WHEN YOU ASK SCHOOLCHILDREN TO describe postwar Philippine presidents, they remember: Fidel V. Ramos with his trademark grin and thumbs-up sign; Cory Aquino with her eyeglasses, homey yellow dresses and her right hand flashing the Laban sign; Ferdinand E. Marcos as the husband of a beautiful woman who owned many shoes; Ramon Magsaysay as a stocky man who wore loud Hawaiian shirts; Carlos P. Garcia is associated with the ?Filipino First Policy?; and poor Elpidio Quirino is associated with a golden orinola(bed pan). All presidents have to be revisited by historians, if only to separate fact from fiction and provide an honest assessment of their watch.
Manuel Roxas did not complete his term as our first postwar president. He died of a heart attack after delivering a speech in Clark Field, Angeles, Pampanga, in 1948. He was succeeded by Vice President Quirino, who finished Roxas? unexpired term, and won a full term in 1949 against Jose P. Laurel. Three years after independence, despite millions of dollars in US aid as war damages and war reparations from Japan, the Quirino government was bankrupt and deep in debt. An economic survey mission was sent to Manila in 1950 headed by Daniel W. Bell who found many problems and recommended more aid with limits on how this was to be spent.
Quirino may have opened the 1950s as president but he was soon eclipsed by the man most remembered when Filipinos look back to the 1950s: Ramon Magsaysay. A former chauffeur and auto mechanic, Magsaysay stood out from other politicians because of his physical size and common touch that delivered rapport with the people. Unlike Quirino who conversed in Spanish, Magsaysay spoke in Tagalog and broke tradition further by taking his oath of office in a barong Tagalog instead of the black coat and decorations worn by his predecessors.
Magsaysay opened the doors of Malacañang to the public the day after his inaugural and dubbed it the ?house of the people.? As common folk walked through the stately halls, some hoped to catch a glimpse of Quirino?s infamous P5,000 peso bed and the fabled P1,000 ?golden orinola? that came to symbolize a corrupt and uncaring government. People took to the modern beat of his campaign song ?Mambo Magsaysay? and his campaign slogan ?Magsaysay [is] my Guy.?
Appointed secretary of national defense by Quirino in 1950, Magsaysay confronted the Huk rebellion head on. Huks were the military arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines, originally a resistance movement against the Japanese, hence the name Hukbong Bayan Laban sa mga Hapon or Hukbalahap, but after the war the armed struggle continued, this time against what they perceived as a pro-Western government led by collaborators with the Japanese. The Huks renamed themselves in 1950 the Hukbong Magpapalaya ng Bayan and waged a rebellion that raged from 1946-1954. Their stronghold was the Central Luzon plain that made the government feel as if the Huks were knocking on the doors of Manila. Magsaysay ended the revolt with a combination of strategic and sustained military victories as well as reforms in the Armed Forces. Luis Taruc who had returned to the hills after being unseated from Congress surrendered to Magsaysay in 1954, his surrender facilitated by a Manila Times cub reporter named Benigno ?Ninoy? Aquino Jr.
Magsaysay defeated Quirino in the 1953 presidential elections and was so popular that it was believed he would be re-elected in 1957. But at dawn on March 17, 1957 while returning from Cebu to Manila, the presidential plane ?Mt. Pinatubo? crashed on Mt. Manunggal in Cebu, killing 25 of the 26 passengers on board. Magsaysay was dead at 50. It was said that the sole survivor, journalist Nestor Mata, didn?t wear his seat belt.
Vice President Carlos P. Garcia, concurrent secretary of foreign affairs who was on an official visit to Australia, returned to Manila and took his oath as president and completed the last eight months of Magsaysay?s term. He ran for president later that year and won a full term, after defeating Claro M. Recto. His Nacionalista running-mate Jose Laurel Jr. lost to the Liberal Party?s Diosdado Macapagal.
Garcia is best known for his ?Filipino First Policy? that placed the welfare of the people above that of foreigners and the political party in power. This led to a number of reforms, especially in the retail trade that affected Chinese businesses in the Philippines.
Outside of politics, in 1951 movie star Fernando Poe Sr. (father of FPJ) died of rabies. Despite a degree in chemistry from UP and being a dentist, Poe took a folk cure and made a rabid puppy lick a wound he got while shooting a film. He was buried in the Manila North Cemetery.
A Tondo hood named Asiong Salonga was killed in a gang war. A 1961 film would make both the gangster and an actor named Joseph Estrada famous.
Katy de la Cruz was the local Queen of Jazz while stage-show veterans Pugo, Togo, Patsy, Dolphy and Panchito would cross-over into film. Spanish matadors fought bulls in Wallace Field and a show of ice-skaters delighted Manila.
There was a solar eclipse on June 21, 1955 and Manila was dark at noon. Confused roosters crowed at midday and when the sun emerged from the darkness the nation returned to work.
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