Thursday, March 17, 2011

The grief of the nation 54 years ago

[Foreword:  This is a revised copy of a piece we wrote for our e-group of town mates from Zambales two weeks before the 50th anniversary of President Ramon F. Magsaysay's death on 17 March, 2007.  We also wrote another one in time for his birth centennial five months later on August 31 that same year.]
31 Agosto 1907 - 17 Marzo 1957

Pangulo ng Pilipinas
30 Disyembre 1953
17 Marzo 1957
 --Inscription on his tomb--

It's not clear to us now whether schools have closed for the summer (we were in Grade 3 at SanJose-Patrocinio Elementary School in San Narciso, Zambales), but that 17th day of March 1957, the people in our neighborhood were all gathered around the teachers Ceferino and Maria de los Reyes under the mango tree in their yard.  They were all too upset and looking so glum talking about this man Monching for it could not be true that he had died. We heard snatches of their story – a plane crash, a survivor but not him, and sometimes later, a glimmer of hope that Monching is alive and safe in the care of mountain tribes.   Those days, information was slow; and there was only the Manila Times, the night radio in a small town where electricity came only after dark, and needless to say, rumors.

We only sensed the grief of the nation from our parents and the older folks in the neighborhood.  We wondered why for some time our older cousins studying in Manila would show around their pictures after visiting the tomb of Ramon Magsaysay, the man in that popular song of our childhood, Mambo Jambo. 

While growing up, we would meet old people reminisce their friendship with the late President, when they were schoolmates at the Zambales Academy, or when they were guerillas under his command, or when they would go visit him in his office in Malacanang, which he opened to the common tao like them. 

The Ramon Magsaysay bust we saw everyday that we attended classes at the Zambales Academy. That we're both alumni of this school--37 batches apart--is one reason we've been helping keep his memory alive for the younger generation.

We've bumped into him through various historians and biographers, and saw how he'd been cloaked in various different political colors.  There's no dispute however that he was well loved.  

The grief of the nation in March 1957was very well expressed by the orations of Carlos P. Garcia, who assumed the presidency of the Republic at 5:50 PM, March 18 upon his immediate return from an official visit to Australia, and Sergio Osmena, former President of the Philippines, already an old man at that time, who repeatedly suggested to RM to stay the night in Cebu at his place and leave at daytime.  The orations retrieved from the April 1957 issue of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham) Journal, are appended at the end of this article.

The AmCham journals of that period also provided us with a day-to-day account of the RM presidency, as far back as election day in November 1953.  For this piece, here are the entries from March 16, when the President flew to Cebu City, to March 22, when his mortal remains were interred at the Manila North Cemetery: 

"March 16- President Magsaysay flies to Cebu City on the presidential plane, Pagasa, and is received with a 21-gun salute at the air port after which he speaks to the large crowd of welcomers gathered there and states that he has already ordered 20,000 tons of rice from the United States and ordered the NARIC to augment its corn purchasing activities to meet the corn scarcity in the Visayas and Mindanao. From the air port the President proceeds to the residence of former President Sergio Osmena to make a courtesy call. At 4 o'clock he attends the commencement exercises of the University of the Visayas and delivers an address on education and the rights of parents and of the state in that connection and the need of preparing young people to earn a livelihood rather than to receive a degree. At 6 o'clock he attends the commencement exercises of the South-western Colleges and delivers a short address on communism and neutralism, stating:

 "Communism is anti-Filipino...Neutralism is anti-Filipino. To attempt to foist it upon our people is to do them a grave disservice. The country has no need of fence-sitters in the struggle to preserve our way of life. Either we continually love and live this way of life, or communism, stretching across the earth and threatening us here and now, will choke it from the body of our nation. We are a people with a history of courage. There is no place in that history for the fear of freedom, the fear to be on the side of freedom, the fear to be against slavery, the fear to strike a light for liberty amid the encircling gloom that is communism..."

At 8 o'clock the President attends the commencement exercises of the San Carlos University and again speaks of communism, stating:

"...I have been called a Huk-fighter... But I knew even then, and I am convinced more than ever now, that while that phase of fighting communism is important, it is far from attacking the problem at its roots. That is why I am so insistent on rural development and the improvement of the national economy. Poverty and unemployment are not the causes of communism, but they are conditions which make it easy for that ideology to thrive. Communism as an ideology, however, was conceived by intellectuals, not by laborers and peasants. It is spread by clever propagandists, preying on the grievances of the poor and frustrated..."

Speaking of Philippine-American relations, he said:

"You do not have to be anti-American or anti-foreign in order to be resoundingly Filipino. And this is the message that I should like to leave with you tonight: you are the battlefield on which future wars will be won or lost-you can not remain neutral-you will have to take a stand. But keep in mind the principles you have imbibed in this University: keep your faith, and your faith will keep you."

"Later in the evening, the President attends the induction of officers of the Patria Recreation Club, the building of the Club constructed by the Archbishop of Cebu and the local Knights of Columbus, where he delivers a few remarks, after which, at around midnight, he motors to the Club Filipino where he holds a short open forum with a group of veterans. Leaving at 12:45 he spends around a half hour to inspect a community development project in the city and then motors to the Cebu air port, accompanied by former President Osmena and with a party of "about 24" boards the Army Air Force plane, the Mount Pinatubo, a newly refitted C-47, which has been at his disposal for the past 6 months. The plane departs at 1:15 (Sunday morning).

"March 17 - A radio-message from the plane immediately after it takes off states that the ceiling is unlimited with a few clouds at a low altitude, that it will fly at 9,000 feet, and that it is expected to arrive in Manila at 3:15; it is requested that Malacafiang cars be at the Manila air port at that time. PAF headquarters expecting to receive a position report one hour after the plane's take-off as it enters the Philippine Air Defense Zone Area (PADIZ) and no such report being received, Philippine Air Force Base Operations at Nichols Field start a communications check and the results being negative, search operations are started. The Office of the Press Secretary, Malacanang, issues its first press release at 2:00 p.m., announcing the facts, though the search had started early in the morning,--11 PAF planes with 5 more alerted, 1 Civil Aeronautics Administration plane, 3 Philippine Air Lines planes with 2 more alerted, 9 U. S. Air Force planes; 9 Philippine Navy ships are also engaged in the search with 6 more standing by; "U.S. authorities are fully cooperating in the operations...Admiral Wendell Switzer visited the operations center at Nichols Air Base and General John Ackerman is due at Nichols from Baguio"; in over-all charge are Secretary of National Defense Eulogio Balao and Commodore Jose Francisco, Acting Armed Forces Chief of Staff with General Manuel Cabal, Philippine Constabulary Chief, and Col. Pedro Q. Molina, deputy PAF chief, assisting; General Benito Ebuen, PAF chief, is a member of the President's party. "The search is being concentrated in the area along the normal route of flight between Cebu City and Manila." Assistant Press Secretary Guillermo V. Sison, who is one of the members of the President's party who did not take off on the Mount Pinatubo, sends a dispatch to Malacanang stating that Mayor Sergio Osmena, Jr., of Cebu, received a report from his Asturias farm, northwest of Cebu City, that at about 1:30 a.m. a plane was heard with its engine sputtering; Mayor Osmena has started a land, sea, and air search, 6 or 7 small local planes being used.

"Leaders of Congress and members of the Cabinet hold an informal meeting in Malacanang Sunday evening during which Mayor Osmena gets Secretary Balao on the radio-telephone and tells him that the President's plane had reportedly crashed on Mt. Balungan and that one survivor, Nestor Mata, of the Philippines Herald, had been brought to Cebu around 6 o'clock by some people in the area, part of the way by hammock and the rest by bus (they had found him around 7 o'clock that morning), and that some 200 soldiers had been "dispatched to the area who were not expected to arrive at the scene of the accident until midnight as the region is remote and wild and thickly forested; he states that it is still possible there are other survivors and asks for helicopters. Those present at the meeting decide to form a joint executive-legislative committee with Secretary Balao as Chairman, which will fly to Cebu City early tomorrow morning to assist in the situation. Vice-President Garcia had been notified at 8:30 a.m. that the President's plane was missing and advised to return home immediately by Under-Secretary Manglapus, and it was stated at the meeting that the VicePresident would leave Sydney, Australia, at 2:00 a.m. tomorrow on a chartered Qantas Airways plane to arrive in Manila about 4:00 p.m. A Malacanang press release issued at 11 p.m. states that according to interviews with Mata, barrio lieutenant Marcelino Luya and some residents of Sitio Kapio-an, that the President's plane crashed against a mountain, Mt. Manungal, and exploded at about 1:40 a.m.,--"up to now it appears that there are no other survivors". Mata, now at the Southern Islands Hospital, is suffering from 2nd and 3rd degree burns on the face and the upper and lower limbs but is believed to be out of danger. Secretary Balao states that the USN aircraft-carrier Shangrila is proceeding to Cebu with helicopters aboard to arrive at around 8:30 tomorrow morning. 

On March 18, Vice-President Garcia arrived from Australia and was sworn in as the head of state by Chief Justice Ricardo Paras after "President Magsaysay's death has been definitely established by indubitable proof." 

"March 18--The President issues a proclamation declaring March 22, the day set for the funeral, as a special public holiday throughout the Philippines. In another proclamation he declares the period from March 18 to April 17, 1957, as a "period of National mourning for our beloved President" during which the flags of all government buildings and installations throughout the country are to be flown at half-mast. Administrative Order No. 235 creates the committee which is to take charge of the funeral arrangements composed of Messrs. Eulogio Rodriguez, Sr., Jose B. Laurel, Jr., Cesar Bengzon, Cipriano P. Primicias, Lorenzo M. Tanada, Eulogio Balao, Arturo M. Tolentino, Eugenio Perez, Fortunato de Leon, Sergio Osmena, Jr., and Manuel Manahan, with Manuel G. Zamora as Secretary.

"Throughout the day hundreds of messages are received at Malacanang from local persons and entities and from high state officials throughout the world expressing grief and sympathy.

"(According to newspaper reports, the bodies of President Magsaysay and of 25 others who perished in the crash of the presidential plane were brought to Cebu City today by four U. S. Navy helicopters which had to make numerous shuttle trips to and from the 3000-foot high Mt. Manungal. Only 18 bodies have so far been positively identified, the others being burned beyond recognition. The identified were: The President, Secretary of Education Gregorio Hernandez, Jr., Brig. Gen. Benito Ebuen, PAF chief, former Senator Tomas Cabili, Representative Pedro Lopez, Maj. Florencio Pobre, the President's pilot, Capt. Manuel Naeva,co-pilot, Eduardo Reyes, security agent, Maj. Ramon Camus, appointments secretary, Jess Paredes, radio announcer, Lt. Leopoldo Regis, aide-de-camp, Pablo Bautista, Liwayway Publications, Cesar Rama, Philippine News Service correspondent, Jesus Rama, brother of Cesar, Paterno Magsaysay, a cousin of the President, Felix Manuel, Malacanang photographer, Sgt. Raymundo Ruiz, radio operator, and Sgt. Alfonso Ibe, chief of crew.

"Bodies not yet positively identified are believed to be those of: Maj. Alfredo Bustamante, who boarded the plane at the last minute and whose name did not appear on previous lists of the plane's passengers, (Patricio Osmena, Malacanang protocol officer, Maj. Felipe Nunag, chief of Malacanang security, Antonio Tiangco, security officer, Sgt. Regino Manuel, and two of the President's valets, Celestino Teves and Jose Sarcilla.)

"March 19- The people of Cebu, led by Governor Jose Briones, six Cebu Congressmen, and Cebu City Mayor Osmena, pay the late President Magsaysay the first public honors at a field pontifical requiem mass beginning at 7:00 a.m. held on the parade grounds of the Headquarters of the Third Military Area, offered for the repose of the souls of the President and his 25 companions who perished with him. Additional honors were rendered as the remains are brought to the airport for airlifting to Manila.

"(Philippine officialdom and a great throng of people, led by President Garcia, are at the Manila airport as the PAF C-47 Bulacan, carrying the remains of the late President and members of the joint legislative-executive committee, lands at 3:30 p.m., and a 21-gun salute is fired. Three other PAF planes and a USAF plane successively bring the remains of 22 others; those of three more, Rep. Pedro Lopez and Jesus and Cesar Rama, were left in Cebu. The crowd breaks through the cordon of guards to touch the President's bronze casket. The casket is carried into Malacanang at 4:55 and religious rites are held immediately afterward conducted by the Auxiliary Bishop of Manila, Msg. Hernando Antiporda; later scores of people are injured as crowds of mourners fight to enter the palace and an extra battalion of soldiers is brought in from Camp Murphy to assist the Palace Guards in controlling the flow of people to the bier.)

 "...President Garcia sends a directive to all provincial governors and city mayors instructing them to come to Manila to attend the funeral services for the late President on March 22.

"March 20-- ...Hundreds of messages of condolence are received at Malacanang from heads of foreign states, foreign ministers, and heads of legislative bodies, as well as from private foreign entities and persons. The message from President Eisenhower reads:

"In the tragic death of President Magsaysay the people of the Philippine Republic as well as those of the United States and the entire free world have lost a valiant champion of freedom. I had been looking forward to meeting with President Magsaysay in Washington to reaffirm the close and affectionate ties all Americans have with his people. A staunch advocate of independence for his people, President Magsaysay was also an active and determined fighter against communism. He will be greatly missed. Mrs. Eisenhower and I extend to his family not only our personal sympathies but also the heartfelt sympathies of all Americans who have lost a good friend."

"President Garcia visits the remains of the late Secretary of Education Hernandez and of others in the various places where they lie in state.

"Lt. Gen. Alfonso Arellano, Chief of Staff, Armed Forces of the Philippines, at necrological services held in Malacanang under the auspices of the AFP and the War Veterans of the Philippines, pledges the Armed Forces will carry on the policies of the late President.

 "March 21 - President Garcia receives the special envoys of seven countries who will represent their respective nations at the funeral ceremonies of President Magsaysay tomorrow ...  The head of each delegation presents the letters of credence and conveys his country's condolences.

"President Garcia gives P50 to each of three persons hurt in the crushing crowd which stormed Malacanang on the 20th when the late President's remains were brought there.

"Press Secretary J. V. Cruz issues a press release stating that Mrs. Magsaysay appreciates various proposals made that she seek public office but that she has no wish or plan, now or at any time in the future to seek political office of any kind; her only desire is to continue to look after her children and supervise the collection and preservation of the late President's papers and other memorabilia and assist, as she can, in worthy civic, charitable, and religious projects.

"March 22 -Early in the morning, the remains of the late President are taken to the Independence Memorial Grandstand on the Luneta, where a pontifical high mass is offered with Mons. Rufino Santos, Archbishop of Manila, officiating. The casket is then taken to the Session Hall of Congress, where orations are delivered by the Apostolic Nuncio, Egidio Vagnozzi, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Rep. Cornelio Villareal, Sen. Lorenzo M. Tanada, Rep. Arturo M. Tolentino, Sen. Cipriano P. Primicias, former President Sergio Osmena, and President Carlos P. Garcia; the response is delivered by Rep. Enrique J. Corpus, of Zambalez, and, for the family, by Ramon Magsaysay, Jr. The funeral procession, passing through dense crowds, takes hours to reach the Cementerio del Norte, where the remains of the President are entombed at 12:45.

And the grief of the nation expressed in these orations delivered in the Session Hall of the Congress of the Philippines, March 22."

By Carlos P. Garcia
President of the Philippines  
"Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Gentlemen of Congress, Fellow Countrymen:
"In the noon and zenith of his career, in the glory of a triumphant life fully dedicated to the service of the nation, President Ramon Magsaysay passed away from this worldly scene oi action to the infinite realm of immortality. His death, which after all in the higher view is nothing but a transition to eternal life, has succeeded in carrying away the dust of which man is made. But the spirit that was the real Ramon Magsaysay, the personification of faith and love and action that was Ramon Magsaysay, will live iorever in the heart of the nation that he so devotedly served as a leader.
"Our bereaved country and his beloved wife and family have lost in a physical sense the warmth of his personality. The masses of our people have been cut away from the fervent touch of their greatest champion. The free world has been deprived of the physical presence of a steadfast leader in Southeast Asia for the cause of democracy and freedom. But all these bereavements are passing and temporal. The essence of his life and works-made up of the acts of his kindness and generosity, of his sublime courage and patriotism, of his heroism in defense of democracy and freedom, of his zeal in lifting up the common man to new heights of dignity and self-respect, of his relentless crusade against abuses, dishonesty, and corruption-all these will remain as the imperishable glory of the Filipino nation, the pride of the race, and the inspiration of our youth.
"Ramon Magsaysay came to us in the night of crisis to deliver us from the enveloping gloom of a Godless, ruthless, unprincipled ideology. He applied strength where force was inevitable, but at the same time he stretched out a gentle hand to those among our countrymen who might be won back to the ways of freedom. In this manner he dealt to the Communists their first fatal blow in Asia, and we owe it not only to him but to ourselves and to those who will follow us to preserve the precious gains that he has won. 
"In the councils ot nations, Ramon Magsaysay led our people to steadfast and unflinching allegiance to the banners of the free. For him none of the deviousness of the opportunist or the equivocatility of "neutralism." For him and his people the only course to follow was the course of honor and sincerity; the only path to tread was the path of friendship and alliance with the free forces of the free world, particularly the leader and champion thereof, the United States of America. Hence the entire free world deeply mourns the passing of Ramon Magsaysay as attested to by hundreds of messages and speeches abroad and by the presence here of special high representatives of eight heads of state in Asia, Europe, Oceania, and America, in addition to the resident diplomatic representatives in the Philippines who honor this solemn occasion by their presence. In memory of our fallen leader, Ramon Magsaysay, we pledge to our friends of the democratic world that we shall keep Inscription on the late President's tomb. our flag flying high and proudly among the banners of freedom.
"But Ramon Magsaysay's most imperishable works are those that he wrought among the least and lowliest of his people. Neglected and ignored for centuries, untended and uncared for by their leaders, the masses of our country had begun to lose faith and hope in government. Then he came, preaching by word and deed that government was of, for, and by all the people; that those who sat in the seats of the mighty honored themselves best by ministering to the needs of the lowly; that the only justification and supreme purpose of government was to promote the material, social, cultural, and spiritual betterment of the citizens. No wonder that the burst of flame in the moonlight which marked his end was also a searing fire that spread throughout the country, bringing pain and sorrow to the hearts of the masses who had finally found a friend. 
"But weep not, our people. For the glow of Magsaysay's love for the masses, the fire of his zeal to serve and help them shall illumine our ways in the difficult days and years ahead. He shall guide us along the same paths of service and devotion, and we shall follow in his footsteps. And thus shall he continue to live among us, for ten times ten thousand years, for as long as the sun fills with warmth and light this land he loved so much and served so well. May the Almighty receive the soul of our beloved President with His infinite love and mercy, and shower upon his beloved wife, children, parents, and other members of his family the abundance of His blessings." 

By Sergio Osmena
Former President of the Philippines 

"The death of Ramon Magsaysay has left us a profoundly sorrowing people. Yet, our grief seems somehow lightened by the fact that the entire free world sincerely shares our acute sense of irreparable loss. May I therefore venture to hope, as I once more extend my heartfelt condolence to his deeply grieving family, that the sharing of their heartbreaking grief by all our people, as well as by the free world, may somehow help them bear their bereavement.

"Ramon Magsaysay burst into public life like a fresh wind after a long, suffocating day. He died in the night while his people, once more enjoying security and cnce more full of hope, peacefully slept. They woke up in the morning to discover with a shock and to grieve with a broken heart over their sudden misfortune.

"But when we have dried up our tears, we Filipinos shall realize that, while Ramon Magsaysay is indeed no more, the boons he has sought and achieved will remain forever with us. By his deeds he has left a better place in which to live, not only his own country but also much of the free world. Leaving others to enumerate and elaborate upon his many achievements, I shall limit myself only to tracing the outline of the vastness and massiveness o, the debt to him of our people and of the other peoples of the free world.

"Ramon Magsaysay is one of the immortal heroes of democracy. Not only did he save his own nation from being victimized, as many other nations have been victimized, by Communist subversion and aggression, but he f also gave the free world an inspiration and an example to follow in its struggle unto death against ruthless Communism.

"When Ramon Magsaysay broke the back of the Communist-led rebellion in the Philippines, he also convinced other peoples, similarly threatened, that they, too, could win over Communist aggression. His effective method of handling dissidents, with both force and understanding, has since been successfully followed by other countries with similar problems of subversion.

"When Ramon Magsaysay was justly rewarded for his great labors by his election with an overwhelming majority to the highest position within the gift of his countrymen, he set about to apply yet another lesson he had learned from his experiences with rebellious masses. He focused the greatest effort and emphasis of his administration on rural reconstruction and rehabilitation, wisely conceiving this task the logical key to the country's entire economic and democratic progress.

"Ramon Magsaysay passed away before his tremendous project had reached full fruition. Within his limited time, he nevertheless succeeded in giving it momentum and direction. There is now no stopping its progress and completion. It is so right, so logical, and so statesman-like that his memory and Divine Providence will guide us to its ultimate consummation.

"Thus, in the death of Ramon Magsaysay, we have acquired a great heritage and a great responsibility. In following his example and contributing what we can to the long-range task of nation-building which he began, we not only shall erect, out of his own blueprint, an enduring monument to his memory, but shall also ourselves contribute to the happiness of our people, the progress of our democracy, and the stature of our Republic.

"In His infinite wisdom, the Almighty has removed from this life our beloved leader. Ramon Magsaysay is no more. But the fruits of his wise statesmanship will henceforward enrich our lives, and his memory will forever be gratefully enshrined in our hearts."


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