Posts Tagged ‘Gregorio Romulo’

Places Called Home

Washington, District of Columbia. The men in the Romulo family have always reserved a special place in their hearts for this city. For seventeen years—during the administrations of Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy—the capital city was their home. My dad, Bobby, was just six years old when they reached DC after escaping the war in the Philippines. President Roosevelt died soon after their arrival, on April 12, 1945; my uncle Dick—twelve at the time—still remembers the funeral cortege crawling along Constitution Avenue, thousands of mourners lining the street.

While Lolo served as the chief Philippine emissary to the United States, all the way until 1962, Dad went through grade school, preparatory school, and college, finally graduating from Georgetown University in 1960. It was in DC that he forged friendships that survive until today, almost seventy years later.

1809 24th Street

The first residence the family lived in was 1809 24th Street, a three-story, six-bedroom townhouse built in 1910. Close by were the Dutch Embassy and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson’s house, and about a kilometer and a half away was the Old Chancery building, where Lolo held office as resident commissioner, at 1617 Massachusetts Avenue. He would later secure a second office at Room 304, 2516 Massachusetts Avenue, the office of the Far Eastern Commission, for which he served as representative from 1946 to 1951. (It was in this capacity that he signed the Japanese Peace Treaty.)

The present-day 1809 24th Street (photo courtesy of Google Earth).

President Manuel Roxas made Lolo the country’s permanent delegate to the newly formed United Nations in May 1946, just weeks before the United States relinquished sovereignty over the Philippines. Now with the rank of ambassador, Lolo split his time between New York City (home of the UN) and Washington, DC, commuting back and forth two times a week. His residence in Manhattan was at 277 Park Avenue, between 47th and 48th streets; and beginning in the fall he occupied an office on the 62nd floor of the Empire State Building (Room 6231).

1946 was a difficult year for the Romulos. Lolo’s long fight with recurring malaria (which he caught in Burma in 1941 and then again during the Battle of Bataan) came to a head in the spring, and he had to be hospitalized; but even malaria didn’t slow him down.

That summer, while Lolo was in London chairing the Conference on Devastated Areas, Lola Virginia began her quest for a suitable family home—one with a garden and a garage. It was no easy task, considering the postwar housing shortage; however, she eventually found a simple square-shaped house with a fireplace, and a front porch laced with spindles. Located in the Embassy Row neighborhood, the cross-gabled four-bedroom house, built in 1923, featured bits of ornamentation but was otherwise unadorned in typical Folk Victorian style.

3422 Garfield Street, NW, Washington, DC

“It is in a good residential area, and will not be difficult to sell again,” Lola wrote judiciously to her mother-in-law.1 “Pray to God that He will help us. I’m putting just about everything we have into this house, but I hope to make some profit from it.”2 After a period of minor repairs, and a rather frustrating search for quality furniture, she and the boys moved into the house at the end of October.

While Lola was out shopping for homes, so were the Elizaldes. Joaquin Miguel Elizalde, the Philippines’ first ambassador to the US, purchased 2253 R Street as his official residence around the same time. The Philippine government bought it from Elizalde three years later, although Elizalde stayed on until Lolo took over as ambassador in February 1952.

Despite long absences from the family home, as required by Lolo’s fast developing international career, 3422 Garfield Street would remain the Romulos primary address—their “home address”—until 1962.3 Even when Lolo took on the ambassador’s post and they moved into the R Street residence two kilometers away, they continued looking after the Garfield house, taking long evening walks just to check on it.4 They did, however, lease the property to Lieutenant General William Stratton, head of the British Army Staff in DC (and, afterward, Commander of British Forces in Hong Kong), beginning sometime in 1952. Lolo thus found himself without a home at the end of 1953, having returned to the Philippines for several months that year—first to run for president, and then, after withdrawing from the race, to manage Magsaysay’s campaign. Forced to find a temporary dwelling, he, Lola, and my uncle Dick lived in the Westchester Apartments on Cathedral Avenue while they waited for Lolo’s next assignment.

The Old Chancery located at 1617 Massachusetts Avenue, NW.

While they were back in the Philippines for the presidential race, my uncle–who was in his third year at Georgetown University–had been living alone at the Dupont Plaza Hotel. My dad had shifted from being a day student to a boarding-school student at Georgetown Prep, where he was in the tenth grade. Back in Manila, the two older boys, Greg and Carlos, Jr., were already building their own careers.

On February 23, 1954, President Magsaysay officially named Lolo his Special and Personal Envoy, although this was almost a formality. Lolo had already been serving, unsalaried, in this capacity since his arrival in Washington on November 15, 1953.

2253 R Street, NW, Washington, DC

My uncle graduated from Georgetown University in June 1955. As he began law school at Harvard up north, Lolo was serving as chairman of the Philippine delegation to the UN’s fall assembly not too far away, in New York City; at least, for part of the time. The rest of the time he was reporting to Washington, having been reappointed as ambassador to the US by Magsaysay in September.

With their youngest child almost out of high school, the Romulos moved back into the embassy, this time for the long haul, as Lolo served as the country’s ambassador for another seven years.

Looking back to when the Romulo family at last reached the safety of Washington, DC, having escaped Japanese capture in the Philippines, one can only imagine the enormous relief Lolo felt as a husband and as a father. Weak with malaria but with a fierce resolve to do all he could to help rebuild the Philippines, how fitting it was that he represented his constituency, for fifteen years, in what Charles Dickens famously called the “city of magnificent intentions.”

Print ad (1959) for the Lincoln Premiere Landau (1957 model).

1 Letter from Virginia Llamas Romulo to Lola Maria Peña Vda de Romulo, October 15, 1946.
2 “Ruega tu a Dios que nos ayude. Yo estoy poniendo casi todo lo que tenemos en esta casapeso espero ganar algo tambien despues.”
Lolo served as Secretary of Foreign Affairs from 1950 to January 1952. Dad must have been “boarding” in school from 50 to 52, therefore.
Letter from lolo to Gregorio Romulo, July 24, 1952.

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 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.).