Jesus Villanueva Merritt (1913- ?)

Merritt Talking to Police Officer
Image Ownership: Public domain

Afro-Filipino author, journalist, and government official, Jesus V. Merritt was born in Agoo, a city in the province of La Union in the Philippines, on October 15, 1913. He was the son of Julius Merritt of Cincinnati, Ohio, a United States Army veteran of the Philippine-American War (1899-1902) who as an expatriate worked as a physician and married the former Timotea Villanueva, the sister of a prominent politician. Having attended high schools in Dagupan City and Lingayan, he studied at the National University and was awarded the bachelor’s degree at the University of Santo Tomas in 1933.

Early on, Merritt found success as a journalist. He was editor of his college newspaper and contributed writings to the Ilocano provincial press. In 1934, he published an article in the Philippines Free Press fittingly titled “A Newspaper Man Without Newspaper,” recalling his experiences as a young freelancer. Some of his writings focused on the principal island of Luzon and its larger municipalities: Baguio, Quezon City, and Manila.

Merritt’s career as a journalist was interrupted during World War II when the Japanese military conquered the Philippines. Like countless others, Merritt was forced to endure inhumane treatment in the Santo Tomas internment camp with thousands of foreign nationals. Meanwhile, his brother, Pedro, heroically resisted the enemy as a guerrilla leader in the jungles of Samar. At the beginning of the post-war period Merritt, as a correspondent for the Pittsburgh Courier and the Baltimore Afro-American, wrote about the daring exploits of his brother and the often violent confrontations between black and white American soldiers stationed in his country, something he partly attributed to “sexual tension” sparked by competition for Filipino women.

In the late 1940s, Merritt took a position in the government as Congressional Press Relations Officer. He returned to newspaper writing at the Manila Chronicle as a political reporter but served in government again in 1951 as Quezon City councilor, after which Merritt was appointed by President Ramon Magsaysay as Assistant General Manager of a housing corporation which earned him the reputation as a “graft-buster.”  During the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos, Merritt served as Public Relations Officer of the Budget Commission. Merritt was also an astute businessman who owned a long stretch of beachfront property in Agoo comprised of 30 hectares (roughly 74 acres) in three barangays (or neighborhoods).

Merritt is best remembered as the author of several books on Filipino political history and Asian affairs, among them Our Appeals to the U.S. Congress (1938); Magsaysay, Man of the People (1953); Our Presidents: Profiles in History (1962) which omitted the puppet president of the Japanese, Jose P. Laurel; Free Asia and Its Leaders (1965); and Our Country and My Own: Statistical Profiles of Nations (1976).

In 1983, as the president of Merriville Realty and Housing Corporation, Merritt won a legal case that resulted in the disbarment of his former attorney. His son, Mario C. Merritt, resides in the Philippines, and his grandson, Gloman Merritt, is an entrepreneur.