POSTSCRIPT / August 29, 2019 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Recalling morality in Magsaysay gov’t

THIS Saturday (Aug. 31) is the 112th birth anniversary of Ramon Magsaysay, who served as the seventh President of the Philippines from Dec. 30, 1953, until his death in a plane crash on March 17, 1957.

The “Guy” was among the most loved of Philippine presidents. A post on Aug. 21 of La Salle Brother Michael Valenzuela on Facebook may explain why. Reprinted below, the article might also help illuminate some people’s dim view of the moral standards of the current administration.

But let us set the tone first by sharing what a CBS News feature (“Leaving the White House”) on Jan. 19, 2009, said of US President Harry S. Truman, whose tenure ended in the same year that Magsaysay became president:

“When his eight years as President of the United States ended on Jan. 20, 1953, private citizen Harry Truman took the train home to Independence, Missouri, mingling with other passengers along the way. He had no secret service protection. His only income was an Army pension. Later that year, Truman bought a Chrysler New Yorker and got behind the wheel. He and Bess drove to Washington, New York, and back home again by themselves.”

New York Times story on March 2, 2007, quoted historian David McCullough saying that when Truman left the White House, “He had no income or support of any kind from the federal government other than his Army pension of $112.56 a month. He was provided with no government funds for secretarial help or office space, not a penny of expense money.”

Reminds us of then Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (1959-1990) arriving in Manila on a commercial flight lugging his briefcase — a sight we no longer see with contemporary heads of government.

• ‘We need another Magsaysay!’

HERE is Brother Michael’s FB piece titled “Raising the bar”:

At this time when President Duterte and members of his administration disingenuously defend the practice of accepting monetary gifts (calling P100,000 an insignificant sum which it is if you consider the millions the President admits to having received), it would be good to remember that the late President Ramon Magsaysay, whose birthday we celebrate on Aug. 31, took strong issue against such a practice, venting considerable ire on those who even hinted at offering him or those close to him such perks, presents or favors. Such practices he believed, tarnished the presidency by compromising its impartiality, opening the way to influence peddling, graft and corruption.

In fact, RM’s high regard for the Office of the President led him to warn his relatives against even thinking they might benefit from his influence, going as far as to dissuade his brother from practicing law because the President might be perceived as using his influence to win his brother’s cases, banning all relatives from running for public office, and cancelling a legitimate contract between the government and one of his uncles lest it be perceived that his uncle had won the contract through his influence.

He further made sure his wife kept family household accounts in Malacañang strictly separate from official ones, instructing that family expenses (food, clothing, education, etc.) be charged against his personal salary and not the President’s official budget.

He reminded his family that they were only tenants in the Palace which was why he never spent for its renovation nor even bought a new car. When asked about this, Magsaysay simply answered, “How can I when I see the people suffering? They have no food, no medicine, no drinking water, no irrigation for their farms. How can the President allow these luxuries when the people who voted him to office are living in deprivation?”

His wife Luz saw their stint in the Palace as more martyrdom than anything else. Once, having been denied by her husband permission to buy new curtains for the Palace (too extravagant!), the First Lady mounted a ladder and took the curtains down herself intending to have them washed. The effort landed her in the hospital with severe allergies and respiratory problems from having inhaled the dust that had accumulated on the curtains which had likely not been washed since the war!

Magsaysay did not die a rich man. That was perhaps his greatest honor. All that was left of his paycheck when his family departed Malacañang a week after his death was P650, the average amount, his widow said, that remained from the President’s monthly salary after deducting household expenses.

It was then that the favors he had denied himself during his tenure poured in liberally from friends and admirers who sought to insure care for Magsaysay’s grieving widow and children, left homeless and without a steady means of support.

Unlike some other presidents in recent memory, Magsaysay believed that leaders should elevate their character in order to live up to the dignity of their office rather than sully the presidency by adjusting the office to accommodate their character flaws and personal interests.

As he declared in his credo, “I believe that a high and unwavering sense of morality should pervade all spheres of governmental activity… I believe that the President should set the example of a big heart, an honest mind, sound instincts, the virtue of healthy impatience and an abiding love for the common man.”

Why do we equate a leader’s being “real” and “authentic” with lowering the bar for virtue, integrity, performance and presidentiability? The Philippines deserves better from its leaders. It needs another Magsaysay.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 29, 2019)

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