RAMON F. MAGSAYSAY: FROM ANTI-COMMUNIST FIGHTER TO WARRIOR AGAINST POVERTY
by Ma. Cielito G. Reyno

Magsaysay.s role as the country.s chief architect of the !ght against the
Huk-led communist insurgency that was ravaging the country at the time was the
logical consequence of his being a guerilla leader in Zambales during World War

II.
Magsaysay actively fought against the Japanese throughout the occupation
and during the period prior to the country.s liberation, he led the Zambales guerrillas
in securing the San Marcelino Airstrip for the Filipino and American liberation
forces. Because of his prominent role as resistance leader, he was named Military
Governor of Zambales in 1945. This, in turn, led to his immediate ascent to political
eminence in the province, resulting in his 1949 election as Zambales. representative
in the House of Representatives. His concern for the modernization of the Armed
forces of the Philippines (complementing his other major advocacy for World War
II veterans) led to his assumption to the chairmanship of the House Committee on
National Defense, subsequently paving the way for his appointment as Defense
Secretary under President Elpidio Quirino.

As Defense Secretary, he became the foremost architect and executor
of the government.s anti-communist insurgency program when he assumed the
of!ce of Defense secretary in 1949, a program that he continued and expanded
when he became himself the nation.s Chief Executive. His close association with
several of!cers of the US Central Intelligence Agency, no doubt, contributed to the
success and accomplishments of the anti-communist program that Magsaysay
directed with ef!ciency. With their long experience as intelligence agents during
World War II and the post-war period, the CIA of!cers provided Magsaysay the
required relevant advice needed in mapping out and implementing the over-all
anti-insurgency strategy and its concomitant tactics and projects.

It was under his tenure in the Defense department that psychological
warfare operations were instituted with the help of American experts who trained
their Filipino counterparts in the new methods and operations. This was part of a
wide-scale propaganda program that included organizing and education among
the youth and student population from elementary to college on the evils of
communism.

These steps were bolstered by widespread dissemination of anti-communist
literature especially in the countryside. Surrender and return to the fold of law
was encouraged by way of distribution of safe conduct passes, while press and
radio were employed in publicizing the government.s development projects and
options available to the grassroots including surrendered dissidents. The help and
cooperation of the whole community- including the various church denominations
and the Chinoys- was likewise tapped to make the campaign a real success.

One of the !rst steps that Magsaysay as Defense Secretary carried out
against the communist insurgents was the strengthening of the Military.s anti-
insurgent combat units. To improve the troops. morale and their !ghting capability
as well, he gave incentives to soldiers who had killed insurgents such as promotions
and commendations. Moreover, these measures were likewise complimented by
cash rewards for any kind of intelligence information regarding Huks and for their
capture.

Another step taken by Magsaysay in line with the anti-insurgent campaign
was to convince the President to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, thus giving
the government enough time and legal leeway to prepare its prosecution and !le
appropriate charges against them.

Perhaps one of the best programs conceptualized and established by
Magsaysay was the Economic Development Corps (EDCOR), the government.s
response to the basic social problem then plaguing Philippine society: peasant
landlessness and indebtedness. The mechanism provided for the settlement of
tenants and farm workers, including former insurgents, in public lands. Furthermore,
Magsaysay coupled this crucial action with the offer of free legal assistance to
tenants and poor farmers who had legitimate complaints against their landlords.

Knowing that the eradication of poverty and the development of the
countryside was the answer to the insurgency problem, it was no wonder then
that when Magsaysay became President, he continued his aforementioned
initiatives through his administration.s priority and key program of strengthening
the economic and social conditions of the poor. To carry this out he focused on
the barrio, rallying all government and non-government organizations dealing with
rural communities or working for agrarian reforms (such as the Philippine Rural
Reconstruction Movement [PRRM] and the Philippine Rural Improvement Society
[PRUCIS]) to join hands in helping his administration perform this gargantuan task.
He instructed the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, as well as
the Social Welfare Department, to coordinate with the various GO.s and NGOs
and created or reactivated several bodies to map out and implement development
plans, such as the Community Development Planning Council (CDPC) and the
Agricultural Credit and Cooperative Financing Administration, the latter releasing
millions in loans and organizing farmers. cooperatives.

Magsaysay knew, however, that without a legal framework to guide all of
his administration.s rural development initiatives, his vision and goal of uplifting the
poor, hence ending the insurgency, would come to naught. He therefore coupled
his administrative labors with legal advocacies aimed at agrarian reforms. His
efforts !nally paid off with Congress. passage of amendments improving the Rural
Bank Act of 1952; the Agricultural Tenancy Act of 1954 which he implemented
through the Agricultural Tenancy Commission that he created; the law creating the
Court of Agrarian Relations, and the passage of the Land Reform Act of 1955.

On a personal level, he supervised the implementation of one his pet
projects- the Katubusan or Redemption project, which provided for the peaceful
and genuine resettlement of former communist rebels in public land in San Luis,
Pampanga.

Though Magsaysay.s service to the people was cut short by his untimely
death, to his eternal credit, his brief record over”ows with achievements and
even plans that he meant to carry out had he been allowed another four years as
President. It was a given thing that he would have been reelected by the Filipino
people and given another chance to further improve the lot of the Filipino masses.
Nevertheless, his brief but shining presidency will always be enough for his people
to remember with gratitude how he aspired and succeeded- in no small measure-
to give his people faith and hope for a better life.