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Davao City, Philippines

Quezon’s Game: Making a stand

June 13, 2019 - Thursday 4:06 AM by Grace Gaston Dousel

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I came out of the cinema proud that I am a Filipino!

My kids and I trooped to SM Lanang to watch Quezon’s Game on a Tuesday afternoon, cancelling their regular karate session, for fear that the movie will no longer be shown the next day. It was a movie about how President Manuel Quezon and his poker buddies Colonel Dwight Eisenhower, High Commissioner Paul McNutt, and businessman Alex Frieder were able to save 1,200 Jews from the holocaust by giving them refuge in the Philippines. One of those refugees was Moshe Zimmerman, the great grandfather of our city’s Mayor Inday Sara.

President Quezon defied the Americans by making a stand against the US Congress’ ruling against granting visas to the Jews. The Philippines back then was an American commonwealth and its immigration laws were controlled by the US. While President Quezon was working to find a way to save the German Jews, he was also pushing for Philippine independence. Both endeavors were springing from the discrimination experienced in the hands of people who perceived that they were a race greater than others.

President Quezon felt compelled to do what was right: save the Jews from the Nazis who were determined to annihilate them. He was running the risk of losing everything, including his own health, in this quest, not to mention his bid for Philippine independence.Quezon and his friends had wanted to save 10,000 Jews but their hands were tied by the US government. Their original plan was to facilitate the journey for 1,000 Jews out of Germany and Austria every year, but it was halted due to the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. However, they managed to find a way to get 1,200 out just in time before the holocaust happened.

All this while, President Quezon managed to make Vice President Sergio Osmeña conceive the urgency for an independent nation by helping him understand that Filipinos will never be given equal standing by their so called benevolent big brother. Vice President Osmeña was US-bound to do some lobbying at the US Congress for lower excise taxes but President Quezon made him see the more pressing issue of independence.

President Quezon saw the entry of the 1,200 Jews into Manila but he did not live to see the Philippines set free.

History is made by people who either did something or did nothing at the hour of need. Those who refused to lift a finger in the face of blatant need to preserve life go down to the annals of history with no contribution to the greater good of humanity. Those who dared to risk and sacrifice life and name are those who decades later are honored as having left a legacy. Jim Elliot, the martyred missionary to the Auca Indians of Ecuador, said, “He is no fool to give what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Indeed, only when life is dedicated to something much greater than self is it truly called living.

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A friend of mine who works in ABS CBN, producer of “Quezon’s Game,” said they partnered with the Department of Education (DepEd) to spread awareness about the film. I was honestly surprised to hear this as I did not feel that there was such partnership, at least not in Davao City. Only two cinemas were showing the film here. One cinema has already taken down the movie and it is not surprising that the reason was lack of revenue. There were only 20 of us in the theater with a seating capacity of over a hundred. There were no students in the audience, only my children, and I guess it was because they were homeschooled. Most of those who watched, at least when we did, were senior citizens, perhaps because they are those who felt a level of connection to the story. There wasn’t even a single poster outside the cinema where I was hoping to take a selfie.

I came out of the movie theater with mixed emotions. I was elated over the significant part that the Philippines played during those perilous times by making a stand against a super power like America when it refused to do the right thing. At the same time, I felt so dejected seeing two other cinema halls showing a Hollywood flick packed and widely received by the Filipino audience who was missing out on a precious piece of our history being shown a few steps away. Many claim they didn’t know about the film “Quezon’s Game.” Here in Davao, people didn’t even know where it was being shown. People watched because they were told by friends or they saw it posted on a friend’s FB wall.

How I wish movies like “Quezon’s Game” be given more attention and that the regional offices of the DepEd truly exert all efforts to help the young know more about our history. In all my years of studying Araling Panlipunan at Kasaysayan and reading books from grade school to college, I don’t remember coming across this story of struggle and victory. I didn’t read about how President Quezon had the courage to alter history by taking the road less traveled and going against popular opinion. I never saw President Quezon as a man who had so much faith in his own people that he was able to rally a nation behind him to open Philippine doors to Jewish refugees resulting in what is now good diplomatic relations with Israel who grants Filipinos no visa entry. The truth is, I only breeze through the portion about the Commonwealth period of the Philippine history because I saw President Quezon as a mere puppet of the Americans, an errand boy who jumped at every American bidding. I am now glad to be mistaken. Had I known this part of history before, I would have personally approached and thanked Mr. Manuel Quezon III, grandson of President Quezon, who I always came across with at the lobby of Palma Hall during UP Diliman days in the 90s. I also feel a greater affinity to Quezon City, the place where my family lived and worked for a number of years when we were in Luzon. With what I know now because of this film, my view of the Commonwealth period and its president has certainly changed. I am very delighted to know that President Quezon fought for our independence and the lives of others, that he risked all to make a stand to do what was right. I am very proud to be a Filipino!

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