THE PHILIPPINES: Murder in the Mountains

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Gentle Aurora Aragon Quezon was a well-loved figure in the Philippines. The wife of the late Manuel Quezon, first President of the Philippines, she had long led a quiet, austere life devoted to charities and the rearing of her family. When the President died, she turned down the pension awarded her by the government, so that the money might be used for needier war widows and orphans. Even the Communist-led Hukbalahaps, who spread terror through the hills of Central Luzon, could find no word to say against Doña Aurora.

Last week, with her eldest daughter Maria Aurora ("Baby"), her younger daughter's husband and a handful of Filipino officials, Mrs. Quezon traveled by car from Manila to Baler, where she was to dedicate a memorial to her husband. Riding in a station wagon with her relatives and Major General Rafael Jalandoni, she led the party through the mountains northeast of Manila where the Huks are thickest. All her companions felt that there was no danger involved where Mrs. Quezon was concerned.

Then without warning, in a rocky cleft 88 airline miles northeast of Manila, the mountains were rent with the splat of machine-gun fire. Mayor Ponciano Bernardo of Quezon City stood up to shout, "Doña Aurora is in our party!" A slug from a Garand rifle brought him down.

More bullets riddled the station wagon. General Jalandoni threw himself in front of Mrs. Quezon and drew his revolver. A rifle butt slammed into his cheek, he fell unconscious. Before the police escort riding behind could open fire effectively, the attackers had seized what valuables they could and melted into the green hills. Soon afterward, General Jalandoni came to. About him were twelve dead, including the Philippines' first lady, her daughter, and her son-in-law, whose pregnant wife had stayed at home.

"I can't believe the Huks did it," said shocked President Elpidio Quirino, when he heard the news. "Mrs. Quezon was loved too much." Police assured Quirino that the Huks were responsible, all right. At Doña Aurora's funeral, the sobbing President placed a single flower on the grave of the widow. Then, over the Philippine radio, he called for an all-out campaign against the terrorists.

As a nine-day period of national mourning was declared, Filipino planes and government troops combed the mountains in search of the slayers. From his hideout, Huk Leader Luis Taruc issued a statement which would scarcely comfort or reassure the bereaved islanders. If, he said, his own investigation revealed "a breach of Hukbalahap iron discipline," punishment of the guilty party would be carried out swiftly.