Beyond President Quirino’s picture-perfect postcard

PResident Quirino

Elpidio Quirino looked cute in trunks. I told the late-president’s granddaughter Cory Quirino this and we both laughed, so much so that, if we were drinking milk, it would have shot right out of our noses. This, as she told me she thinks of her grandfather and what gets top-of-mind recall are peacocks, as Elpidio would take her to a stroll at a park in Malacañan Palace when she was about four.

I was referring to the old photograph of the late president at a poolside I had chanced upon on the Internet, days before we commemorated the late president’s humanity and tolerance in what would have been his 125th birthday this year.

The Elpidio Quirino we celebrated was diametrically different from the late president I learned from Makabayan textbooks, where merely he and his place in the order of the presidency was mentioned and only but in passing.

In textbooks, the sixth leader of the republic translated to “Quirino was a president from 1948 to 1953,” but, here, in the company of A-listers and figures in Philippines society, who were either in fineries or non-ensemble, it translated to the more material and human “Elpidio was a lonely, but forgiving, man.” It was like hearing the debunked myths of World War II or making an MMK biopic on Adolf Hitler, and learned he wasn’t all someone we mistook him for.

Other presidents would build a nation upon track records and IQ. Elpidio Quirino, on the other hand, built a nation on his initials “EQ,” or emotional quotient.

There was President Quirino giving refuge in Tubabao Island in Guian, Eastern Samar, for the 6,000 White Russians, who fled the communist rule in China in 1949. The International Refugee Organization appealed to several countries for a temporary refuge, and the only country to open its doors was the Philippines.

There was an Elpidio Quirino, who lost his family in the Second World War to the atrocities of the Japanese, sitting on an easy chair at twilight overlooking Manila until dark, badly missing his family. And then there was Elpidio Quirino the president granting, against his better judgment and in an act of nation over self, an executive clemency to more than a hundred Japanese prisoners of war (POWs) and other POWs in his post-war presidency. “I should be the last one to pardon them, as the Japanese killed my wife, three children and five other members of my family,” the president announced to the Filipino people in his sickbed in Baltimore. “I am doing this because I do not want my children and my people to inherit from me the hate for people, who might yet be our friends for the permanent interest of our country.”

Poignant newsreels animated, checked and put to the test our textbook idea of the history figure gathering dust at the back of our heads. And, in the account of the Quirinos and the people closest to the president, the story of one of the figures we kowtow to, revere, but haven’t even met repossessed soul and skin and bones, so that it’s as if I had a seven-second handshake with Elpidio, who went from table to table partaking with us in a fine Ilocano lunch and greeting everyone howdy.

“Elpidio Quirino embodied a genteel sensibility that has, perhaps, become forgotten over the years,” said Dr. Joven Cuanang, adviser to the Elpidio Quirino Foundation. “It is time we reawaken this sensibility and get to know the man who not lived up to it, but actually lived it, is the first step.”

This EQ sensibility and ideal was fostered through the two-part EQ125: Ako Pilipino! campaign, which retold to this generation of Quirino’s “Guro to Pangulo” story, celebrate the value of the true Filipino and rekindle fervent love for country.

“EQ125 is not only the foundation’s way of celebrating a milestone birthday for a great president,” lawyer Lila Quirino, who is niece to the president and is president to the Quirino Foundation, said. “More important, we want to highlight the values that guided him every day of his life, values that made him a true Filipino. Through the many activities we have lined up this year, we hope to awaken the true Filipino within us.”

The yearlong campaign featured, among so many others, Elpidio Quirino-themed marathons, concerts and lectures by economist Winnie Monsod, historian Ambeth Ocampo and United Nations’ Bernard Keblat. One could also hope they could recall textbooks showing Elpidio Quirino in the standard postcard headshot that looked wax and stiff and “inhuman.” But, then again, they don’t put a cute picture of a president in trunks in Makabayan textbooks.

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