March 17 was the 60th death anniversary of President Ramon Magsaysay who perished in a plane crash on the slopes of Mt. Manunggal in Cebu. His brief tenure as chief executive—three years, two-and-a-half months—has been likened to a bright, glorious meteor streaking across Philippine skies, bringing hope, renewed faith and confidence to our people.
I remember how it was on that day, 60 years ago. We were student officers taking up flying training at Fernando Air Base in Lipa City. All flight activities were suspended as people gathered in small groups awaiting news of the missing presidential plane, the “Mt. Pinatubo.” When word finally arrived that the aircraft had been found, with only one survivor, a pall of deep gloom descended on the base and suddenly, it felt like Holy Thursday and Good Friday.
In Baguio City, PMA Class 1957 was preparing for graduation. Instead the whole cadet corps was taken down to Manila to spearhead the funeral rites for the president from the Luneta to Manila’s North Cemetery. They would graduate a month later, with most ceremonial activity such as the Ring Hop, cancelled in deference to the sad event that shook the nation. Last week, Class ’57, led by its president, Dionisio Tan-Gatue Jr., with over 200 children and grandchildren in tow, assembled at Fort Del Pilar to mark its Diamond Jubilee.
What was it that gave our people so much hope and confidence in one individual?
Let me express a few thoughts from a military officer’s viewpoint.
He was seen by many as a man of action. He spoke with sincerity, and people believed he meant whatever he said. We must remember that before he became defense secretary, the communist forces, then commonly known as Huks, were on the offensive and beginning to secure the upper hand in their bid to overthrow the government. AFP units suffered frequent ambushes, and military camps were being raided with little resistance from demoralized military elements.
When Magsaysay stepped in, he provided a strong and vigorous leadership to a military organization that was drifting and had no sense of direction. He led by example, visiting troops in remote areas of the country, at times catching unit commanders asleep or neglecting basic security measures. He inspired the men, rewarding those who performed well while punishing those who failed to measure up to his standards.
As an example of emphasizing excellent performance as the basis for promotion, Magsaysay travelled 40 kilometers to the command post of the 7th Battalion Combat Team (BCT) in a remote Bulacan barrio, just to pin the
insignia of “Lt. Colonel” on Maj. Napoleon Valeriano for gallantry in action. How many department secretaries have been known to go way out of their normal routine in order to promote, on the spot, a deserving officer or to
commend a subordinate for a job well done?
In the first few months as defense secretary, he caused the relief of nine PC officers in Tarlac and ordered their court martial for various offenses: extortion, trafficking of firearms, and falsification of official documents. He ordered the court martial of a BCT captain in Zambales for the latter’s failure to assist a
beleaguered garrison, only four kilometers away.
The fear of being discovered followed by swift disciplinary action became an important deterrent to misconduct in the Armed Forces.
Sixty years after his death, Ramon Magsaysay appears to have been forgotten by many people. Scanning the papers that come to my residence each day, there was no mention of the death anniversary of the most beloved of Philippine presidents.
Last month the Asian Development Bank celebrated its 50th anniversary. Actually it was on Dec. 19, 1966, that representatives from the bank’s 31 members gathered in Manila for the opening ceremonies that included the election of 10 executive directors.
In March 1965, at the 21st session of the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East, held in Wellington, New Zealand, it was agreed to convene a high-level consultative committee to study measures aimed at establishing the Asian Development Bank.
The Philippine representative to this consultative committee, Cornelio Balmaceda, then the secretary of commerce and industry, was designated as chair at its opening meeting in Bangkok.
C.S. Khrishna Moorthi, India’s representative to the committee and later, first ADB vice president had this to say of Balmaceda’s work: “The proposed bank, when it comes into being, will owe a lot to Mr. Cornelio Balmaceda who has served its cause over the last three years with zest and with confidence, despite earlier hesitation from some countries; we would like to record our warm appreciation for his services to the cause.”
One of the sensitive issues facing the bank was the site of ADB’s permanent headquarters. It was a fight between Tokyo and Manila. The Philippines led by Balmaceda, waged a relentless campaign among Asian countries to have Manila as the ADB site. In fighting for the Philippines, he declared: “The primary objective of the Bank is to help accelerate the economic development of the developing countries in Asia. To accomplish this, the Bank must not only know the hardships, problems, and dreams of these countries, but must also look at these hardships, problems and dreams through the eyes of these countries. The Bank must therefore be located in a developing country.”
In the third and final balloting, Manila won by one vote over Tokyo as the permanent site of the bank.
Filipinos must not forget that part of the enduring legacy of Cornelio Balmaceda is the ADB headquarters located in Mandaluyong City. We are the only developing nation in the world to host a major international financial institution. The others are located in First World countries.
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