Posts Tagged ‘Camiling’

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.

The Diary

My great-grandfather’s diary, dating from 1895, tells us many things. For one, Carlos P. Romulo was born in Intramuros; not in Camiling. (Though he did grow up in Camiling.)

En 14 de Enero de 1898 hora de las cuatro menos cuarto de la tarde (Viernes) Salía de su cuidado mi esposa á Dios Gracias con felicidad dando á luz un niño en esta casa la Legaspi Nº 19 (Intramuros) y á los nueve días de nacido le mandé bautizar, fué apadrinado por Don Enrique Llopis y Becerra (abogado) Su bautizo fué el dia

On 14 of January 1898 at 3:45 pm (Friday) my wife, thank God, happily gave birth to a boy in the house Legaspi No. 19 (Intramuros) and nine days after his birth he was baptized, his godfather Don Enrique Llopis y Becerra (lawyer). His baptism was on a

Domingo por la tarde entre 6 y 7 de la tarde de fha. 23 del mismo mes, se le ha puesto por nombre los siguientes; Cárlos, Enrique Gregorio Felix fuimos á la Parroquia de la Sta. Iglesia Catedral con los Sres. Llopis (padrino) Rodriguez y Paredes como testigos ambos abogados mi Madre y mi cuñada Paz.

Sunday in the afternoon between 6:00 and 7:00 pm on the 23rd day of the same month. He was named Carlos. Enrique Gregorio Felix, we went to the Parish of Sta. Iglesia Catedral with Mr. Llopis (godfather), Mr. Rodriguez, and Mr. Paredes as witnesses both lawyers, my mother, and my sister-in-law Paz.

El Miercoles fha. 23 de Marzo de 1898 hora de las diez de la mañana mandé vacunar á mis dos niños Lourdes y Cárlos la primera de un año y 10 meses de edad el segundo (illegible) de dos meses y 9 dias; el Médico q les vacunó fué el amigo Dón José R. Torres se recientemente licenciado y al cabo de seis dias o siete próximamente empieza con á levantar las cuatro vacunas que les hizo (dos en cada brazo) y todas vivieron

On Wednesday 23 of March 1898 at 10 am I had my two children Lourdes and Carlos vaccinated—the first was one year and 10 months old; the second _________ two months and 9 days old. The doctor who vaccinated them was my friend Don Jose R. Torres, recently licensed. And shortly after, 6 days or 7 days later, the four vaccines (two in each arm) all took effect

sin ninguna fiebre á Dios Gracias ni la menos molestia tanto la mia como el otro. Empezo a estudiar en 1903.

without any fever, thank the Lord, nor too much inconvenience like the other. He started school in 1903.

Based on this entry and others in the diary, the first three children–Enrique (1895), Lourdes (1896), and Carlos (1898)–were born in Intramuros, Manila, which suggests that the Romulo family lived in Manila at least until 1898. Other evidence includes the fact that my great-grandparents had their wedding photo taken in 1894 at a popular photography studio located on Carriedo Street near Escolta and Quiapo. We also know that Lolo Oyong proposed to Lola Titay at the Manila Cathedral, and that he established a primary school (Colegio de la Nuestra Sra. De Rosario) in 1893 in Trozo, Manila.1

The Battle of Manila Bay (a stone’s throw from Intramuros) took place on May 1, 1898, just three and a half months after Lolo Carlos’s birth. The United States annihilated almost the entire naval force of Spain in this one battle. Spy missions and plans for the attack had been going on for several months prior, and rumblings had long been felt in Manila.

The official portrait of Governor Gregorio Romulo, which hangs in the Kapitolyo, Tarlac City, Tarlac.

I’m guessing the family moved to Camiling, Tarlac, where it was safer, around April 1898. By the time Lola Choleng (fourth child) was born on July 9, 1900, they were (almost certainly) living in Camiling, and the following year (1901) Lolo Oyong became municipal councilor of Camiling. The Romulos quickly grew in prominence in Camiling as members of the rural gentry similar to the Aguinaldos in Kawit, Cavite, and the Aquinos in Murcia, Tarlac.2 By 1906 Lolo Oyong was town mayor; and from 1910 to 1914 he served as governor of Tarlac province.

Questions and notes:

1. What is casa la Legaspi Nº 19? The street still exists, as does Sta. Potenciana Street. But was this house a clinic or midwife’s house? Is it possible that Lolo was born at home? Why not at the hospital, since San Juan de Dios was just nearby in Intramuros?

2. The 14th of January 1898 was indeed a Friday. The deletion in the diary suggests that my great-grandfather (Gregorio Romulo) might have been confused, so I checked this detail. Note that pretty much all sources, from history books to Wikipedia, lists Lolo’s birth year as 1899. Even CPR mistakenly celebrated his 50th birthday a year late.

3. He was baptized on the 23rd of January 1898 at Sta Iglesia Catedral. Was that in Intramuros? Does anyone know if I can still manage to get his birth and/or baptismal records? If so, where?

4. Enrique Gregorio Felix is Lolo’s older brother, who would have been almost three years old at this time. Perhaps Enrique went with them to the baptism?

5. Gregorio Romulo’s sister-in-law could be Paz Peña, one of Maria Peña’s four sisters.

6. I believe my great-grandfather made an error in calculating the age of Lourdes, la primera de un año y 10 meses, because she would have been two years and ten months old.

Nick Joaquin. The Aquinos of Tarlac. Mandaluyong, Philippines: Cacho Hermanos, 1983.