Monching, Ed and Patching (2)
The Road Not Taken” is the story of Edward Lansdale and the American tragedy in Vietnam. But before tragedy struck, there was success in the Philippines. The author Max Boot, a columnist for The Washington Post, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and a renowned military historian, takes us through the Philippine experience with Ramon Magsaysay, Edward Lansdale, and his beloved “Patching” Yapcinco Kelly, from Tarlac.
Max Boot writes : “The CIA manipulated its first foreign election only half-a-year after the agency’s establishment in 1947.” The target was Italy, where the Christian Democrats were facing a tough election battle against communist front organizations in 1948. “The CIA provided as much as $10 million in cash to finance the Christian Democratic campaign. The result was a victory for the Christian Democrats, although “it is not clear how much of the outcome was due to CIA efforts.”
The next target, among others, was the Philippines. With the support of Allen Dulles, then CIA director, Lansdale proceeded to push for a Magsaysay candidacy against the incumbent president, Elpidio Quirino. When Magsaysay resigned his position as secretary of defense in February 1953, Lansdale “helped organize a Magsaysay for President movement… Lansdale even composed a slogan for the candidate, ‘Magsaysay is my guy’; Lansdale collaborated with future foreign minister Raul Manglapus to compose a campaign song, ‘The Magsaysay Mambo.’ Lansdale had a master disk sent to the United States where thousands of vinyl records were produced by the CIA and smuggled back to the Philippines.”
Lansdale’s role in the campaign was not without critics in Washington. Some like David Bruce, the undersecretary of state, wanted him recalled to Washington because he was so closely identified with Magsaysay. Another was George Aurell, head of the CIA Far East Division, who disagreed with the “social engineering” activities of Lansdale and questioned whether the CIA’s job was “to rebuild the nation.”
But Lansdale had the backing of CIA director Dulles, and proceeded with his activities in support of Magsaysay, providing him with speeches and themes. “David Sternberg, the wheelchair bound CIA officer, continued to be the main author of Magsaysay’s speeches.” Lansdale also helped mobilize civic groups such as the Jaycees and the Rotarians, and in coordination with Namfrel (National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections), kept an eye on possible election fraud.
Election day was Tuesday, Nov. 10, 1953. On Thursday, Nov. 12, Magsaysay and Lansdale were onboard the yacht “Margueritte,” belonging to Rear Adm. Richard Cruzen, commander of US naval forces in the Philippines, when they received word that Quirino had conceded. On Dec. 30, 1953, Magsaysay, in a barong tagalog, was sworn in as the third president of the Third Philippine Republic.
For his work in the Philippines, Lansdale received the National Security Medal, only the fourth recipient of the award created by President Harry Truman, for accomplishments in intelligence.
On March 17, 1957, Ramon Magsaysay, the most beloved of Philippine presidents, would perish when his plane, “Mount Pinatubo,” crashed on the slopes of Mount Manunggal in Cebu. This Friday, the nation marks his 111th birth anniversary.
Many people, including Lansdale and other CIA associates in Manila, contributed to the success and eventual election of Magsaysay to the presidency. But, more than anything, it was Magsaysay’s own personal character—his strong personality, his action-oriented style of governance, his humility and ability to sense what people wanted and to give them a sense of optimism that better times lay ahead for all—that made him president. All these traits endeared him to the people, especially to the “common tao.” And we lost him after only three years and two months in office.
Edward Lansdale retired from the Air Force with the rank of major general. He died on Feb. 28, 1987, 30 years after Magsaysay. William Colby, a former CIA director, would call him one of the “10 greatest spies of all time.”
Patrocinio “Patching” Kelly Lansdale, died in 2006 at age 91.
Lansdale, his first wife Helen, and Patching are all buried in the same grave at Arlington National Cemetery.
Personal note: My father was a strong supporter of Elpidio Quirino in the 1953 election. After Quirino’s loss, the many friends who were usually around suddenly disappeared or were difficult to contact. A few months later, President Ramon Magsaysay would appoint him the nation’s first commissioner of tourism, a position that has now been elevated to Cabinet level as tourism secretary. People were flabbergasted that a supporter of Quirino would get such a highly coveted position. Magsaysay’s actions proved that there was never any vindictiveness in the man, a trait sorely lacking these days.
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