President Ramon Magsaysay worked for the establishment of the National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Administration (NARRA) early in his term. It was his plan to amplify and stabilize the functions of the Economic Development Corps (EDCOR). This body took over from the EDCOR and helped in the distribution of some 65,000 acres to 3,000 indigent families for settlement purposes. EDCOR also allocated some 25,000 acres to a little more than 1,500 landless families who subsequently became farmers.
President Magsaysay also distributed public lands to qualified settlers. A total of 28,000 land patents, covering 241,000 hectares, were issued by the government in 1954, during his first year in office. By 1955, an impressive 23,578 agricultural lots were distributed to landless applicants. In the same year, a total of 8,800 families were also resettled by the National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Administration (NARRA) in 22 settlement projects.
As additional aid to the rural people, the President established the Agricultural Credit and Cooperative Financing Administration (ACCFA). The idea was for this entity to make available rural credits. Records showed that it granted almost ten million dollar worth of loans to people. ACCFA also devoted its attention to cooperative marketing.
Still to help people in the rural areas, Magsaysay also initiated his artesian wells program. A group-movement known as the “Liberty Wells Association” was formed and in record time managed to raise a considerable amount for the construction of as many artesian wells as possible. The socio-economic value of the program cannot be measured but the people were profuse in their gratitude.
Finally, vast irrigation projects, as well as enhancement of the Ambuklao Power Plant and other similar ones, went a long way towards bringing to reality the rural improvement program advocated by President Magsaysay.
President Magsaysay implemented other projects all for the benefit of the rural poor. First, he improved the land tenure system through the Agricultural Tenancy Act in 1954. The law gave tenants the “freedom to choose the system of tenancy under which they would want to work.” He also approved the Land Reform Act of 1955, which was passed to enhance landlord-tenant relations.
Then Magsaysay initiated an intensive community development program through the Presidential Assistance for Community Development (PACD). This agency helped build roads and other facilities for the rural folk, as well as improved both the medical and education services in the barrios.
Magsaysay also created a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” to show that he was genuinely pro-Filipino. For example, he wore the traditional barong tagalog during his inauguration; and used the Ilokano wine called basi to exchange toasts with foreign diplomats. He took every chance he could get to promote local products.
For most Filipinos, however, Magsaysay’s most memorable achievement was his effort to earn back people’s trust to the government. Known as the “Champion of the Common Man,” Magsaysay listened to the problems of the common “tao” for at least two to three times a week.
As mentionned earlier, he established the Presidential Complaints and Action Committee (PCAC) to make sure that the complaints of the masses were taken care of. For the first time in many years, Filipinos gained the courage to condemn corrupt public officials without fear of repression. PCAC was so successful that in 1954 alone, they already received an overwhelming 59,144 complaints.
President Ramón Magsaysay enacted the following laws as part of his Agrarian Reform Program:
- Republic Act No. 1160 of 1954 – abolished the LASEDECO and established the National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Administration (NARRA) to resettle dissidents and landless farmers. It was particularly aimed at rebel returnees by providing home lots and farmlands for them in Palawan and Mindanao.
- Republic Act No. 1199 (Agricultural Tenancy Act of 1954) – governed the relationship between landowners and tenant farmers by organizing share-tenancy and leasehold system. The law provided for the security of tenure of tenants. It also created the Court of Agrarian Relations.
- Republic Act No. 1400 (Land Reform Act of 1955) – created the Land Tenure Administration (LTA) which was responsible for the acquisition and distribution of large tenanted rice and corn lands over 200 hectares for individuals and 600 hectares for corporations.
4. Republic Act No. 821 – created the Agricultural Credit Cooperative Financing Administration which provided small farmers and share tenants loans with low interest rates of six to eight percent.
In early 1954, President Ramón Magsaysay appointed Tarlac’s Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., a young newspaperman of the Daily Mirror, to act as his personal emissary to Luís Taruc, leader of the Hukbalahap.
On October 14, 1954, Ninoy Aquino was conferred the Philippine Legion of Honor, rank of Commander, for successfully bringing Luis Taruc down from the hills after four months of negotiations.
With security guards, Taruc was whisked to Manila where he announced that he “unreservedly recognized the authority of President Ramon Magsaysay and the sovereignty of the Republic of the Philippines.”
Taruc’s unconditional surrender further demoralized the Huk movement. Many of his men surrendered or were captured. Only Dr. Jesus Lava, then the chief of the Communist Party of the Philippines and supreme commander of what remained of the Huk squadrons, continued to defy the government.
After Taruc’s surrender, peace and order reigned in Central Luzon and other areas where formerly the Huks ruled with an iron discipline. Taruc was brought to court and sentenced to serve 12 years in prison.
In May 1954, Jesus Lava, the CPP chief, was captured in a house in P. Leoncio St., Manila. The Huk movement lost its “brain” and what remained were rebel stragglers.
Also in 1954, Lt. Col. Laureño Maraña, former head of Force X of the 16th PC Company, assumed command of the 7th BCT from Colonel Valeriano.The 7th BCT became one of the most mobile striking forces of the Philippine ground forces against the Huks. It also employed psychological warfare through combat intelligence and infiltration that relied on secrecy in planning, training, and execution of attack. The lessons learned from Force X and Task Nenita were combined in the 7th BCT.
With the all-out anti-dissident campaign of President Magsaysay, the Huk’s number went down to less than 2,000 by 1954. They also lost the protection and support of local supporters. Active Huk resistance no longer presented a serious threat to the security of the Philippines. Further clean-up operations of the remaining Hukguerillas lasted throughout 1955, diminishing its number to less than 1,000 by year’s end.
President Magsaysay’s active coordination with the Japanese government led to the Reparation Agreement between the Philippines and Japan on May 9, 1956. The agreement obligated the Japanese government to pay US$ 550 million as reparations fund for war damages in the Philippines.
Following the reservations made by Ambassador Carlos P. Romulo, on the Philippines behalf, upon signing the Japanese Peace Treaty in San Francisco on September 8, 1951, a series of negotiations were conducted by the Philippine government and that of Japan for several years.
In the face of adamant claims of the Japanese government that it found impossible to meet the demand for the payment of eight billion dollars by way of reparations, President Ramon Magsaysay, during a so-called “cooling off” period, sent a Philippine Reparations Survey Committee, headed by Finance Secretary Jaime Hernandez, to Japan for an “on the spot” study of that country’s possibilities.
When the Committee reported that Japan was in a position to pay, Ambassador Felino Neri was appointed as chief negotiator and went to Tokyo for further talks. On May 31, 1955, Ambassador Neri reached a compromise agreement with Japanese Minister Takazaki, the main terms of which consisted in the following:
The Japanese government would pay eight hundred million dollars as reparations. Payment was to be made as follows: Twenty million dollars to be paid in cash, in Philippine currency; thirty million dollars, in services; five million dollars, in capital goods; and two hundred and fifty million dollars, in long-term industrial loans.
On August 12, 1955, President Magsaysay informed the Japanese government, through Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama, that the Philippines accepted the Neri-Takazaki agreement. In view of political developments in Japan. The Japanese Prime Minister could only inform the Philippine government of the Japanese acceptance of said agreement on March 15, 1956.
The official Reparations agreement between the two governments was finally signed at Malacañan Palace on May 9, 1956, thus bringing to a rather satisfactory conclusion this long drawn controversy between the two countries.
Joint defense council
Taking advantage of the presence of U.S. Secretary John Foster Dulles in Manila to attend the SEATO Conference, the Philippine government took steps to broach with the American official the establishment of a Joint Defense Council.
Vice-President Carlo P. Garcia and Secretary of Foreign Affairs Carlos P. Garcia held the opportune conversations with Secretary Dulles for this purpose. Agreement was reached thereon and the first meeting of the Joint United States-Philippines Defense Council was held in Manila following the end of the Manila Conference. Thus the terms of the Mutual Defense Pact between the Philippines and the United States was duly implemented.
During President Magsaysay’s administration, the population of the Philippines registered at 21,400,000 people in 1954. The country’s Gross Domestic Product for the same year was P157,054,000. It increased to P179,739,000 in 1956. The GDP Growth Rate from 1954 until 1956 was 7.13 percent on the average.
The National Statistical Coordination Board, National Accounts of the Philippines, National Statistics Office, and the Philippine Statistical Yearbook also showed that the Income Per Capita of the Philippines in 1954 was P7,339. This figure increased to P8,073 in 1956.
The Philippines’ Total Exports in 1954 was P36,462,000 but went down to P34,727,000 in 1956. Unemployment rate in 1956 was 11.2 percent
President Ramon Magsaysay’ popularity as a leader with extraordinarily vivid and commanding personality impressed other world leaders who decided to come to the Philippines one after the other and see for themselves the so-called “Magsaysay’s brand of magic.”
In every occasion, the President showed his humble demeanor and his direct, unadorned smile both in formal and informal gatherings, especially when he had to make a speech or offer a toast to his visitors. In return, the visitors wished the Magsaysay couple good fortune in running the nation.
Another state visit
In the afternoon of April 14, 1954, President Ramon and Mrs. Luz Magsaysay received in Malacañang Thailand’s Prime Minister and Madame Pibul Songgram. The Prime Minister was on a three-day state visit in Manila. He and his lady were house guests of the Philippines’ First Couple.
Prime Minister and Madame Songgram and their entourage, accompanied from the airport by Vice-President and concurrently Foreign Affairs Secretary Carlos P. Garcia, arrived at Malacañang grounds at about 5 p.m. The Prime Minister was given military honors by the presidential guard battalion after which he was escorted up the Palace by Vice-President Garcia.
President and Mrs. Magsaysay stood at the head of the Malacañang front stairway waiting to receive their guests. The Vice-President introduced Thailand’s Prime Minister to the President and to the First Lady. Madame Pibul Songgram and the other members of the entourage were also introduced to the President.
The President talked to the Prime Minister in his study room and exchanged amenities while Mrs. Magsaysay escorted Madame Pibul Songgram to the music room.
Afterwards, the President and the First Lady escorted the visitors to their living quarters in Malacañang. The other members of the entourage were taken to the Manila Hotel where they would stay.
In the evening, after dinner, Prime Minister Songgram was awarded the “Order of Sikatuna,” reserved exclusively by the Philippine Government for chiefs of state. The award was given in recognition of the Thai Premier’s “extraordinary services in fostering the maintenance of close friendly relations between the Republic of the Philippines and the Kingdom of Thailand.”
In the afternoon of April 16, 1954, President Magsaysay received the decoration of the “Knight Grand Cordon of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant,” the highest decoration conferred by the government of Thailand.
The Thai Prime Minister also donated 200,000 bahts, equivalent to P20.000 as his contribution to the fire victims of Bacolod City.