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President Manuel Luis Quezon of the Philippines governs his islands like the shrewd little tango dancer that he is. His jaunty administration has helped to convince many Filipinos that they have nothing to fear from the single-lidded gaze of the Japanese narrowing southward across the Philippines toward Singapore and the East Indies. Last week the Philippines looked and sounded like anything but a great tension point of the Far East. The defense budget had been sliced in half. Government money was being poured out for beautification. Manila's boulevards were shining with the façades of new public buildings and loud with the riveting of further construction. There was talk of building a resplendent new capitol out in suburban Quezon City. The dining rooms and bars of a huge new jai alai palace were going full blast. So was the new, prophetically named Casa Mañana nightclub.

But under the giddy surface there was talk of trouble. Some of it was economic —about the huge copra crop, for instance, cut off from European markets by World War II. But most of the talk naturally concerned Japan. Admiral Thomas Charles Hart, Commander in Chief of the Asiatic Fleet, had decided to evacuate 2,000 Navy wives from the Philippines. He had said, diplomatically, that their husbands would be on patrol duty a great deal. And jittery gossip went around Manila concerning the U. S. Army court-martial of brown, good-looking little Rufo Romero.

Rufo Romero, 35, is the illegitimate son of a poor Filipino mother. He grew up to be a brilliant student at the University of the Philippines. Then he went to West Point, where he had the stand of 17th in the class of 1931. After graduation he married a 17-year-old girl from The Bronx, was stationed for further training at Fort Belvoir, Va. While there, hot-tempered Romero was often accused by brother officers of an inferiority complex, possibly due to his lowly background. He arranged parties for the late Resident Commissioner of the Philippines Pedro Guevera, and after one such affair called up Guevera in Washington at midnight, bawled him out for not paying for liquor consumed at the party. Assigned to his native Philippines, Romero rose to a captaincy in the Philippine Scouts (Filipino soldiers officered mostly by West Pointers). A month ago the U. S. Army arrested Captain Romero, put him on trial for selling military secrets. Out of the closed court-martial proceedings many rumors began leaking: that the testimony was dynamite, that Romero had been dealing with the Spanish Consulate, which had served as a go-between for Tokyo. The accused, it was reported, denied everything.

Last week Rufo Romero made one of the most unusual protestations of innocence in legal history, one of the strangest of the Orient's many historic face-saving gestures. He offered to undergo any kind of brain surgery that would knife out of his head any recollection of military matters. He wanted to save his face even if it meant losing his memory.

He was not given the chance. At trial's end, he got 15 years in jail, dishonorable discharge, loss of pay allowances. His chief crime: giving secret maps to unauthorized persons.