Remembering Don Antonio de las Alas


Today is the launching of a book written by Ching de las Alas Montinola and Menchu de las Alas Concepcion in honor of their late father, Don Antonio de las Alas. To be held at the Philippine Columbian Club in Plaza Dilao in Paco, Manila, the event will also feature an exhibit on the life and times of a distinguished and well-respected public servant that was Don Antonio, whose dedication should serve as an inspiration to Filipinos, especially the future leaders of this country.

Ching, who is married to Serge Montinola, has held various positions in government over the years. She has done a great job in maintaining the Malacañang Golf course and helping organize golf events since the time of FVR. Menchu is married to businessman Ronnie Concepcion and he is lucky to have her as his wife. These sisters are probably two of the most refined and nicest ladies I’ve met, and their book is a loving tribute to the man whom they knew simply as “Papa” but whose “other life” outside their home was as remarkable as it was awe-inspiring. This journey to discovery began when the two sisters found old boxes containing family photos, awards, speeches, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia that little by little revealed the life of service and dedication their father devoted for this country and its people.

Don Antonio was a simple barrio boy in Taal, Batangas, but even at a young age, his innate intelligence and aptitude already showed, breezing through grade school in three years and secondary at the Batangas City National High School in just one year. At 15 and under the sponsorship of an American, he took the “pensionado” exam that would send Filipino scholars to the United States, passing with a grade of 87 percent.

The young Don Antonio was accepted at Indiana University to study Law and Economics albeit under a probationary status since he only had one year of high school. He soon topped the class and enrolled as a regular student, graduating with a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1908. In 1909, Don Antonio finished his Master of Law degree from Yale, cum laude, and delivered the valedictory address for the graduating class.

Don Antonio passed the Civil Service exams in 1910. Three years later, he passed the Bar exams – one of the 19 who successfully hurdled it from a total of 189 examinees. I can only imagine the awe and admiration that Ching and Menchu must have felt as they pored upon pages and pages of documents and awards that gave glimpses of the kind of man their father was.

Starting as a clerk in the Central Administrative Office of the American Colonial Government in 1909, the poor barrio boy soon distinguished himself, serving under American governors-general like Theodore Roosevelt, Leonard Wood and FB Harrison; and under Philippine presidents from the time of Manuel Quezon to Ferdinand Marcos in various capacities such as Agriculture Secretary and chair of numerous commissions and advisory boards.

Don Antonio’s was elected Congressman for the 1st District of Batangas in 1922, successfully getting reelected four times for three-year terms up to 1933, during which time he held the chairmanship of the powerful Appropriations Committee and also became Speaker Pro Tempore of the House of Representatives. In 1941, Don Antonio was elected Senator, landing 6th out of a field of 24 candidates.

Unknown to many, Don Antonio was also into sports, having been a sprinter for the track and field team of Indiana University as well as a boxing champion for the Featherweight Division. As a matter of fact, Don Antonio is credited for introducing the game of table tennis into the country, and was instrumental in the planning and construction of the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex which was inaugurated in 1934.

But like other Filipinos, the Second World War brought pain and suffering into the life of Don Antonio and his family. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, Filipinos who served under the wartime administration supervised by the Japanese army were detained at the Iwahig Penal Colony on charges of treason. During his six months of incarceration, Don Antonio kept a diary that colorfully detailed his experiences during the war, his thoughts on his colleagues and the persecution that alleged Japanese collaborators received, as well as his wish for vindication.

And it came, for he was subsequently cleared of all charges of treason by all three judges of the People’s Court on Feb. 17, 1948. One can only surmise that like many Filipinos, the judges have come to realize that people like Don Antonio de las Alas were in fact thinking of the welfare of the people, following the exhortation of Manuel Quezon for Cabinet members and government officials to “stay in government to protect and take care of (his) people.”

Indeed, Filipinos could learn so many things from the life and times of Don Antonio, among them the value of education because it is the great equalizer that can raise a man out of poverty. But more than anything else, perhaps the biggest lesson of all comes form the fact that in this day and age when people are looking for great men with inspiring stories, one might not have to look far – because the hero could turn out to be no other than the person you call “Papa” – as Ching Montinola and Menchu Concepcion found out.

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Email: babe_tcb@yahoo.com

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