Perhaps it is a measure of how easily we forget, how readily we get totally absorbed by current events, that with the exception of the Ramon Magsaysay Awards, not much was written about the man after whom the award was named. By remembering the past, we would be able to get a better handle on some of the problems that we now face.
Last Saturday was the 106th birth anniversary of President Ramon Magsaysay, one of the nation’s greatest and most beloved presidents.
Contrary to popular belief, the Magsaysays of Zambales were well-off, with the family owning sizable pieces of rice land and running a dry goods business in Subic. Ramon Magsaysay attended the University of the Philippines, later shifting to Jose Rizal College, where he finished with a commerce degree. He became an auto shop superintendent and manager of a bus company in his home province.
The Pacific conflict would bring out his personal courage and leadership qualities as a guerrilla fighter; after the war, he was elected congressman, marking the start of a distinguished career in politics.
On his 43rd birthday, Aug. 31, 1950, President Elpidio Quirino appointed Magsaysay secretary of national defense in the face of a growing communist insurgency. With his vigor and predilection for direct action, he quickly established firm control over the military organization, making surprise visits to remote army units, disciplining errant officers and men, while rewarding and commending others for jobs well done. The Armed Forces of the Philippines responded to the new leadership with more aggressive search-and-destroy operations in place of previous static defense tactics that at times resulted in army camps being overrun by bold and audacious Huk attacks.
Acting on a tip from a disgruntled Huk member, the military captured most of the communist leaders of the rebellion in a lightning raid in and around Manila. The catch included its intellectual head Jose Lava. This signaled the end of the rebellion that at one point threatened the capital city itself with its advance units knocking at the gates of Manila.
As I have mentioned in past columns, my PMA batch Class 1956 was ordered by Magsaysay to report to the Philippine Army for assignment with the Battalion Combat Teams (BCT) in the fight against Huk elements operating in the southern Tagalog region. I ended up with the 4th BCT in Quezon Province.
In the presidential elections of 1953, Ramon Magsaysay defeated Elpidio Quirino by a two to one margin—2.9 million versus 1.3 million votes. At age 46, wearing a barong Tagalog, a first in presidential inaugurals, Ramon Magsaysay was sworn in as the seventh President of the Republic by Chief Justice Ricardo Paras.
In “….So Help Us God” by Eduardo and Jonathan Malaya, a book on our presidents and their inaugural addresses, Magsaysay declares in his own inaugural: “Your mandate was a clear and urgent command to establish for our people a government based upon honesty and morality, a government sensitive to your needs, dedicated to your best interests, and inspired by our highest ideals of man’s liberty…
“I will render—and demand—uncompromising loyalty to the basic tenets of our constitution; that you the people are sovereign. The role of government must be service to you.
“Accordingly, I pledge my administration to your service. I pledge that we shall extend the protection of the law to everyone, fairly and impartially—to the rich and the poor, the learned and the unlettered—recognizing no party but the nation, no family but the great family of our race, no interest save the common welfare.
“I have been warned that too much is expected of this administration, that our people expect the impossible. For this young and vigorous nation of ours, nothing is really impossible!”
The speech instilled in our people a sense of optimism and hope for better times.
One of his first acts was to create the Presidential Complaints and Action Committee. Its mission was to accept and resolve grievances from citizens and recommend corrective action. A simple telegram from our people was enough to trigger immediate response. The office was staffed by young people imbued with the spirit of service. During its time, some 60,000 complaints were attended to while many others were referred to concerned government agencies for action.
Forming part of Magsaysay’s credo as regards government were the following:
• I believe that government starts at the bottom and moves upward, for government exists basically for the welfare of the masses of the nation.
• I believe that he who has less in life should have more in law.
• I believe that the little man is fundamentally entitled to a little more food in his stomach, a little more clothing on his back, and a little more roof over his head.
• I believe that a high and unwavering sense of morality should pervade all spheres of governmental activity.
•I believe that the pulse of government should be strong and steady and the man at the helm imbued with missionary zeal.
On March 17, 1957, Magsaysay’s plane, the Mount Pinatubo, took off from Cebu’s Lahug airport. Fifteen minutes later, the C-47, with the president on board, slammed against the slopes of Mount Manunggal. All but one on board perished. Ramon Magsaysay served for only three years and two-and-a-half months. There were no major corruption scandals such as those that tainted preceding and succeeding administrations. In the words of President Sergio Osmeña, “Magsaysay’s life was consecrated to the welfare of the people…. In the humbleness of his manners, he was in every respect truly a great president.”
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The Aguinaldo golf series between PMA Class 1956 and 1957 ended with Class ’56 exercising once again their superiority over their lower classmen. The next series moves to the Philippine Navy Golf Course beginning next month. The absence of ’57 team captain Mike Musico may have played a significant role in their defeat.