WASHINGTON, D.C. — The sixth Annual Historic House Party of the William A. Jones Home in Warsaw, Virginia commemorated on 24 September 2016 the centennial of the Philippine Autonomy Act, otherwise known as the Jones Act for Philippine Independence, which was enacted by the 64th Congress of the United States of America on 29 August 1916.
Organized by the Richmond County Museum, the gathering brought together representatives from the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC; and the Jones Family, as well as members of the local community, including Filipino Americans from as far as Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia.
The Jones Law, as it was commonly referred to, laid down the framework for a more autonomous government, preparatory to the grant of independence to the Philippines by the United States. Through this law, the Philippines saw the creation of a bicameral legislature, the introduction of a representative electoral process, and the recognition of the fundamental civil and political rights of persons living within the bounds of the Philippine Islands.
In the formal program for the afternoon, Minister Jose Victor V. Chan-Gonzaga, representing the Philippine Embassy, and Ms. Elizabeth Hart Jones, representing the Jones Family, delivered brief remarks. Both recognized the importance of the Jones Law in Philippine colonial history; however, they also emphasized that, more importantly, the law became the foundation upon which were built over the years, the deep friendship and vital partnership between the Philippines and the United States, and their peoples.
“Today, we celebrate not only the centennial of a piece of US legislation, historic it might have been. We remember not only Congressman William Jones; because he would have been first to say that the Jones Law was larger than he and his colleagues in the 64th Congress. Rather, may I suggest that, as we reflect on why we are gathered here 100 years later, on this glorious autumn day, we affirm, we celebrate, how the separate histories of our two great nations have been woven by the threads of our common experience, in war and in peace, and our dedication to freedom and democracy. And in that weaving, we have created the fabric, or better yet the tapestry, of our mutual commitment to freedom, to democracy, to self determination, to human rights, and to respect for our common humanity,” Mr. Chan-Gonzaga said in his remarks.
“At that age of empire building, it was a radical idea to let go of a treasured territory like the Philippine Islands. However, Congressman Jones had a profound belief that the United States had a more important mandate to promote freedom around the world,” said Ms. Jones. Quoting from the speech of a colleague of Congressman Jones describing the latter’s mood after the passage of the law, “he was only gratified to have helped extend the frontiers of human freedom.”
“The Bill was the fruition of many years of hard work that he undertook along with the great Filipino leader, Manuel L. Quezon, but it was also only the beginning of freedom for the Philippines, and of fervent friendship between our two countries,” she added.
During the program, Ms. Becky Marks, President of the Richmond County Museum Board, read a letter from Congressman Robert Wittman, who emphasized the importance of the bilateral relationship between the Philippines and the United States, and characterized the celebration of the centennial as “an important moment in the history of American foreign policy.” Mr. Chris Fols, a local high school student, also read his winning essay on Congressman Jones from a contest sponsored by the museum.
Throughout the afternoon, as guests enjoyed chicken adobo and empanadas, the lawn of the Jones Home was transformed into a cultural stage. Various Filipino dances were performed by the Sayaw! Diversity Group and the Richmond Pilipino Youth Dancers.
“It was a very special treat, the Sayaw Diversity Group dancers from Richmond, together with the Youth Dancers. They are an outreach of the Philippine Nurses Association, and their dances and wonderful costumes reflect the diversity of the great island nation that is the Philippines,” later remarked Ms. Marks in expressing the appreciation of the guests for the performances.
Guests were also able to tour the Jones Home, which is a Queen Anne Victorian house originally built by Congressman Jones around 1888. It is furnished with many mementos of the Jones couple’s travels to the Orient, including from the trip of the Congressional Party conducted to the Far East by Secretary of War William H. Taft in 1905. The tours were conducted by the great-granddaughters of Congressman Jones, Anne (and her husband Rusty Gilfillan), Elizabeth, and Mary Lee; and Elizabeth’s own daughter, Marjorie Boehlert.
The Jones Law Centennial also happens to take place during the 70th year anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and the United States. And the Open House followed the Embassy’s own commemoration, which was a dinner last August 30 at the Embassy’s Romulo Hall, in cooperation with the US-Philippines Society, replicating a similar one by then Philippine High Commissioner Manuel L. Quezon on 29 August 1916 at the New Willard Hotel in Washington DC.
Against this backdrop, Mr. Chan-Gonzaga ended his remarks with the call, “May we strive to make sure that the friendship between our two peoples will always endure. May we build on that friendship, build on the ties that bind us together. And may we fully rely on that friendship, despite the passing