Carlos P. Romulo and the right side of history

HISTORY MATTERS - Todd Sales Lucero - The Freeman

On March 8 in 1949, the first government of the State of Israel was established, where the Mapai, the Jewish United Religious Front, the liberal Progressive Party, the Sephardim and Oriental Communities, and the Arab Democratic List of Nazareth ruled in coalition with Ben-Gurion as prime minister. Whenever there is a discussion about Israel and Palestine the Philippines is always mentioned because of our participation in that region’s history.

When the United Nations voted to partition Palestine and create Israel, our country was the ONLY Asian nation to vote in favor of both resolutions. This support for the Jewish people started even earlier during the 1930’s to ‘40’s when our country provided sanctuary to Jews from Europe fleeing the growing tide of anti-Semitism. What many Filipinos do not know is that while the Philippines will always be known as supportive of Israel, there was a time when our country almost voted against the partition of Palestine. Interesting what new details we uncover or what documents begin to see the light of day years after something takes place.

In 1947, the world debated what to do with the Palestine problem. It still surprises many people today that President Manuel A. Roxas and our permanent representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Carlos P. Romulo, had initially decided to vote against the planned partition of Palestine and the creation of the State of Israel. Roxas and Romulo were morally opposed to the UN Partition Plan.

The president was, unfortunately, pressured by the United States to rethink his stand. At least two justices of the US Supreme Court personally contacted Roxas to warn him that not supporting the partition would isolate the Philippines from its “friends” (translation: funds and aid will be withheld). Several US senators cabled President Roxas to “convince” him to reconsider his government’s stand while our ambassador to the US at that time, Joaquin M. Elizalde, was summoned by the White House for a “briefing”. These pressures were definitely too much especially for a newly-independent nation like ours, and so, citing “national interest” as his reason, Roxas called his UN delegates to change our stand.

The best and most credible source to these moments in history is Carlos P. Romulo, whose memoirs and interviews recounted our country’s initial opposition to and subsequent reversal of our stand on Palestine. As shared by the Romulo family with this writer, Romulo’s speech outlined how we arrived at the decision to not support Palestinian partition. Romulo wrote that “the Partition Plan was a moral issue, and that it was “clearly repugnant to the valid nationalist aspirations of the people of Palestine.”

He further relates the plan as being similar to what some US politicians had proposed before Philippine independence that Mindanao and Sulu be segregated from the rest of the Philippines primarily due to religious differences. He argued that the people of Palestine, whether Jewish or Muslim, could be represented like both the Muslims and Christians of the Philippines, “without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”

Romulo also writes in his speech that “we were not unmindful of the sufferings of the Jewish people and that record has shown what we as a people have done to prove it.” The speech was beautifully worded and Romulo delivered it three days prior to the scheduled vote on the partition plan. When President Roxas instructed him to vote “Yes”, he refused to do so, forcing Roxas to recall him.

Ambassador Romulo’s speech and later writings clearly show him to have been keenly aware of the future dangers of the partition. His stand on Palestine was that the Jews and Muslims remain in one country and live under inter-racial cooperation and secular democracy, not the territorial mutilation of the Holy Land. As he said, we were one with the Jewish people and recognize how much they have suffered, but there was a better solution to the problem.

Imagine what would have been if we refused to bend to US pressure at that time?

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