brother Henry.

1 Carlos P. Romulo, I Walked with Heroes (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961), pp. 16 – 17.

Child of a Revolution

“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.

Gregorio Romulo

“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

Atrocities of the Philippine-American War: execution by hanging and the "water cure."7

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, 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.
Carlos P. Romulo, “Why I Fight for the U.S.A.,” The Rotarian, February 1943, pp. 10-12.
5 Ibid.
7 Ibid.
8 Carlos P. Romulo with Beth Day Romulo, Romulo: A Third World Soldier at the UN (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1986), p. 40.

Grammar School and Beyond

Excelsior!” ends Lolo’s profile in his high school yearbook. “Ever upward,” it means in Latin, or, in everyday parlance, “onward and upward.”

The motto certainly befits a man who took his first job at the age of sixteen and didn’t retire until seventy years later, on his 86th birthday; who had multiple careers and conquered each; and who faced his challenges with skill, ingenuity, courage, and humor.

Carlos P. Romulo’s profile in the 1916 yearbook of the Manila High School. He was eighteen and a senior. The Manila High School, which still exists today, was established in 1906.

I’m guessing it was inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem (1841), which was taught as part of the American school curriculum for many years. Lolo learned English from Hattie A. Grove, after all, an American who came over to the Philippines with 539 other teachers in 1901 (the Thomasites) as part of a program by President William McKinley to educate the newly colonized Filipinos.

According to the Philippine Department of Education, Mrs. Grove was assigned to Camiling, Tarlac, from 1901, in charge of Central School. Leo J. Grove, her husband, is listed as a supervising teacher.

“Our teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Grove, were frequent guests in our home,” CPR recalls in I Walked with Heroes. “While Mr. Leo J. Grove seemed relaxed and amiable there, I could not lose my dread of him, because he represented the mathematics I could not master in school.

“But Mrs. Grove was my first English teacher in the Camiling grammar school, and to me she represented the magic world of books. It was due to her skill as a teacher that much of that magic rubbed off on me. I was a shining star in her class, and one of the dullest in her husband’s.

“She was quick to recognize my love of words and helped my interest along.

“She introduced fields of reading I might never have known but for her. Years after I had left school and much I had learned was forgotten I remembered the Groves, and I even remembered the American town from which they came—Ovid, Michigan.

“I thought a great deal about them after I escaped from Bataan and came to America. I wrote a letter to them addressed to Ovid but it was returned, address unknown.

“Then, in this same year 1942, the Pulitzer prize was given me at Columbia University, and in my speech of acceptance I said that the real winner of the prize was my first English teacher, Hattie Grove, who had taught a small Filipino pupil to value the beauty of the English language.

The Romulos moved to Manila in 1914, when Carlos was sixteen years old. They bought and moved into a house in Intramuros at 266 Calle Cabildo. Prior to the move, Carlos attended the Tarlac Provincial High School, the country’s first public school, which was established on September 1, 1902, in Tarlac City, by Thomasite Frank Russell White.

“The speech was publicized rather widely and I hoped it would flush the Groves out of hiding wherever they were, but still no answer came.

“Then, a few years ago, my speaking engagements included one at Miami. Just as I was about to leave for Florida a letter came from Delray Beach in that state. It was Hattie Grove. She wrote that and Mr. Grove had retired and he was in a wheelchair.

“I telephoned ahead to the Miami committee, and as soon as I arrived a car was waiting to take me to Delray. I brought the Groves back to Miami, where that night at the dinner at which I was to speak they were guests of honor.

With Hattie Grove, a Thomasite and Romulo’s first English teacher, in the 1950s.

“We sat at the head of the table and there was a great deal to be said before the speeches began. We had not met since, I believe, 1912, in the Camiling grammar school.

“‘Why did you not get in touch with me?’ I demanded, when I learned they had followed my career and saved every clipping concerning me.

“They explained they had not wanted to bother me. ‘But we are so proud of you and of all you have done,’ they kept saying.

“It was an emotional reunion. When I rose to speak I repeated what I had said the day I had accepted the Pulitzer prize, that Mrs. Grove, not I, was the true winner of the honor. The audience gave her a standing ovation and she was in tears. But she got up on her feet like a champion and made a wonderful little speech.

“She wound up saying, ‘I am eighty-two years old and this is the happiest moment of my life!’”1

1 I Walked with Heroes, (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961), pp. 49 – 50.