Friday, June 12, 2009

What Quezon Actually Said of Heaven and Hell

JUNE 12 being Philippine Independence Day, a certain quotation from the Commonwealth-era President Manuel L. Quezon will be making the rounds of the main stream punditry as well as the blogosphere:
“I prefer a government run like hell by Filipinos to a government run like heaven by Americans..."
which has been gleefully seized upon by every wag and wit throughout modern Philippine history to sagely tsk-tsk, "There you see how Quezon got his wish!" -- whenever some self-inflicted catastrophe like Con-Ass or chronic condition like graft and corruption--strikes or bedevils the country.   Often  it is the nationalistic wags and wits that employ this literary device to diss the aristocratic and patrician President Quezon,  often without realizing they could be accused of a colonial mentality for expressing such nostalgia for a previous dispensation.  

But to forearm Philippine Commentary Readers against the rhetorical pitfalls of truncated quotations, let us look at the unexpurgated version of the famous Quezon quote as explained by his descendant, our good friend Manolo Quezon:
“I prefer a government run like hell by Filipinos to a government run like heaven by Americans....Because, however bad a Filipino government might be, we can always change it.” [President Manuel Luis Quezon].

Quezon's actual point was that with Independence, we gain the freedom to choose between heaven and hell, both in our leaders and in ourselves.  To which however, I must add this 1950 essay by the British-American historian Denis W. Brogan who puts an even finer point on Quezon's -- that there are no guarantees that Independence will immediately, or even ultimately, result in heaven!

Uhmm...Happy Independence Day!


Anonymous said...

I believe independence from a foreign colonial power has never actually guaranteed smooth sailing for the emancipated colony or very rarely has it happened.

Malaysia is probably one of the rare or odd cases. Malaya which also was colonised by a western power, i.e., Great Britain, was more fortunate than its Filipino counterpart, perhaps because Malayan 'dignity" was left intact, i.e., Britain didn't exercise any direct control over the state of affairs of Malaysia she became independent; unlike in the Philippines, there were no visible meddling British "advisers" who exercised control over the nation's foreign and internal policy.

Perhaps, that's one reason why Malaya only had to go through purgatory. As you know, despite the rather easy or laid back turnover to the locals, Malaya (or Malaysia) still had to contend with internal strifes topped by incessant quarrels later on with Singapore which was then a member of the federation. This was one of the very few times when Britain had to step in and broker for the two cousin nations to stop quarelling. And know what? They asked Britain to broker.

I think a reason why Malaysia was more fortunate in that regard, i.e., not having to go through hell, unlike her neighbour (RP) that went through several hells, is that she was prepared to heed Britain's advice when the situation called for it.

The question is why was Malaysia less beligerent than the Philippines towards its former colonial master? Sure, one could say that the Malayans were more laid back than Pinoys overall (but not true anymore) but I believe it went farther than that. The Malaysians respected, and still respect their former foreign masters... there was something about their relationship that made this possible.

Incidentally, one of the questions that's been on my mind for a long time is how far would the US have gone in terms of coming to RP aid if a war with Malaysia had erupted in the late 60s or early 70s?

You see, when Marcos was planning for his invasion of Sabah, Britain decided that she go to war for Malaysia... remember Indonesia? Britain sent troops to fight alongside the Malaysians against Indonesia.

Was America prepared to do the same thing for Pinas? The answer is or was NO. Matter of fact, when the US learned that Britain would go all out and fight for and with Malaysian troops in case the invasion went ahead, the US told Ferdie to drop the idea.

Anyway, these are random can fill in the blanks.

rc said...

"Nonetheless, a sensible interpretation of the Constitution is still possible that will prevent us falling on the precipice of national crisis."

To make a bad joke of an old have to cha-cha with the one(s) who brought ya.

The problem is...with the politics of expediency and desperation, intellectual honesty is the last consideration. You just have to hope enough honest legislators are around to stop bad things from happening...or that they care enough about their political futures to respond to the outrage from their constituents.

The only way to stop this now is to hope that the latter is true...and that brave Filipinos will once again make it clear that there are consequences for betraying those that sent them to congress as representatives.

Motives matter a great deal in deciding these issues...if it weren't clear that the motives in this case are perverted, then perhaps a sensible interpretation of the constitution could be a practical matter, I don't think that is possible at this time.

This looming crisis is a perfect illustration of Murphy's Law as applied to constitutional establishment.

ricelander said...

Authorship of posts is confusing.

rc said...


Ha..yes, I meant to post to the article below this one...sorry all.

Dean Jorge Bocobo said...

Thanks for the heads up Ricelander. Okay I've put a 40 pixel bar above each new post's title and put some separation between that and the previous post footer. Continuous improvement...Looks better?

manuelbuencamino said...


Glad you printed the MLQ quote in full. I think Brogan misses the point. Quezon was simply saying we can only go where we want to go if we are the ones at the wheel.

By the way, I received your invite. Except you didn't send any "how to." Pls. e-mail me the instructions. The one I got with the invite was quite confusing.

Dean Jorge Bocobo said...

Does not Brogan in fact make the point for MLQ? The point which everyone misses when they misquote the man? Are these folks not in fact guilty of the most disdainful "colonial mentality" by dissing the Filipinos and giving backhand praise to America? (which may be well deserved, but they are hardly conscious of that!)

PS>You should be able to log in at and start posting from the Dashboard. I've sent you email and setup a google group for authors here to discuss admin details like that. Your "username" on Blogger looks like your **** email address and the password is whatever you signed up with.

Anonymous said...


do the over the bakod thingie na. kahit na rizalista ang moderator dito.

indeed, context is important is using quotations, especially in raising arguments. reminds me of how scientific minded people can suddenly turn myopically literal when they read the metaphorically rich bible. okay, am not trying to invite debate here. just driving a point: quezon is an internal-systems evolutionist.

inodoro ni emilie

Anonymous said...

Wala namang malabo sa speech ni Quezon. Gusto lang ninyo gawaing controversial. Siempre naman mas mabuti na ang magpatakbo ng gobierno ng pinoy e pinoy din. Let me put it this way, gusto mo ba na ang magpatakbo ng household me e ibang tao? Natural, hinde.

Walang guarantee na mahusay ang nagtitimon ng banca. Siempre may ahas sa bawat gubat.

Mahirap sa atin e puro na lang salita. Parang mga bakla. Its either that or puro na lang angal - walang aksyon.

Magaling mag-rason pero walang aksyon.

blackshama said...

Re: Malaysia

The sultanates (including Brunei) sought the protection of the British. The Brits recognised the inherent sovereignty of the sultans.

The Malaysians are less belligerent to their former masters? I beg to disagree. You should have seen how Dr Mahathir once skewered John Major! However the Malaysians are part of the family called the Commonwealth. Members of the Commonwealth still have real ties to the Queen. Thus Malaysians and Singaporeans have to behave when in the presence of Her Majesty.

There have been spats during Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHGM) even when Her Majesty is present. We non members of the Commonwealth cannot get why the PMs behave civilly despite the disagreements. Thus ex Singaporean PM Lee Kuan Yew famously said to the American press "In every family, there are bound to be disagreements"

The British were gracious enough to let go and strengthen what remains of the Empire in their Commonwealth. The Americans continued to dupe us and their ex colonies after recognising our independence. Besides there is nothing majestic but everything imperial about the political US presidency. Barack Obama cannot command moral power like Elizabeth II can.

Anonymous said...


"The Malaysians are less belligerent to their former masters? I beg to disagree. You should have seen how Dr Mahathir once skewered John Major!"

I did read about his criticisms of John Howard...

When I said, "less belligerent", I meant just that. You cannot deny that an overtly hostile sentiment against the US has continued to exist in the Philippines.

You cannot use Mahathir's then verbosity against Major as a gauge of public sentiment towards Britain. Mahathir was and has always been critical of Western powers when he believed (or believes) that Malaysia's interests were/are at stake. But in comparisson, RP's "belligerence" altogether vis-a-vis or against the US is "more pronounced", more emotive and almost irrational.

I think what you said rightly reflects on the "less beligerent" attitude of Malaysians towards the British overall:

"The British were gracious enough to let go and strengthen what remains of the Empire in their Commonwealth. The Americans continued to dupe us and their ex colonies after recognising our independence."

Anonymous said...

Apologies I mis-spelled your name, Blackshama...