BENIGNO Q. AQUINO Sr.

(1894-1947)

Wartime Leader

 

 

 

A distinguished legislator and member of the Quezon cabinet,                                                      Benigno Q. Aquino was born on September 3, 1894 in Murcia but grew up in  Concepcion,  Tarlac.  His father was Servillano Aquino, revolutionary leader of Tarlac during the Philippine revolution against Spain (1896-1898) and, later, the war against the United States (1988-1902). His mother, Guadalupe Quiambao, was the daughter of a well-to-do couple – Pablo and Lorenza Quiambao.

                                                                                                    

After being taught the cartilla by a private tutor, the young Aquino studied under Bartolome Tablante in Angeles, Pampanga. Then he boarded at the school of Modesto Juaquin in Bacolor. In 1904, he entered the Colegio de San Juan de Letran as a boarding student. There, he reaped medals in oratory, and was the star pupil in the philosophy class. On March 8,1908, at age 13, he graduated from Letran with Bachelor of Arts degree. Afterwards, he enrolled at the University of Santo Tomas to take up law. He completed his bachelor of laws degree in 1913 and, the following year, passed the bar.

                                                                                                    

In May 1916, Aquino married Maria Urquico, the youngest daughter of a rich rice merchant in Tarlac – Capitan Antonio, one of the province’s first Katipuneros – and Justa Valeriano, who came from an affluent family in Bulacan. As one of the country’s first certified public accountant in 1915, Maria worked as bookkeeper of the family business at the time of the marriage. She and Benigno lived in a house near the Tarlac market where their first child, Antonio, was born.

                                                                                                    

In 1923, Servillano Aquino divided what remained of the Murcia hacienda among his heirs. Benigno got the 1,200-hectare Hacienda Tinang as his share. It was during this time that he and his family transferred to Murcia. He constructed a large brick house on his property. With financial help from his brother-in-law, Manuel Urquico, he cleared the hacienda, planted sugar cane, and put its old sugar mill back into operation. In pursuing his law practice, he commuted between the town and the farm. He was known in the province as “a lawyer by profession, a farmer by occupation.”

 

Aquino served as representative of the second district of Tarlac (1919-1928), senator (1928-1934), and assemblyman (1935-1938). In 1938, after his stint in the legislature, he became Secretary Agriculture and Commerce. As such, he worked to preserved the nation’s natural resources, set up the machinery for the expeditions and inexpensive dispositions of applications for homestead parents, promote Philippine overseas trade, establish an effective system price control, and expand the facilities for the speedy disposal of farm produce. He was very careful about the handling and disposition of government property. As department secretary, he never collected his salary but donated it to charitable institutions, like the Hospicio de San Jose. He resigned from the cabinet in 1941.

During the Japanese occupation, Aquino was among the members of the puppet government of President Jose P. Laurel. When the Japanese surrendered, he was arrested by the American military along with President Laurel and other prominent Filipino officials. In mid-September 1945, they joined the first prisoners of war to be sent to Tokyo’s Sugamo Prison. It was in that concentration camp that Aquino developed a heart condition, and twice collapsed from a stroke.

 

On August 25, 1946, after almost a year at the Sugamo, he was flown home by a US Army plane. He was very haggard, having lost about 30 pounds. Arraigned before the People’s Court, he entered a plea of innocence to the charge of treason and petitioned for bail. On September 11, 1946, he was released provisionally from prison. During the remainder of the year, he stayed in Concepcion and nursed himself back to health.

 

By 1947, Aquino was ready for political comeback. He became close to then President Manuel Roxas. However, Roxas could not receive him openly as US Secretary of the Interior Harold. Ickes had warned that the war-ravaged country could not expect material aid from the United States if the so-called Japanese “collaborators” were allowed to regain their influence in the Philippine government. And Roxas needed rehabilitation money very badly.

 

On the evening of December 20, 1947, the title fight between Manuel Ortiz, the world bantamweight-boxing champion from Mexico, and Tirso del Rosario, the Filipino challenger from Tarlac, was held at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila. Aquino was among the spectators. When del Rosario got knocked down in the fourth round, he suddenly jumped up. He had suffered a heart attack. Del Rosario lost the fight, and Aquino died of cardiac arrest.

Four days after his death, the case of treason against him was dismissed by the People’s Court. It was the nation’s Christmas gift to his bereaved family.

 

Aquino was buried in Concepcion. His popularity while still alive can be gauged from the number of people who attended his funeral. The procession was so long that although it had already reached the cemetery outside the town, its tail end was still at the church.

 

 

Sermeljan Rolle

 

 

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