By Mar L. Cuezon

During the visit of former Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos to Ozamiz City, he said of the late Senator Jose Ozamiz as the “foremost but forgotten”. Nothing could be further from the truth. The hero remains unknown to his province mates. Only few know him as the first governor, congressional representative, and senator of Misamis Occidental. The Japanese killed him during the Second World War. He remains the only senator coming from the province.

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Senator Jose Ozamiz
Picture courtesy of Atty. and Mrs. Mario J. Montalban

Jose's parents were Jenaro Ozamiz from Navarre, Spain and Basilisa Fortich, a mestisa. Genaro left Spain at age sixteen and came to Moran, then ended up at the municipality of Jimenez and engaged in the business of abacca and copra trading which made him very rich, acquiring through the years 355 hectares in tile province and 1,000 hectares ranch in Bukidnon.

Jenaro and Basilisa’s son Jose was the oldest and the only boy among ten children. Jose was born on May 5, 1898 in Moran in a house near the “old bridge” His sisters are Pacita, Consuelo, Carmen, Pilar, Remedios, Nieves, Mercedes, Paulita, and Lourdes. Three of Jose's sisters Consuelo, Cannon and Nieves remained distinct and never got married. Two entered politics: one was Consuelo, who was a councilor for six terms in Jimenez and Remedios who became a Congresswoman in Bukidnon. Remedios’ son, Carlos Fortich became a politician also by becoming a governor of Bukidnon.

In 1904, the Ozamiz family transferred to a big house in Jimenez, where they engage themselves in the copra business and ship them off to other islands in the Philippines. It is a very historical house where great men like Douglas MacArthur and General Emilio Aguinaldo came. Jose's son, Julio believed that even former Philippine President Marcos had slept in the house. President Corazon Aquino and Fidel V. Ramos had visited the house, too.

Senator Ozamiz house in Jinemez

At Ateneo, Jose Ozamiz attended high school graduated proceeded to take law school in the same prestigious educational institution and graduated with honors. After finishing law, he took up his masters in Columbia University in New York, U.S.A.

He came back to the Philippines and had a big law firm in Manila and was the retainer of Elizalde Group of Companies, and Madrigals, and De La Rama Shipping Lines.

Mr. Ozamiz was the first appointed governor of Misamis Occidental. Misamis used to include the present two Misamis provinces and the Lanao provinces. The two Misamis provinces were separated by sea. Mr. Ozamiz worked for the creation of a separate province of Misamis Occidental.

In the 1932 elections, he won as a governor. After that, he became a Congressman and in 1935, he became a constitutional convention delegate. While in Congress, he was a majority floor leader and was called the “Prince Carol of the Philippine Legislature” probably because he was handsome and tall. In 1940, he was elected “Senator of the Philippine Republic”.

During his time, he was responsible for the construction of Provincial Hospital, most of the bridges in Jimenez, Aloran, Clarin, and Oroquieta and some town halls.

The handsome Jose married Lourdes Hyndman from Cagayan de Oro in 1929. Her grandfather was a Canadian. Mrs. Lourdes H. Ozamiz was a graduate of music and commerce. She often engages herself in charity work. She and Hon. Ozamiz had four children namely: Leopoldo, Jose, Maria, Julio and Carmen. Jose Maria became the vice-president of Philippine CONSAT. Carmen worked for the Philippine Airlines. Only Julio followed the footsteps of his father in politics. He was elected as a Concon delegate then as congressional representative of the first district in 1987. In addition, their brother Leopoldo died at age 17 because of typhoid fever during the war.

During Senator Ozamiz’ term he rented two dormitories for boys and girls of Misamis Occidental studying in Manila. Lodging is said to be free on condition that report cards will be shown to him.

When the Japanese occupied the country during World War II, Jose was among those who accepted a post in the Japanese government with the blessings of the guerrilla movement who saw that his position would allow him to move discretely. He became chairperson of the Games and Amusement Board. Then in May 1943 he came to Mindanao to contact Fertig. He came by boat accompanied by Jose Maria and Pelong Campos of Aloran. During his arrival in Mindanao, he met Fertig and Parson, both major leaders of the guerrilla movement

On his way home, his family was under house arrest. Jose went back to Manila in February 1944. He was arrested on February 11 on his wife's birthday. Jose was condemned to be executed because there was a certain Filipino and nicknamed as a “makapili” who squealed on him along with twenty-nine other fellow Filipino who also got arrested at the same time. They were the core of the guerilla movement in Manila.

Jose Ozamiz’ private secretary Paxedes Beluno from the municipality of Lopez Jaena was also a guerilla member of the movement. When the Japanese intercepted a message from Philip of Bukidnon where the name of Mr. Beluno was mentioned as a member of the guerilla movement.  During Mr. Beluno’s arrest his last words to his family was “This will be the last time you will see me”.

Every Sunday, the Ozamiz family goes to Fort Santiago bringing Jose his medicines, food and clothing but he was never shown to them. Two or three months before Jose Ozamiz’ execution, the Japanese called up and told them that Paxedes Beluno was dead. Julio recalls, “we went to the funeral parlor with Judge Durias. We couldn’t recognize his face because his face was burned with cigarettes and all his nails were pulled off”.

A month before Senator Ozamiz’ death, his oldest son, Leopoldo, died on July 29. Medicine was hard to come by then that became an obstacle in curing Leopoldo’s suffering from typhoid fever. When the Ozamiz family visited Fort Santiago, they were told not to come, as Jose was already dead. His ring of gold and diamond and a gold necklace with a round pendant marked March 1922 and with initials JO were returned by the Japanese. Julio decided to wear that necklace which was bought in Lourdes, France.

Jose Ozamiz’ family spent two long years looking for his body. In 1945-46, Richard, Sakakeda, a Japanese American interpreter told them where his remains were buried. Jose’ doctors identified him through his denture.

Jose was killed in the North cemetery with the twenty-nine other guerrilla members includ­ing the eldest sons of the Elizaldes and the Roceses and Captain Antonio Montalban. The position of their bones tells a story of how they were killed. They were made to kneel and while their heads were chopped off. Their heads fell to one-side and the bodies in the other part of the mass grave.

They were able to get only the skull and some bones as all the bones were already mixed up. “We wanted to bring him back to Misamis Occidental”, Julio said, “But because the bones were already mixed, a monument was built instead, with their names engraved on it.

“Had my father lived, he might have become a president of this country,” Julio said. He was number two to Roxas in the guerrilla movement organization. It should have been certain that he would been Vice-President to Roxas in the post war elections.

To honor Jose Ozamiz, a bill was filed to name the province after him, but some politicians were against it so it was only the city of Misamis which was renamed Ozamiz. Unfortunately, the people seemed to have forgotten the long lost hero of Misamis.