Chapters 13 & 14
Bataan Affairs and Manunggal Tragedy
President Ramon Magsaysay, in one way or the other, also brought major contributions to the progress of Bataan during his administration as chief executive of the land. The province, greatly devastated during the war, terribly needed infrastructures, as well as minor and major industries to jumpstart its development. The President gave it to Bataan on a silver platter, like a manna from heaven.
With or without the encouragement of his wife Luz, President Magsaysay relentlessly tried to impress the local government unit in the province and got things done his way as he saw it fit. In this way, he cultivated the people’s confidence by openly identifying himself with the personal welfare of the common man. It was his own simple way of “bringing the national government and Malacañanng closer to the people.”
As mentioned in an earlier chapter, a delegation from the NASSCO Labor Union, headed by Pedro Dionisio, personally went to Malacañang on April 14, 1954, and requested President Magsaysay’s help in solving their problems with the NASSCO management doing business in Mariveles. The Chief Executive told them to sit down first with the management and his own people at the Palace to discuss their problems.
NASSCO, stood for the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company, a major design, construction and repair company that was established in Bataan in 1950. Its mother company was the NASSCO of San Diego, California, USA.
The ship-building company was located at the former drydock area in Mariveeles which was used by the US Navy as a ship-repair facility during World War II. It became an industrial site after the American shipbuilding company was established in the area.
The surrounding area, actually a vast ricefield, was gradually inhabited by the NASSCO workers and their families. In 1954, the NASSCO management became embroiled in various disputes with the workers. Benito Dionisio and his co-workers went to Malacañang to seek help from the President in solving their problems.
A compromise was reached and approved between the workers and the management through the intercession of Malacañang. The NASSCO finally allowed the workers to stay in the former ricefield and build houses around the facility’s perimeter fence or wherever they like outside the confines of the facility.
In a matter of two years, the NASSCO community was formed. Barrio NASSCO was eventually created into a regular barrio on May 1961, based on Resolution No. 55 passed by the Mariveles municipal council on March 11, 1961 led by former Mayor Benito Reyes (1960-1963, 1964-1967). In 1964,however, NASSCO was acquired by the Romualdez family and renamed the facility as Bataan Shipyard and Engineering Company (BASECO).
In 1969, Barrio NASSCO was erased from the map with the enactment of Republic Act No. 594 which created the Bataan Export Processing Zone in Mariveles, the site of the first free trade export zone in the country.
In Dinalupihan, Teodoro David, a rich sugarcane planter, headed a committee of Dinalupihan inquilinos who were interested in purchasing the lands owned by the Archbishop of Manila.They agreed to form a corporation called the Dinalupihan Estate Improvement Company. As president, David started collecting funds and issued stocks to raise P2,212,250.00, the capital needed for the purchase of the land.
On July 15,1930 Archbishop Michael J. O’Doherty of Manila Diocese (1916-1949) already agreed to sell the Dinalupihan Estate to the farmers. It was only in 1954 when Teodoro David, president of the DEIC, finally sought the help of Malacañang to help the inquilinos raise the said purchase amount. Eventually, the sale of the Dinalupihan estate became a reality.
Moron to Morong
In May 1955, President Ramon Magsaysay (1953-1957) wrote an Executive Order changing the name of a town in Bataan from “Moron” to “Morong”. Congress also passed a bill renaming Moron to Morong. President Magsaysay passed the said bill into law on June 10, 1955 which became known as Republic Act No. 1249: “Renaming Moron, Bataan to Morong, Bataan.” The order later on, not only applied to Morong, Bataan but also to Morong, Rizal. Unfortunately, the word “Morong” has no equivalent in both the American and Filipino languages.
A legend has it that Morong was named after the “Moros” who inhabited the northwestern part of Bataan long before the arrival of the Spaniards. This legend was used to explain why Morong, Bataan, was called by that name. It was a simple and direct explanation. Unfortunately, the story is not true. It was just an urban legend, plain and simple.
The real origin of the name of Morong town came from the Spanish word “Moron” which is the equivalent of the word “mound,” or “knoll, or “a hilly place” in the English language. “A “hilly place” is closer to the truth because Morong, topographically, is a hilly town situated at the foot of Mount Silanganan. It is also without a doubt that the Spaniards were the ones who gave Morong its name when they created it as a town in 1607.
Unfortunately, when the Americans came, Morong residents came to learn that “Moron” connotes another meaning in the English language, like “a person with mental defect, loony, dumbbell, idiot, fool and dunce.” As a remedy, they personally asked Congressman Jose R. Nuguid and the Bataan provincial government sometime in 1954 to do something to change the name of their town. The rest is history.
The Standard Vacuum Oil Corporation of Jersey (STANVAC), presently known as the Petron Bataan Refinery, started its construction in Barrio Lamao, Limay immediately after its approval by President Ramon Magsaysay in April 1956. It was and still is the biggest oil refinery in the country producing a wide range of fuel products and petrochemical feedstocks.
Some US$80,000,000 was initially invested in the project. It was designed to process 180,000 barrels of crude oil per day and to supply 40 percent of the country’s total oil requirement. It employed an initial 400 highly-skilled workers and specialists.
The construction of the Bataan refinery started in February 1957, during the last year of President Ramon Magsaysay in Malacañang. (The refinery was completed in mid-1958). An American company, the Foster Wheeler, was the plant’s general contractor while AG&P was the subcontractor.
The plant was officially inaugurated on April 8, 1961 by President Carlos P. Garcia (1957-1961) and Bataan Governor Emilio Ma. Naval, 1954-1959. The refinery became operational on January 10, 1960. It was the biggest foreign investment in the country at that time. Shortly thereafter, Limay became the top-grossing town in Bataan.
The initial cost of refined oil and gasoline produced by STANVAC at that time was only 30 centavos per liter.
The STANVAC refinery was immediately followed by another big project: the ESSO Standard Fertilizer and Chemicals, or ESFAC, also in Barrio Lamao.
The present-day Petron Bataan Refinery in Limay, Bataan.
On October 2, 1956, President Ramon Magsaysay and his wife Luz Banzon-Magsaysay visited the barrios of Lamao and Kitang, in Limay. The coastal barrio of Lamao had already been identified as the site of the proposed $80-million oil refinery of the Standard Vacuum Oil Company of New York (STANVAC).
The Magsaysay couple also visited Barrio Kitang to show their Japanese guests the condition of the abandoned Pacific Oil Storage Company (POSCO) oil depot situated in Sitio Sibakan.The visit became controversial after the residents complained of the arrogance of some American officials of the oil depot for not letting them inside the facility to personally welcome Mrs. Magsaysay, a native of Balanga.
The old depot negotiation did not push through but incumbent Limay Mayor Domingo F. Perona (1947-1959) and members of the municipal council, to show their appreciation to the Magsaysay visit and the promise of job opportunities for the residents, unanimously approved a resolution giving Sitio Sibakan a new name: Barrio Luz, in honor of the First Lady.
On February 8, 1957, the barrio became known as Barrio Luz, the southern portion of the old Barrio Kitang.
The Manunggal tragedy
On March 16, 1957, at one o’clock Saturday afternoon, President Ramon Magsaysay left Malacañang for Cebu in his presidential plane, the “Mt. Pinatubo.” The plane was named after the highest peak in Zambales where he hid during his guerrilla days.
Also on board the plane were Manila-based newspapermen and some Palace staffers. Magsaysay was scheduled to speak before the students of the University of the Visayas, the University of the Southern Philippines and the Southwestern University.
Three hours later, Magsaysay’s party arrived at the Cebu airport in Lahug. A huge crowd welcomed the President. From the airport, a motorcade took him to the residence of former Philippine President Sergio Osmeña where he paid his respects to the war-time statesman. He then proceeded to the Archbishop’s palace to pay his respects to Monsignor Julio Rosales and to offer a brief prayer at the palace chapel.
At five, the President went straight to the Universty of the Visayas where he received an honorary doctor of laws; then to the University of Southern Philippines where he gave
President Magsaysay poses with Senator Tomas Cabili, Sergio Osmeña, Sergio Osmeña Jr, and other government officials of Cebu a few minutes before boarding the ‘Pinatubo’ plane.
a short speech on the theme of “Parents Day;” and lastly, to the Southwestern University where he spoke on the dangers of neutralism in the contemporary world.
Magsaysay paid more courtesy calls, followed by a dinner. A ball culminated the day until way past midnight. A big crowd of government officials led by Sergio Osmena bade the President goodbye.
Magsaysay and his companions boarded the waiting Mt. Pinatubo. The day had been fully spent, mission accomplished and Magsaysay headed for home. It was about a quarter past one at dawn when the Mount Pinatubo plane soared into the sky.
An hour after take-off, the plane was reported missing. It turned out that 15 minutes after leaving Cebu airport, the airplane crashed unto the side of Mount Manungal, burst into flame and scattered its wreckage of men and metal on the ground. Of the 26 passengers, only one survived the crash – a newspaperman named Nestor Mata of the Herald who witnessed and made an account of the tragedy later on.
Manunggal is a mountain range curving like an arm just north of Cebu City. It’s such an obscure mountain, its peak rises about 3,000 feet above sea level. At that time, the lower slopes have been deforested by kaingins; the upper slopes are steep, ending not on sharp peaks but on rough plateaus. From the center of the range springs a river, the Balamban, which winds all around the mountain and its base and then flows through the western part of Cebu island into the sea.
According to investigators, the Mount Pinatubo plane confronted Mount Manúnggal five to ten minutes after take-off, and was flying toward the central plateau of the range, which is the source of the Balamban River.
The plane, it turned out, had already lost altitude from “metal fatigue”, but could have cleared the mountain and flown safely beyond it. Unfortunately, a giant tree was standing on the summit. The plane and tree collided.
The passengers inside the plane were hurled against or out of their seats as the tree sliced off one of the plane’s wings. This wing was found near the foot of the tree. The crippled plane itself dropped much furtherdown, about a hundred feet down the slope, which explains survivor Nestor Mata’s sensation of “hurtling down a black bottomless pit.
When the plane hit the ground, it exploded and burst into flames.The fire was so intense it melted metal and fused bodies into an almost solid lump of coal, raged most fiercely nearest the fuselage but spared the tail and cockpit.
The passengers seated nearest the fuselage (there were apparently seven of them, including President Magsaysay), were burned beyond recognition and were turned into a single mass of charred flesh. The President was only identified by his burnt wristwatch and ring embedded in the black mass.
About 14 other bodies, also horribly burned, were thrown out of the plane by the explosion and scattered lower down the hill. A few feet away was another group of bodies that had been only partially burned.
Two of the pilots, General Benito Ebuen and Major Florencio Pobre, were apparently hurled forward, still strapped to their seats, against the engines. The first had his skull broken; the second had his head ripped off.
A security officer, Major Felipe Nunag, survived the crash though wounded on the head. He crawled out of the wreckage and walked away some distance down the slope, quite a trip for a man who was dying and must have known it. His was one of the few bodies found still intact outside the fuselage.
The surviving reporter, Nestor Mata, may owe his luck to the fact that he was thrown out of the plane at the very instant it hit the ground. He had been dozing, was jolted awake by a flash – “like thousands of flashbulbs popping at one time.” He felt himself flying, and heard the deafening boom of an explosion. He blacked out. When he came to, he found himself lying under another tall tree, among twisted bits of metal.
It was indeed an accident, as disclosed by a thorough investigation conducted by the authorities. There was no sabotage, no overloading, but merely a technical error on the part of the pilot. “Failure on the lighting system could have seriously hampered the vision of the pilot,” the official report said, “…and led to the pilot’s perception of depth and space.”
The latter must have been aggravated by the fact that the plane was flying over a rugged and mountainous terrain in the presence of scattered and broken low-flying clouds at that time.
In Manila, Mrs. Luz Magsaysay already knew that something went wrong when her husband did not show up at the Palace that early Sunday morning, about three hours after the ‘Mount Pinatubo’ plane took off from Cebu airport (at about a quarter past one o’clock at dawn).
She called her security detail and told him to inquire what kept her husband from coming home. The security detail left and returned after awhile. He told the First Lady that the President’s plane might have crashed in Cebu immediately after take-off.
She was also informed that a big fire had been sighted on the slope of mountain near the airport. She almost fainted. At that moment, she was hoping against hope that nothing terrible happened to Monching. She never went back to bed. She cried continuously ‘til morning.
At 8 o’clock of Sunday morning, Press Secretary J.V. Cruz and Executive Secretary Fortunato de Leon showed up at the Palace and personally informed the First Lady and the three children of the terrible news about the President.
At noon, Jun Magsaysay personally went to Villamor Airbase with Secretary JV Cruz to fetch the coffin containing the remains of the late President.
Vice-President Carlos P. Garcia, who was on an official visit to Australia at the time of the tragedy, succeeded to the presidency on the same day. He was to serve out the last eight months of President Magsaysay’s term.
Wake at the Palace
People from all walks of life paid their last respects to President Magsaysay during his wake in Malacañang. People were crying, shocked and still could not accept the fact that something like that would happen to their beloved President. The wake was attended by thousands of people who condoled with Luz and their children.
During the wake, a local journalist tried to interview Mrs. Luz Magsaysay regarding the last days that she spent with her husband prior to his ill-fated flight to Cebu where he perished in a plane crash.
Suddenly, tears swelled out of Mrs. Magsaysay’s eyes. The pain of losing a loved one surrounded the air. The prudent journalist did not insist and decided to divert the topic. Instead she answered questions concerning her grandchild who was with her during the interview.