Ateneo De Naga high school 1980

Those who do not remember history are bound to live through it again.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ramon Magsaysay's integrity and legacy

March 17, 2011

Last night while I was checking the Philippine news on the internet, the date marked on the news caught my attention—March 17th. I started wondering why this date seemed to ring a soft bell in my brain. Then I remembered back in December 18, 2010 when I started scribbling notes for an article that I wanted to write. The subject that I selected then for my article was the former Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay. When I checked the date of his death in my notes, I was surprised to discover that it was March 17, 1957.

I have read about Pres. Magsaysay’s life ever since I was an elementary student. I remember back in high school, I used to go to the Ateneo De Naga library Filipiniana section and read old newspaper clippings about his life and achievements as a politician. There was also a comic booklet that told about his life. Though some of the sections in the comics were not accurate, most of the stories pictured a man who is honest and was dedicating his life to serve the Filipino people in the most honest way.

I do not want to write about the whole life of Pres. Magsaysay because it would take me many weeks or even months to do that. To avoid ending up with a book-length article, I decided to just feature some interesting facts about the late president and also devote the ending part of the article narrating the events that led to the tragic plane crash which took the life of President Magsaysay.

President Magsaysay was born in Iba, Zambales on August 31, 1907 to Exequiel Magsaysay, a blacksmith and Perfecta Del Fierro, a school teacher. In 1927, he took a course in engineering at the University of the Philippines. While studying, he worked as a chauffeur to support himself. He later transferred to Jose Rizal College and graduated with a baccalaureate in commerce. He then worked as a mechanic and later became a shop supervisor. During World War 2, he joined the Philippine Army 31st Infantry division’s motor pool. When the combined American and Filipino troops of Bataan surrended, Magsaysay escaped to the hills and later organized a guerilla movement. He was commission on April 5, 1942 as a captain. For three years, Capt. Magsaysay led troops under Colonel Gyle Merrill’s guerilla outfit in Zambales. Capt. Magsaysay assisted in clearing the Zambales coast of the Japanese prior to the American and Filipino commonwealth troops on January 29, 1945.

One of the known events in Magsaysay’s political career is the Moises Padilla incident. In the 1949, the governor of Negros Occidental named Rafael Lacson ruled the province with an iron fist. He had ties with the wealthy sugar cane owners, formed his own private armies and had a tight grip on the local constabulary. In the 1951 local elections, a former guerilla fighter named Moises Padilla bravely declared his candidacy for mayor in the town of Magallon (now Moises Padilla). The opponent of Moises was a political ally of Lacson. It did not take long before a message was handed to Padilla asking him to withdraw his candidacy or else he will be killed. Padilla continued his campaign but sought military protection from then defense secretary Ramon Magsaysay. After the election, Padilla lost the mayoral race. The following day, Padilla was picked up by Lacson’s men and was beaten and tortured. Lacson’s men went to the town plaza and declared to the people “This is what will happen to people who oppose us”. News about the Padilla’s torture reached Magsaysay who decided to go to Negros Occidental. But before Magsaysay arrived at the province, Padilla had already died. Padilla was shot 14 times and his body was placed on a police bench at the town plaza. When Magsaysay arrived at the town, he personally carried the body of Padilla to the morgue. The media showed news clips the following day showing Magsaysay carrying the body. This event enhanced greatly the political career of Magsaysay. The pictures were used during the presidential campaign of Magsaysay in 1953.

Magsaysay gathered enough evidence to convict Lacson and his 26 men for murder. The trial started on January 1952 and it concluded on August 1954 when Judge Eduardo Enriquez sentence Lacson, his 22 men and three mayors and two police chiefs of Negros Occidental municipalities where charge with murder. Below was the news posted by the Time Magazine on September 6, 1954:

One morning last week, in the social hall of ex-Governor Lacson's own office building in Bacolod, the longest trial in the history of the province came to an end. As 2,000 Negrenses jammed the corridors, Judge Eduardo Enriquez rendered his verdict. He traced Lacson's rise to power, his private army, his perfect and coordinated system of political murder. Then the judge faltered. He recalled that he himself and Lacson had been college classmates: they had been "more than friends—like brothers." The judge began to tremble but managed to say: "However, circumstances arise when the loyalty of friendship must give way . . ." Tears streaking his cheeks. Judge Enriquez then handed the decision to the clerks to continue reading and sat back in his chair, sobbing. The clerk faltered over the sentence; the judge shouted for him to continue, and the clerk went on: for 22 defendants, including three mayors, three police chiefs and Lacson, death in the electric chair.

In the 1953 presidential elections, Magsaysay defeated incumbent Elpidio Quirino. President Magsaysay became known as the first president to wear a barong Tagalog when he took his oath as the seventh president of the Philippines (third as president of the republic) on December 30, 1953. He became known as “Mambo Magsaysay”.

During his term as president, Magsaysay opened the doors of Malacanang to the public. He demonstrated his integrity when he rode a plane of the Philippine Air Force during a demonstration flight. He later asked the operating cost of the plane per hour. After being told of the cost, Magsaysay issued a personal check covering the cost of his flight on the plane.

Below is the article written Leon O. Ty as it was narrated to him by veteran journalist Nestor Mata who was the lone survivor of the crash that killed President Magsaysay on March 17, 1957.

Nestor Mata’s story
April 6, 1957
by Leon O. Ty

The lone survivor of the Mt. Pinatubo airplane crash in which President Magsaysay and 25 other persons perished gives his version of the tragedy. Newsman has second and third degree burns on thighs, arms and legs

PHILIPPINES Herald Reporter Nestor Mata, the lone survivor in the Mt. Pinatubo airplane crash in which President Magsaysay and 25 other persons perished, is still confined in the Veterans Memorial Hospital. He is fast recovering from second and third degree burns all over his body. We visited him last Saturday afternoon. As soon as he saw us, he said in a low voice:

“You are lucky you were not with us.”

Mata said these words because he personally knew that this writer had always been with him and the rest of the Malacañang newspapermen who used to accompany the late President on nearly all his trips to Mindanao and Visayas.

“You are the real lucky one,” we replied.

“Yes,” he said, “but I still do not know what God wants me to do. He spared my life because he wants me to do something. And I don’t know what it is.”

Asked how he got out of the ill-fated plane alive, Mata related the following story:
“The crash occurred between one and two o’clock Sunday morning, March 17…. All I remember was that there was a blinding flash for a moment. Then I fell unconscious.”
We inquired if it was true that he was seated at the tail end of the plane.

“No,” he answered, “I sat in the second seat next to the President’s compartment…. As I was about to board the Mt. Pinatubo at the Cebu airport, Mayor Sergio Osmeña Jr., asked me to spend the rest of the night in the city.”

Said Serging:

“Stay behind, little one.”

“No, I’m returning to cover the President,” were Mata’s exact words.

Relating the rest of the story, the Herald Malacañang reporter stated:

“President Magsaysay was standing on the side of the plane when I started to board it. ‘Let’s go!’ said RM and I immediately boarded the aircraft. I was the first to get inside… That was the last time I saw the President smile.

“As soon as I was seated, I fell asleep at once. I did not have the slightest premonition of what was to happen. I had full confidence in our pilot. I felt that if the President was safe in his hands, I, too, was safe. I had no reason to feel otherwise.”

Mata reiterated that after the momentary blinding flash, he fell unconscious.

“At about three o’clock that same morning, I regained consciousness.”

“But how did you know it was three o’clock?” we asked.

“My Longines watch was still running,” he replied with assurance. “There was a very bright moon and when I looked at my watch, it was about three….

“I found myself on the side of a steep cliff among dried bushes…. Agonizing with pain, I was completely at a loss what to do. About three meters away from me were parts of the plane. They were still burning. Meanwhile, I heard the distant howling of a dog. It was only then that I felt hopeful of being rescued. Thinking that there were probably people living not far away from where I lay moaning with pain, I made an effort to shout. I noticed that my voice echoed in the nearby mountains.

“After that, I began shouting, ‘Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President!’ When no answer came, I shouted for Pablo Bautista, the reporter of the Liwayway magazine. ‘Pabling! Pabling!’ Still no answer. It began to dawn on me that there was no other survivor except me.”

Mata remembered that it was about eight o’clock in the morning when the rescuers found him.

“After finding me,” he recalled, “the farmers had to return to the village to get a hammock on which they loaded and carried me to the barrio. It was a heroic undertaking because the descent from the mountainside was dangerous. One misstep on the part of the rescuers would have mean death to all of us.”

For 18 hours, twelve barrio men took turns in carrying Mata on a hammock. It was a hot day and blisters developed where the raw burns had rubbed against the old hammock.
As soon as Mata reached the Southern Island Hospital in Cebu City, Dr. Jose V. Agustines, hospital chief treated him for severe shock and pain from second and third degree burn on his thighs, arms and legs.

“But although I was suffering from intense pain,” Mata said. “I did not lose consciousness in the hospital. As a matter of fact, I was able to dictate to a nurse a press dispatch to my paper. I began that dispatch with ‘President Magsaysay is dead.’”
“When a physician saw what I had just done, he remarked: ‘You are newsman to the end.’”

At the close of our brief conversation, Mata repeated the question.

“What does God want me to do?”

On March 17, 1957 before midnight, A US Marine helicopter carrying six crew members departed from Sangley Point Naval Station on a mission to recover the body of President Magsaysay. They landed on a beach south of Luzon to refuel then landed again at Legaspi City for a brief stop. They flew over Masbate, Visayan sea and finally arriving at their destination in Cebu.

Valeriano Avila, a columnist for the Star Newspaper wrote:
I will never forget the day when they brought the charred remains of the President as it was the first time I ever saw a helicopter, a Sikorsky S-55 “Chickasaw” that landed at the old Lahug Airport. For a six-year-old kid, seeing a whirlybird (this is what they used to call a helicopter in those days) amazed me so much, it really didn’t dawn on me that my father was there to mourn the death of his friend, the President of the Philippines.

Vice President Carlos Garcia, who was then in Australia on an official visit, assumed the presidential post and served out the remaining eight months of Magsaysay’s term.
About 5 millions people attended the burial of Magsaysay on March 31,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

:( Almost made me cry. Thanks for sharing this mate! God bless our former president! ♥

6:50 AM  

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