A new dawn
On July 4, 1946, despite the troubled setting in the country, the much-awaited Philippine independence was proclaimed on July 4, 1946. The Philippines became the first post-war democratic republic in Asia, followed by India and Pakistan in 1947; Burma in 1948 and Indonesia in late 1949.
Thousands of Filipinos and other nationalities gathered at the refurbished Luneta grandstand and watched as the “Stars and Stripes,” the flag of the United States, was lowered from the mast and allowed the Philippine flag to fly alone on the top of the pole.
Gathered on the grandstand were around 3,000 dignitaries and guests, led by President Roxas, Vice-President Elpidio Quirino, their respective parties and the Cabinet; the last High Commissioner to the Philippines and first Ambassador to the Philippines Paul McNutt; United States Postmaster General Robert E. Hannegan; a delegation from the United States Congress led by Maryland Senator Millard Tydings (one of authors of the Tydings–McDuffie Act) and Missouri Representative C. Jasper Bell (author of the Bell Trade Act); former Governor-General Francis Burton Harrison and General Douglas MacArthur who came all the way from Tokyo where he was based at that time.
Manuel Roxas retook his oath as President of the Philippines. This was Roxas’ second inauguration, having been inaugurated as the third and last President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines on May 28, 1946.
Our Guy in Congress
In Congress, Ramon Magsaysay served his constituents with the passion of a politician who meant to keep his campaign promises and wanted to stay on the job. He was among the handful of members who were neither lawyers, physcians, engineers or some kind of professional. In an assemby with so many prominent political figures, Magsaysay was unnoticed at the start. Newspapermen were watching the big names in the House, the likes of Quintin Paredes of Abra, Raul Eleuterio of Mindoro, Cornelio Villareal of Capiz, Jose B. Laurel Jr. of Batangas, Oscar Ledesma of Iloilo, Francisco Ortega of La Union, Lorenzo Sumulong of Rizal and Justiniano Montano of Cavite.
There were other sensational members of Congress from Luzon, the likes of Jose Topacio Bueno and Hermenegildo Atienza of Manila.
Magsaysay’s first two years in Congress were extremely busy although his impact as a legislator was largely local. On the national scene, he only caused a few ripples. He became a member of the committees on rehabilitation and reconstruction; on public works; on franchise; on national companies; and on railroads. He missed out on his first choice, to be chairman of the committee on national defense. As consolation prize, he got the chairmanship of the committee on war claims, and became a member of the three other related committees: on defense, pensions, and guerrilla affairs.
A self-conscious Liberal, Magsaysay did not take the floor until a month after the session had started. On his initial performance, he successfully introduced an amendment to the supplementary appropriation bill to extend relief to “unrecognized guerrillas killed by the Japanese for guerrilla activities.” Not even the serious peace and order problem or the crucial revision of the trade relations between the Philippines and the United States induced him to take part in the house discussons and deliberations.
Another month and a half passed before Magsaysay took the floor again, this time to sponsor a resolution of condolences over the death of Gregorio Anonas of Zambales, and to move for adjournment. His speech drew applause and congratulatory remarks and handshakes, which gave him a little more confidence in addressing his colleagues.
He also took on the floor later on to speak in favor of the Philippine GI Bill of Rights; on government reorganization (a proposed law delegating reorganization powers to the Chief Executive): and on the role of the government vis-avis business and society.
Magsaysay finally drew the attention of his colleagues and newspapermen on his running fight with Brigadier General Mariano Castaneda, provost marshall general of the Military Police Command (MPC), the agency charged with maintaining national peace and order.
Magsaysay had denounced the MPC in Zambales and had charged them with making arbitrary arrests and maltreating innocent men, with killing one, and with the rape of a woman whose husband had been arrested by an MPC captain.
At a Malacañang reception, Magsaysay complained to Castañeda about the incident. The general reportedly demanded,“with an attitude, both discourteous and ungentlemanly,” that the congressman must be able to substantiate his charges.
In no time, Magsaysay secured a house resolution signed by 58 members urging the court martial of two MPC officers in his province and citing the “antagonistic attitude” of the MPC chief. The general countered that the congressman was politically motivated and that his charges were erroneous. Magsaysay and Castañeda carried on a verbal war in the newspapers in September up to October of 1946.
Magsaysay’s public feud with Castañeda gave him a welcome prominence. At one point, the Liberty News paid him this compliment: “Magsaysay, a handsome strapping fellow in the middle thirties is one of the newcomers in Congress that bears watching. The gentleman from Zambales has a mind of his own and does not hesitate to express it.”
As more MPC abuses and atrocities were committed in the government’s campaign against the Huks of Central Luzon, Magsaysay rallied official and public opinion to reform the MPC. The Philippine Free Press also published Magsaysay’s letter to its staff member Leon O. Ty about “his intention to file a bill to pay the damages to private property caused by the MPC operations.”
Frauds, terrorism and violence marred the 1947 local elections, especially in Negros Occicental and Lanao. Eighteen people were killed in connection with the polls. Even the complete canvassing of the voters took a record of 37 days to complete.
Ramon Magsaysay had risen far above his obscure beginnings in the House in a span of two years. At the start of the third regular session in 1948, he began hitting the political big time. Being a member of the national defense committee, he became aware of the political troubles plaguing the country early in 1948. The armed forces were at minimum strength and not in combat form. The government also failed to effect the surrender of the renegade Congressman Luis Taruc or even negotiate an amnesty for the Huks. Even General Mariano Castañeda’s Military Police Command was clearly ineffective, Magsaysay claimed.
The chairmanship of the committee on national defense lured Magsaysay again after acting chairman Hermenegildo Atienza publicly announced in March 1948 that he was giving up the position and pledged to support Magsaysay for the defense committee chairmanship.
Atienza took over the said post in August 1947 after Defense Chairman Juan V. Borra (Liberal, Iloilo) took the offer of President Manuel Roxas to be chairman of the Commission on Election for the 1947 local elections. Despite Atienza’s endorsement, President Manuel Roxas and Speaker Eugeno Perez still doubted Magsaysay’s ability to head the National Defense committee in Congress.
Magsaysay, now the most senior member of the committee, asked his wife Luz to work on Mrs. Eugenio Perez, who in turn, influenced her husband to give Magsaysay the chairmanship. For his part, Magsaysay introduced five bills on the armed forces and a sixth for the proposed awards for veterans when Congress reconvened.
He also voted with seven others against a resolution concurring President Roxas’ proclamation granting full and complete amnesty to all political and economic collaborators with the Japanese. He said: “The activities of those economic collaborators were more despicable than the worst Japanese spy.”
On the other hand, Magsaysay fully approved the amnesty for political collaborators. He mentioned the role of the guerrilla-planted governor and mayors of Zambales and their appointment by “officials of the Laurel government.”
Defense House Committee chairman
In a matter of days, Magsaysay was finally appointed chairman of the House Committee on NationalDefense in early April 1948. Immediately after his appointment to the post was announced, he started a series of meetings with the Department of National Defense officials, the top brass of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), veterans and ex-guerrillas in the Army, and representatives of the US advisory mission. He went out of his way to walk with them in their offices or while dining with them before holding formal committee hearings.
Magsaysay also filed two bills; the Personal Act of 1948, governing future AFP appointments, promotions and retirements; and the Adjustment of Ranks Act, which would take care of present rank shiftings, promotions and retirements.
The bills were designed to stop and/or correct the on-going anomalies in the Armed Forces which he revealed personally to Speaker Eugenio Perez during an ‘inspection trip” to the Philippine Naval Patrol base in Subic naval base on board a submarine chaser.
Death of President Manuel Roxas
In the morning of April 15, 1948, President Manuel Roxas delivered a speech before the United States Thirteenth Air Force in Clark Field, Pampanga. After the speech, he felt dizzy and was brought to the residence of Major General E.L. Eubank located inside the same airbase. He died later that night of a heart attack and did not finish his full four-year term.
Manuel Roxas’ term as President is thus the third shortest in Philippine history, lasting only one year, ten months, and 18 days. He was succeeded by his vice president Elpidio Quirino.
Manuel A. Roxas, the first president of the Republic of the Philippines, was successful in getting rehabilitation funds from the United States after independence. Unfortunately, he was forced to concede military bases (23 of which were leased for 99 years) in the Philippines; trade restrictions for Philippine citizens; and special privileges for U.S. property owners and investors. His administration, unfortunately, was also marred by graft and corruption.
Moreover, the abuses of the provincial military police contributed to the rise of the left-wing Hukbalahap movement in the countryside. His heavy-handed attempts to crush the Huks led to widespread peasant disaffection.
Magsaysay’s US trip
Ramon Magsaysay and his wife Luz were in the United States when President Manuel Roxas passed away on April 15, 1948. He was also with Congressman Atilano Cinco, chairman of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and Father James E. Haggerty, S.J., to represent the Philippine Veterans’ Legion (PVL) in the passage of the GI Bill of Rights for the Filipino veterans by the US Congress in Washington D.C..
The first veterans mission headed by Major General Basilio Valdez and Brig. General Macario Peralta had failed to obtain assistance for Filipino veterans from the US government.
Assistance to the PVL mission poured in from various sources. Magsaysay and Cinco also received money and moral support from PVL chairman Macario Peralta. From him, they also got pictures of Filipino veterans using bambo arms and legs which they paid for themselves, and the US Signal Corps pictures depicting the pitiful plight of Filipino veterans confined at the V. Luna Hospital in Quezon City. With these exhibits, Magsaysay and Cinco were able to impress US Veterans Committee Vice-chairman Bernard W. Kearney and his American colleagues with the urgent need for aid to Filipino veterans.
Publicized endorsement of such aid also came from the American League, the AL Committee in the Philippines, US Secretary of State George C. Marshall, General Omar Bradley and ex-President Sergio Osmeña.
Magsaysay and Cinco were also able to rally behind their mission the Filipino-American communities in different US states and cities. At a dinner given in his honor by the Zambaleños in California, Magsaysay received pledges of help in arousing favorable sentiment for the passage of the Rogers Bill. The Filipino-Americans in New Orleans were especialy active in bombardinng their congressmen with letters and telegrams.
GI Bill of Rights
Speaking before the Zambaleños and other Filipinos in Washington, D.C., Magsaysay reported that he had not met any American congressman who opposed giving the Filipinos a limited GI Bill of Rights. As he saw it, the only problem was making the American solons and the general public aware of the critical need for it.
As the Philippine Air Lines plane headed for San Francisco, California, Magsaysay was already aloft in spirit. He was already looking forward to returning to Manila with the approved Rogers Bill which would provide Filipinos who served in the USAFFE with pensions for service-connected disability and death, hospitalization, burial expenses and limited educational benefits.
When American newspapermen asked Magsaysay about the sudden death of President Roxas, he said: “We have suffered a great loss. My country’s needs a great man like him (Roxas).”
Upon arrival in Manila, Magsaysay suddenly found himself already worrying about starting all over again in winning the confidence of the newly-installed President Elpidio Quirino. Fortunately, as with Speaker Eugenio Perez, Ramon shared the Ilocano dialect with Quirino. A common dialect was always an asset in a markedly regionalistic archipelago.
The Philippine Veterans’ Legion mission gave Magsaysay almost three months of continued publicity. He even patted himself on the back when the US Congress finally enacted the Rogers hospitalization bill. At this time, some congressmen and veterans were already talking of having him appointed as Undersecretary of National Defense.
His mission accomplished, Magsaysay carried on his consulation on defense matters. Also, the Zambales celebration of Magsaysay’s successful mission brought about the reconciliation of the Miraflor and Magsaysay factions, uniting the two big Liberal groups in the province. Miraflor himsef launched the re-election campaign of Magsaysay in the rallies held in Castillejos, Santa Cruz, and Subic. Magsaysay had become the undisputed leader of the province after his successful US trip.
Ramon Magsaysay’s legislative work as a reformer of the AFP and as champion of the veterans skirted towards the gravest threat to national security, the Hukbalahaprevolt. Against the regular bloody encounters between PC troops and roving Huk bands in many provinces in Luzon, the consequent destruction of property and crops and the anguish and suffering of the people, the success of the PVL mission headed by Magsaysay was actualy of immedate significance to the nation as a whole. But Magsaysay’s concern about strengthening the AFP and boosting the morale of veterans in and outside the AFP and the PC was meaningful in view of Mao Tse Tung’s advance to mainland China and Chiang Kai Shek’s retreat to nearby Taiwan.
When Magsaysay returned from the United States, fighting between the Huks and the PC had resumed and spread beyond Huklandia into parts of Bataan, Laguna, Rizal, Nueva Ecija, Quirino and Zambales. Secretary of the Interior Jose Zulueta had been shifted to the Surplus Property Commission and replaced by Sotero Baluyot, a Pampanga landlord, ex-governor and ex-senator, who was expected to be a better peacemaker because of his old friendship with peasants, the center of the agrarian unrest.
Outwardly unperturbed, Magsaysay concentrated on his legislative specialization. He was also living up to his growing reputation as House defense expert. Before 1948 ended, he was again on the limelight. He had lauded the Manila Chronicle for its frontpage editorial cartoon exposing the “immigration quota racket.”
The said scandal caused President Elpidio Qurino to suspend ImmigrationCommissioner Ingracio Fabre and appointed the Natividad committee to investigate it based on the demand of Ramon Magsaysay. His condemnation of the racket earned him generous praise in the news and newspaper columns.
However, nothing happened with the expose. Besides the suspension of the Immigration commissioner, no deep investigation on the alleged racket was started .
No one in Congress could avoid presidential politics in 1949 much less Ramon Magsaysay was identified as a die-hard Speaker Eugenio Perez man and now one of the more prominent Liberal congressmen. Early in the year, as the relation between President Elpidio Quirino and Senate President Jose Avelino of Samar became irreconcilable, the Liberals in Congress were split into Quirinotas and Avelinistas. Magsaysay’s closeness to Speaker Perez placed him on Quirino’s faction.
On January 15, 1949 Magsaysay attended a showdown Liberal caucus at the Malacañang Bahay Kubo (nipa hut). It referred to a bamboo and nipa hall near Malacañang palace, the president’s official residence. For two hours, Senator Avelino harangued his party men on party discipline and censured President Quirino for investigating the immigration quota and surplus property scandals.
It was in this caucus where Avelino uttered the classic political faux pas which he would never live down. With cynical frankness, he unburdened himself with: “Why do you have to order an investigation, Honorable Mr. President? If you cannot commit abuses, you must at least permit them. What are we in power for? We are not hypocrites. Why should we pretend to be saints when in reality we are not? We are not angels. And, besides, when we die we all go to hell anyway.It is preferable to go to hell where there are no investigations, no secretary of justice, no secretary of the interior to go after us.” Magsaysay left the caucus convinced that he was right in casting his lot with Quirino.
Towards the close of the 1949 regular session, Congressman Ramon Magsaysay held committee hearings on the widespread griping by reserve officers in the AFP and the Philippine Constabulary. Discontent among PC provincial commanders who felt left out in promotions ordered by the AFP promotions board threatened to cripple the government’s anti-Huk campaign.
Noting an attempt to “sabotage” the Integration Act by allowing it to lapse without integrating reserves into the regular list, Magsaysay asked Congressman Hermenegildo Atienza to block the promotions of some 40 colonels and lieutenant colonels in the Commission on Appointments. Magsaysay was clearly irked by reports that officers fighting the Huks were being by-passed because they did not have formal training in US service schools.
Disatisfied with the explanation of Major General Mariano Castañeda, the incumbent AFP chief of staff, Magssaysay forced the reconsideration of the prejudiced reserves. “As soon as we are satisfied that reserve officers are being integrated into the regular force, then we will allow the confirmation of the colonels so as to make way for promotion at the bottom,” Magsaysay stipulated.
End of first term
As Magsaysay ended his congressional term with the adjournment of the 1949 regular session, he was selected by the Congressional Press Club as one of the “Ten Most Outstanding Congressmen for 1946-1949.”
Leon O. Ty of the Philippine Free Press and president of the Congressional Press Club, cited Magsaysay as follows: “He qualified for his sincere efforts in behalf of our war veterans and the men in uniform. He is not a professional soldier although he did much as a resistance leader during the Japanese Occupation.
“Together with Congressman Atilano Cinco of Leyte, he went to the United States and after numerous talks and hard work among American congressmen, he and Cinco succeeded in obtaining the passage of the Rogers Hospitalization Act for the hospitalization of Filipino war veterans.”
The distinction exceeded Magsaysay’s political fantasies when he entered the House as a novice in May 1946. By dint of hard work and detemination, and the intervention of luck and a responsive constituency, he found himself ranked with the conspicuous stars of the House. Thus, he could now campaign for his reelection as an “outstanding congressman, one of the ten best in the House, and one of the 13 best members of Congress.”
The other outstanding congresmen include: Ramon Arnaldo (Capiz), Juan V. Borra (Iloilo), Modesto Formilleza (Romblon), Jose B. Laurel Jr. (Batangas), Cipriano Primicias (Pangasinan), Jose J. Roy (Tarlac), Felixberto N. Serrano ((Batangas), Lorenzo Sumulong (Rizal), and Cornelio t. Vilareal (Capiz).
It was to signal his credit to be one of the five freshmen congressmen among the top ten. Luz Magsaysay only had praises for her hardworking husband.