The Right Man for the Philippines
The new President of the Philippines, Ramón Magsaysay, first came into national prominence as a guerrilla fighter against the Japanese; as Secretary of Defense from 1950 until the spring of 1953, he was successful in subduing the armed Communists and in rehabilitating many of the Huks. This account of President Magsaysay and his program is written by his close friend GENERAL CARLOS P. ROMULO, who was also a candidate for the presidency but withdrew to become Magsaysay’s campaign manager. General Romulo, formerly President of the UN General Assembly and Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished correspondence in 1941.
by GENERAL CARLOS P. ROMULO
TEN years ago, after the fall of Bataan, I came to the United States in uniform to report to the American people on that tragic if temporary defeat. Now I return in mufti to make a battle report on the triumph of democracy in the recent elections in the Philippines.
It has not surprised me that the Philippine elections have aroused so lively an interest among the American people. We should finally lay to rest the controversy regarding so-called American “intervention" in our elections. On the plane of reason and common sense, the American people had a perfect right to interest themselves in the performance of the system of democracy which they helped to implant in the Philippines. But beyond this, Americans also had a right to do all that Mas reasonable and proper to ensure the free expression of the will of the Filipino people.
The truth is that there was no intervention in the Philippine elections of a sort that might diminish in any way the mutual respect which the two countries owe each other as sovereign and independent states. Had it occurred, such intervention would surely have been resented and rejected by the Filipino people, whose traditions of self-government and sense of national pride are well known to all.
In this contracting, interdependent world, we have learned that if freedom is menaced anywhere, it is menaced everywhere. The real test of intervention, therefore, is whether such interest is clearly calculated to advance the cause of freedom and is welcomed and accepted by the people directly concerned.
“Intervention” was the bogey word in the old days of classical diplomacy. But in an era which has witnessed the rapid development of the principle of international coöperation for common ends, the term “intervention” has acquired a more restricted meaning.
In the old days, for instance, the American dollar Mas regarded with suspicion as the principal tool of American intervention. Today, the underdeveloped countries of the world may be said, in effect, to be asking precisely for such tools through their participation in programs of assistance like Point Four and the Foreign Operations Administration, or through international programs like the United Nations Expanded Program of Technical Assistance.
There was nothing in the conduct of our elections of which the American people need be ashamed. As far as the Filipino people are concerned, they are proud that they were able to make a solid and substantial contribution to the strength and prestige of the free world by the simple act of going to the polling places to vote for the candidates of their choice.
Many of the American correspondents who covered the Philippine elections came down from Korea, where they had previously been assigned as war correspondents. In the light of the dire predictions of bloodshed and revolution, there was a certain logic in the transfer of war correspondents from Korea to the Philippines. But fortunately our elections turned out to be very tame indeed.
Yet our quiet and orderly elections had implications for the future of democracy in Asia hardly less significant than those arising out of the Korean conflict itself. In Korea, the peoples of the free world had stood together to repel aggression and to ensure the Koreans’ right to freedom. In the Philippines, a people stood alone to proclaim its belief in democracy and to give proof of the essential wisdom of a system of government based on the free will of the people. Every proof that democracy works is a victory gained for the cause of freedom, and weighs as heavily on the scales as the winning of a battle in Korea or Indo-China.
Tor reasons similar to those I have already described, the American people showed an equally lively interest in the recent elections in West Germany, Turkey, Greece, and Italy. These countries, too, are vital bulwarks of the free world; in them as in the Philippines, much hope was pinned both on the method and on the outcome of the elections. It is difficult to say which was the more important: that the elections should permit the untrammeled expression of the people’s will or that the right man should be elected.
The Philippine elections proved that these were not alternatives. We had peaceful and orderly elections, and the right man was elected. Democracy can have no better demonstration of its vitality and efficacy than this.
PRESIDENT RAMÓN MAGSAYSAY, who assumed office on December 30, is a man of boundless energy, mentally alert, inspired by a vision of a brighter future for his people. He is no philosopher of freedom, but he is certainly a lighter for freedom, and there is none today as fearless and devoted as he in a part of the world where there is a grave shortage in the leadership of freedom.
Magsaysay is the first pure Filipino — and therefore of true Malayan stock — to become chief magistrate of the Philippines. President Manuel L. Quezon, of the Philippine Commonwealth, was of Spanish descent. President Sergio Osmeña, also of the Philippine Commonwealth, was of Chinese descent. Manuel A. Roxas, first President of the Philippine Republic, was part Spanish. Elpidio Quirino, who succeeded Roxas, was part Spanish and part Chinese. As the first full-blooded Filipino to rise to the highest office within the gift of the Filipino people, Magsaysay fits perfectly into the pattern of Filipino nationalism exemplified by Andrés Bonifacio, who unfurled the banner of the revolution against Spain, and who was in the eyes of Asia a true Asian leader.
The armed forces of the Philippines were politicsridden when Magsaysay took over as Secretary of Defense. One day a politician asked Magsaysay to transfer an officer who had displeased him. The politician had Control of the appropriations in Congress and Magsaysay’s department budget was under discussion. Magsaysay investigated the matter, saw there was no reason to transfer the officer, and phoned the politician to tell him that he was not transferring the officer.
“Of course, you know your budget is now being considered,” the politician said.
“I know,”Magsaysay replied, “and I am on my way now to face your committee, and if you have anything to say about this matter, you may do so face to face when I appear before your committee.” Needless to say, his budget was approved and the politician never mentioned the matter again.
During the days of the Japanese occupation, Magsaysay as a guerrilla was assigned to return to a town in order to find out the actual strength of the enemy. Since there was a price on his head, it was most risky for him to undertake the assignment. He disguised himself as a peasant, went to the town, carried out his assignment, and when he thought he was safe in a barrio about fifteen miles from town, he met an enemy patrol. He hid in a hut, and when the patrol ordered all the menfolk out of their houses and threatened to burn the barrio if Magsavsay’s whereabouts was not revealed, Magsaysay waited for the darkness of the night to help him carry out his scheme. He left his hiding place, confronted the patrol, told them he was the man they were looking for, jumped into the river, and swam across while the bullets hissed over his head.
Unlike his predecessors in office, Magsaysay is truly of the masses. While one does not have to be of the masses to be for the masses, a national leader is twice blest when he is both of and for the masses. His humble beginnings, his unaffected ways, his unsophisticated mannerisms, and his unspoiled nature are perfectly in tune with the rhythm of Filipino life at the grass-roots level. When his critics carped during the campaign at his unadorned political speeches, his lack of guile, his limited academic background, the masses recognized these limitations as part of the bond between them and the man. In his virtues and shortcomings, the men in the street, in the farms, and in the factories saw faithful reflections of the virtues and shortcomings common to their mold.
While his opponent and detractors were campaigning in grand style, traveling like maharajahs and consistently trying to look like fashion plates, Magsaysay was barnstorming in towns and hamlets in his shirt sleeves and in humble style. In its desperation, the opposing camp caused his report cards as a student to be published. His unimpressive academic record — his failing marks — served him in good stead in popular estimation instead of providing his adversary with political ammunition. The masses uniformly reacted: “His scholastic record makes him all the more of us.”
No tree is more symbolic of the sturdiness of the Filipino character than the molave, one of the finest hardwoods in the world. Magsaysay is possessed of a character as strong and unbending as the molave. At the height of the campaign, a group of Nacionalista die-hards, who called themselves “loyalists,”went to Magsaysay to get him to disavow some of the important commitments he made in the Nationalist a-Democratic coalition. After politely listening to their piece, he said: “In your eyes, gentlemen, I must be either a man or a dog. If l am the latter, you would not have to persuade me to go back on my word. If I am a man, nothing you could do or say would make me go back on my word. And I am a man.”
In the task of reinforcing the moral fiber of Philippine political life and of imbuing the Filipino nation anew with the spiritual values by which our forebears lived, these sterling qualities will give President Magsaysay a powerful leverage.
RAMÓN MAGSAYSAY is America’s friend, and the American people have not a stauncher one in all Asia. This friendship springs from and is nourished by a profound belief in the democratic values which he and the Filipino people as a whole share with Americans. But deeper and more vibrant even than this faith is his sincere concern for the people who elected him and, by doing so, placed their fortunes in his hands. He pledged to them a better life, with richer opportunity and greater security, under a clean and efficient government more responsive to their needs. If he is to be the leader of the Filipinos he must, and lie will, deliver on this pledge.
It goes without saying that I am in no position to speak for him, but in my capacity as his campaign manager I did have an opportunity to work closely with him and to familiarize myself with Ins program. From his statements during the campaign, we may reasonably expect President Magsaysay to do the following:—
1. Weed out graft and corruption in the government. He intends to appoint a panel of prosecutors who will be responsible for ridding the government of the “ten percenters,”the peddlers of privilege, and the tax evaders, many of them highly placed, whose misdeeds have not been dealt with properly by the past administration. I must emphasize that the job will be one of prosecution and not of persecution.
2. Implement his land reform program. It is very likely that be will expand the land resettlement project initialed under the Economic Development Corporation (EDCOR) when he was Secretary of National Defense. This project was efficiently administered and highly successful, and it would serve as the nucleus of a much larger program.
3. Raise living standards in the Philippine villages. He has formulated plans to “build up the barrios.”His rural development projects include the installation of artesian wells, the building of better roads and more schools, and the organization of coöperatives to help the farmers increase their yield and get better prices.
4. Implement more effectively existing minimumwage laws and create better working conditions and opportunities for productive employment for the masses of people living in industrial areas.
5. Create a more favorable climate for foreign investment. He knows that the supply of international capital for economic development is limited and that the Philippine Republic does not as yet have sufficient domestic capital to underwrite its development. Over and over again during the campaign. President Magsaysay emphasized the importance of a balanced economic development. He is keenly aware that many of the economic and social problems that beset the Republic will be more easily solved if its economy can be diversified and both agricultural and industrial production increased substantially.
6. Use international assistance more wisely and effectively. He intends to replace the Philippine Council for United States Aid (PHILCUSA) with a new agency that will eliminate red tape and bring about better coördination between the Philippine government and the government of the United States, and also among the various Philippine offices, bureaus, and agencies concerned.
7. Maintain his close contact with the people. He will establish an office which will receive complaints and suggestions from the people. He may also organize a corps of trouble-shooters who will go to the remotest towns and villages to attend to the people’s needs.
Since President Magsaysay is America’s friend, he will hope and wish to be treated as a friend. This means that so long as there is a vital job to be done in the Philippines in order to make life happier and more secure under a regime of freedom, he will welcome such encouragement and assistance as can be rendered by till his friends and well-wishers in the United States. Ramón Magsaysay is now in command in an important sector of the free world’s defensive perimeter. I know that Americans will not only pray for him and wish him well, but will help him all they can, not only that he may hold that vital position for freedom but also that from there, freedom may move on to future victories.
The projection of the personality of Magsaysay into the international picture can only have a salutary effect. As Vice President Nixon has aptly said, Magsaysay’s knowledge of the practical problems of combating the Communist, menace, which is unmatched anywhere in the free world, makes the new leader of the Philippines an outstanding figure in the struggle against Communism in Asia.
One must add to this two important and significant facts: Magsaysay is the first leader of the new school to emerge in Asia, and he is one of the few to assume national leadership by uncontaminated popular suffrage. With a man of the moral stature of Magsaysay at the helm of the Republic, the Philippines can perform the mission of moral leadership in a continent in ferment and in the struggle to make Asia a bastion of freedom.