Carlos P. Romulo’s Christmas message, 1949, which he wrote while serving as president of the UN General Assembly:
To appreciate Christmas to the full, one must know how it feels to be deprived of its blessings. We had that experience in the Philippines in December, 1941. The invasion of the Philippines had been launched a few hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. By Christmas time, Manila, the capital, had been declared an open city and the withdrawal of the Fil-American forces to Bataan was under way. The long night of the Japanese occupation had begun.
The Filipino people observed Christmas that year under black-out conditions: the enemy was no respecter of open cities and the advent of Christmas did not interrupt his bombing schedules. I was then in the uniform of a major in the army of the United States.
On Christmas eve we felt as though the lights of freedom, of decency, of justice and peace, of everything we valued and cherished, were going out all over the world. This thought came to soldiers in their unlighted trenches, to the refugees huddled along the dark roads and open fields, to the women and children in their black-out homes.
And out of the realization of their loss and their peril was born a mighty resolve to make sure that peace and the blessings of peace shall never again be jeopardized, even if the world should have to be rebuilt in order to make peace lasting as well as universal.
Eight eventful years have passed since that “dark Christmas” of 1941. I am now in Washington and the lights are on, but the struggle for peace continues. A new tyranny darkens many lands and endanger the security of the free world.
Our resolve to win the peace, shared by all the peoples bound together by their resistance to Nazi, fascist and Japanese aggression, gave birth to the United Nations. The trials, disillusionments and vicissitudes of the past eight years have not weakened it.
Despite the “cold war,” the peoples of the world are firmly determined that the efforts to establish a just and enduring peace should continue.
I firmly believe that mankind’s desire for peace will ultimately prevail. The splitting of the atom has made “peace on earth,” the central message of Christmas, a condition for the survival of the human race.
Through the instrumentality of the United Nations, much has already been accomplished. With good will the primary aim of the charter “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” can and will be attained.
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.”
Liana Romulo is the daughter of the General’s youngest son, Bobby. When she’s not poring over her grandfather’s papers and trying to date old photographs, she is likely to be practicing Ashtanga yoga, hunting through bookstores, or recommending her favorite dishes to friends at Romulo Café. She lives in the Philippines but likes to wander the world, and has lived in Thailand, Belgium, and the United States. The pieces she writes for this site give her immense satisfaction, though she has also published half a dozen books for kids (available on Amazon and select bookstores worldwide).
CPR’s life traced an extraordinary pattern of starting out in a career, topping it, and then moving on to the next. The English professor became the university president; the soldier became a general; the cub reporter became a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist; and the diplomat became an ambassador, a foreign secretary, even “Mr. United Nations.”
Lolo Carlos and two-year-old Liana
So many accomplishments in one lifetime! No wonder his great-grandchildren are confused. I made the site for them. I created it, too, for future generations who might need some bolstering in order to own up to being Filipino, in the hopes that they will prove worthy custodians of a nation whose right to independence CPR so tirelessly pursued. It is also for second- and third-generation Filipinos living overseas who’d like to feel a connection to their roots.
Most of all, this site is for my irrepressible grandfather, whose wisdom, words, and wit do not belong in a cardboard box or even a dusty old archive. Although to me he was just Lolo—the gourmet who took me out for fancy dinners, the giver of dolls from every country, the eater of too much ice cream, the storyteller always interested in hearing about my horseback-riding adventures—I am ever mindful of the legacy he left behind, and I do find myself wholly wrapped up in his vision of a peaceful, borderless world. He described it as “the human family on a tiny planet” in his farewell address to the United Nations. Though not quite seventeen, even I could understand that.
I sat up in the gallery spellbound as he delivered his swan song before the Special Committee on the Charter of the United Nations. It was November 1983, and my brother and I were on Thanksgiving break from boarding school. We’d seen Lolo speak a million times before, but this speech was different. It was ominous, gloomy . . . filled with despair.
“I do not think the world has much time,” he said darkly. “I do not think it has much time to escape the momentum toward self-destruction upon which it seems set.” Weeping openly, he asked what it would take to “galvanize us into the necessary steps and actions to preserve the world against catastrophe.” My brother sat next to me, fidgeting uneasily in his seat.
Foreign Minister of the Philippines Carlos P. Romulo addressing the UN General Assembly during its 37th regular session, September 27, 1982; where Imre Hollai of Hungary was elected as president.
A rousing ovation followed as dignitaries from all over the world—Africa, India, Europe, the USSR—got to their feet, visibly moved. They rushed to pay their respects, a line suddenly forming, snaking around the assembly hall. The ovation continued, unabated, until every last one of the delegates from 154 member nations had shaken his hand; and at the end of what seemed to me at least thirty minutes we gave him a final burst of applause.
This man, my grandfather, was the last surviving signatory of the United Nations Charter. Everywhere we went people knew him, people loved him, and people bowed down to him. But here at the final curtain he was not basking in the glory of his achievements, as one might have expected; rather, he was lamenting his failures and those of the United Nations. “Yes, I have regrets,” he said, his face streaked with tears. “I regret that during these years—1945 to 1983—not more progress has been made in living up to the necessities of a unitary globe.”
I felt sad for my poor old lolo, nearly eighty-six, whose simple wish was for everyone to live together in peace: “The human family on a tiny planet.” Broken down into such basic language, it seemed to me like a reachable goal, a very possible dream. Yet today I find myself, all grown up, surrounded by war and conflict. Twenty-six years later this dream still eludes us.
It is therefore in the spirit of building a kinder world populated by more compassionate people that I dedicate this online forum to my loving grandfather—to honor him, to bring to light his ideas . . . to propagate peace.