Am writing this piece while on leave from office, shortly after watching Quezon’s Game (starring Raymond Bagatsing and Rachel Alejandro as President Manuel Quezon and his wife, Aurora), at the suggestion of a friend. The idea of watching a movie on a bit of Philippine history also sounded timely, considering that we are celebrating Philippine Independence Day on June 12.

Though am not competent to comment on the literary, cinematographic, and whatever else artistic merits of the film, I was impressed by the abundance and accuracy of historical detail, and the obvious scholarly research behind it. More important, as announced by pre-release reviews, the movie “will make Filipinos proud”. It certainly made this one feel good to be Filipino.

For those who have yet to watch it, the (true) story revolves around President Quezon’s humanitarian act in 1938 of receiving Jewish refugees (from persecution in Europe), against the backdrop of other countries’ refusal to do so, and even against some opposition from high places in the U.S. government, which was the colonial authority hovering above the Philippine Commonwealth. A nationalistic spin would make the challenges encountered by Quezon an argument for advancing complete Philippine independence from the United States, which did happen only much later, on July 4, 1946.

As the story goes, more than a thousand Jewish refugees found sanctuary in our country. According to the Israeli Ambassador to the Philippines, Effie Ben Matityau (in a Rappler interview in 2017), the former wife of President Duterte, Elizabeth Zimmerman, is a granddaughter of one of those refugees. The Philippines (under the administration of President Manuel Roxas) was also the only Asian country that voted for the United Nations Resolution recognizing the State of Israel in 1947, which vote happened to be decisive (tie-breaking?) in Israel’s favor. For these historical acts of friendship, Filipinos now enjoy visa-free tourist/pilgrim access to Israel.

As regards our Independence Day, every June 12 celebration naturally invites reflection on what being an “independent state” means.

At the outset, I think “independence” in this context translates better into the Filipino Kasarinlan, rather than Kalayaan, still used every now and then, but which refers more to individual liberty rather than state-sovereignty.

To confuse state-sovereignty (Kasarinlan) with individual human freedom (Kalayaan) blurs the distinction between the nature and interests of the state/government—public, common, and institutional—and that of the individual, i.e., essentially private and personal. And confusing the public welfare with private interest—using public resources for private benefit—is one of the more accurate definitions of corruption in government.

Be that as it may, the story of President Quezon’s Jewish refugees would show that statehood or independence does not warrant indifference (much less hostility) towards people of other nations, cultures, or races. Patriotism, the virtue of love of one’s country, must serve the higher principle of solidarity (love, which is the efficient cause of society) among all mankind. It can never be used to justify injustice, certainly not (as “nationalism”) anything like the Holocaust perpetrated by Hitler’s “Nazi” Party (National Socialist German Workers Party) on the European Jews.

Speaking of all mankind as a “community”, one is reminded of the Catholic (literally, “universal”) Church as the most tangible sign of that all-inclusive solidarity which should make the world a true family of nations. Inspite of all the faults of its individual members, the Church is, in the language of the Catechism, “the visible plan of God’s love for humanity, because God desires that the whole human race may become one People of God, form one Body of Christ, and be built up into one temple of the Holy Spirit” (CCC, No. 776).

Going back to the Jewish people: In a get-together with the Founder of Opus Dei (recorded on film), a man stood up to ask a question. He introduced himself, saying, “Father, I’m Jewish,” and Saint Josemaria Escriva immediately said, “I love the Jews a lot, because I am madly in love with Jesus, who is a Jew…And the second love of my life is a Jewish woman, Mary most holy, the Mother of Jesus, so I look at you with affection,” and the man said, “I think that my question is already answered, Father,” as he sat down (to applause from the gathering).

Today, the Monday after Pentecost, is the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, Mater Ecclesiae, the liturgical celebration established by Pope Francis in 2018. As Mother of Christ, Mary is also mother of His Mystical Body, the Church. Pentecost is, in a sense, the “birth” of the Church, when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles gathered together with Mary, and people from different nations heard them speaking in their various languages (an early indication of “universality”) of the “marvels of God,” magnalia Dei (Acts 1:14; 2:1-11). It is indeed fitting that the Mother of the Church be honored on the day following that birth. (10.VI.2019)

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