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Manuel L. Quezon
President Manuel L. Quezon and General Douglas Arthur MacArthur at the Spencer Street train station, Melbourne, Australia

A Filipino Presidential Visit to Australia


Manuel L. Quezon
President Manuel L. Quezon and General Douglas Arthur MacArthur at the Spencer Street train station, Melbourne, Australia

Since 1946, when diplomatic relationships between Australia and the Philippines was established, four incumbent presidents and one vice—president, made visits to Australia. The last three presidents came on official visits or businesses to pursue the interests of the Philippines in Australia, while the first president to visit Down Under was on an entirely different purposes and scenario; it was during the Second World War fleeing from the clutches of the Japanese with Australia providing shelter. The vice-president who came on a personal visit.

The circus attendant to the recent visit of President Benigno ‘Nonoy’ Aquino III, highlighted with the unveiling of the Rizal monument, the tallest monument to Filipino hero Down Under, was a success compared to the President Fidel V. Ramos’ visit in 1995 where the Filipino community was divided, particularly among community leaders eager to play a bigger role in that affair.

Like in other presidential visits, the role of the head of the Philippines, as I wrote then, was a summation of his role as ‘a protector of the country’s past, the overseer of its present; and guardian of its future’. It was more during the recent President Aquino’s visit because his presence confirmed the cultural and historical ties between the Philippines and Australia, then home to more than 82,000 Filipino expatriates, now reaching more than 260,000 Filipino migrants. And the most important aspect of the Aquino visit was the strengthening of the present so that the future relations between the two countries will be preserved.

The official diplomatic relations between Australia and the Philippines started in 1946 when the then President Manuel A. Roxas, was sworn into office as the President of the Third Republic of the Philippines.

However, prior to this period, diplomatic relations of the Philippines with foreign countries, including Australia, were conducted through the State Department of the United States of America, the Philippines then being an American colony.

This arrangement continued even when the Philippine Commonwealth Government was inaugurated in 1935 with Manuel L. Quezon as president and Sergio Osmeña as vice-president.

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President Quezon was re-elected in 1941, few weeks before the outbreak of the Second World War. When the war broke out, President Quezon was in Baguio with his daughter Baby while his wife Aurora Aragon-Quezon was in Pampanga with her son, Manuel Quezon Jr., and Jovita Fuentes, the Filipino opera singer. The Quezons imme-diately returned to their Marikina estate not in Malacañang Palace for security reasons.

When the news of the arrival of the Japanese in Manila was confirmed, the Quezon Family, with Vice-president Sergio Osmeña, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Jose Abad Saqntos, ,Major General Basilio J. Valdez, Colonel Manuel Nieto and private secretary Serapio D. Canceran were evacuated to Corregidor Island. Dr. Andreas Trepp, a lung specialist attending to President Quezon also joined the group.

The stay in Corregidor was not good for President Quezon whose fragile health was rapidly deteriorating. Upon advice of General Douglas McArthur and General Valdez, the Quezon government and his family boarded the submarine Swordfish for the Visayas, and then the group proceeded to Mindanao.

At midnight of 19 February 1942, they were flown to Australia on a B-17 Flying Fortress. Except for Mrs. Quezon, none of the Quezon family had travelled by plane before.

The group headed by President Quezon with his wife and three children, including three members of his cabinet,arrived in Melbourne by train from Adelaide the later part of March 1942.

The Filipino guests were on board a special two-coach train when they arrived at the Spencer Street train station in Melbourne. The party was greeted by General and Mrs. MacArthur. Also in the welcoming party were Major-Gen. R. K. Sutherland, Brig-Gen. R. J. Marshall, Col. C.A. Willoughby, Col. S. Hull, Col. Le Grande Diller, Capt. J. R. McMicking, and Australian and Filipino friends.

Many onlookers crowded the new arrival to get a glimpse of President Quezon who looked small and frail but survived thedifficult travel from the Philippines.

A Melbourne news-paper described him as ‘short, slim and swarthy, with grey hair and penetrating eyes.’ The ailing 64 year old Filipino head of state was obviously tired after the long and perilous journey.

This was the reason why President Quezon who was known for his public speaking ability in any of the three official languages of the Philippines: English, Spanish and Tagalog did not have a press conference upon arrival in Melbourne.

The entourage went from the station to a suburban home that was made available to them. In the afternoon Quezon spent long hours meeting with General McArthur.

Rumours were circulating that President Quezon would remain and make Australia his headquarters to carry on the operation of the Philippine government in exile. It was while in Melbourne that President Quezon officially informed the Filipinos about the reason of his departure from the Philippines.

President Quezon said: ‘To the Filipino people and the Philippine army: At the request of General MacArthur I have left the Philippines and joined him at his headquarters in Australia.

‘On previous occasions suggestions have been made to me that I leave the Philippines, but I refused to do so, deter-mined as I was to carry on with the affairs of the government of the Philippine territory.

‘Upon the appointment of General MacArthur to command the Allied Forces in this part of the world, he invited me to join him, on the ground that we could continue, as we have done in the past, to cooperate better if we were together than if we were separated, with the difficulties in the means of communications.

‘Having no other objective in mindthan to free the Philippines, I did not hesitate to accept the suggestion of General Macarthur despite the hazards that the trip involved. And so, I am here [Melbourne] where I expect to be able to be of assistance in the re-conquest of every foot of territory of our beloved country.

‘It is my hope that the results of the appointment of General MacArthur to the High Command and my having followed his advice to join him will soon be felt in the Philippines.

‘I call upon every Filipino to keep his courage and fortitude and to have faith in the ultimate victory of our cause.’ President Quezon, his family and members of his cabinet stayed in Australia until a few days after the fallof Bataan. The Quezon family boarded the President Coolidge on 21 April 1942 on their way to the United States. They arrived at San Francisco on 9 May and travelled to Washington D.C. arriving there on 13 May.

US President Delano Roosevelt and members of his cabinet were at the Union Station to greet the presidential entourage. President Quezon, his wife and children stayed at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington. President Quezon suffered a relapse in June 1943. He was transferred to Saranac Lake where he died on 1 August 1944.