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The passerby who made a difference

IN FEBRUARY 1986, in the wake of the Edsa revolt, President Ferdinand Marcos and members of his family were flown out of the country on board a US Air Force transport plane. Imee Manotoc, the eldest of the children, was accompanied by her long-time aide, Lt. Col. Ricardo F. de Leon, PC/INP. Irene Araneta was with Lt. Col. Prospero M. Ocampo, PAF, while Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was in the care of Maj. Nestor Sadiarin, PA. De Leon and Ocampo belong to PMA Class 1971 while Sadiarin is a member of Class 1977.

According to some of the officers I interviewed about the flight, they were under the impression that it was headed for Paoay in Ilocos Norte, and not Hawaii. At any rate, after a brief stop in Guam the flight continued on to Honolulu where the passengers all disembarked.

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Most of the passengers stayed on in Honolulu but two officers, De Leon and Ocampo, decided to return home immediately. Upon receiving permission from their wards, Imee and Irene, to do so, both officers boarded a US Air Force plane headed for the Philippines.

What made them leave the United States while others stayed on and were granted temporary residence permits based on various grounds?

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I asked this question of Colonel De Leon. His reply was that he and Ocampo felt they had done their duty by accompanying Imee and Irene as far as they could. They had families in the Philippines who needed their presence and they realized that separation for lengthy periods would be difficult for everyone considering the uncertainties of their status and employment.

As with many officers who were closely identified with the Marcos regime, De Leon and Ocampo were for a while in limbo without any assignments being given them. De Leon decided to attend the Command and General Staff College (CGSC) and upon graduation in 1987, he slowly worked his way back into the mainstream of professional life.

For a while, he served with the Anti-Carnapping Task Force (ACT Force) of the PC/INP under Brig. Gen. Fidel Singson before being assigned as provincial director of Negros Oriental. His outstanding performance in this assignment led to a citation as the PC/INP Provincial Commander of the Year, and also earned for him his first Cavalier Award from the PMA Alumni Association. At 44 years, he was promoted to star rank making him the youngest general in the organization.

While assigned as regional director for the Bicol area, he saw an opportunity to further his academic studies at the Bicol University. This led to a Doctorate in Peace and Security Studies after an MBA from the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM).

His rise in the PNP (formerly PC/INP) continued until he became deputy director general for administration, the second-highest position in the police organization.

De Leon retired in 2005 and, out of the blue, he was offered the presidency of the Mindanao State University (MSU) which was experiencing difficulties after years of neglect. As identified by its Board of Regents in 2003, these problems included (1) peace and order; (2) need for resources generation; (3) cultural and political factors; (4) proliferation of illegal drugs on campus and (5) squatters.

On Sept. 21, 2005, acting president Dr. Ricardo de Leon assumed office, a military man in a non-military institution, and a Christian at that. All past presidents of MSU except for the first, Dr. Antonio Isidro, were from Mindanao and were Muslims with connection to the university by virtue of their academic background or membership in the Board of Regents.

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The critics went to town, declaring “that MSU was now a militarized State University.” Protesters met him with placards denouncing his appointment. When De Leon arrived at the MSU campus, he got out of his vehicle, shook hands with everyone and proceeded to inspect his new home. Classrooms and buildings were falling apart. The ceilings were sagging and broken windows were common. There were dogs in the dormitory and the bathrooms were dilapidated. Garbage was all over the place.

De Leon sprang into action. He had the classrooms and buildings repaired and repainted, constructed walkways to provide shelter from the rain for the students. He reclaimed campus lands and had squatters relocated. The garbage dumps were cleared out and converted into parks. New buildings went up, not from government funds, but from donations from philanthropists and wealthy alumni.

The new president began to address his biggest challenge—establishing a sound financial footing for the university. A bloated bureaucracy led to the termination of more than 200 members of a Peacekeeping Force (PF) as well as other casuals and contractuals and ghost employees.

By the time De Leon left the university in January 2008, MSU was in the black. He was able to pay back all outstanding obligations of past administrations. His management programs allowed salaries, overtime pay and stipends for students to be released on time. After a while, he was also able to address the issue of quality education, improving academic standards and regularly monitoring progress by visiting from time to time all the seven MSU campuses.

In a tribute to President De Leon by Dr. Rebekah M. Alawi, chair, Language Center, she described him as “the passerby who made a difference.”

“The MSU was waiting for a knight to defend it against the many-headed dragon and deliver it from the doldrums into which it had drifted. Along came this passerby who took the wheel of the floundering ship and guided it back along its proper course. Dr. De Leon, the passerby, arrived at the right moment at the right place. And we were ready for him, as he was for us.”

Gen. Ricardo de Leon is the only PMA graduate to head a major university. For his achievement in the academic field, he received a second Cavalier award from the PMA Alumni Association. Today he serves as executive vice president of Centro Escolar University.

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TAGS: De Leon, Fidel Singson, MSU, Philippines
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