January 6, 1951
Ramon Magsaysay: Man of the year
by Leon .O. Ty
REPORTING from the United States, Vicente Villamin, Filipino lawyer and economist now residing in San Francisco, wrote in his regular column in the Manila Daily Bulletin last week:
“Every person I met here who either was anew arrival from Manila or was in touch with Manila correspondents spoke in the highest terms of Secretary of National Defense Ramon Magsaysay. They all said that he was doing his duty with great vigor and fidelity and demonstrating that the Quirino administration could solve its pressing problems and hold the confidence of the people it there were more officials like him.
“The also expressed fear that the time might soon come that he might not get the full backing of the administration itself because of jealousy and the fact that he never hesitated to step on the toes of anyone who he believed was not doing the right thing or was short of the standard of duty required of him. I hope all this is unfounded. President Quirino deserves great credit for finding and appointing a man like Mr. Magsaysay, and he would be the last to be against him because he is proving to be the right type of public officials to face an emergency. Every good citizen should make Mr. Magsaysay feel that he is appreciated by the people and give him all manner of support and encouragement.”
A couple of days before the Villamin comments were published, the Manila Chronicle spoke editorially on Magsaysay. Said the Chronicle in part:
“With that same directness and dispatch which have characterized his actuations since he became secretary of national defense. Mr. Ramon Magsaysay has now started a thorough reorganization of the armed forces of the country. His efforts in this direction have been acclaimed in all quarters for he has shown clearly that his purpose is to create a defense organization capable of accomplishing what is expected of it.
“Secretary Magsaysay, with an eye to efficiency and with an awareness of the necessity of doing justice to the officers and men of the Armed Forces, has eliminated positions, effected transfers, and forced resignations to achieve his aim. Secretary Magsaysay has not completed the reorganization of the Armed Forces. But with what he has accomplished so far, there is ample reason to hope that when finally he is done with the reorganization, we shall have a force which will stand the test of battle, within or without. It is our hope, as it is the hope of everybody, that Secretary Magsaysay is backed up by all the highest authorities as President Quirino is backing him up. He is doing well.”
Ramon Magsaysay became secretary of national defense last September 1. Though he has occupied the position for only four months, he has accomplished in that short span of time much that his predecessor failed to achieve in almost four years. However, in fairness to the man before him—Ruperto Kangleon—it might be mentioned, in passing, that if reforms were not elected before Magsaysay’s time, the former secretary of national defense was not entirely to blame. Quirino had a share in that blame because he did not give Kangleon complete backing. In fact the President seldom sought Kangleon’s views on matters affecting peace and order in the country. Quirino’s closest advisers on military matters as well as on affairs relative to the pacification campaign in the troubled areas of central Luzon were Generals Mariano Castañeda and Alberto Ramos. Since Kangleon was “in the doghouse” most of the time—though he always attended cabinet meetings—Castañeda and Ramos actually ran the entire armed forces of the country.
Then Magsaysay stepped into the picture. It will be recalled that he was congressman for Zambales when Quirino appointed him to the cabinet. As a legislator, this man was among the best in the House. In the first Congress, Magsaysay was chosen one of the “Ten Most Useful Congressmen” by more than a dozen newspapermen covering the legislature.
Upon his assumption of office as defense secretary, Magsaysay at once saw what was wrong with the Philippine Army and the Constabulary. Both outfits were run by “cliques” which determined promotions, transfers, etc. He called it “politics inside the armed forces.”
After the publication in this magazine of the now famous “Secret Report” about shocking cases of graft, corruption gross inefficiency, brutality and barbarism among PC officers in Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, and Pangasinan, Magsaysay at once took drastic steps. He ordered the transfer and investigation of more than a dozen high army officers in the provinces mentioned in the report.
That he incurred the displeasure of those yanked out from their lucrative stations in central Luzon was known to Magsaysay.
“I don’t give a hang about what they think of me,” Magsaysay once told a number of newsmen. “I’ll clean up the armed forces of crooks and misfits if it kills me. I left my job in Congress and accepted my present position because I felt that I could help President Quirino in my own humble way. I have no choice in this matter. Either those useless officers who are not a credit to the government must step out or I step out.”
Since he made this statement, scores of “useless officers” both in the Army and the Constabulary have been relieved. A goodly number have been reverted to inactive status.
From interviews with certain Army and PC brass we have learned that officers who used to feel secure in their jobs are now on their toes most of the time. They know that many of their colleagues who used to boast of their strong “connections” with bigwigs in the high councils of the armed forces have been either relieved or transferred to distant provinces.
“Some of those officers had adopted the I-don’t-care attitude because they felt secure in their jobs due to their connections with people in the ‘clique,’” Magsaysay said. “I changed that attitude. Now, the same officers are aware of the fact that they can remain on their jobs only as long as they improve themselves. They know that it’s only efficiency and devotion to duty that can keep them there.”
One officer who failed to send reinforcements to some soldiers whom the Huks had surrounded in the Zambales mountains not long ago was kicked out of the Army upon orders of Secretary Magsaysay.
One night this man went to the Secretary’s house and tearfully begged that he be given another chance. He had with him his wife and children. In the course of his plea, this man went to the extent of showing his scars from wounds sustained while fighting the Japanese in Bataan in 1942.
“I’m very sorry,” Magsaysay told him, “I can’t reinstate you. I know how you feel. I know how your family will feel about this. But what you did was something an officer should never do. I can’t maintain discipline in the army if I don’t punish you.”
A lot of other officers whom Magsaysay ordered dismissed have come to him for “another chance.”
“I always refused to reconsider,” he said. “If I didn’t, there could never be any discipline in the armed forces. We must have discipline and we can only have it if we apply a firm hand on officers and men who manhandle civilians, refuse to fight the dissidents, commit irregularities, and abuse their authority.”
Magsaysay has already relieved many officers for maltreating civilians. He told this writer that if there is anything he hates in men in the armed forces, it is brutal treatment of civilians, especially those in out-of-the-way places.
“I am very hard on officers and men who abuse or torture innocent civilians,” Magsaysay said. “The army and PC are supposed to protect, not to exploit them. Whenever I hear a report of abuse and manhandling of farm folk, I personally see to it that the officer or men responsible are punished.”
Magsaysay has contributed his bit in reviving the faith of the Filipino people in their government. Whenever he goes to the provinces, he makes it a point to talk with the parish priest, the teachers and farmers of the community. From these people, he gets correct information about the behavior of officers and soldiers.
“I do not bother talking at length with the officers,” he once told us. “If I confined myself to them, they would tell me nice stories about their achievements. But the people are the best judge of these officers. So I talk with the people and from them I invariably get a correct report on what the members of the armed forces are doing in their locality.”
Since Magsaysay assumed office, he has succeeded in effecting the surrender of several Huk chieftains and their men. These surrenders have taken place in Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, Batangas, Laguna, and Zambales. Firearms and ammunition have likewise been turned over by these dissidents to the government.
Secretary Magsaysay has already done much to boost the morale of the men in the field. He goes to them unannounced and at the most unexpected moments. He is able to do this because he uses a plane in visiting combat teams in the provinces, thus saving much time. When an officer in the field is deserving of promotion. Magsaysay goes to where that man is and hands him in papers.
“I hate paper work and red tape,” he has repeatedly told newspapermen. “In the past, plenty of paper was wasted in the office because of endorsements from one office to another. And it took time to get those endorsements dispatched. Now, I either go to officers personally or just use the telephone to transact or just use the telephone to transact official business. It is much better because it is faster. The US Army is efficient because there is less paper work.”
The mass arrest of men and women suspected of being the core of the Communist party in the Philippines is Magsaysay’s crowning achievement. He told us that in due time he would give the lowdown on the incidents and circumstances that led to the discovery and final apprehension of the members of the local Politburo.
Co Pak, local Chinese multimillionaire, who is suspected as one of the top financiers of the local Reds is now confined. Magsaysay had him arrested. When the order to nab this Chinese was made, those in the Military Intelligence Service were hesitant. They were afraid of Co Pak because they had been informed that the man had hirelings who would murder at the drop of a halt. When Magsaysay learned about this, he flared up.
“If you cannot arrest Co Pak because you are afraid,” he told the arresting officers, “I’ll arrest him myself!”
Co Pak was finally apprehended and confined. But he stayed in the PC stockade only for a short time. Somehow or other, he succeeded in getting his temporary release by the mere expedient of filing a bond. We were informed that the man used political “pull.” He has strong “connections” among local bigtime politicos.
When Magsaysay heard of Co Pak’s temporary release, he became furious and ordered the immediate arrest of the Chinese.
Magsaysay has ordered the sale of scores of staff cars in the Army and Constabulary. When all the vehicles are sold, the government will net something like one and a half million pesos. With the money, new trucks (which are very much needed in the campaign against the Huks) will be bought. Magsaysay also said that his department will purchase some 100 trucks from the Manila Railroad Company. These will also be used by the combat teams in Central Luzon.
Not the least of Magsaysay’s achievements is the replacement of Generals Castañeda and Ramos. During the period when these gentlemen controlled military affairs, peace and order conditions went steadily from bad to worse. Their replacement by more effective leaders brings fresh hope of the ultimate restoration of peace and order throughout the nation, which as President Quirino himself has repeatedly said, is the government’s first problem.