Jaime C. de Veyra, patriot, scholar, politician

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Ma. Isabel Ongpin

AN interesting current exhibit at the Ayala Museum, titled “Framing History,” features drawings and sketches by two Filipino artists – Vicente Manansala, a very famous figure in Philippine art and a contemporary and co-worker, Amadeo Manalad, not so well known but equally gifted.

The exhibit is based on a book, The Philippine Saga, that Ramon Roces, the publisher, commissioned two eminent historians to write—H. Otley Beyer and Jaime C. de Veyra—for which Manansala and Manalad were tasked to do the visuals, which consist of a large number of historical sketches showing their fine art. The exhibit focuses on their drawings.

In the case of the two historical writers – Beyer and De Veyra – Beyer is the more widely known for his pioneering archaeological work on the Philippines and his “wave of peoples” theory on why and how humans first came to the Philippines.

But Jaime C. de Veyra is equally accomplished, but somehow with the passage of time and his contemporaries, is much less familiar. However, his contributions to his country are varied and important.


Rich in insight and detail
The Philippine Saga, a concise pictorial history of the Philippines, has many historical insights and details not usually mentioned in our history books. For example, it shows that when Napoleon took over the Spanish throne and placed his brother, Joseph, on it, the Philippines as a colony was affected through the kind of officials it chose to send over. Another example is how the Dutch in one of their attempts to conquer the Philippines by naval battle, lost because an epidemic had weakened their soldiers.

When one considers that De Veyra was once Director of the Institute of National Language (1937-1944) and Assistant Director of the National Library where, as historical researcher, he was in charge of manuscripts and publications, and had ended his career as a historical researcher in the Office of the President, one appreciates that his was the hand that included these data in The Philippine Saga.

Jaime C (for Carlos) de Veyra was not only a historian but a journalist, a politician and an academic. He was a product of another time when knowledge and careers were all-around, general and unlimited.

De Veyra was born in Tanauan, Leyte, in 1873 and went to public and private schools, ending up at Colegio de San Juan de Letran from where he acquired his Bachelor of Arts degree. He went on to the University of Santo Tomas taking up law, philosophy and letters (1895-1897) but had to stop law studies when his health gave way and he returned to Leyte to recuperate.

Upon the installation of the American Occupation, he was appointed secretary to the military governor of Leyte. One must remember that De Veyra and his contemporaries were schooled in Spanish and spoke and wrote in Spanish, in addition to the language of the province from where they came. A military governor would have been an American with no knowledge of Spanish, much less of traditional governance in the Philippines at the time. He would have needed a secretary like De Veyra.

Eventually De Veyra met Sergio Osmeña who was doing journalistic work in Cebu and who invited him to join him, which he did. In the process, he was elected to the municipal council of Cebu. By that time, he had become a member of the Nacionalista Party of Osmeña he was asked to run for governor of Leyte. He was the first Filipino governor of the province and served from 1906 t0 1907, when he was asked to run for the first Philippine Assembly, the precursor of the House of Representatives, where he served from 1907to1909.

Fought for independence
Shortly after, he was elected to the Philippine Commission and then became Executive Secretary of the Philippine Islands. He belonged to the class Filipinos who, after the Philippine Revolution and the American Occupation, fought for political independence. In 1917, De Veyra was elected to become Philippine Resident Commissioner to the US House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., a position from which he lobbied for Philippine independence. He was re-elected and served two terms from 1917 to 1923. He declined to be renominated for a third term and returned to the Philippines to practice journalism. The newspapers that he was connected with were El Nuevo Dia (with Osmeña), El Renacimiento and Nueva Era. These were all written in the Spanish language. In 1925, De Veyra was appointed to head the Spanish department at the University of the Philippines where he served until 1936, when he became the director of the Institute of National Language.

De Veyra is a distinguished Filipino man of letters who specialized in history and even anthropology. Another item from The Philippine Saga that is hardly mentioned anywhere else, is how there was Chinese immigration in the Sulu Archipelago from prehistoric times, as well as trade between the Philippines and the Champa kingdom in what is now Vietnam which resulted in some friction between the two, a little known historical fact that we should ponder for whatever it is worth. At least, we have the knowledge that it is part of our history.

De Veyra married a well-known Filipino feminist leader, Sofia Reyes, who was a teacher and college official and who was prominent in the suffrage movement for Filipino women to get the vote. They had four children – Jesus de Veyra, a prominent judge assigned for years to Baguio and who became the dean of the Ateneo College of Law; Manuel de Veyra, a doctor, who wrote a book Doctor in Bataan of his experiences during World War 2; Lourdes de Veyra, an English teacher at Assumption and St. Scholastica (she was my teacher); and Mother Rosario of the Religious of the Assumption. All are now gone.

I think the University of San Carlos has a book on Sofia Reyes de Veyra. I hope that in time some student will write a dissertation on Jaime C. de Veyra and his contribution to our independence, our knowledge of the past, and how to be a selfless servant leader. The kind that is now scarce but very badly needed.

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