Ramon Magsaysay was too much of a segurista that he would only commit himself openly until he was more than reasonably certain of success. At this point in time, however he had to wait, now that President Elpidio Quirino had declared to run again, against the wishes of his daughter, Vicky,who worried about her father’s poor health.
With Quirino ready to seek another four-year term, Magsaysay, together with Dindo Gonzales and Colonel Edward S. Landsdale were quite sure that a Liberal nomination was quite remote. Also, Quirino’s cautious attitude toward Magsaysay and Senator Jose Yulo’s entry into the picture, supported that conviction.
Dindo Gonzales, a political promoter who was merely banking on his advertising knowledge and his personal connections with top-drawer politicians, already knew that Senator Jose P. Laurel Jr. was amenable to Ramon Magsaysay, but was already committed to nominate Senator Claro M. Recto. Unfortunately, Recto was also eager to endorse Senator Lorenzo M. Tañada for the presidential post.
At any rate, Gonzales decided that all three (Laurel, Recto and Tañada) had to be released from their personal pledges. And the natural link with Tañada was Congressman Emmanuel Pelaez.
At first, Pelaez demurred tactfully to Dindo Gonzales’ proposal to put up Magsaysay, knowing that Gonzales was also close to President Quirino, being the brother of the President’s son in-law.
On his own initiative, Magsaysay visited Pelaez at the Tanada, Pelaez and Teehankee Law office and told the congressman about how the country was going to the dogs because of graft and corruption. His circumspect approach drew reaction from Pelaez to explore the idea of uniting the opposition behind Magsaysay. The two went into a huddle with Lorennzo Tañada where they obtained the Senator’s cheerful approval, provided Magsaysay would not be the Liberal candidate. “Sure,” Magsaysay assured Senator Tañada. “I’ll talk to Claro M. Recto and Amang Rodriguez immediately…”
Late in August 1952, Ramon Magsaysay, Emmanuel Pelaez and businessman Mariano del Rosario met at Dindo Gonzales’ office and summarized their earlier talks. Magsaysay concluded that he could not challenge Quirino within the majority party, but running as an independent or third-force candidate was out of the question. They decided to approach Jose P. Laurel Jr., the Nacionalista rallying point and the first choice of the party regulars.
To everybody’s delight, Laurel agreed to support Magsaysay. He even told his UP graduate students earlier that he was willing to campaign for the election of a “young blood” to which the government should be entrusted. The next persons to see were Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez and Rafael Recto.
After some initial discussions, Amang Rodriguez told Magsaysay that if he really wanted to join the opposition, all he had to do was stage a coup d’etat. Tañada immediatey rejected the proposition. Magsaysay would not hear of it either, although, in reply to Rodriguez, he said jokingly that “it would only take him one to two hours to capture Malacañang.”
Rodriguez insisted that it should be a bloodless coup, after which there will be free elections. Tañada told Rodriguez to talk things over with Laurel and Recto, although he was excited by the thought of going ahead with Magsaysay even without the Nacionalistas.
Manifesto of support
In a later meeting, Tanada, Pelaez and Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez agreed to draft a manifesto to support Magsaysay as the common opposition candidate. A week later, they returned to Jose Laurel Jr. who now said he had been carried away by his enthusiasm and had forgotten his commitment to Recto. He stated that he would no longer commit himself on the plan to draft Magsaysay. The news tended to hurt Magsaysay.
Then came the order from President Quirino for Magsaysay to arrest Senator Justiniano Montano of Cavite. The use of armored cars and power wagons during the arrest incited Liberal and Nacionalista legislators to denounce the Army’s “police state” method. Magsaysay was caught in the squeeze play between the Executive and the Senate.
At a Cabinet meeting, President Quirino chided Magsaysay for appearing before the senators to explain the “show of force” in the arrest of Senator Montano. Magsaysay and Pelaez pressed their advantage. The latter had to work through his law partner, Tanada, in approaching the Nacionalistas. Magsaysay, on the other hand, wanted a commitment from Laurel. In a meeting at Tañada’s house, he asked Laurel this question: “I would like to know now if you’re running for President or not?”
“No, I’m not,” Laurel replied. He said one of the reasons why the country’s progress was slow was that older leaders like Quezon and Sergio Osmeña had been reluctant to give way to the next generation. “And I was cheated in 1949. If I run again and I am cheated again, I’m afraid there will be bloodshed. But here you are, Monching, you have a distinguished record. Everybody is impressed by your honesty, and the way you have conducted this campaign. I am willing to support you… ”
On February 28, 1953, Magsaysay resigned his post as defense secretary. “He said he had other plans to pursue..” When asked by newsmen to explain further, he said: “It would be useless for me to continue as Secretary of National Defense with the specific duty of killing Huks as the administration continues to foster and tolerate conditions which offer fertile soil for Communism.
Having reached the conclusion that peace and progress cannot be achieved under the present administration, I can no longer take other recourse but to resign.” Magsaysay added that he had decided that “the only way to continue his fight against communism is to build a government for the people, to oust the corrupt administration that, in his opinion, had caused the rise of the communist guerrillas by bad administration. If I have my way, I want to be elected President.”
When pressed for comments by newsmen, President Elpidio Quirino said: ”I have already asked Monching about that resignation letter which he said had been prepared for him by opposition members. That’s all I can say…”
When further pressed by newsmen on whether Magsaysay would remain a Liberal, Quirino remarked that “if he (Magsaysay) stayed with the party, I would still use him to go after the Huks.”
New party affiliation
Ramon Magsaysay joined the Liberal party in 1946 when he ran for congressman of Zambales the first time. He did it in recognition of his respect and admiration for the late President Manuel Roxas. In January 1953, however, he changed coach, but his signing of a Nacionalista affiliation card early in the year was known only to a few. So nominally, Magsaysay was still a Liberal since he had not formally resigned from the party.
On March 9, during Jose P. Laurel Jr., 62nd birthday anniversary, the celebrant officially proclaimed the affiliation of Magsaysay with the Nacionalista Party. He also appealed for selflessness among the party men for the popular backing of Magsaysay’s presidential aspiration.
While admitting Magsaysay’s limited educational background, Laurel stressed that the “paramount need of the moment was to replace Quirino with a dedicated and honest leader.”
Magsaysay became the presidential candidate of the Nacionalista Party after disputing the party nomination against Senator Camilo Osías (702-49) during the Nacionalista national convention held at the Wack-Wack Golf and Country Club in Mandaluyong on April 21, 1953. Magsaysay threw a grand reception for all the delegates for which his fundraisers and contributors reportedly spent some P100,000. The event was described as spectacular.
He also spoke for less than three minutes and drew a delirious response from the delegates. “I am not a speechmaker. I am a man of action. But I am telling you now, the days of empty words and promises are over. It is time that we give our people the government they deserve…”
It was also first time, the “Mambo Magsaysay” jingle, a catchy tune composed by Raul Manglapus, was heard by the delegates to the convention. Manglapus composed the song in late March 1953 and arranged it for a Manila-based singer named Rosita Dela Vega-Da Roza who readily agreed to perform it. Immediately thereafter, the song started invading the ranks of current hit songs over the airwaves.
Man with guts
On the April 25, 1953 issue of Life Magazine, Magsaysay was extolled politically in an eight-page, seven-photograph article by Robert Neville entitled “An Honest Man with Guts.” As if to refute President Quirino’s optimistic posture, Neville wrote: “He, (Magsaysay) has given the free world its first locally achieved victory over international communism. For many people, even in the remote barrios of Mindanao, as well as in the capitals of the West, it felt like that the only man who could prevent the country from slipping back to chaos was Ramon Magsaysay…”
Even segments of the American press favored Magsaysay’s bid for the presidency. Excitedly, the Nacionalistas exploited this US-made propaganda. The pro-Magsaysay press was bouyed up by the unsolicited endorsement of their American counterpart.
The Liberal front
President Elpidio Quirino, who by this time already felt differently about his political fortunes especially because of his deteriorating health, made the better of things by protecting the achievements of his administration’s “total economic mobilization program.” Parrying opposition charges that he had robbed the people of their liberties, he pointed to his declared rival, Ramon Magsaysay, as the man who had recommended the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus against detained communist rebels He also criticized his rival of immaturity and inexperience.
Quirino also accused Magsaysay’s Nacionalista sponsors of obstructionism, enrichment in office, ignoring the plight of typhoon victims, and defending arrested Communists in court.
Secretary of Justice Oscar Castelo, concurrent Secretary of National Defense, went a step further and threatened to arrest Senator Claro M. Recto, a Nacionalista stalwart, for his alleged pro-communist activities.
Also at Quirino’s behest, the Bureau of Internal Revenue required Eulogio Rodriguez, Jose Laurel and Claro Recto to pay additional income and war profit taxes in the amounts of P3-million, P539,000 and P800,000, respectively for their alleged undeclared income.
As the day of the Liberal convention drew near, Quirino summoned all his forces for the coming presidential campaign. His spirits were lifted high when the Liberals recaptured control of the Senate after the defection of disgruntled NP Senators Camilo Osias and Jose C. Zulueta, the defeated candidates during the NP convention. As reward, Osias and Zulueta became Senate president and president pro tempore, respectively.
President Quirino also summoned back to Manila Brigadier General Carlos P. Romulo, the 52-year old Ambassador to the US and permanent delegate to the United Nations.
At the succeeding meeting of the two, Quirino asked the world-renowned general and diplomat to lend his prestige to the Liberal senatorial ticket by heading it, and thus help defeat Magsaysay and keep the Liberty party in power. Romulo, however,firmly argued against Quirino’ insistence on his nomination for a senatorial post. “Why? Do you want to be the President?” Quirino finally asked. Romulo, however, disclaimed any political interest.
Quirino even offered to withdraw from the race in favor of Romulo. The general still said no. The following day, however, the President asked Romulo again if he would like to lead the senatorial team of the Liberal Party. Romulo stood pat on his decision.
Somehow, Romulo’s presence in Manila rallied the Liberals who had vainly opposed Quirino’s re-election plans. To them, Romulo was the most attractive answer to the popular Nacionalista candidate, Ramon Magsaysay. Even Ambassador Romulo’s home in the fashionable Forbes Park in Makati drew Liberal stalwarts like Vice President Fernando Lopez, Senators Tomas Cabili and Lorenzo Sumulong, as well as Congressman Jose Roy who already planned to contest Quirino’s nomination as standard bearer of the Liberal Party.
Within a few days. Carlos P. Romulo delivered in person his letter of resignation as United Nations Ambassador to President Quirino in Malacañang. He left the Palace without asking for an audience with the President.
Thereafter, he and Fernando Lopez talked again and agreed to fight openly the nomination of Quirino as the party’s standard bearer during the Liberal’s forthcoming convention. They also agreed to invoke the secret ballot system during the nomination among their fellow Liberals.They were sure that many of their colleagues would vote against Quirino’s nomination through secret balloting.
Several factors had led General Romulo to his courageous decision. It was natural for him as one of the country’s successful public figures, to yearn for the presidency. In 1946, he also declined separate offers of President Sergio Osmeña and Senate President Manuel Roxas to run for the vice-presidency. Had he chosen to run with Roxas or Osmeña, he would have been the President in 1947 instead of Quirino. He was convinced that Quirino must now give way to the Liberal Party’s interest.
The Liberal convention held on May 24, 1953 turned out as dramatic as the glamorous Nacionalista counterpart. But despite the insistence of the Romulo’s bloc to use the secret ballot system, the pro-Quirino group decided to employ the optional voice vote system.This way, President Quirino won the presidential nomination. In his acceptance speech, Quirino had this to say: “I swear to God, I will destroy those who will try to destroy me.”
Banking on his long public service and the “achievements of his administration,”Quirino pointed to the need for a tried and tested leader who could best guide the affairs of the state in critical times. He said he wanted another chance to continue his program of economic development for the counntry which he had launched after he and the Liberal Party had helped bring about the rehabilitation of the country.
He also seriously pictured Ramon Magsaysay as an “over-ambitious ingrate, an inexperienced and immature pretender to the presidency, a potential dictator, a vulgar stuntman, an American protegee and a puppet of the Nacionalista oligarchs.”Even Magsaysay’s use of Defense funds was calculated to impugn his publicized honesty in office.
As a re-electionist President,Elpidio Quirino had access to government officials,funds and government facilities. He could easily raise campaign money from the business world already saddled with economic controls. He however, also suffered from worrisome disadvantages. He and his party were natural escapegoats to the troubles still plaguing the country. Magsaysay, in particular, blamed him for the patent lack of clean and potable water, good roads, new schools and credit for farmers in the rural areas.
The onus of graft and corruption in the government clung to the President like a gigantic leech.The press, often unfavorable to him, became more progressively open in their support for the oppositionists, including Carlos P. Romulo’ camp.
Worst, Quirino was also afflicted with bursitis and stomach ulcers. In fact, he was grounded in Malacañang Palace while his rival (Magsaysay) had already started campaigning and criss-crossing the country.
On June 27, four months before the holding of the presidential election, Quirino flew to the United States for another treatment at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. He only returned on September 7 and had only two months left to campaign. Against his will, he was compelled to rely on his party machinery and to stump only in the provincial capitals and a few big towns.
Third political party
General Carlos P. Romulo, who walked out of the May 25 Liberal Party convention in disgust after his proposal to use secret ballot was steamrollered by President Quirino’s lieutenants, continued to denounce the injustice and even prophesied Quirino’s downfall in the coming November 1953 polls.
In revenge, Romulo and his group of Liberal rebels like Fernando Lopez and Senator Tomas Cabili proceeded to organize a brand new political organization, the Democratic Party, which will participate in the November 1953 elections. Within a week, the party’s platform was drafted and completed.
The Democratic Party convention was held on June 21. The delegates simply ratified the decision of the party’s founders and then nominated Carlos P. Romulo and Fernando Lopez as their candidates for president and vice-president, respectively. They also named 45 persons for the party’s 8-man senatorial ticket.
After the formal birth of the third party, Romulo and Lopez took to the field to explain to the people their mission against President Quirino and the Liberals. They also attempted to counteract Ramon Magsaysay’s wide-ranging headstart of two months.
As presidential candidate, Romulo dwelt on his ability and experience, his stature as a world leader, his superior grasp of the nation’s complex problems, his courageous defection from President Quirino and the ruling Liberal Party.
Romulo, unfortunately, had to wrestle with some vexing handicaps. His new party only had the splinter group of ex-Liberals and their personal followings, some disgruntled Nacionalistas, partyless congressional candidates who wished to become official party candidates and some independents. He still had to form a grass-root organization at a time when most partisans were already committed to either the Liberals or the Nacionalistas.
His new party also had serious trouble selecting the eight strongest senatorial candidates. He was resigned to having much fewer than the necessary number of candidates for congressmen.
And despite the affluence of the Lopez-led sugar bloc, they were still short of funds for the nationwide campaign. It was also rumored that Romulo’s two-week trip to the United States right after the party’s convention, had failed to raise the expected financial help from his American friends because of his running as a third-party candidate and of Ramon Magsaysay’s reported overpowering popularity.
Even Romulo’s obvious superiority as a speechmaker in English seemed to boomerang. When he called Magsaysay an ignoramus and a potential dictator, the latter hit back by saying:“Unlike my rivals, I am not adept with words. But I am a ‘man of action’ and that the time had come for words, plans and promises to be translated into deeds.”
In addition to the already popular“ Mambo Magsaysay” campaign jingle, the former Defense Secretary seemed like “someone afflicted with an engine that balked at a sluggish tempo.” Just like when he ran for congressman in 1946 and 1949, he maintained the pace of a “field” defense secretary. It was always zoom! from the word “go.” He really was able to pile up an insurmountable lead over his sick Liberal rival and the US-based diplomat.
In campaigning, it meant talking to and shaking hands with as many voters as possible instead of the usual practice of relying primarily on the local party bosses and cadres to win votes. He knew that his impressive personal appearance projected his most effective image as a reform candidate.To move among the people was to give them a chance to see the Magsaysay legend in the flesh.
In Negros, for example, he promised the development of virtually every major industry on the island. In Mindanao, he assured the Moros that he would seek the advice of the Muslim elders in tackling the problems of their communities and make available navy ships for pilgrimage to Mecca.
He braved inclement weather to be in Baler, Manuel l. Quezon’s hometown, during the late President’s 75th birthday anniversary. People, including children, screamed upon seeing a presidential candiate for the second time in their lives visiting their province. Quezon was the first to campaign in Baler when he ran for president in 1935.
In Bataan, Ramon Magsaysay and his wife Luz were perfectly at ease mingling with the local residents, shaking their hands, flashing their smile, and talking in Tagalog. Everybody was impressed with Ramon’s tall, big frame and rugged looks, heartily enjoying his meal with bare hands with whoever happened to be his hosts. He was dressed in gay colored polo shirts worn outside the pants (while his rivals who both failed to visit Bataan always campaigned in a barong or in a suit).
The Balanga crowd were totally ecstatic when Ramon and Luz sang for them on stage. The Magsaysay couple was welcomed by the incumbent Governor Adelmo Camacho, (1952-1955), a Liberal, and many municipal mayors in the province. They were also accompanied by their three children and close relatives who also received thunderous applause while the Magsaysay convoy was passing through the narrow Bataan National Road. People were screaming after seeing their beautiful provincemate escorting her presidentiable husband and children to Balanga.
Emilio Naval, Bataan governor in 1948-1951, a Nacionalista, was also at the Balanga town plaza to welcome the former Secretary of National Defense. He, too, joined the crowd that gathered during the evening rally held at the town plaza. He even sang the “Mambo Magsaysay” song:
“That is why, that is why, you would hear the people cry
Our democracy will surely die, Kung wala si Magsaysay
Mambo Mambo Magsaysay, Mabu Mabu Mabuhay
Our democracy will surely die, Kung wala si Magsaysay”
Magsaysay in Balanga, 1953.
The Balanga campaign by Ramon Magsaysay was truly phenomenal. On stage, Magsaysay punctuated his speechwith stories underlining his simplicity as a man. He talked about his restless and mischievous youth, his work at the TRY-TRAN where “he first caught a glimpse of his future wife (Luz),” his special tasks as defense secretary and his role in policing the 1951 elections.
He talked lengthily about Moises Padilla who was murdered by the Liberal Party governor of Negros Occidental. As people shed tears, he told them how he carried the bleeding body of Padilla out of the shanty where he was killed and how he airlifted Padilla to Manila. And when Magsaysay said “it felt like I was carrying Philippine democracy whom Quirino and the Liberals had killed,” the crowd applauded wildly.
Young, vigorous, active, blunt, honest, a man of the people, Magsaysay, whose campaign slogan was “Magsaysay is My Guy”, really commanded a soul-stirring following among the masses and the more enlightened classes as well. All look to him to pull the country out of the swamp of post-war corruption in which it had become engulfed. That was the main, if not the only, issue of the 1953 elections.
Election day: November 10, 1953. Ramon Magsaysay, Luz and their three children spent election day in Castillejos, Zambales. They heard over the radio the day’s “war” being fought all over the nation. There were some tense moments but on the whole, Magsaysay appeared calm and confident.
The earliest returns from Manila and the suburbs were all gratifying. By the following morning, Magsaysay’s election was already assured by an enormous lead. Photos showed him and his family in triumphant poses as banner headlines proclaimed his landslide victory.
Magsaysay polled 2,919,992 votes to President Quirino’s 1,313,991. He won in 939 of the 1,101 municipalities.It was the largest majority in the history of Philippine politics. Only four provinces, all in the Ilocos region, three minor cities and 162 towns stood by President Elpidio Quirino. The results of the nationwide elections held on November 10, 1953 was deemed final after ten days.
Incumbent President Elpidio Quirino lost his opportunity to get a second full term as President of the Philippines to his former Defense Secretary, Ramon Magsaysay. In Malacañang, the resigned President simply uttered at lunch that “at least, my defeat probably saved the country from a terrible bloodbath.”
Quirino’s runningmate, Senator José Yulo, also lost to Senator Carlos P. García. Vice President Fernando López of the Democratic Party did not continue his campaign after his standard bearer, General Carlos P. Romulo, failed to receive campaign funds from his US-based supporters.
Magsaysay’s victory was really remarkable. In his rugged, charismatic presence, in the homespun quality of his features, the people clearly saw a simple man obsessed with the desire to lift them out of their misery, a new type of leader impatient to change the government into a dynamic instrument serving the needs of the 21-million Filpinos. Indeed, Magsaysay was a man of the people and a man of action.
This was also the first time an elected Philippine president did not come from the Senate. Moreover, Magsaysay started the practice in the Philippines of using a “campaign jingle” during elections, He also sang on stage during his campaign sorties even though his best inclination and hobby was purely dancing.
It was said that the United States Government, including the Central Intelligence Agency, had a strong influence on the 1953 elections. It was also reported that candidates fiercely competed with each other for U.S. support.