Ramon Bagatsing

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Ramon D. Bagatsing
Mayorbagatsing1971photo.jpeg
"The Incorruptible" Mayor Ramon Bagatsing, one of Manila's well-loved public servants.
Mayor of Manila
In office
January 1, 1972 – February 28, 1986
Preceded by Antonio Villegas
Succeeded by Mel Lopez
Member of the House of Representatives from Manila's 3rd district
In office
December 30, 1957 – December 30, 1965
Preceded by Arturo Tolentino
Succeeded by Sergio H. Loyola
In office
December 30, 1969 – January 1, 1972
Preceded by Sergio H. Loyola
Succeeded by Vacant
Personal details
Born (1916-08-19)August 19, 1916
Fabrica, Sagay, Negros Occidental, Philippines
Died February 14, 2006(2006-02-14) (aged 89)
Manila, Philippines
Resting place Manila South Cemetery
Political party Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (1992)
Kilusang Bagong Lipunan
Liberal Party
Spouse(s) Juanita "Annie" Sevilla (deceased)
Children Teresita (deceased), Rica, Amado, Dondon, Jesus, Manuel, Eduardo, and Valentino

Ramon Delaraga Bagatsing (August 19, 1916 – February 14, 2006) was the longest serving Mayor of Manila. He is the first and only Indian Filipino and person with disability to serve in this position and was Mayor of the capital city from 1971 until 1986. Bagatsing holds the unique distinction of being the only person to be a survivor of both the Bataan Death March of 1941 and the Plaza Miranda bombing of 1971, where he lost his left leg, with shrapnel fragments damaging his lower abdomen, right arm, and right cheek bone.

Before occupying the city's highest office, Bagatsing also served as a Congressman, Cabinet Member, war veteran, lawyer, religious lay minister, and policeman, earning the moniker "The Incorruptible" for his clean record in public service and for his unwavering anti-graft and corruption stance.

Early life and fighting for country[edit]

Bagatsing was born on August 19, 1916, in Fabrica, Sagay, Negros Occidental to Amado Bagatsing (Punjabi: ਭਗਤ ਸਿੰਘ, Bhagat Singh), an Indian Punjabi and Dionisia Delaraga, a Filipina. He worked as a bus conductor, night watchman, and security guard to augment his basic and school expenses. To escape the hardships of poverty, he left his home province for the City of Manila. Bagatsing, one of the early pioneers of Manila's Finest, began his public duty as a patrolman in the Manila Police Department from 1939 to 1941.

When World War II broke out in 1941, he enlisted with the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE). He started as a First Sergeant from 1941 to 1943, was promoted to First Lieutenant in 1944, then to Captain in 1945, and Major in 1946. He is a survivor of the Bataan Death March, where he was able to escape from the enemy soldiers.[1]

For his military service, Bagatsing was awarded the American Defense Ribbon, the Philippine Defense Ribbon, the Asia-Pacific Campaign Medal and the Plaque of the Silver Kris of the Philippine Veterans Federation. He was National Commander of the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor and a member of the Philippine Veterans Legion, American Legion and American Disabled Veterans.

Climbing the corporate ladder and Congress[edit]

With the war over, he continued his law studies while working as the driver of the company bus of Elizalde & Co. From 1947 to 1957, he climbed the corporate ladder to become the company's Public Relations and Personnel Manager, and during the same period, passed the Philippine BAR Exams and became a lawyer. He was also a bank safe and home safety box salesman.

Bagatsing first entered public service in the 1957 elections when his province mate, then presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Philippines, José Yulo, convinced him to run for Congress in Manila's then third district of Sampaloc, Sta. Mesa, Santa Ana, San Miguel, and Bacolod. He was elected Congressman for the first time and was the Chairman of the important House Veterans Committee.

He was elected again as Congressman in 1961 and held the chairmanship of the powerful Justice Committee. As a legislator, Bagatsing authored several laws, such as the Philippine Veterans Act, the National Stud Farm Law, the laws creating the Bureau of Immigration, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), the National Defense College of the Philippines and the Eulogio "Amang" Rodriguez Institute of Schience and Technology or EARIST, among others.

After his second term, he joined the Cabinet, becoming the country's chief graft-buster as Head of the Presidential Agency on Reforms and Government Operations (PARGO) from 1967 to 1969. During his stint at PARGO, Bagatsing was dubbed by the Philippine Free Press as "The Incorruptible" for his prosecution of several high profile corruption cases against prominent and high-ranking officials, including the conviction and expulsion of a city mayor for graft.

In 1969, he ran again for his old Congressional seat in Manila and was overwhelmingly elected to a third term. During his ten years, or three terms, in the Philippine House of Representatives, Bagatsing was consistently awarded and included in the lists of the country's "Ten Most Outstanding Congressmen" and "The 10 Most Useful Legislators of the Republic". He was a leading reformer and a relentless crusader against the spread of Communism in the Asia-Pacific Region of the world as the founding Chairman of the Philippine Anti-Communist League.

Plaza Miranda Bombing and the Mayorship of Manila[edit]

Bagatsing was one of the survivors of the Plaza Miranda bombing, which was, at that time, one of the bloodiest political massacres in Philippine history, where nine innocent people were killed with nearly a hundred more wounded from two grenades thrown on the stage by perpetrators who, up to today, remain unknown. The public rally was meant to be Bagatsing's official proclamation as mayoral candidate for Manila of the opposition Liberal Party. He was among the three most critically injured, along with Senators Jovito Salonga and Sergio Osmeña, Jr., who nearly lost their lives as they were front and center on the elevated platform, which was the epicenter of the bomb blast. Others who were also hurt included prominent Philippine politicians such as Gerardo Roxas, Eva Estrada-Kalaw, Genaro Magsaysay, Ramon Mitra, Eddie Ilarde, Salipada Pendatun, Roberto Oca Jr. and John Osmeña.

Bagatsing was clinically dead for a moment until he was revived by emergency medical staff in the hospital, being confined, bedridden there for close to ninety days or three months, while undergoing numerous delicate operations. The incident caused his left leg to be amputated, badly damaging also his abdomen, right cheek bone and right arm, as his wife, Annie, was hit too in the explosion, with shrapnel embedding her stomach, thighs, and hands. This became a rallying point that galvanized support for their party and their electoral campaign.[2]

In 1971 local elections, Bagatsing defeated incumbent Mayor Antonio Villegas for the Mayorship of the City of Manila. Early in his fifteen-year term, he established the first Barangay Bureau in the Philippines, creating the blueprint for the Barangay (village) system as the basic socio-political unit for Manila. This was quickly replicated by the national government and still survives to this day. He also set up the Manila Youth Bureau and the Tourism Office of Manila, which was a first for any local government.

Bagatsing then spearheaded the awarding of land titles to many of the city's indigent landless families, further endearing him to the poor, who were all grateful and glad to have the achievement of finally owning the land of their homes. He also established several multi-sectoral cooperatives, especially benefiting the vendors in the city's public markets, providing vital financial assistance and livelihood opportunities for Manila's less fortunate citizens.

Many schools, educational institutions, hospitals, health centers, public markets, daycare centers, roads and public parks were built and developed in his incumbency, among them, the Ospital ng Sampaloc, the College of Medicine Building of PLM or the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, the Plaza Noli, the Rajah Sulayman Plaza, the bigger Manila Public Library, the Dapitan Sports Complex, Tondo High School and other public schools. Bagatsing, an early environmentalist, embarked on a massive citywide tree planting program, personally planting, even watering, most of the trees in and around the Manila City Hall and across the entire stretch of España Boulevard, as well as, the coconut trees on the famous bay-walk of Roxas Boulevard along Manila Bay.

Before the life-threatening injuries he sustained in the Plaza Miranda tragedy, Bagatsing was an avid sportsman and created the Manila Sports Council, the city's grassroots sports development office. The "Anak ng Maynila" Youth Leadership Training Program, which was a self-help seminar and spiritual improvement retreat, regularly held in the nearby rural, coastal and mountain areas of Cavite, Batangas and Alabang, was also implemented by Bagatsing, as the multitudes of Manila's young, the children and students, especially the disadvantaged, would always look forward, with eager anticipation and excitement, to be part of this worthwhile endeavor. Bagatsing also made sure to take good care of the welfare of the city's workers and public school teachers by increasing their salaries, wages and benefits.

The City of Manila was at the height of its stature and prestige during most of Bagatsing's leadership as Makati and Quezon City were still largely undeveloped. It was during this time that Manila, once again, became the capital city of the Philippines, through an executive order by then President Ferdinand Marcos, and evolved to be the center of the country's arts, music, cinema, pop culture and fashion scene with the advent of the so-called disco-craze, the popular Manila Sound, and the classic films of the era, such as Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag and Manila By Night.

It was also during this period that the City of Manila gained further prominence in the international spectrum, becoming the first city in Asia to host the magnificently successful and renowned Miss Universe Pageant in 1974, which saw Spanish beauty Amparo Muñoz win the title, only to be crowned by, none other than the Philippines' very own, and the previous year's winner, 1973 Miss Universe Margarita Moran. Just days prior to the main event, in order to emphasize and promote the core essence of the Miss Universe movement's advocacy, cause, and purpose, Bagatsing had organized a local festival featuring a splendid procession of select pageant candidates parading around and throughout Manila's inner-streets, communities, and barangays, with the aim of bringing closer together the foreign international beauties and the city's common folk.

The following year, adding to its global acclaim, the city's name became an integral part and important fact in the history of sports, forever to be associated with one of, if not, the greatest fights in the whole of boxing, the Thrilla in Manila, where the world witnessed a most spectacular display from the two foremost pugilists of the time, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. The legendary match was actually held at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, but the promoters decided to highlight the City of Manila, with Ali enjoying his stay at the historic Manila Hotel, often jogging around the boulevards of Manila, mingling and interacting with the locals. Because of this, Bagatsing gladly provided Ali with a rather large security detail and even accompanied the American boxer to some of his training sessions.

In December of 1979, Manila Avenue in Jersey City, New Jersey, the first main thoroughfare in the United States named after the Philippine capital, is inaugurated by Mayor Bagatsing together with members of the Jersey City Council before an elated Filipino-American community. Due to their collective effort, the former Grove Boulevard had been rechristened Manila Avenue upon adoption of local Jersey City Ordinance S-326, which further cemented the partnership among the two major cities and was considered a milestone in global intercity relations and diplomacy.

Immediately after advancing Manila's presence in the Eastern Atlantic Seaboard, Bagatsing then focused towards the Pacific side, strengthening its close ties with the City and Borough of San Francisco, overseeing many mutual economic and cultural exchanges involving the two key bay cities, including high-profile back-to-back official missions and "sister-city summits" between then-San Francisco Mayor, now U.S. Senator, Dianne Feinstein and Mayor Bagatsing who visited each other's city, of which emanated a friendship that remained even following their respective mayoral incumbencies.

Bagatsing, a Liberal Party stalwart, was able to keep his post during the entire martial law years by maintaining his clean public service record. He was also one of the first officials to voluntarily step down to allow for a leadership transition after the 1986 EDSA revolution.

Charity and civic work[edit]

Bagatsing was an accomplished International Director and Governor of the Lions Clubs International, the longtime Chairman of the Philippine Red Cross Manila, a Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus Organization, a past Director of the Philippine Jaycees and the Manila Junior Chamber, and an active leader and solid patron of various charitable institutions.

In 1958, Bagatsing founded one of the largest scholarship programs of that time, the Ramon D. Bagatsing Scholarship Foundation, providing thousands of citizens the chance to receive quality education. He also had a genuine concern for persons with disabilities, and through the Mahaveer Foundation, would often help underprivileged amputees by giving them artificial prosthetic legs, as well as, wheelchairs and crutches.

He obtained his Master of Laws degree in 1971 from the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Graduate School (GS) and finished his Doctor of Civil Law degree in 1977 at the same university. As a benefactor of the UST-GS Alumni Association, he supported the association’s projects and annual awarding ceremonies through his regular donations.

Bagatsing also served as the first president of the Negros Occidental High School (NOHS) Alumni Association Inc. in the City of Bacolod.

Legacy and love for horses[edit]

Bagatsing was well known for his love for horses. He successfully revived the Gran Copa de Manila and owned a huge Alabang ranch, where he raised many champion thoroughbreds. Since his death, the annual Mayor Ramon D. Bagatsing Memorial Cup has been held on his birth anniversary, becoming one of the biggest horse-racing festivals in the country, and whose receipts and earnings go to different charities. Asides from his passion for horses, Bagatsing also dabbled in cattle raising, as well as, enjoyed planting all kinds of fruit bearing trees in his other farms and agricultural properties.

A devout and deeply religious man, Bagatsing, along with his wife, Annie, was very active and supportive of the Catholic Church, especially in Manila's Sampaloc area, his home district, as he was very instrumental in having helped build many structures essential to the different Parishes and Church groups of the city. Moreover, Bagatsing is revered for founding a long-continuing annual Holy Week tradition in Sampaloc, which is the public Way of the Cross, popularly known as the "Karga Krus" procession every Good Friday, wherein all devotees take turns bearing a life-size crucifix around the fifteen Stations of the Rosary, situated in the streets and Barangays of the Parish district. Even in his later years, with advancing age and only one good leg, Bagatsing would religiously lead this special tradition, carrying the heavy Cross with the people beside him. For nearly half-a-century until the present, the "Karga Krus" tradition still faithfully continues with Bagatsing's descendants and the parishioners of Sampaloc.

Bagatsing maintained a very close friendship with the late Archbishop of Manila, Jaime Cardinal Sin. When both were still alive, he would frequently seek the good Cardinal's advice on many public and, even, personal matters. The same rings true for the late Senator Gerardo Roxas, the only son of President Manuel Roxas, whom Bagatsing has shared a special bond with, as both hail from the same region of Western Visayas, as well as, being both active leaders of the Liberal Party, having entered Congress at the same time in 1957.

During the early 1970s, Bagatsing, a prime advocate of education for others, voluntarily set aside nearly ten hectares of his vast farm and village estate in Alabang for the expansion, to the south of Manila, of the Benedictine educational institution of San Beda, which is the present site of the San Beda College Alabang campus, located inside the reputable Alabang Hills Village, Muntinlupa.

When he was still alive, Bagatsing would always mark his birthday by conducting a two-day spiritual retreat in the company of the imprisoned accused at the Manila City Jail, often breaking bread with them in their cells and leading them to reflection and prayer at the prison chapel. He actually would spend the night in jail, talking and listening to the incarcerated, helping them with their problems before going to bed in a makeshift sleeping area near the prisoners. Of course, they were much to happy to be with Bagatsing, who would also give them plenty of food, clothing, supplies, and legal assistance for their pending cases. This was occasionally featured in various newspapers, usually with the headline "Bagatsing in Jail", which never failed to put a smile on the face of Bagatsing and the fellow inmates.

Throughout his life, Bagatsing was fondly called "Bumbay", a term of endearment in reference to the city of Bombay in India, by his friends and constituents because of his Indian ancestry and strong facial features including his large pointy nose, and was a leading figure in the relationship between the Philippines and India.

In 2006, on the morning of Valentine's Day, Ramon Bagatsing died in his sleep due to cardiac arrest. He was laid to rest beside the remains of his wife of over fifty years, Annie, who died seven years before him, in their family mausoleum at the Manila South Cemetery, where President Elpidio Quirino is also buried, after necrological services at the Manila City Hall and at the Our Lady of Loreto Church in the district of Sampaloc. Bagatsing is survived by his children Rica, Amado, Ramon "Boy", Rey, Roy, Ramon "Dondon", Jesus, Manuel, Eduardo, Raul, Marilyn, Lani and Valentino.

Even after his incumbency and death, Bagatsing continues to be held in high regard by the people of Manila as some of his children and grandchildren have been elected, in various times, as well as, at present, to Philippine Congress and the City Councils of Manila, Pasay City, and Muntinlupa City.

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