Valentines Series: President Quezon’s Love Story
Aurora Aragon in history books is simply portrayed as a doting wife and mother to four kids. This is because history has put her under the shadow of her famous husband, the second president of the Philippines Manuel L. Quezon.
Manuel’s life was not all politics, as their love story shows… a love that should be celebrated because it transcends their lives and their tragic deaths.
The lady’s man
Even before Manuel became president, he was already a budding statesman, a game-changer, the ‘it’ guy. Outside of his administrative duties, Manuel had a reputation for being a dandy: he was never shy with women, and he loved to dance and dress up. But Manuel did not only have a very strong personality — he had a face that was so distinct and handsome people did not easily forget him. He soon earned the name ‘Kastila’ because he looked very mestizo.
A 22-year-old Manuel in a soldier’s uniform looked very becoming, adding to his appeal. He served under general Aguinaldo during the Philippine-American war.
He was a young man who had the opportunity to study at the University of Santo Tomas, finishing summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Later on, the young and brilliant Manuel turned rebel and fought the status quo with his lofty ideas, earning the ire of civil guards and a local priest in Tayabas (now Aurora province), his native home.
But even though he was considered a spirited rogue and a rebel, his rebellious nature was tamed by the famed beauty of Aurora Aragon, his first cousin, who is also from his hometown of Tayabas. Being the type of man that he was, Manuel went to great lengths to capture the heart of the girl who had caught his eye.
Aurora Aragon at 15 wearing an elaborate Filipiniana gown
Manuel’s courtship of Aurora was ardent but also full of playful sweetness. Once he personally fetched sarsuela singer Atang de la Rama to sing her beautiful ballads in the hopes of winning the heart of Aurora. That exhausting trip took a whole day on horseback: it was very hot and they had to cross a river to reach the house of the Aragons in Baler. The difficulty of the trip just goes to show the lengths Manuel would go to please the love of his life.
In another courtship visit, Manuel tested Aurora’s love in a very teasing way. He came by Aurora’s family home one day wearing orange blossoms, a wedding band, and casually told her ‘Oh, I’ve just been married.’ Aurora burst into tears at the news. This proved to Manuel that she really did love him.
War and the early deaths of his father and brother pushed the couple to cut their courtship short, however. Manuel served under General Emilio Aguinaldo while Aurora was protected by her family from Spanish forces during the Philippine revolution. It took many years before the lovebirds crossed paths again, and that time they were not taking any more chances.
Manuel and Aurora were married in Hong Kong in 1919. The marriage was decided upon at the spur of the moment when the couple eloped to the city. Amid the solemnity of the affair, the marriage was a funny episode because it surprised a lot of Manuel’s friends in politics: It was only when his guests arrived at the civil marriage bureau on the day of the wedding that he announced their purpose for being there.
However, it also showed the sincerity of the love shared by Manuel and Aurora, who decided to tie their lives together for eternity.
Quezon: ‘Do you know why we are gathered here? I am going to be married right now to this young lady who stands beside me.’
At the time of the marriage, Manuel was senate president of the Philippines. His responsibilities and work ethics as a lawmaker all the more made his surprise wedding announcement shocking to friends and allies — some couldn’t even guess whom it was he married.
After their marriage, Manuel’s responsibilities as senate president compelled him to return to his duties. Once again, the relationship of the two has been strained by events bigger than both: the business of running the Philippines.
The doting husband
Manuel was dedicated to his job as a senate president. It was he who campaigned for the passage of the Tydings-McDuffie law that aimed to make the Philippines independent from America. But despite shouldering the responsibility of leading the country, he still managed to spend more time with the wife he adored; she was always present in social events during the rise of his political career. The love shared by Manuel and Aurora eventually led to four children: Baby, Nini (who died before age 1), Nenita and Nonong.
Manuel and Aurora embrace amidst cabinet members. Manuel’s devotion never faltered even with the added responsibility of being the Philippine president by 1935.
As the wife of a career politician — a president, no less — Aurora was expected to live a life that befitted a president’s wife: she had to be present at every social event, meet and chat with foreign dignitaries and share pleasantries with her husband’s colleagues. But deep in her heart she longed for the quiet afternoons of her hometown Baler in Tayabas. The death of the couple’s baby daughter Nini only brought more darkness into Aurora’s life, and Manuel saw the sadness that surrounded her wife.
Manuel thought he had to do something to make her happy. To cheer her up, he gave Aurora a gift that struck close to her heart.
Manuel bought her a surprise. He drove her to where the surprise gift was one day. They arrived in a desolate cliff called Barranca, which lies in the border of now Quezon City and Marikita City. He surprised her with news that the piece of land on the cliff was now theirs. What made Barranca special was that it offered a stunning view of Tayabas, their home province.
Although Barranca was a green wilderness, she was very delighted with the gift. But it seems that the pure love shared between the two blossomed at the wrong place and time as the world was gearing up for war.
The president and his wife share a quiet moment together on her birthday.
A photo of the first family during World War 2.
Manuel and Aurora’s love continued to be a light amid the darkening Philippines at the throes of a major war. He remained a loving husband even through the heartaches and the tension of his position as president. A reporter recalled talking to a strained Manuel right before D-Day in the country. After writing the statement where he was to announce that his beloved country was under attack, Japanese planes started the air raids. Manuel was in Baguio then, very far away from his family.
But the distance didn’t stop him from reaching out to his wife at that most desperate point of his life. The first thing he did after writing the speech was to call his wife.
Fortunately, no bombs or bullets were able to come between Manuel and Aurora. The family reunited and, with the help of the Americans, was spirited away to America where Manuel led a government in exile. Torn from their home, they only had one recourse: their family. Manuel and Aurora’s love served as that home for the children. But more than that, their love served to sustain them in the darkest hours of their and their country’s life.
The loyal wife
The love between Manuel and Aurora did not fade through the years even though the world they knew faded all around them. Without clear victory against the Japanese in sight, Manuel languished in America. Turberculosis complicated the already overwrought body of Manuel, who was well within his 60s.
Finally, Manuel’s weak body gave up. But at his deathbed in America, Aurora’s loyalty as wife shone through.
Aurora brought her kids to Manuel’s room to say goodbye. Manuel tried to send her away to spare her feelings, but the loyal Aurora did not leave his side. She saw her husband breathe his last on 1 August 1944.
After the death of her beloved and the liberation of her home, Aurora dedicated her life fully to charity. The generous heart of the woman who was bereft of a husband lent what she could still give to those who needed it. She soon earned awards for her selfless civic work. Aurora ultimately passed on the love and devotion she showed Manuel to her work.
Aurora passed away five years later in a tragic accident while she was on her way to inaugurate a hospital with her daughter Baby. Her death surprised the nation; she was well loved like her husband at the height of his career. Time Magazine went so far to say ‘thousands of Filipinos regard her as a combination queen-mother and patron saint.’
Doña Aurora Aragon-Quezon
Many Filipinos experienced Aurora’s brand of love through her charity work. To honour her memory and the type of selfless love she encapsulated, Tayabas was renamed Aurora after the generous wife of the president.
The dedication Manuel and Aurora showed for each other is remembered only by a few today. One of these is president Benigno Aquino, who himself said in a speech on the 124th anniversary of Aurora’s birth that Manuel’s love life is something to be emulated. The president counted his predecessor lucky for having Aurora as wife.