What does it mean to be free?
For most of us, freedom means being able to act on our own terms and be free to live how we want. But for the late President Elpidio Quirino, to be free had a deeper meaning. It meant to be free of burdens and pain, which he believed could only be achieved through forgiveness.
In the year 1945, Quirino experienced what a true tragedy was. He was then senator when he lost his wife Alicia and three of his children at the Battle of Manila, where the Japanese soldiers who had already taken the Philippines from the regime of the United States fought the returning American soldiers.
Eight years later when the country had been freed from the Japanese occupation and Quirino was already president, he performed an act that was both unexpected and unfavored by the Filipino people. He forgave the 437 prisoners of the previous war including the 114 men who were Japanese.
“It takes courage to forgive and he was a courageous man—he really had a courageous heart,” Cory Quirino told The Manila Times as she looked back on her grandfather’s decision to pardon the prisoners of war by granting them executive clemency in 1953.
As expected, the Filipino people who were still recovering from the hurt and trauma of the war caused by Japan, the act of forgiveness was difficult to accept.
But in a statement released by the then president, he expressed that he too was wronged by the Japanese but nevertheless stood by his decision to pardon them.
“I should be the last one to pardon them as the Japanese killed my wife and three children, and five other members of my family,” he stated. “[But] I am doing this because I do not want my children and my people to inherit from me the hate for people who might yet be our friends for the permanent interest of our country.”
“He thought of the country first,” affirmed Cory. “Above all else, love for country was paramount. He thought of his country first before personal interest.”
She also added that to forgive those who caused her grandfather’s pain was his way of freeing himself from his burdens and pain.
“He drew from his pain. The only way to mend his pain was to really go beyond that pain and to forgive. And then he was free. He was liberated,” she added.
Appeal for forgiveness
In the same interview, Cory also revealed a story that she heard from a Japanese friend about a song called “Muntinlupa.”
It was written by two Japanese prisoners of war, Gintaro Shirota and Masayasu Ito, who were awaiting a death sentence at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa.
Shirota and Ito first wrote the poem after witnessing the execution of 14 Japanese prisoners. It was then recorded into a song by a famous Japanese singer, Hamako Watanabe, and became popular in Japan.
“Muntinlupa,” which played from a music box along with about 70 letters were sent to President Quirino appealing for forgiveness. It is believed that the song was what led the president’s decidion to pardon the Japanese prisoners, even though no record of this event has been documented.
It has been more than 60 years since the Japanese prisoners were granted pardon by Quirino, and true enough the diplomatic ties between the two nations have flourished to this day.
“He was a visionary,” noted Cory when asked about how her grandfather foresaw the possible relations between the Philippines and Japan in the future.
Asked what she thinks her grandfather would say about the two nations’ strong ties in the present day, Cory believes he would be “the happiest man earth.”
She ended, “This would be a validation of what he did.”
For more information on former President Elpidio Quirino, log on to elpidioquirino.org.