Posts Tagged ‘Ricardo J. 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.

Aquino Assassination

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.

RJR letter about the Aquino assasination page 1
RJR letter about the Aquino assasination page 2
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.”

CPR resignation letter page 1

CPR resignation letter page 2

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

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, Pepita, 18. Having just graduated from the University of the Philippines just weeks before, 21-year-old Carlos was already preparing for his greatest adventure yet. He was about to attend Columbia University as a <i>pensionado</i> (government-sponsored scholar).

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.

<i>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</i></p> <p>  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 of those who love you with their hearts. / Your brother

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.”