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Sep 24th
Home Sections Philippine Presidency Remembering President Ramon Magsaysay y Del Fierro: A Modern-Day Moses
Remembering President Ramon Magsaysay y Del Fierro: A Modern-Day Moses PDF Print E-mail
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Sections - Philippine Presidency
Thursday, 30 August 2007 03:17

We bring this article back to the Front Page on the occasion of the 106th birth anniversary of Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay, who is the most-popular and perceived to be the most-honest Chief Executive the Philippines ever had.

[Privilege speech of Sen. Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr., at the Senate, August 28, 2001]

Mr. President:

Today, I stand to honor a man whose rise to fame was nothing short of phenomenal; whose sterling qualities as a leader have been an inspiration to many and whose unblemished record of public service is the star to which many a budding politician aspires to hitch his political ambition.

Much has been said about the life and times of Ramon Magsaysay y del Fierro who was born on August 31, 1907, in the then remote town of Castillejos in the province of Zambales. But before he burst like a meteor into the national consciousness, no one had ever thought that this rural lad grown accustomed to the simplicities of the provincial life of Zambales would become a most beloved President of the Republic.

President Magsaysay’s public career started when he became a guerilla leader at the onset of the Japanese war to help rid the country of the hated invaders. Thereafter, he became successively the military governor of Zambales; congressman of Zambales; secretary of the Department of National Defense and finally, Chief Executive of the land. If there was one other trait in his life that would commend itself to would be public servants, it was President Magsaysay’s being a problem solver, a man of action who preferred results to senseless talk and a man of conscience, to whom honesty was second nature.

Humble beginnings

And even as he had already attained the highest office within the gift of our people, President Magsaysay was proud of his humble beginnings and especially of his military affiliation with the 31st division and Zambales USAFFE Forces (ZUF) that in effect started him on the road to public service. In his stint as a guerilla intelligence officer, Captain Magsaysay conducted risky meetings with fellow guerilla intelligence agents under the very noses of the Japanese occupation troops in Manila and in the most unlikely of places like the rest room of the El Bazar Siglo that was then located near the Try-tran office in Azcarraga.

During the war, Captain Magsaysay was the main link between the American forces and the people and the guerillas in Zambales. As such, he was instrumental in providing the people and the guerillas in the province with food, clothing and medicine that he would secure from the provincial branch of the US Army’s Philippine Civil Affairs Unit.

When the Japanese war ended, Captain Magsaysay was appointed military governor of Zambales on February 4, 1945, a fitting cap to his career as a guerilla officer.

And when congressional elections were held in 1946 grateful Zambaleños elected him to represent the province.

In Congress

The Congress to which Congressman Magsaysay was elected was the last Congress under the Commonwealth of the Philippines and the first Congress under the Republic. And incidentally, he was the only congressman among the 98 representatives elected in 1946 who had been backed up by an organized group of former guerillas.

Because of his experience as a guerilla officer and his avowed concern for the veterans, he was elected chairman of the committee on national defense.

Congressman Magsaysay, then, tirelessly worked to secure benefits for war veterans. It was mainly through his persistence that the U.S. Congress passed the Rogers Bill that provided for some "G.I. Bill of Rights" for Filipino war veterans.

The Rogers Act also provided hospitalization benefits for war veterans and their widows and for the construction, equipping and maintenance of what is now called the Veterans Memorial Hospital in Quezon City. The Rogers Act provided the amount of $22.5 million and $3.285 annually for the benefit of the war veterans for a period of five years.

Reforming the AFP

During his two terms in Congress, Congressman Magsaysay initiated sweeping reforms in the armed forces. Later, after President Elpidio Quirino had impressed his services into the executive department, Secretary Magsaysay implemented reforms in the armed forces that made the Philippine military at that time, an efficient fighting force for the protection of the security of the nation.

President Quirino appointed Congressman Magsaysay as the national defense chief on August 31, 1950, his 43rd birthday. There his popularity with the masses soared as a result of his outstanding performance as a defender of democracy and the champion of the poor.

I recall vividly the most poignant picture that dramatized Secretary Magsaysay’s concern for the common man. The picture had been panned by his critics as something that was staged but to my youthful mind, it was a most dramatic portrayal of the concern of a public servant for the poor, the oppressed, and the downtrodden.

It showed him carrying in his arms the limp body of Moises Padilla who had been salvaged by certain warlords in Negros Occidental. Recalling that photograph makes me wish that he were alive today so that he could put an end to the salvaging of people especially the unlettered and the unconnected that continue unabated even as our democratic institutions had been restored in the aftermath of martial rule.

Carrot and stick

Secretary Magsaysay, as defense department chief, is widely credited with the annihilation of the Huk rebellion that was, then, spreading like wild fire across the country. The Huks, it is said, were then literally knocking at the gates of Manila.

His carrot-and-stick approach to end the Huk rebellion led to the surrender of over 9,000 Huk rebels. To those who surrendered, he caused individually to be provided with land of up to eight hectares, carabaos, some farming equipment and training in modern agricultural techniques.

As President

Three years later, that is, in the 1953 presidential election, Secretary Magsaysay was elected to the presidency, at 46 the youngest ever.

Immediately, as if he was racing against time, itself, President Magsaysay introduced the seminal concept of agrarian and social reforms by creating the National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Administration (NARRA). By June 1956, NARRA had resettled 10,651 families that rose to almost 22,000 by 1957. Besides land, the settlers were also provided with farm implements, work animals, livestock and poultry, seeds, water supply, schools and subsistence assistance. As a native of Mindanao, I know that provinces in our island hosted many of the NARRA settlers.

He also made sure that the Huks who surrendered and retired military personnel were accommodated in the resettlement areas of the economic development corps (EDCOR).

Learning a lesson

Perhaps, Mr. President, public servants like us can learn a lesson or two from his political virtues: sincerity, simplicity, dynamism, accessibility and immediate personal attention to whoever sought his help.

It has to be admitted, though, that President Magsaysay’s style of leadership, his genuine approachability, and honest governance make his act difficult to follow.

Grassroots support

Moreover, President Magsaysay anchored his presidency on the assiduous cultivation of "grass-roots" support. He manifested his concern for the common man, for instance, by focusing on rural development, land distribution to the landless and resettlement of the displaced. He also built roads, irrigation systems, artesian wells, school buildings and markets, and small power units in the rural areas to promote agricultural production. It was his hope, apparently, that a solid basis for the country’s industrial take off would be laid during his presidency.

Mt. Manungal tragedy

The take-off of the country from agricultural to industrial-based development that President Magsaysay had hoped for did not materialize because the plane that flew him out of Cebu City crashed into Mt. Manungal shortly after it took off on the evening of March 17, 1957, killing all on board except the journalist Nestor Mata who had miraculously survived the tragic incident.

I was a student at the Xavier University College of Law at that time. I did not have any inkling of the tragedy until the following morning when I heard somber music being played by the radio station in Cagayan de Oro City and announcements were aired that the President had died in a plane crash the night before.

Racing against time

In hindsight, it can be said that President Magsaysay’s commitment to public service was graphically demonstrated that night when his plane crashed. For he could have stayed over night in Cebu, enjoyed a little free time in that beautiful city, and rested a bit from the rigors of presidential duties. But he did not. He was probably conscious that he had to be on the go in the service of our people as time was fleeting by towards the end of his term as president.

The reaction of our people to his sudden demise was astonishing, to say the least. I remember seeing with a sense of wonder how ordinary folks, workers, businessmen, professionals, professors, and the religious in the city tried to go on with their daily chores but with pain etched in their faces as if they had lost a beloved member of their own families.

Losing their champion

And even as I was then politically naïve, I could understand that the masses of the people in our city felt genuinely sad because they had lost their champion, their "guy", the original man of the masses.

His untimely death was, of course, a great loss to his widow, Luz Banzon Magsaysay and their daughters Teresita Magsaysay, now deceased, and Milagros Magsaysay-Valenzuela and his only son who proudly bears his name, our dear colleague, Sen. Ramon Magsaysay, Jr. But the greater loss was to the nation, which had come to revere him as a modern-day Moses who would have led his people out of the land of bondage and scarcity into the land of freedom and plenty.

Life, however, has to go on. And our consolation is that the principles by which President Magsaysay had governed his public life: dedicated public service, honesty in government and devotion to the cause of the common man live on to this very day.

I can only hope that we, the public officials of today, will guide our public lives with those principles as best we can for the welfare of our country and the well being of our people. # # #

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Last Updated on Monday, 30 August 2021 21:35
Comments (1)
1 Thursday, 19 August 2010 07:33
gosh! its so hard!

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