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Luz Banzon Magsaysay – Chapter 11

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Chapter 11

 

Magsaysay’s Presidency

 

President Ramon Magsaysay arrived in Malacañang in the early morning of December 30, 1953. He was ushered inside the palace by outgoing President Elpidio Quirino. Thereafter, Quirino received military honors for the last time at the palace ground as witnessed by the officials and employees of Malacañang.

After the honors, the two shook hands and President Quirino departed to his rest house in Novaliches. Tradition dictates that the outgoing President departs from the palace and the inauguration venue, a practice that started only during the inauguration of President Magsaysay in 1953 (and followed during the Macapagal and Marcos inaugurals in 1961 and 1965).

The symbolism is that the old administration has come to an end, and the new one begins. Ideally, as per tradition, at the moment the President-elect takes his oath as President at 12 noon, the incumbent is already at home to mark his reverting back to being an ordinary citizen. From Malacañang, President-elect Magsaysay motored to the Quirino grandstand for his oath-taking.

Quirino grandstand

Starting in 1947 until 1953, three Philippine Presidents have been inaugurated at the “Quirino Grandstand,” namelyManuel Roxas (1947), Elpidio Quirino (1949) and Ramon Magsaysay (1953). They were followed by Carlos P. Garcia (1957), Diosdado Macapagal (1961), Ferdinand Marcos (1965, 1969, 1981), Fidel Ramos (1992), Joseph Estrada (1998) Gloria Arroyo (2004), and Benigno S. Aquino III (2010). Only Corazon C. Aquino was inaugurated at the Club Filipiino in San Juan, Rizal, in 1986.

The Quirino Grandstand was previously called the ”Independence Grandstand” after it was picked as the site of the Philippine Day celebration on July 4, 1946. It was renamed after President Elpidio Quirino after taking his oath there.

Barong President

President Ramon Magsaysay took his oath of office at the Luneta grandstandat noon. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines Ricardo Paras administered the ceremony for both Magsaysay and Vice President Carlos P. Garcia, one after the other.

President Magsaysay was wearing a Barong Tagalog, a first by a Philippine president. Mrs. Luz Magsaysay was beside her husband wearing an exquisitely embroidered piña gown during the inaugural ceremonies. The three children were also in their best. They were all quiet during the entire ceremony. Teresita was 19 years old at that time; Milagros was 17; and Ramon Jr. was 15.

The “Mambo Magsaysay” jingle was played at the park over and over again. All day, the grounds of the palace were crowded with people who wanted to catch a glimpse of the new President and his family and if possible to touch them.

Dinner at the palace

Instead of a great ball, the Magsaysays had dinner at the President’s palace with five intimate friends as guests on the night after the inauguration. Mrs. Magsaysay wore a simple black and white cotton dress highlighted with sequins and made with short full skirt and low neck. It was in keeping with the modest, simple pattern of life which the Magsaysays wish to retain within the framework of their official obligations.

But whatever the First Lady wore was enhanced by her own natural beauty – shiny black hair, warm brown eyes, flawless complexion, and grace of movement. Her dainty feet always trip along in the smartest of shoes.

Dinner was served on one of the porches surrounding the reception rooms, with lights shining on the river and revealing the constant flow of large and small lavender water lilies moving swiftly by on their way to Manila Bay.

After dinner, the guests left leaving the President and his wife on the porch. Ramon sat with his smiling, happy wife across the table from him. Uppermost in his thoughts were his aims and desires for the people of the country.

Luz Magsaysay shared her personal thoughts with her husband – to bring about as many improvements for the country as possible. She hoped to have artesian wells, hospitals, good schools in every barrio, and vast and lasting improvements for people in many areas in the Philippines.

New era

Ushering, indeed, a new era in Philippine government, President Magsaysay placed emphasis upon service to the people by bringing the government closer to the former. This was symbollically seen when, on inauguration day, President Magsaysay ordered the gates of Malacañang Palace open and invited the people to freely visit all the dependencies of the presidential mansion.

The following day after the inauguration, the masses began swarming the palace, transforming the lawns into picnic grounds. So many people flocked to Malacañang that some compared it to Divisoria, a combination of market and cockpit.

Everything and everybody gets busy in the Palace after Magsaysay opened Malacañang and the Office of the President to the people. On schedule, Luz and her husband Ramon personally met and welcomed the common “tao” that flocked to the presidential residence two or three times a week.They both talked and listened to the people’s problems. They even accompanied them around the Palace, a character that must be possessed by every government official then and now. Later, this visiting practice was regulated to only one visitation per week.

Palace guests

The President and the First Lady met people from various walks of life. There was a time when a group of public school teachers from Pangasinan visited Malacañang.They were accompanied to the palace by Rep. Carmen Dinglasan-Consing, chairman of the Committee on Education of the House of Representatives.

The President and his wife took them around. They even showed them their bedroom, the ante-room, study room, music room, state reception room, and the bedroom of Teresita, the President’s 19-year old daughter. The Magsaysay couple also showed them the paintings and pictures that were inside the palace.

The teachers shouted and sang “Mabuhay” as they were personally led by the President from one room to another. One of the teachers said: “I had been here before, during the time of our two previous Presidents but this is the first time I have been shown the President’s bedroom.”

Among the 500 callers of the President that day were delegations from the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), the National Federation of Women’s Clubs, the labor delegation from the British North Borneo, the winners of theManila Chronicle’s student goodwill tour contest, the officials and athletes of the Philippine Amateur Athletic Federation, and the delegation of the NASSCO Labor Union from Mariveles, Bataan.

There were many times when Luz Magsaysay relieved the President of his rigorous schedule by receiving those Palace visitors whose problems she could handle herself without having them brought personally to the President. She also attended functions and ceremonies where Ramon’s presence was not essential.

The President also met the members of the Palace Press once a week. The press conference was usually held informally in the open-air balcony of Malacañang. Nestor Mata, a journalist, said: “In every press conference in the Palace with President Monching, we can always feel the breeze of the Pasig River.” Magsaysay certainly knew the need for fresh air of every man. This indicated his intense love of nature.

 

 

The Magsaysays in Malacañang after the inauguration at the Luneta december 30, 1953.

Another Magsaysay family photoat the Palace, January 1954.

The happy Magsaysay family in Malacanang.

 

First Lady Luz

Immediately after the inauguration of her husband, Luz Banzon Magsaysay earned the title “First Lady of the Philippines, ”the unofficial title of the hostess of Malacañang Palace. Because this position is traditionally filled by the wife of the President of the Philippines, the title is sometimes taken to apply only to the wife of a sitting President.

Some of the more famous former first Ladies include Aurora QuezonEvangelina Macapagal, Imelda Marcos, and Dr. Luisa Estrada.

Former President Elpidio Quirino was already a widower when he became a sitting President. His wife died during the Siege of Manila in February 1945. Quirino’s eldest daughter named Victoria took the title of “Teenage First Lady.”

No salary

The First Lady is not an elected position. She carries no official duties and earns no salary. Nonetheless, she attends many official ceremonies and functions of the state either along with or in place of the President. In addition to being the chairperson of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC), the First Lady also frequently participates in humanitarian and charitable work. Furthermore, many have taken an active role in presidential campaigns.

Mrs. Imelda Marcos, during the Martial Law administration of her husband Ferdinand Marcos, was given a formal job as Governor of Metro Manila and as Minister of Human Settlements during their 21-year stay in the palace (1972-1986). She was also the first First Lady to enter the world of Philippine politics by winning a seat in the Interim Batasang Pambansa in 1978.

In 2001, Luisa “Loi” Estrada became the first former First Lady to win a seat in the Senate. The wife of the Vice President of the Philippines, on the other hand, is sometimes referred to as the “Second Lady.” However, this title is less common. The husband of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (Mike Arroyo) is known as the “First Gentleman”.

Seventh First Lady

Mrs. Luz Banzon-Magsaysay was the seventh First Lady of the Philippines. Her predecessors include:

  1. Hilaria del Rosario Aguinaldo(1897-1901) — She was the first wife of the country’s first president, General Emilio Aguinaldo. During her husband’s term, she established the Hijas de la Revolución (Daughters of the Revolution) that later became the Asociación de la Cruz Roja (Red Cross Association) and raised funds for medicine and other supplies, and helped attend to the sick soldiers during the Philippine-American War (1898-1901). At that time, the term First Lady was not used. It was a long time before the Philippines had another first lady, in 1935, during the time when the country was still annexed to the United States.
  2. Aurora Antonia Molina Aragón Quezon(1935-1944) — A native of Baler, she was a staunch campaigner for women’s right to vote which was granted in 1937. During Manuel Quezon’s second term of office, the Philippines was invaded by the Japanese. The Quezons sought refuge in Corregidor and later moved to New York where the ailing president died of tuberculosis in 1944. Aurora eventually returned to the Philippines and became the first chairperson of the Philippine National Red Cross. In April 1949, she was killed in an ambush on her way to Baler. The province of Aurora was named after her later on.
  3. Pacencia Hidalgo Valencia Laurel(during the Japanese Occupation, 1943-1945) — Jose P. Laurel was the country’s president during the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines. His First Lady devoted herself to socio-civic activities that benefited the needy.
  4. Esperanza Escolar Limjap Osmeña(1944-1946) — In 1915, she was named “Princess of the Manila Carnival,” with Concepcion Medina as top winner. The stunning Esperanza was a popular society figure along with her other beautiful sisters. She became the second wife of then Sen. Sergio Osmeña who became a widower two years before marrying Esperanza.
  5. Trinidad Roura de Leon Roxas(1946-1948) — The daughter of Sen. Ceferino de Leon, Trinidad was the most popular girl during the 1920 Manila Carnival where she was eventually crowned as “Queen of the Orient.” An American beauty, Virginia Harrison, was crowned “Queen of the Occident.” Trinidad later met then Capiz Gov. Manuel Roxas who would eventually become President in 1946. As First Lady, Trinidad was preoccupied with the socio-civic activities of the White Cross and Girl Scouts of the Philippines.
  6. Victoria Syquia Quirino(1948-1953) — As the eldest daughter of Pres. Elpidio Quirino, a widower when he assumed office, Victoria was considered the country’s First Lady. Her mother and three siblings were killed during the Liberation of Manila in 1945. Dubbed as the “Teenage First Lady,” then 17-year-old Victoria easily adapted to the whirlwind life with her bubbly personality. Even after her Malacañang stint, she became active in various activities that benefited the people who lived in poverty.
  7. Luz Banzon Magsaysay(1953-1957)…

Always busy

Luz Magsaysay learned to keep herself busy while in Malacañang. When there were state functions or some foreign dignitaties, she was always there to lend a hand. “My husband wants me to serve the guests, even foreigners, local dishes and local wines,” she said  once in a television special. “Monching always supports and promotes local products.  Even the curtains in our house (Malacañang) were locally made.”

As First Lady, she was no different from the gentle freedom-loving woman of Bataan that she was before her husband’s election to the presidency, except that her responsibilities have grown. But there were still the needs of her own children – Teresita, Milagros and Ramon, Jr. — to be looked after.

“The children have to be seen off to school,” she said, “I must see to it that they keep up with their studies. I plan the meals for the family and generally supervise the running of the Malacañang household. In other words, I am occupied with the same thousand and one things that mothers all over the world must take care of.”

24-hour job

Being the First Lady, Luz found out that her job also covered not only mornings but evenings as well. One night, she had to accompany her husband who will be conferred another “honorary doctorate” degree at the University of the Philippines. Before a big crowd of over 1,000 graduating students with their friends and relatives, the President received the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa. 

 

 

 

University of the Philippines President Vidal A.Tan read the citation which extolled President Magsaysay as the “leader of the Filipino people, the symbol of honesty and integrity, a friend and defender of the common man, a soldier and statesman of vision, champion of freedom, and defender of democracy.”

Mrs. Luz B. Magsaysay placed the doctorate hood on the President and planted an affectionate kiss on his left cheek after the rites. The First Lady was helped by Dr. Tan and Education Secretary Gregorio Hernandez, Jr., chairman of the U. P. board of regents.

The President was also awarded a gold medal for encouraging arts and letters in the Philippines. In his commencement speech, he urged the youth to assume the position of leadership. He also pointed out that “in a democracy, the title of leader is not something to be sought or to be seized. The title of leader, to have real meaning, must be conferred upon an individual by a community. It must be conferred on the basis of evidence that the individual has those qualifications which make for useful and constructive leadership.”

The President addressed the graduates for only 13 minutes but he and his wife were already at the university at 5:40 in the afternon. They were home in Malacañang at 11 o’clock in the evening.

Greatest helper

After the election of her husband as President, Luz Banzon-Magsaysay remarked that she believed that the experience she had during her husband’s campaign prepared her for the work as Ramon’s greatest helper. Unlike many American wives who accompany their husbands and make campaign speeches for them, Mrs. Luz Magsaysay stayed home most of the time. There she made it her duty to meet the hundreds of people who came long distances to see her husband.

She talked to these people with infinite patience and kind consideration. She answered their questions. When they gathered on the grounds of her home waiting for the President’s arrival or return, sometimes up until nighttime or longer, she cooked meals for them. Sometimes she was obliged to call in women friends to help her prepare the quantities of food required to provide for the many poor people who visited the palace.

Own initiative

Mrs. Luz Magsaysay also knew that she only had a little more than the average citizen’s interest in politics so she never actively engaged in politics on her own initiative. “I have never made a political speech in my life,” she said with a smile. “I have always felt that the best way I could help my husband was to make things easier for him by taking care of the household and our family that he didn’t have to worry about them. I handle the social engagements and other minor commitments which he didn’t have time to attend to, and by entertaining women political leaders and supporters.”

Programs and accomplishments

True to his electoral promise, President Magsaysay immediately created the Presidential Complaints and Action Committee (PCAC) on his second day at the Palace. This body proceeded to hear grievances and recommend remedial action on the third day.

Headed by the soft-spoken but active and tireless Manuel Manahan, the committee heard nearly 60,000 complaints on the first year. More than 30,000 of these were settled by direct action and a little more than 25,000 were referred to government agencies for appropriate follow-up.

This new entity, the PCAC, was composed of youthful personnel, all loyal to the President and they proved to be a highly successful morale booster restoring the people’s confidence in their own government.

Malacanang officials

As President, Ramon Magsaysay appointed the members of his Cabinet. The list was composed of Vice President, Carlos P. Garcia (1953–1957), who served as Secretary of Foreign Affairs from March 10, 1954 until March 18, 1957. The others include:

Salvador Araneta-                  Agriculture/Natural Resources           03/10/54-1955

Juan Rodriguez                       Agriculture/Natural Respources         04/12/56-03/18/57

Cecilo Putong                          Education,Culture & Sports                 12/30/53-01/13/54

Justice Pastor Endencia          Education,Culture & Sports                 01/13/54-06/30/54

Gregorio Hernandez Jr.          Education,Culture & Sports                 07/01/54-03/18/57

Jaime Hernandez                    Finance                                               03/10/54-05/27/56

Pedro Tuazon*                     Justice                                                 03/10/54-03/18/57

Eleuterio Adevoso                   Labor                                                   03/10/54-04/21/54

Angel Castano                        Labor                                                   08/22/54-03/18/57

Ramon Magsaysay                 Defense                                              01/01/54-05/14/54

Sotero Cabahug                      Defense                                              04/04/54=01/02/56

Eulogio Balao                           Defense                                              01/03/56-03/18/57

Oscar Ledesma                      Commerce & Industry                          03/10/54-03/18/57

Vicente Orosa                         PW, Transport/Communications          03/10/54-1955

Florencio Moreno                    PW, Transport/Communications          04/05/55-03/18/57

Pacita Madrigal Warns            Adm. SS and Development                 1954-1955

Fred Ruiz Castro                     Executive Secretary                           12/30/53-10/26/55

Fortunato de Leon**                        Executive Secretary                           04/12/56-03/07/57

 

Nepotism

President Magsaysay hated nepotism in government so much that when he learned that Pedro Tuazon* was from Balanga, Bataan and a distant relative of Mrs. Luz Banzon Magsaysay, he immediately thought of firing him from his Cabinet post of Justice Secretary. It turned out later that Justice Tuazon was a carreer official who had been in the government service even before the advent of World War II.

For the record, Justice Pedro Tiangco Tuazon was married to Consuelo de Leon, the sister of former Bataan Governor Sabino de Leon (1931-1934) Consuelo was a cousin of Lucila Tiangco Rosauro,the mother of Luz Banzon-Magsaysay.

He also had a hard time accepting Fortunato de Leon**as his new Executive Secretary, the replacement of retired Fred Ruiz Castro (who served in Malacañang as Magsaysay’s first Executive Secretary from December 30, 1953 until October 26, 1955).

De Leon, it turned out, was also a relative of Luz Banzon Magsaysay. But he eventually approved De Leon’s appointment after discoverinng that the latter already served as Congressman of Bataan from 1932 until 1934. In addition, his new executive secretary was an exemplary public administrator, newspaperman and the 1929 Bar topnotcher, a real intelligent lawyer.

There was another time when President Magsaysay immediately sent a directive to his own uncle to stop implementing a big cement contract he got from the government. He personally cancelled the agency’s order to proceed with the contract.

He also banned his own brother, who was a lawyer, from accepting any case for anyone connected with the government, or for anyone “who wants to get close to the government.”

While the rest of Philippine politics was being plagued with nepotism and “compadre” system, Magsaysay worked hard to break the stereotype. He really wanted to set an example so he put the needs of the Filipino people above all, even at the expense of his own relatives.

Graft and corruption

Magsaysay exerted efforts to combat graft and corruption in government. Public officials, from top to bottom, started to fear his presence. “Everytime I sit here and look at my stamp drawer,” recalled a local postmaster, “I start to think… I don’t have much money and my family needs food. Maybe I can swipe some. Then I start thinking that President Magsaysay might suddenly show up … just as my hand is going into the petty cash drawer, then I stopped. I know he’d throw me in jail right away.”

As President, Ramon Magsaysay banned graft and corruption during his “short” administration. Unpretentious, selfless, and completely uninterested in money, he had all the qualities that an ideal politician should have.

Magsaysay hated corruption, and he started to fight it not only during his term as President but much earlier. As soon as he became the Defense Secretary, he fired several high-ranking officials in the AFP, including the Chief of Staff and the Chief of the Constabulary, as part of his military reforms. When he became President, his administration became synonymous to honest and clean government.

Manila Pact

President Ramon Magsaysay was a close friend and supporter of the United States and a vocal spokesman against communism during his term. He laid down the foundation of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), also known as the “Manila Pact of 1954.” It was aimed at defeating communist-Marxist movements in South East Asia, South Asia and the Southwestern Pacific.

Integrity

He also kept his integrity intact during his term. During a demonstration flight on board a new plane belonging to the Philippine Air Force (PAF), President Magsaysay asked what the operating costs per hour would be for that type of aircraft. After getting an answer, he wrote a personal check to the PAF, covering the cost of his flight.

He brought back the people’s trust in the military and in the government. His administration was also considered one of the cleanest and most corruption-free; his presidency was cited as the Philippines’ Golden Years. Trade and industry flourished, thePhilippine military was at its prime, and the Filipino people were given international recognition in sports, culture and foreign affairs.

Most importantly, the Philippines ranked second in Asia’s clean and well-governed countries.

Man of the people

A Manila-based staffwriter of the Christian Monitor wrote: “Ramon Magsaysay, President of the Philippines, has been described as ‘a man of the people.’ In the same sense, Luz Banzon-Magsaysay, the First Lady, is the ‘woman of the people too.’

“Beautiful Malacañang Palace, the residence of the president, where they now live, is a magnificent home more than the new First Lady really desires, although she presides at official functions with the grace and dignity which come of culture and refinement plus a warm love and concern for others.

“For many years before her husband ever thought of being president, Mrs. Magsaysay worked beside him, giving support and aid in everything he undertook. During World War II, when he was fighting with the guerrillas, he would be gone for long periods when she had no idea where he was nor as to his safety, but she carried on with a courage and serenity which were characteristic of her.

“President Magsaysay remarked after his election that he believed this experience prepared her wife for the work she did during his campaign when she was his greatest helper. Unlike many American wives who accompany their husbands and make campaign speeches for them, Mrs. Magsaysay stayed home. There she made it her duty to meet the hundreds of people who came long distances to see her husband.”

Special treatment

Contemporary historian Xiao Chua shared an anecdote about President Magsaysay. It is said that their driver Kosme again, violated traffic rules. When the policeman saw the plate number and the passenger of the car, he allegedly said: “My goodness! Pardon me Mr. President. You can now proceed.”

Magsaysay, however, refused to accept the “privilege” and said instead: “Oh, no, sargeant. You said awhile ago that the law is the law. And in that principle I do believe. Even though I am the president, the law should apply to everyone. That is equality.  So please, give us the ticket.”

That’s Magsaysay for you. He would always refuse special treatment even if he was the highest government official of the land.

Mlla said…

Milagros Magsaysay, the second daughter of President Magsaysay, also had something to say about her father: “He was really not the preachy type but someone who scrupulously conducted on his own children what now amounts to a lifestyle check.”

Mila recalled how her father once insisted that she remove her big, expensive-looking pair of earrings when she was about to go out. When she argued that they were just “fancy” earrings, her father countered: “But you are the daughter of the President. People will think that those earrings are real.”

Mila also said that her father had the “irritable temper” of a man who put in long hours of work, demanded “direct actions and quick response” from his aides, and stressed “official honesty and zeal.”

It turned out that “it was a healthy impatience borne out of a desire to speed up the delivery of government services to the people”

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