The 1931 publication “Men of the Philippines1” included several Batangueños. In the book’s foreword, the gentlemen included were qualified as “individuals who, in various fields of endeavor, have contributed to the material and cultural advancement of these (Philippine) Islands.”
Of these was the Taal, Batangas native Antonio de las Alas, born on 14 October 1889 to Cornelio de las Alas and the former Paula Noble. De las Alas would marry the former Natividad Lontoc on 28 November 1914. The couple would have five daughters named Lourdes, Natividad, Adelina, Angelina and Teresita; and two sons named Antonio and Alfredo.
Two of these daughters, in a co-authored book launched in 2010, would describe their father as “a simple barrio boy” who even at a young age showed unusual intelligence. De las Alas finished elementary school in just three years; then took up and finished secondary school at the Batangas City National High School in just one year2.
At just 15 years of age, de las Alas would boldly take the qualifying exams for Filipino scholars who were ambitioning to study in the United States under the sponsorship of American benefactors. Despite his young age, he passed the exams with a grade of 87%.
Because he had only one year of high school, de las Alas was enrolled at Indiana University but given a probationary status. Before long, the university saw why he had been accelerated through the basic education curriculum. De las Alas was soon top of his class and was allowed to enroll as a regular student. In 1908, still only 19 years of age, he graduated from the university with a Bachelor of Laws degree.
Just one year later and he would graduate from Yale University, no less, with a Master of Law degree. As cum laude, he had the honor and distinction of delivering the valedictory address. He would pass the Civil Service Examinations in 1910 and the Bar three years later, just one of only 19 successful examinees from a total of 189 who took the exams.
Returning to the Philippines after having obtained his degrees from two of America’s finest universities, de la Alas worked at the Executive Bureau from 1910 to 1918. He was promoted to Assistant Chief in 1918 and, in just one more year, to Chief of the bureau. He was only 30 years of age. He would be appointed Undersecretary of the Interior in 1920; and Acting Secretary of the Interior as well as Acting Secretary of Justice in 1922.
De las Alas must have thought it better to serve his home province of Batangas and the rest of the country from the legislative branch so that by 1922, he ran for Congressman of the 1st District of Batangas. He would be re-elected four more times to terms of three years each up to 1933 by his constituents.
At the House of Representatives, de las Alas served as Chairman of the “powerful” Appropriations Committee and also as Speaker Pro-Tempore in 1923 and 1930. At the time, this was the second highest position in the House of Representatives after the Speaker3.
De las Alas would successfully run for the House of Senate in 1941. His career as Senator, however, would be rudely interrupted by the Second World War. The Japanese occupation was a difficult and tricky part of de las Alas’ life and career. Like his fellow Batangueño Dr. Jose P. Laurel, he would find himself having to cooperate with the Japanese to look “after the welfare of the people.”
When the war ended, de las Alas would be among those, like Laurel, who would be charged with treason and collaboration with the Japanese. Unbeknownst to many at the time, however, de las Alas and Laurel were working on direct instructions from former President Manuel L. Quezon to look after the people’s welfare, in particular to keep them out of the war and the difficult position of having to fight against the Americans4.
Both would be cleared by the courts of all charges against them, allowing them to resume their lives and careers in public service. De las Alas would continue to serve in various capacities under different presidents all the way to Ferdinand Marcos.
Under Elpidio Quirino, he was appointed as member of the Monetary Board of the Central Bank. He would also serve as Chairman of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce in the fifties. In 1971, shortly before the declaration of martial law by Marcos, he was elected delegate to the Constitutional Convention5.
De las Alas was also an athlete. He was a sprinter of the Indiana University track and field varsity team and a featherweight boxing champion. He was involved in the planning and construction of the iconic Rizal Memorial Sports Complex and is thought of as the man who introduced table tennis to the Philippines.
De las Alas died of pneumonia in Chicago in 1983 just before his 94th birthday, yet another of Batangas’ great sons.
Notes and references:1 “Men of the Philippines,” George F. Nellist, Editor, published 1931 in Manila.
2 Along with other important details of this article, from “Remembering Don Antonio de las Alas,” by Babe Romualdez, published February 2010, online at the Philippine Star.
3 “House of Representatives of the Philippines,” Wikipedia.
4 “The Huks, Dr. Laurel, Collaboration, etc.” remarks by Congressman Harold C. Hagen, published in the Congressional Record of the United States and cited Volume I Number 10 Issued of The Quezonian, 1947.
5 “Antonio de las Alas,” WikiMan.