THE irony is not lost in President Benigno Aquino III that even though the country’s immigration laws are some of the most stringent, whenever there is an emergency, it seems the Philippines — through various decades and various epochs — has always stood up to address the needs of their fellowmen.
In explaining the humanitarian spirit in the country, the President read a quote from Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor and a concentration camp victim: “First, they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”
Aquino explained that he first heard such quote from his father, the late senator Benigno Aquino Jr., which “really set the tone for a lot of directions that I also try to live by.”
The President also shared three lessons from the story of the Jewish escape to Manila.
First, that it is the imperative of all men to take a stand against wrongdoing wherever it may be.
Second, that humanity must do its part to provide a new and better life to all those who would be deprived of life, whether by tyranny or by poverty.
And last, that the measure of our humanity is our ability to give of ourselves, even, and perhaps most importantly, when it hurts.
Aquino admitted that he has read books and seen movies related to the Jewish struggle that have given him insight on how to govern the country.
He narrated that among the books that he was truly interested in were those by Leon Uris, who talked about the Jewish struggle. There were also films like “Exodus” and “Cast a Giant Shadow,” which he tends to watch every now and then.
These books and films, Aquino explained, tell of the struggle, of doing with very little and accomplishing so much.
And the President said people do see in the experience of those facing oppression a commonality of what they have to undergo, the sufferings that they have to undertake, and the strengthening of the character and the resolve that eventually leads to the triumph of right over wrong.
He said all these books and movies were truly very significant influences on him.
The President also recalled that although the Philippines was thousands of miles away from Nazi Germany, the nation’s forefathers shared its solidarity and protested the Nazi oppression of the Jews.
The solidarity of Filipinos did not stop there, he noted. Through the leadership of President Manuel L. Quezon, the work of the Frieder brothers, and the help of High Commissioner Paul McNutt, and then Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower, it became the policy of the Philippine government to allow the immigration of Jewish refugees into the country.
However different the situation may be, Aquino said the sadness of being torn away from familiar surroundings can be tempered by the warmth and friendship one encounter in a strange environment. This, he said, the Filipinos were able to demonstrate to their Jewish friends.
Here in the Philippines, strengthened by the hospitality they received, these refugees were able to start fresh — to work, study, worship, and live alongside Filipinos, he pointed out.
Like President Aquino, we fully believe, history comes full circle.
We, who once extended a helping hand to our Jewish brothers and sisters in the face of oppression, now receive the same, as we work to “build back better” and overcome emerging challenges in the wake of super typhoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan).
Thus, it is our sincere hope that all of us will continue such virtuous cycle — to continue and make the choice to always help their fellowmen, whatever the future may bring./PN