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Humanizing Quezon: A Review of 'Quezon’s Game'

My maternal grandparents had a Paco mansion where they hosted grand parties in the 1930’s, and a regular at the parties was Manuel L. Quezon, a noted ladies’ man and reputed libertine. During his time as President of the Commonwealth, he accomplished a lot in terms of infrastructure, agrarian reform, pushing for independence from the USA, and promoting and developing the settlement of Mindanao—but his work as a global humanitarian has been largely underplayed or ignored. And that’s where the film, Quezon’s Game, a multi-awarded co-production of Star Cinema and Kinetek, comes into the picture. 


In 1938, Hitler and Nazi Germany had began their program of moving the Jews in Germany and Austria into ghettoes, and the death camps were just a heartbeat away. There was even the case of Jews placed on a ship in Hamburg, sailing to Havana where they were refused entry, and having no recourse but to sail back to Germany. At that time, Western Europe basically lived in denial of what was going on, emphasizing detente and playing pacifist, calling it an internal German issue. Even the USA was basically taking an isolationist stance.

It’s against the background of this juncture in history that Quezon’s Game takes place, chronicling how Quezon made the lone stand of declaring the Philippines a safe haven for Jewish refugees. Working with Jewish-American friends who lived and worked in Manila, High Commissioner Paul McNutt, and then Colonel Dwight Eisenhower, he defied local immigration quotas set by the US State Department, and personally strategized, manipulated, and moved, to have over a thousand refugees find a new home here in the Philippines.

It’s a gripping story that needs to be told; as beyond stubborn US policy, Quezon had to withstand his own party’s resistance, local political infighting, and his failing health (a relapse of tuberculosis) to successfully maneuver events, and bring these “lost, tired, and homeless” to Manila and safety. Directed by Matthew Rosen from a screenplay written by Janice Perez and Dean Rosen, with Raymond Bagatsing taking on the role of Manuel Quezon and Rachel Alejandro portraying his wife, Aurora, the film opens May 29, and promises to be a real eye-opener on the kind of man Quezon was, and how his unselfish and gallant actions are something every Filipino can be proud of. 


At a time when it would have been easier to just dismiss the distant Jewish problem as something that wasn’t our business, or surrender after so many obstacles were placed in his way, Quezon turned the issue into a personal crusade defying all the odds placed against his successful resolution of the problem. In fact, in 1944, heading the Filipino government-in-exile in the USA, and before his untimely death, Quezon was still wondering if he had done enough, and if he couldn’t have done more. 

If I have to level some criticism of the film treatment; I would have to confess that I found the dialogue stiff, that what was situationally conversational was often more like speech-making and unnatural. And I would have loved it if the end credit notes would have had the photo inset of the actor portraying the role alongside one of the real life personage—something that should have been easy to achieve. A photo of the monument in Israel that was erected in honor of Quezon and the Filipino people would have also been nice, instead of just reading about that factoid on the screen. 

But all in all, this is a story that had to be told, as it’s a fact known to only a few, and has never been highlighted. It lends irony to how Aurora at one point in the film says to Manuel that he did all he could, and that he’ll be remembered for having lent a helping hand when no one was ready to even lift a finger. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case at all, and thanks to this film, there is the hope that this historical footnote may soon be one of the indelible things that springs to mind whenever Manuel L. Quezon’s name is mentioned.



Photos from ABS-CBN News