MANILA, PHILIPPINES – During one of the darkest times in world history, it isn’t widely known that the Philippines attempted to help an entire race. Before World War II broke out, Philippine president Manuel L. Quezon sought to help Jewish refugees who were being persecuted in Nazi Germany. For a tiny country like the Philippines to even think of offering assistance against a military superpower like Germany seems unthinkable, yet Pres. Quezon was so determined to help that he risked the repudiation of the occupying American forces in the Philippines to do so.
Previously released in Philippine cinemas in May 2019, Quezon’s Game chronicles a chapter of Philippine history that has mostly been unseen in our own history books. Director Matthew Rosen has Raymond Bagatsing portray Quezon, a man too often neglected for just being the face on the 20-peso bill, the namesake of Quezon City, or seen in grainy images from a bygone era. The film casts a light on Quezon’s humanitarian effort because of something he so strongly believed in that even when threatened and humiliated by the Americans, he persevered.
When cigar manufacturing brothers Alex (Billy Ray Gallion) and Herbert Frieder (Tony Ahn) become aware of Jews being persecuted in Germany, they feel helpless because they are based in the Philippines. As friends and card-playing buddies with Pres. Quezon, the brothers raise the issue with the president, hoping for some kind of assistance. Quezon yearns to help but the reality is that the Philippines is under American forces and he has to clear things with High Commissioner to the Philippines Paul McNutt (James Paolelli), assistant military adviser Dwight D. Eisenhower (David Bianco), and the American government.
Clashing with his own government officials who are themselves to trying to win independence for the Philippines, Quezon’s dilemma is that he wants to do what is morally right yet to do so might lose freedom for his own people. Even his own vice-president, Sergio Osmeña (Audie Gemora) and Speaker of the House Manuel Roxas (Nor Domingo) think that Quezon is risking too much. He’s also having health issues, something he tries to hide from wife Aurora (Rachel Alejandro). With the US trying to separate itself from the war in Europe, they hesitate to give Quezon the approval to give asylum to the Jews. Still, Quezon knows that if he does not allow safe passage, those individuals will be slaughtered as will several hundreds of thousands more.
One cannot help but think of Schindler’s List when watching Quezon’s Game. Released in 1993, Steven Spielberg’s World War II film documented how German businessman Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) saved more than a thousand Polish-Jewish refugees by employing them in his factories. But that happened in Europe, where the war was happening. In Quezon’s Game, the Philippine president attempted to offer refuge to people he didn’t know and has absolutely no obligation to do so.
Instead, it was Quezon’s humanity and compassion that compelled him to even think about offering his little Southeast Asian country as a place where these more than 1,200 Jews could live, far from the horrors of their German homeland. It’s a real shame that, for most of us, we were not even aware that one of our own presidents did something as noble as this. It isn’t in our history books. To find out about Quezon, one has to go online and do actual research instead of information like this being taught in our elementary schools.
Bagatsing’s Indian-Filipino features capture the Spanish mestizo Quezon through his dignity and stature while also showing someone trying to do what is right for both Filipinos and Jews. Despite having the help of McNutt and Eisenhower, the fact was that the American Senate itself didn’t want to get involved with the refugee efforts because they did not want a war with Germany. Decades later, the refugees and their descendants have not been shy about expressing their gratitude to Quezon despite this being a largely hidden chapter in Philippine history.
Upon its initial release, Quezon’s Game already garnered several awards internationally. These include 12 awards at the Cinema Worldfest Awards Canada, Best Foreign Feature, Best Director, Best Producer, and Best Art Direction at the Worldfest Houston International Film Festival, and Excellence in Direction and Excellence in Cinematography for Matthew Rosen at The IndieFEST Film Awards 2019.
To say that every Filipino should see this film for a better appreciation of not just Quezon but also of the humanity and compassion one of our leaders gave to a persecuted people would be an understatement.
About the Author:
Jason Inocencio was once the Digital Editor of adobo magazine who still loves seeing great campaigns from all over the world. He proudly shows off his love for all kinds of geeky things, whether it be movies, TV shows, comics, sports, or trivia.