STORIES ABOUT MAGSAYSAY
by Dr. Augusto V. de Viana
During the Second World War, RM was a guerilla leader in Zambales and was sought after by the Japanese. One of the stories about him involved a close brush with capture by the enemy and possible torture and death. One day Magsaysay was driving a carabao cart along an isolated road when a truck laden with Japanese soldiers stopped near him. Magsaysay pulled down the brim of his hat to hide his face and tried to act inconspicuously. When the truck stopped right beside the cart, Magsaysay gave the carabao a sharp crack from his whip, causing the started animal to jolt and ran faster. Magsaysay cried out, .Carabao afraid of truck#. Carabao afraid of truck#. The Japanese soldiers aboard the truck just laughed and the truck moved on its way. Magsaysay breathed a sigh of relief for he had six ri”es hidden in the cart to be given to the guerrillas.
After the war many former guerrillas who belonged to Zambales Military District were happy with Magsaysay because he was instrumental in working for the release of their backpay. To show their appreciation someone started to collect contributions so they could buy a car for Magsaysay. Magsaysay suddenly appeared and confronted the person making the collections. He said .Is it true that you are collecting money to buy me a car for what I did for the guerrillas?. The man replied in the af!rmative. .Return the money back,. Magsaysay sternly ordered .The money earned by my fellow comrades rightfully belongs to them and I did not work for your back pay just to have a new car.
Before RM ran for the presidency, he was an obscure congressman representing the lone district of Zambales. He did not remain obscure for long
as stories about him as a congressman and later as defense secretary started sprouting like mushrooms. One story is about his trip to the United States as a member of Congress when he and a group of other congressmen were able to get bene!ts for Filipino war veterans from the American Congress. Magsaysay said: .I talked to them (the American congressmen) in English, larded it with a little Tagalog and mixed some Ilocano phrases. The result: a bill in the US Congress granting more bene!ts for our veterans.. One of the results of RM.s efforts was the Rogers Bill which authorized the building of the Veterans Memorial Hospital, now the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City.
The famous question .Can we defend this dealing in Plaza Miranda?. came from one of the major speeches of Magsaysay during the campaign for the presidency. RM said: .Whenever I have any doubt about (any) important matter affecting the nation that is brought to my attention, I ask the question: Can we defend this deal in Plaza Miranda?. it showed RM.s concern about the accountability of ones. of!cial acts before the people who should be served with the highest integrity.
No other President before or after him comes close to the peak of popularity. The Guy. enjoyed among the people- because he was truly loved and idolized for his simple but sincere ways and genuine concern for the common man.
Whatever faults or shortcoming may have been ascribed to him as a mere mechanic., he simply compensated with common sense and singleness of purpose that endeared him to the multitude even more zealously.
I recall the time in October 1955 when Magsaysay, traveling with only his aide and driver, barnstormed through Central Luzon to endorse his anchormen in key provinces as his gubernatorial candidates.
In that surprise visit- carried out unannounced within a span of 24 hours- he pitched for the candidacies of Alex (Alejo) Santos in Bulacan, Amado Aleta in Nueva Ecija and myself in Pangasinan where he wound up his stortie at dawn.
His endorsement was enough to make us all win with overwhelming margins over opponents who were both well-quali!ed and well-entrenched and
it may be said that, without Magsaysay, the electoral contest would have been fought to the last man.
The election results showed beyond reasonable doubt Magsaysays credibility and forcefulness as a leader, and without patronage or cheating,
generate unquali!ed support for anyone and anything he sponsored.
Upon winning the gubernatorial race in Pangasinan, I was to take my oath of office before the President, but instead of me going to Malacañang, he came to Pangasinan to induct me.
He brought with him his entire Cabinet, to meet out-of-town for the !rst time, at Mangabul in Bayambang town where people stampeded to get near him, tearing down the makeshift canopies of coconut leaves on bamboo posts that served as the venue.
Thousands turned out to mob the President in a pandemonium of sorts- no hakot as others would have done to ensure a big crowd of reluctant participants as in the case of the much-heralded EDSA celebrations.
At Mangabul, Magsaysay was approached freely by the rural folk to seek assistance, redress grievances and a whole gamut of requests which he granted then and there, including hospitalization for the sick, veterans. backpay claims and what have you.
He wrote instructions to government of!cials on scratch paper and upon the back of the man next to him or on the hood of a parked vehicle. No formalities were observed as long as he acted on a request with dispatch.
At the same time, Magsaysay put an end to a land dispute involving the tenant farmers of a big landowner by af!rming the farmers. claim in the periphery of Mangabul springs.
In short Magsaysay had no need for elaborate preparations, protocol, motorcades, bodyguards and fanfare to announce or decorate his presidency
because he was at home with the people.
One week before he met his tragic death at Mt. Manunggal, President Magsaysay was the guest of honor of the Pangasinan Medical Society. The venue
was the VICAR Building in Dagupan City. The hall was over”owing at the seams. The President was warned against using the rickety elevator but the President was unfazed, .Let.s leave it to God.. In the same occasion the President answered questions asked by some people in the audience among which were why he had not renovated Malacañang and why he had not bought a new car. Magsaysay simply answered, .How can I when I see the people suffering. They have no food, no medicine, no drinking water, no irrigation for their farms. How can the President allow these luxuries when the people who voted him to office are living in that deprivation?
At that time there were also very few doctors in the barrios because they could not be induced to serve in the countryside because of low pay.
Here Magsaysay created his priorities. He made drinking water available through the construction of artesian wells in the barrios, irrigation for the farmers and credit for farm production. He created the of!ce of Presidential Assistant on Community Development which trained young and energetic people to serve the countryside with missionary zeal. These volunteers served so well that one couldn’t think that the program preceded the American Peace Corps program began by President John F. Kennedy by a decade.
From: Conrado Estrella, Remembering RM, Manila Bulletin, March 17, 1989.
In 1955 the First Lady Luz Banzon Magsaysay was in the United States to treat a puzzling malady which turned out to be an allergy, the President.s son, Ramon Jr., was taken sick with chickenpox and had to stay in bed for several days. RM visited him in his room in the Palace quite often. They talked about the First Lady whom they both missed very much. Father and son talked about cars. The First Lady promised to bring one with her when she returns from the hospital in the United States. RM and his son pored over car catalogues and discussed the features of each model.
Ramon Jr. made up his mind that he wanted a Ford Thunderbird. But his father the President said, .Son, don.t ask your mother to buy you a Thunderbird. It’s an excellent car and I understand why you want to have one. But you are the son of a President- and you can.t have one..
But I don.t understand, Papa, why?. Asked RM Jr.
It is a very expensive car and very unusual. It would be very conspicuous if you should own one. People are going to say that the President’s son is being a pasikat. (show-off). They will say that the President has started to allow his family to indulge in luxury and high living#.
Papa,. asked his son,. why do you care so much about what people say?.
Because it was the people who made me President.
When RM Jr. graduated from high school in 1956 his father ordered a Ford sedan for him as a graduation gift. The !nance of!cer told him that the President could save on the duties and taxes by declaring the automobile as a government import. RM Jr. remembers that his father got mad and stated in strong tones: This is my personal gift to my son, and you must charge me the full duties and taxes for the car. We cannot have two sets of laws, one for the in”uential and one for the ordinary citizens.. RM paid for the full duties and taxes for the car.
RM was always ready with his sense of humor. During a Gridiron Night sponsored by the members of the press where they roasted the President. RM
was lampooned for building so many artesian wells but there was no water in them. The artesian wells were built to provide safe drinking water for the people. He told the crowd .I have promised the wells, but not the water.. There was water all right in his wells.
One day one of the rural folk who bene!ted from his no-nonsense quick actions approached him and said .Mr. President, you are a Good Samaritan.. The Guy as everybody knew him, scratched his head, .No, I am not from Samar. I am from Zambales..
Magsaysay was never averse to manual work. His son, Ramon Jr., watched him in awe as he showed him how to temper and work by hand the cast-
iron wheel of a cart. With the blower keeping the charcoal hot and making the iron malleable. Magsaysay worked on the metal with a ball pen hammer and came up with a finished wheel.
Being an expert mechanic, RM quite naturally, tried to instill in his son, RM Jr., a liking for !xing automobiles. RM Jr. admits he and his father had a
common love for cars, but not the talent for machines.. As a boy RM Jr. would give an order to him .give me the screwdriver.- just like a surgeon to the attending nurse at an operation but the boy would get mixed up and handed his father the wrong tool. Finally RM shook his head and exclaimed Boy, you’ll never be a good mechanic#.
Aside from their home in Zambales, the Magsaysays had a house at 2483 Singalong, Manila. it was a chalet which Magsaysay took no small pride in telling other people that he did the masonry and carpentry. It was in this house RM and Mrs. Magsaysay brought up their children.
People associated with the .Guy., as Magsaysay was popularly called, remember his sense of humor which endeared him with the masses. When he
built his famous artesian wells to provide safe drinking water to the people, he was ridiculed by critics that the wells, more often than not, did not yield water. To which the Guy. replied, .Yes, I promised the wells, but not the water.. The wells actually did soon provide water for the ordinary folk.
Everyone is familiar with the law of supply and demand attributed to Magsaysay. There is a continuation to this story:
Magsaysay was still intent on abolishing the law of supply and demand which was attributed to be the cause of the increase of the prices of goods and services. He had his Press Secretary J.V. Cruz what the .law. was all about. Known for his fast action, Magsaysay called up Senate President Eulogio Amang Rodriguez.
Said RM: “Kaya pala tumataas ang mga presyo ng bilihin ay dahil sa isang batas na tinawag na law of supply and demand.”
Amang: .Ano ngayon ang ibig ninyong mangyari, Senyor Presidente?”
RM: “Kailangan ma-abolish ang batas na ito.”
Amang: “Dahan dahan, Senyor Presidente. Bago natin ipasa ang bagong batas na bubura sa law of supply and demand, kailangan mag-caucus muna tayo.”
Some historical accounts say that this was just a genuine banter between Magsaysay and Amang not a serious but ignorant discussion of the plan to abolish the law of supply and demand.
RM disliked the stiff formalities of diplomatic parties and the highly polished banter of courtiers. When he was still new as President, the ambassador from Iraq was presenting his credentials. After the stiff introduction ceremony laid for him by the protocol officer, the President placed a friendly hand on the ambassador’s arm and asked .How.s the king?. From what little the President knew about Iraq told to him a few minutes before the only thing he knew was that Iraq was a monarchy. He wanted to have a conversation to put his caller at ease.
Fine, Your Excellency,. replied the foreign diplomat who was somewhat surprised by RM.s informality.
Tell him to come and visit me sometime..
The Filipino members of the foreign of!ce were left open-mouthed.
RM.s sense of humor saved him from becoming a dictator or a stuffed shirt. While going over a speech he would give at the University of the East where he would receive an honorary doctorate, he came upon unfamiliar words in the discourse prepared by his ghostwriter. It made references to the British historian Arnold Toynbee and the French philosopher Alexis de Toqueville. He had difficulty in pronouncing .de Toqueville. and his ghostwriter. I think it should be pronounced as de Tokua-bil. said his writer, fumbling the pronunciation.
Tockua sounds funny,. said RM. It was the Tagalog word for soybean curd which was commonly used for native dishes. .I guess I will pronounce it de
After the speech had been delivered, a newspaper columnist criticized the presidential assistants the following morning for making the President say
unfamiliar words like Toynbee and de Toqueville. The President summoned the ghostwriter and asked him .Have you read the column about me and Toynbee and de Toqueville?.
The speechwriter must have been stunned but RM broke the ice saying: Well, that.s what I get for trying to act like a doctor#. He laughed.
Whenever the pressure of of!cial life was wearing him down President Magsaysay would leave the Palace to some place outside the city where there
were no telephones and visitors could not reach him. Often he traveled alone or accompanied by one or two bodyguards. His favorite hideout is the modest frame house in Barrio Baring in Castillejos where he grew up. Magsaysay would take off all his clothes except his cotton drawers and undershirt and lie down on an old rickety bed in his small room. There he would spend hours resting, sleeping and contemplating the many problems he faced. There, beyond the pomp of the palace and arti!ciality of of!cial life, he could really re”ect and think matters over.
RM refused to repaint or remodel the house. His relatives and friends begged him to introduce a few minor improvements like installing electric lights or repairing the rickety steps. This particular room and the house was Magsaysay’s link with his past and his humble beginnings. He could think freely unhampered by other people and take stock on how far in the road of life he had traveled.
Magsaysay was always gallant in dealing with the fairer sex. He had old-fashioned ideas on how women should be treated and he combined the best
traits of a Spanish gentleman and a Malay datu in showing respect to the women especially the beautiful ones. This trait paid off beautifully during the presidential campaign in 1953 when he won over to his side Remedios Fortich, an influential political figure in Bukidnon in Mindanao. While passing in front of her house, she eventually threw him a rose. RM picked it up and in the gesture of a Spanish grandee, kissed it. He then went up her house to pay his respects. From that time one Mrs. Fortich became one of RM.s staunch allies and RM won handily in the province.
After he had won the presidency, President Magsaysay went to Davao. The crowd that gathered to greet him was so thick that it was impossible to greet him at the airport. The Davao Lions Club positioned themselves along the road to the city. When RM saw the group he stopped the motorcade and got off his automobile and started embracing every member of the club.
On that visit he laid the cornerstone of the Davao Ramitex plant. The organizers of the event prepared a merienda for the President. RM noticed that
a big crowd had gathered. He asked what food was being served to the people. Soft drinks and sandwiches,. his aide replied. RM stood up abruptly and left the presidential table and began distributing the sandwiches to the crowd himself.
In one of the sorties in the provinces the presidential party was driving its way from Paniqui, Tarlac to Manila. President Magsaysay got thirsty and told the driver to stop by a row of stores along the highway in the town of Gerona. RM got down from is car and went to nearest store and ordered eight bottles of 7-Up. The woman tending the store recognized him and shouted President Magsaysay.
Soon people surrounded the store. The President asked how much was the price of rice at the place and told them to report to him if the price was more than a peso per ganta.
After talking to the people RM handed over two pesos to the woman tending the store as payment for the soft drinks. She refused to take the money but RM insisted and said .This is your business and I do not want you to lose because of me. Just take 80 centavos and give me the P1.20 change.. That surprised the people present. RM said it in the most natural way as any common folk would have said it. It endeared him to them. RM was one of them.
One of the important traits which endeared him to the people was that Magsaysay took time to reply personally to letters written to him by the people even small children. One of those letters asked for a photo of him. The child later wrote back thanking for the picture which showed him laughing. As President he was always on the move. It was his habit to leave the Palace at ungodly hours and a Palace reporter had to sleep in Malacañang so he would be always present to cover him.
On August 31, 1954 his !rst birthday as President, Magsaysay spent the whole day in the countryside in Central Luzon conversing with people inspite of astorm that was currently raging that day.
In Pampanga RM saw an artesian well that was being installed with a homemade machine. Impressed by the contraption he looked for its inventor and gave him a job at the Metropolitan Water District. He said to the man .You are a lot better than our MWD engineers.. He then visited a military hospital where he promoted wounded soldiers in the anti-Huk campaign.
RM.s critics berated him for spending too much time in the barrios. He replied to them saying .I have to visit the people. When I was campaigning for the presidency, I promised to do many things. I thought that it was going to be easy to fulfill the promises. I found out otherwise. When one becomes President, one realizes certain dif!culties and limitations. I have to visit the common people, live with them, shake their hands, pat their backs, eat with them. That way I can help ease their hunger and their hardships..
During his presidency, Magsaysay never left the country saying that his work was with the people. The people saw in Magsaysay their savior who would deliver the country and people from poverty, communism and corruption. It was his concern for the poor which RM was never wanting. Saying those who have less in life should have more in law,. this of course was not possible because laws have to be applied equally both to the rich and poor. He embarked on programs giving land to the landless and shelter for the homeless.
In facing his critics, RM harbored no ill feelings toward them. One of his most bitter critics was Congressman Mario Bengzon who had the habit of hitting the President on the floor of Congress. When Magsaysay met Benzon face to face during a social function, the President embraced him and told him that he is doing a great job in Congress. RM.s gesture so disarmed the Congressman that he never spoke against the President again.
As the highest official of the land, Magsaysay was dedicated to the reform of the government and its machinery. Otherwise he feared that the people would be driven to the arms of the communists who were promising heaven on earth. Even when he was Secretary of Defense he dismissed outright military personnel who were remiss in their duties. In one of his midnight inspection trips he personally surprised a sleepy sergeant guarding an ammunition dump in Central Luzon and outrightly dismissed the commanding of!cer. As President he !red people whom he perceived as corrupt. He never hesitated to punish the guilty public official, no matter if he was a relative or a friend. He was also tough on his relatives and supporters did not want the people to think that their closeness to him would give them favors.
Magsaysay canceled a contract entered into by his uncle, Ambrosio Magsaysay, to supply coal to the Cebu Portland Co. although his predecessor had
approved the documents. RM withdrew approval of a trip to Europe by his brotherin- law, Aurelio Bengzon, and instructed his cabinet secretaries not to permit any of his relatives to go abroad on official missions. RM dismissed his Executive Secretary, Fred Ruiz Castro, for approving the hiring of a nephew-in-law, Feliciano de la Gala, in Washington, D.C. as a casual employee, even Mrs. Magsaysay requested for it. He also dismissed Gregorio Lecaros of the Central Bank for soliciting donations to the Christmas festival held annually at Malacañang.
Magsaysay forbade his younger brother Gene to run as a political candidate and barred the entry of 2,000 Chinese immigrants because three senators lobbied for it. He withdrew approval by Col. Osmundo Mondoñedo for the exchange of first-class Philippine rice for an imported foreign brand. He told his friend Joseph Arcache that he could not approve the refloating of a Japanese submarine for scrap iron because the businessman had offered half of his pro!ts in the deal.
On March 15, two days before his tragic death one of RM.s cousins, newsman Vicente del Fierro, came to the President.s bedroom and asked him to donate a band for the district !esta of Project 4 (Quezon City). The President asked if it was necessary to donate a band. His cousin replied that Sen. Claro M. Recto who was eyeing the presidency that year had already donated one. The President laughed saying .Never mind. If the election was to be decided by a band, let Recto win. Del Fierro left the bedroom without getting anything.
When RM.s family left Malacañang a week after his death, all that was left of his paycheck was P650. When asked why so little was left of RM.s pay,
Mrs. Magsaysay explained that this was the average (sometimes P1,000) that she received from the President.s monthly salary because all their family expenses were deducted from it from the very !rst day he assumed the presidency.
In fact she said, .he even instructed the Palace kitchen to deduct from his salary the cost of food consumed when our children brought their classmates in for lunch or merienda.
The Magsaysay administration was so spotlessly transparent that the gaffes attributed to him and circulated apparently to “aunt his ill mastery of English must have been launched by the spurned lobbyists who saw no other way to get back at him than to poke fun at his shortcoming.
De Jesus, Ramon. .Magsaysay: An Exemplary Citizen.. Sunday Express. March
Estrella, Conrado, F. .Remembering Magsaysay.. Manila Bulletin. March 17,
Silverio, Julio, F. Pinoy Anecdotes. Las Piñas: M & L Licudine Enterprises,
Sison, Jess. .Perspective: Remembering Ramon Magsaysay.. Malaya. August
Zabala, Noynoy. Magsaysay: .The Legend Lives On.. Manila Times. August 31,