Today is the 70th death anniversary of President Manuel A. Roxas, the last President of the Commonwealth and the first President of the new Republic of the Philippines.
Born on January 1, 1892 to Gerardo Roxas, Sr. and Rosario Acuña in Capiz, Capiz (now Roxas City), he distinguished himself as the country’s first ever bar topnotcher and the only Filipino leader to have ever held and exercised authority in the capacity of House Speaker, Senate President, and President of the Republic.
He finished law in 1913 from the University of the Philippines and passed the bar the same year. His entire political career spans 31 years beginning with his appointment as member of his hometown’s municipal council in 1917, and highlighted by his holding the highest office of the land from May 28, 1946 to April 15, 1948.
Roxas is distinctly known in Philippine history for his exemplary leadership and dedication to public service. Inheriting a country in ruins when he took over the reins of government at the end of World War 2, this “nation builder” spurred our country’s return to normalcy and growth with his master economic plan, the very first known in developing Asia.
The great leader Claro M. Recto claimed that with “the extreme brevity of time fate was to allot to him”, which was barely 23 months into office, no other ruler with such talent and industry could have achieved as much as President Roxas did. In one year of office, President Roxas has provided a leadership which restored national vitality and safely bridged the critical transition period from Commonwealth status to Republic.
The late President’s legal mentor and first dean of the UP College of Law George Malcolm believed that few of Roxas’ generation approached him in brilliancy of mind, in breadth of information, and in gift of charm. The late President’s talent was notably evident in pioneer planning in the financial and economic fields. Malcolm wrote “Withal, Roxas was passionately devoted to his country. So honest was he in administering the important positions entrusted to him that, on occasions, he was in financial distress. Roxas died a poor man.”
The most profound tribute ever paid Roxas would come from the late President Manuel L. Quezon when he wrote to General MacArthur: “The news that Roxas has fallen in the hands of the enemy has almost broken me completely for I suspect that after his insistent refusal to be the President of the Philippines the Japanese have murdered him. But oh, how proud I am of him! I almost envy him for he had occasion to do what I wanted to do for myself — to tell the Japanese that we want nothing from them. If Roxas has been murdered he is the greatest loss that the Filipino people have suffered on this war. He can’t be replaced. And I don’t know how long this race will produce another Manuel Roxas.”
President Roxas succumbed to a heart attack on April 15, 1948 at Clark Field, Pampanga.