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AS I SEE IT: Remembering President Ramon Magsaysay: His frugal and simple life

My friend, actually my Beta Rho Omega Fraternity (BRO) brother from UP-Diliman, Atty. Isagani “Gani” Ramos, reminded me of the late former Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay,  his simple and frugal life style, even when he was already the head of state, in his post in our BRO group chat in Viber.

He forwarded to me his post with the permission of his fellow Rotarian Butch Cantos, who originally sent the message to him. He referred me to him and will be in touch with Butch Cantos for more details and other collaboration stories.

His post struck my attention because if we look at the present government, it’s full of lavish spending and the office of the president have expanded government expenses, unlike the term of Magsaysay. Of course, that was in the past with modest spending at that time but still it is worth mentioning because even if in the exercise of his duties, Magsaysay had to charge it to his personal account (salary), not through Malacañang expense budget. That’s something different, I guess!

Gani was wondering, in his post in the chat group, how far removed government officials are nowadays, especially the country’s President, from their version of yesteryears in terms of integrity, honesty and decency particularly in spending public money may be reflected in this story we got from nationalistic chat group we’re part of.

In the forwarded post (Source: Quijano de Manila, Philippine Free Press Online), “When President Magsaysay died on March 17, 1957, all that he left to his family was P2,000 in his vault, He had no bank account. When the family left Malacañang, there was no house where they could transfer to because the modest house built by Magsaysay in the 1930s on Arellano St., Singalong, Manila was being rented out to a Chines while they were in Malacañang.” Call it by other name or word but that’s something to ponder with!

“That house was the only house that Magsaysay ever had in his lifetime., which he was able to build as a mechanical engineer and later as a manger a TRY-Tran Bus transport company in Zambales using borrowed money from the said company which eh via paid salary deductions.

“His daughter Mila was a working student in college and Jun Magsaysay never had a car, even a VW Beetle until Magsaysay died.

“In Malacañang, whenever the children were visited by friends, the food served to them were charged to the salary of President Magsaysay, not to the budget of Malacañang. Mila had a stove in her room to cook for the family and friends.” Presidents have their cooks and they cook not only for the President’s family but for other visitors, correct?

“Nowadays in Malacañang, they would rather have the food catered by expensive hotels/restaurants…” that is if the President’s chef does not cook!

“The Douglas C-47 military cargo transport plane Magsaysay used in his trip to Cebu on March 17, 1957 had no aircon and when the other high government officials complained of heat, the President told them that had the aircon removed so there will be no public criticism.” (Source: Quijano de Manila, Philippine Free Press Online).

Reinforcing Gani’s post was also another UP BROd Pioneer Edilbeto “Bert” Cabardo, who said “I reinforce BROd Gani’s post about Philippine presidents taking commercial flights in provincial sorties. Just to set the record straight, it was ex-President Rodrigo Duterte who fully set the austere norm.

Citing Jelly Musico’s article PRRD commercial flights ‘new norm’: Palace, Bert Cabardo posted: “President Rodrigo Duarte’s decision to take commercial flights would be the new norm to presidential travels,” Malacañang said yesterday. “It is intended to save taxpayer’s money,” Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press briefing on Seoul, South Korea.

Gani posted the question: “Magkakaroon pa kaya ulit ng Presidente na ganyan?” You know what, I also asked the same question when I read his post. I think, no more because, aside from the fact that the political landscape is no longer the same, the mindsets of previous and present presidents are far different from that of Magsaysay. They don’t have a lifestyle that is frugal and modest, but expensive and lavish. Even their personal activities are classified as official duties, so expenses are under Malacañang expense budget.

Gani said (as lifted in the same source: Quijano de Manila, Philippine Free Press Online), “Sara Duterte used a private jet with all the amenities just to attend a birthday party in Balesin.

“Bongbong Marcos used a 300-plus-person-capacity Boeing 777 to go to Dagos for only a 70-person delegation (bloated pa).

“PNoy used PAL commercial flights always! Background checks lang and other passengers. Lahat ng gustong sumama sariling bayad except official delegation.”

Gani commented, which I concur: “If Filipinos who found out about this are not yet convinced or enlightened about the kind of leaders that they have now, then they deserve the difficult life and hardships that they’re going through now and, in the days, ahead. As they say, you deserve the leaders that you elected.  Unfortunately, and tragically, they’re bringing with them the rest of the Filipinos with their ignorance and pathetic judgement.”

Ramon Magsaysay was born on August 31, 1907 and died March 17, 1957 as a result of a plane crash near Cebu. As president, he was best known for successfully defeating the communist-led Hukbalahap (Huk) movement.

A son of an artisan, Magsaysay was a schoolteacher in the provincial town of Iba on the island of Luzon. Magsaysay was of Malay stock, like most of the common people, unlike most political leaders who were of Spanish descent. Working his way through Jose Rizal College, he obtained a commercial degree in 1933 and became general manager of a Manila transportation company. After serving as a guerrilla leader in Luzon during World War 11, he was appointed military governor of his home province, Zambales, when the United State recaptured the Philippines. He served two terms (1946–50) as a Liberal Party congressman for Zambales, his first experience in politics. (Source: Britannica)

Although Magsaysay was a Liberal, the Nacionalista Party successfully backed him for the presidency against President Elpidio Quirino in the 1953 elections. Magsaysay promised reform in every segment of Philippine life, but he was frustrated in his efforts by a conservative congress that represented the interests of the wealthy. Despite initial support of Congress in July 1955, Magsaysay was unable to pass effective land-reform legislation; government indifference to the plight of the peasants then undid most of his good work in gaining the support of the people against the Huks. Nevertheless, he remained extremely popular and had a well-deserved reputation for incorruptibility. (Britannica)

Fellow Americans and my fellow Filipinos (I am a dual citizen), let the Magsaysay lifestyle define our life – We should not live beyond our means!