Chapters 15 & 16
Last Journey & First Lady Forever
On Friday, March 22, 1957, President Ramon Magsaysay took his last journey – from Malacañang to the Luneta where a requiem mass was sung; from there to the Legislative building (Congress) for the congressional rites and eulogies by personages like President Carlos Garcia, former President Sergio Osmeña and Senator Lorenzo Tañada.
The17-year-old Ramon Magsaysay Jr. responded which drew tears and muted sobs from the crowd: “We have been touched most of all by the expression of sorrow on the part of our people. For us, this is the greatest consolation of all. We consider it also our greatest heritage from him. For there can be no more valuable inheritance for those who are left behind than the thought that he who has gone was loved so deeply by all the people..
“We therefore thank the people. And we ask them to remember him by continuing to fight for the things for which he stood. He loved the people, he loved freedom and he loved God. If we all continue to praise these loves, then he shall not have died in vain.”
Thereafter, the President’s journey continued through downtown Manila where more men and women struggled and strained through the frenzied mob for a chance to touch the casket covered by a Philippine flag. An estimated two million people attended Magsaysay’s burial.
Magsaysay was finally laid to rest in Manila’s North Cemetery. His epitaph simply reads: “Pangulo ng Pilipinas.”
One of the reasons why President Ramon Magsaysay was so loved by the masses was the fact that he didn’t think highly of himself. He earned people’s trust because of his humility and sincerity to address the needs of the ordinary citizens.
Unlike other politicians, Magsaysay refused to name towns, bridges, avenues, and plazas after him. He lived in a simple home, wore simple clothes (usually an “aloha” shirt and slacks), drove his own car when he had time, and spoke a language easily understood by the masses. Indeed, the late President Ramon Magsaysay was the epitome of simplicity.
He also set an example, someone that other public officials should look up to. When he was still a Defense Secretary, for example, he refused special treatment and lived within his means, at a government salary of about $500 a month.
Milagros, second daughter of Luz and Ramon Masaysay, found time one day to write about his late father whom she fondly called “Daddy.” She wrote: “At my age, I have found that writing about Daddy is never a walk in the park. Firstly, I never feel that I can do him justice. Secondly, reminiscing brings a lump in my throat, an ache in my heart; I miss him even more. On this occasion I offer random snippets on Daddy.
“There’s Daddy going over to our neighbor’s house to fetch some carabao milk kindly offered by our neighbor for us children to drink. (This was when he was posted in San Antonio by TRY-TRAN, the bus company he worked for. This was just before the war.)
“There’s Daddy, the guerrilla leader on horseback coming home in the dead of night to visit us. Mama wakes up, lights a kerosene lamp, tells him we are fine. He leaves instructions to her in the event we would have to move elsewhere. (We were in Baring, at my Lolo and Lola’s farm, together with my aunts Tia Conchita Labrador and her family and Tia Nene Corpuz.)
“There’s Daddy on a happy occasion at the town plaza being sworn in as Military Governor of Zambales when the war ended. (He occupied that position until our country became independent and we had to elect officials. He was urged to run for Congress by the Zambales guerrillas. With their help, he handily won a congressional seat.)
“There’s Daddy (Congressman Magsaysay) with us in our home in Singalong attending to his constituents who came to the house. Mama would have the househelpers run to the nearby Chinese store to buy some food supply (mostly canned goods) for the visitors who came all the way from Zambales. Ching, the storeowner, was always very kind. He gave Mama credit. When Daddy became president, he had Ching and his family come to the Palace for a tour.
“There’s all of us with Daddy and Mama in their room early on Easter Sunday. He would lift each of us up the air as Easter bells tolled. It was a belief that doing this would ensure we would grow tall.
“There’s Daddy driving his army jeep with a trailer with Jun on his side. The trailer was full of sand. He would use the sand for the back of our house to stop water from the estero from spilling into our yard.
“There’s Daddy and Mama giving my Ate (Teresita), Jun and me work assignments in the house. Frail Teresita was assigned to dust the furniture; Jun, the youngest, was to dust the rest of the house. Robust me (Aging) was to scrub (lampaso) in the sala. That, they decided, was equitable and explained that “kawawa naman si Tita” as she was thin and frail and Jun was still young. Daddy would tell us stories of how as a young boy he would wake up at the crack of dawn to attend to the carabaos [pastol] and then help Lolo in his smithy shop, welding steel to be made into cart wheels.
“There’s Daddy (still a congressman) on his first trip to the US with President Harry Truman signing the Rogers Bill which benefited the Philippine Veterans. In Congress, Daddy was chairman of the Committee on National defense. He and Congressman Atilano Cinco were tasked to work for the passage of the Rogers Bill. Among the benefits of this bill was the establishment of the Veterans Memorial Hospital.
“There’s Daddy now at another happy and auspicious event: being sworn in as Secretary of National Defense. We moved to Camp Murphy (now Camp Aguinaldo). His marching order from then President Elpidio Quirino was to quell the then menacing communist movement represented by the Hukbalahaps. He not only accomplished his mission, but effectively at that. By this time, his name was becoming a byword for effective leadership and many considered him a hero!)
“There’s Daddy now, the presidential candidate speaking before St. Scholastica’s College’s high school graduating class of 1953, which I was part of. And there’s all of us in Luneta Grandstand as Daddy took his oath as the third president of the Republic. What a grand, glorious day!
“There’s Daddy in an open Ford convertible with Jun pulling him down lest he fall off the car as people jostled, pulled, and shouted his name, not wanting to let him go. We made our way to Malacañang, which was to be our home for the next three years and three months. We entered the Palace gates with throngs of people from all walks of life surrounding us. Dad had the gates flung open for everybody as he wanted the people to see “the Palace of the People.” Daddy was elected in a landslide victory. He received 69 percent of the votes, a feat not yet equaled to the present.
“There’s Daddy motoring to Novaliches to visit his old boss, President Elpidio Quirino, whom he defeated in the presidential election of 1953.
“There’s Daddy in the Palace instructing his executive secretary (I eavesdropped) that the price of a ganta of rice should remain at 50 centavos as it was important that the people should be able to afford it. The common “tao” was his passion; to make life better for them as the country had just emerged from a devastating war. Daddy gave priority to basic things such as food, clothing and shelter as we continued to rebuild the nation.
“There’s Daddy calling us to his bedroom for some bonding time with Mama. He would dance with Mama or play ping-pong with us. We would talk about school, what people we met say they need. He wanted to know what people were thinking and feeling.
“There’s all of us in Daddy’s bedroom again as the next election for a second term was drawing near. He asked us to vote whether it was okay with us for him to run for re-election. Not one of us wanted him to run again. He was sad, had tears in his eyes when he said he would have to run again as he still had much to do for the country. What could we say? He was Daddy. We always supported him, Mama especially.
“There’s Daddy motoring to Zambales to visit his “Papa and Mama.” He always greeted them with‘Mano po’!
“There’s Daddy with Mama as she asked him if he would agree that I could have a party on my 18th birthday party: a debut. He said yes! He stood in the reception line as our relatives, my classmates and friends came to celebrate with me. We danced the traditional first dance — a waltz. It was such a happy, happy time for all of us! (Of course, the expenses for that party were deducted from his salary.)
“There’s Daddy in a hurry as always to go somewhere. I reminded him that he should not forget that he would be the guest speaker at my college graduation in UST. He seemed surprised that time had passed so fast. He asked what course I had taken. I said political science. He gleefully laughed and said, “Oh, you might be mayor of Castillejos one day.”
“Sadly, he could not be there for my graduation. On March 17, on a trip from Cebu, Daddy never made it back home. Man really cannot predict his destiny, but he can do much in the journey toward its fulfillment.”
Life after Ramon’s death
After their short-lived stay in Malacañang, the Magsaysay family transferred residence to a new house located in Wack-wack, Mandaluyong. Luz Magsaysay was happy when Teresita, her oldest daughter, got married to Army Lieutenant Francisco Vargas, son of then AFP Chief of Staff Jesus Vargas at the Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City on June 23, 1958..
The happy event was followed by the graduation of the second daughter, Milagros, from the Univeristy of the Sto. Tomas in 1958 where she completed her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. She also got married and became Mrs. Cesar Valenzuela.
Jun Magsaysay also completed his studies at the De La Salle College in Manila where he obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. He also completed his post-graduate studies at the Harvard School of Business Administration in Boston, Massachusetts, USA; and a Masters degree at the New York University Graduate School of Business Administration.
Jun also got married to the former Isabel Delgado of the rich and famous Delgado clan. They had two children: Francisco and Margarita. He is currently married to Marie Louise (Marilou) Kahn, The couple has no children of their own.
Mila was quite excited when her brother Jun entered the political road just like their father. “When Jun entered politics, we were all very conscious of it especially of our father’s idea that politics is public service and private generosity, for our father was very generous privately to the point of our own family privately suffering because of it.”
Luz, Teresita and Mila also campaigned when Jun ran and won a congressional seat in Zambales in 1965 at age 27. Luz was by his side when he lost the vice presidential post against actor and Senator Joseph Estrada in 1992.
The Magsaysays cried when they lost Teresita Magsaysay Vargas who passed away in 1979 at the age of 44.
In addition to her regular busy schedule, Mrs. Magsaysay still found time to visit her kins and friends in Balanga many times, especially during family reunions of the Banzon family and town fiesta every last Sunday of April. She regularly appeared during the annual holding of the He and She Club (HAS) ball and dance held at the town plaza of Balanga. One time, she joined the reunion of the Bataan High School together with the famous Dr. Conrado Banzon who was a member of his BHS class. There was a time when she visited Balanga upon the invittion of then Balanga Bishop Celso N. Guevarra.
In 2001, she was again in Balanga to receive her “Distingushed Daughter of Balanga” from Mayor Melanio Banzon Jr. and members of the City Municipal Council. Of course, she also frequented San Marcelino and Castillejos, Zambaeles, her husband’s hometown.
Mrs. Magsaysay never remarried after losing her husband Ramon at age 41. Instead, she dedicated her life to the preservation of her husband’s memory and led a simple life that was true to her husband’s legacy.
Mrs. Magsaysay showed exemplary “delicadeza” when she disallowed the use of the name of her late husband as a replacement to Zambales, arguing that the province’s name was so much a part of Philippine history. She also disapproved to rename the town of Iba as Magsaysay. She only agreed to use Magsaysay as the new name of the barrio where the former president was born.
First Lady Forever
After the death of her husband, Mrs. Luz Banzon-Magsaysay devoted her time as the honorary chairwoman of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC). She was appointed by her husband as chairperson of the organization a few days after he became President of the Philippines.
The PNRC came into existence during the Malolos Republic. On February 17, 1899, the Malolos Republic approved the Constitution of the National Association of the Red Cross. Felipe Agoncillo, a Filipino diplomat, met with Gustave Moynier, an original member of the Committee of Five and ICRC President on August 29, 1900. He sought recognition of the Filipino Red Cross Society as well as the application of the First Geneva Convention during the Philippine American War.
On August 30, 1905 the American Red Cross (ARC) formed a Philippine Branch with Filipino and American leaders.After several years of continuous effort, ARC officially recognized the Philippine branch as a Chapter on December 4, 1917.
In 1934 President Manuel L. Quezon established an independent Philippine Red Cross. However, because the Philippines was a U.S. territory, and later a U.S. Commonwealth, it could not sign the Geneva Conventions and therefore it could not be recognized by the ICRC.
In 1942, during the occupation of the Philippines by Japan, the Japanese created a Philippine Red Cross that they controlled to care for American internees in various interment camps in the country. Once Manila was liberated by United States and Filipino forces in 1945, local Red Cross officials and the ARC reestablished an independent Red Cross. The Philippines gained independence from the United States on July 4, 1946. Dr. J. Horacio Yanzon, was appointed the first Filipino Red Cross Manager in December 1946, with 36 Red Cross chapters initially set up in the country.
On February 14, 1947, President Manuel A. Roxas signed the Treaty of Geneva and the Prisoners of War Convention. On March 22, 1947, President Roxas signed Republic Act 95, the establishment of the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) Charter.
The ICRC approved the recognition of the PRC, and appointed Mrs. Aurora Aragon Quezonas the first PRC Chairman on March 29, 1947. The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) had its inaugural ceremony on April 15, 1947. It was admitted as a bona fide member of the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies on September 17, 1947. Unfortunately, Mrs. Aurora Quezon and her daughter Baby died in an amush staged by comunist guerrillas on April 28, 1949. Victora Syquia Quirino, the oldest daughter of President Elpdio Quirino, became the successor of the late Mrs. Quezon.as chairperson of PNRC (1949-1953).
Luz Banzon Magsaysay became the PNRC head in early 1954, during the short-lived administration of President Ramon Magsaysay (1954-1957). As of 2008, the Chairman of the PNRC Board of Governors was Senator Richard J. Gordon. Since 1965, actress Rosa Rosal has sat on the PNRC’s Board of Governors.
Duties and responsibilities
The Philippine National Red Cross, during the administrationn of Mrs. Luz Magsaysay, used to be involved only in providing blood and in disaster-related activities and short-term palliatives. Now it also focuses on a wider array of humanitarian services.
At present, the PNRC provides six major services: Blood Services, Disaster Management, Safety Services, Community Health and Nursing, Social Services and Red Cross Youth. All of them embody the fundamental principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement — humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. These values guide and inspire all Red Cross staff and volunteers, to whom being a Red Crosser is more than just a philosophy but a way of life.
One of the biggest tests to the PNRC during the incumbency of Mrs. Luz Magsaysay came on February 7, 1954 at 2:45 a.m. when several provinces in Mindanao were hit by strong earthquakes, the strongest of which registered at a magnitude of 6.8 on the Richter scale. It was immediately followed by 7.1-magniitude earthquake which hit China on February 11 of the same year.
The Mindanao earthquake killed 22 people and injured many others. It also brought destruction to infrastructure in many regionns. The China quake, meanwhile claimed 47 lives. The disaster areas in Mindanao were immediately identified: Misamis Oriental, Misamis Occidental, Surigao, Lanao, and the cities of Cagayan de Oro, Ozamis, Iligan, and Dansalan.
Among the messages and donations received by President Magsaysay and the First Lady were those from President Rene Coty of France, President A. Somoza of Nicaragua, Governor-General Ghulam Mohammed of Pakistan, Cardinal Quiroga Palacios, Spanish Ambassador Antonio Gullon, and President Dwight Eiisenhower (1953-19561) of the United States..
Red Cross innvolvement
Mrs. Luz Magsaysay, chairperson of the Philippine National Red Cross at that time , and Social Welfare Secretary Pacita Madrigal Warns worked together to bring comfort to the afflicted victims of the earthquakes. They immediately sent blood, medicine and pallatives, as well as food, clothing, and medical personnel to Mindanao.
The First Lady also made use of the funds and facilities of the PNRC based in the affected localities in Mndanao to bring hope and joy to the earthquake victims of Mindanao.
On April 2, President Ramon Magsaysay led a large group of senators, representatives, newspapermen and photographers on a flight of four PAF planes to visit the earthquake-stricken provinces of northern Mindanao. With the presidential party were Senator Tomas Cabili and Emmanuel Pelaez; Reps. Cesar M. Fortich of Bukidnon, Ignacio Cruz of Misamis Oriental, and William Chiongbian of Misamis Occidental; Lieut. Gen. Jesus Vargas, and Brig. Gen. Pelagio A. Cruz.
After landing in Ozamis City airport, they motored to the city to view the destruction caused by the series of tremors. Upon receipt of the news of the President’s arrival, residents of the city came and flocked around the Chief Executive.
The President saw the ruins of the Immaculate Concepcion Church in Ozamis City and immediately initiated a fund drive for its reconstruction. From his own pocket, he gave a donation to the church worth P60 (equivalent today to P2,500 more or less) to start the project.
Then he visited the Ozamis City wharf which had been heavily damaged by the tremors. He also found that the Constabulary barracks in the area sunk about two feet below the ground and needed complete rehabilitation.
Seeing a widow in Ozamis, a certain store-owner whose establishment had been rocked into the sea, the President pulled out P40 from his wallet and gave the amount to the earthquake victim.
After a survey of the destruction in Ozamis City, the President flew with the members of his party to Lake Lanao, in Dansalan City. Here, he released P140.000 to finance the relief work in the province. Then he motored toward the Maria Cristina power plant project, but the way was blocked by landslides. He attempted to cross the road block on foot but after covering a distance of 30 feet he decided to give up. He returned to Dansalan City airport and took off for Manila.
Relief and reconstruction
The following day, the President set the entire government machinery into motion for the purpose of effecting prompt and expeditious administration of relief and reconstruction work in the disaster areas of Mindanao.
Magsaysay also called a special meeting of his Cabinet, to include Mrs. Magsaysay,and organized a “task force” in which all departments of the government are represented to undertake a thorough survey of the stricken areas.
Called the Relief and Reconstruction Authority (RRA), the body determined the needs of each locality and proceed, without further delay, with the rehabilitation of each locality. Activities of the group include the reconstruction and repair of schoolhouses, roads, bridges, wharves, and other public buildings damaged by the quake.They also put up temporary housing programs in various points of the disaster areas for the hundreds of families which had been rendered homeless by the calamity.
On April 5, the President and Mrs. Luz Magsaysay, together with Manuel P. Manahan, RRA chairman, stepped into the presidential plane “Pagasa” for a two-day on-the-spot survey of the disaster region.
In Mindanao, President Magsaysay directed the RRA to coordinate relief and rehabilitation operations in the earthquake stricken areas.
For her part, Mrs. Magsaysay visited various towns and personally distributed relief goods to the victims. She also asked Dr. Feliciano Cruz of the Red Cross chapter in Lanao about the reports of alleged rivalry between their organization and the Social Welfare Administration of Secretary Pacita Madrigal Warns in the relief operations in Lanao. Dr. Cruz said he was unaware of any such rivalry.
The First Lady, sternly warned the doctor that she did not wish to see relief operations hampered in any way by petty quarrels and rivalry. She said all groups and personnel should engage in relief work and think only of the common task.
The President and Mrs. Maggsaysay also inquired from the Department of Health representatives about numerous precautions taken to prevent epidemics. They told the couple they brought with them enough sera and vaccine to prevent any outbreak of epidemics. They also said there were enough vaccinating teams in the region to carry out simultaneous immunization.
In addition to the 1954 earthquake, another 7.7-magnitude tremor hit the Philippines on the night of March 31, 1955 that left 465 dead.
The Philippines was also hit by tropical typhoons which account for at least 30 percent of the annual rainfall in the country. The cyclones have affected people, settlements and infrastructures in various regions since the Philippines is the most-exposed large country in the world to tropical cyclones.
The deadliest overall tropical cyclone to impact the Philippines is believed to have been the September 1881 typhoon which is estimated to have killed up to 20,000 people as it passed over the country.The wettest known tropical cyclone to impact the archipelago was the July 14–18, 1911 which dropped over 2,210 millimetres (87 in) of rainfall within a 3-day, 15-hour period in Baguio City.
In modern meteorological records, the deadliest storm was Typhoon Haiyan, which became the strongest landfalling tropical cyclone ever recorded as it crossed the Central Philippines (Leyte, Samar, Cebu and neighboring provinces) on November 7-8, 2013.
Red Cross stint
After the death of her husband Monching in March 1957, Luz Banzon Magsaysay continued her duty at the PNRC but only as an honorary chairperson. She simply assisted Mrs. Leonila Garcia, wife of the incumbent President Carlos P. Garcia, in leading the affairs of the said agency. She stayed on with the organization for more than 10 years.
She remained a good public servant and at the same time a living mother to her children. She saw them grow up as responsible citizens. She saw them finished their studies until they got married and have children.
The Magsaysay children turned out to be the most well-behaved and unassuming of the presidential children. They have not given their father’s memory any cause for disappointment, especially in the realm of integrity. “To be the children of our father has been a great and most sobering responsibility,” daughter Mila Magsaysay-Valenzuela said in an interview.
This is a brief description of President Magsaysay and the legacy his children inherited. It is said that as a father, he was not one to moralize but always to teach by example. Like his wife, Ramon was also very much a family man despite the demands of public office. His children would later note that they were as known to him as he was to them.
Death of a First Lady
On August 17, 2004, former First Lady Luz Banzon Magsaysay, widow of President Ramon Magsaysay, peacefully passed away. Her death came 14 days before the 97th birth anniversary of her late husband.
Luz Banzon Magsaysay died at 5 p.m., Tuesday, at the St. Luke’s Medical Center, at the age of 89. She suffered cardiac arrest after a lingering illness.
Her immediate family was at her bedside when she took her last breath. She is survived by her daughter Mila MagsaysayValenzuela and son Ramon B. Magsaysay Jr.
Mrs. Magsaysay is best remembered as one of the most admired First Ladies and distinguished herself for her warmth and simplicity.
A native of Balanga, Bataan, she was devoted to her family, relatives and friends. She worked for the upliftmen of the Filipinos in her own way.
Mrs. Magsaysay’s remains were buried beside her husband on Sunday, August 21, 2004,at the North Cemetery in La Loma, Manila.