Philippines 1st first lady way ahead of her time
She was a woman ahead of her time—a homemaker who found time for humanitarian work and an astute but generous player in the stock market, who knew when to sell to ensure that both she and the buyer made a profit.
The Philippines’ first First Lady, Aurora Quezon, led a life generations of Filipino women would try to emulate. She established an identity separate from her husband’s, the Philippines first president, Manuel Luis Quezon, simply by being herself—a woman of humility, compassion and genuine concern for her people.
The story of the woman Time Magazine once hailed as a “combination mother and patron saint” is poignantly recalled in words and images in a coffee table book simply titled “Aurora Aragon Quezon.”
The book was launched on Friday, as part of the observance of Women’s Month this March.
“She was an extraordinary woman who lived in the shadow of a very great man and yet established her own identity,” said Senator Edgardo Angara, a native of the province of Aurora, which was named after Quezon’s wife in 1979 when it became a full-fledged province.
Angara conceptualized and coauthored the book with Sonia Pinto-Ner.
Current and relevant
“Ms Quezon was far more advance than her generation because (her) advocacies—women’s rights, suffrage, the Red Cross—are even now very current and contemporary. Many of the causes she fought for are even now still current—women are still being abused, exploited,” said Angara at the book launch.
In her introduction to the book, Aurora’s Gov. Bellaflor Angara-Castillo echoed the senator’s sentiments.
“Her (Aurora’s) many sociocivic activities also aimed to promote literacy among the young and education even for adults. Though living largely under the shadow of a great man, she proved that she also had her own great vision as a woman,” said Castillo.
The governor pointed out that the late First Lady put highest priority on people.
“She believed in the value of the individual, in every single Filipino, whether man or woman, ally or rebel, rich or poor,” Castillo said.
Calling attention to a great irony, Castillo said Ms Quezon even provided medical care to insurgents in her province, “rebels in whose hands she would meet her eventual death.”
The book launch, held at the Manila Polo Club, was attended by some of the women who made a mark in Philippine history, one way or another: former First Ladies Imelda Marcos and Loi Ejercito, former Senator Leticia Ramos Shahani, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, Chair Patricia Licuanan of the Commission on Higher Education and former University of the Philippines president Emerlinda Roman.
The 208-page photobiography, published by the Rural Empowerment Assistance and Development Foundation, is a companion book to last year’s “Manuel Luis Quezon,” which was about the late Commonwealth President.
The book traces Ms Quezon’s life from her birth in Baler, now the capital of Aurora, in 1888, to her marriage to the future president. It also talks about her countryside work before World War II, the tough times her family went through during the war, the death of her husband on Aug. 1, 1944 and her own tragic death in a rebel ambush at the border of Aurora and Nueva Ecija on April 28, 1949.
It is the fourth book project of Angara and Ner, art consultant and prolific writer on Philippine history, culture and art.
Proceeds from the sale of the book, available in stores for P2,800, will go to public service projects in Aurora.
Asked why they did a separate book on Aurora, Ner said: “Because we discovered she was very much her own person. She looked like she was the typical mother, housewife at that time. But, as we went on, we found out she was a formidable woman.”
Ner said the Commonwealth President’s wife pushed for women’s right to vote, declaring: “Why shouldn’t women be allowed to vote when they are subject to the same laws as men?” Her husband signed the Women’s Suffrage Act in 1936.
In her nine years as First Lady, Aurora devoted her time to humanitarian work. She was an avid supporter of the Red Cross, the Asociacion de Damas de Filipinas (an orphanage) and made frequent visits to hospitals to comfort patients.
She was also a fan of art and literature, sponsoring concerts and writing her own songs and stories.
The late First Lady had another, perhaps little known, side—she was a savvy businesswoman. She bought stocks during the 1930s boom and established, with two friends, a mining firm in Zambales. The company name, Acoje, was a combination of the partners’ first names—Aurora, Consuelo, Jesusa.
But her business ventures were not just about making money. Ner said Aurora was already mindful of corporate social responsibility (CSR) even before the phrase became popular.
“What surprised us was that even at the time—and this was before the war—she was already into what we call CSR now,” Ner said.
“Imagine, she organized the women (for) sewing classes so they (could earn). At that time, nobody thought of those things,” Ner added.
Quezon’s surviving daughter, Maria Zeneida Quezon-Avanceña, said her mother sold her stocks before they peaked so buyers would also make a profit.
People often tried to stop her mother from selling her shares, telling the First Lady their prices would continue to rise, recalled Avanceña.
“And you know what her answer was? ‘Well, I’ve made my profit. If I wait until it gets to the top, kawawa naman yung bumili sa akin, hindi na tutubo. Tumubo na ako, tama na (it would be a pity if the buyer does not make money. I already made a profit and that’s enough for me),’” Avanceña said.
Ner said it would be tough to follow Aurora’s example. “I don’t think anyone can compare with her,” Ner said.
The book’s coauthor said, from Aurora Aragon Quezon’s example, the message was that women could do so many other things and be accomplished like her. Nothing could or should hinder a woman from doing the things she wants to do.
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