Called to serve, Jun Magsaysay returns
Coming out of retirement to run again for the Senate, Ramon “Jun” Magsaysay Jr. compares himself to US Senators John McCain and John Davison “Jay” Rockefeller IV both of whom show no signs of slowing down.
Magsaysay spent most of his retirement running a dairy farm in Bai town, Laguna, that he put up with close friends after completing 12 years of service in the Senate in 2007.
Now 74, Magsaysay swears he’s as healthy as a cow to go through the rigors of barnstorming in the countryside, or engage young voters on Twitter, and, if he wins, take on the demands of his old job in the Senate.
“I’ll be the first one to stop if I’m sick. Why will I run if I’m sick?” Magsaysay, who underwent prostate surgery in 2006, told Inquirer editors and reporters on Thursday night last week.
“In the US Senate, of the 100 senators, 47 percent are in their 70s. And that includes John McCain, and my longtime friend John Davison ‘Jay’ Rockefeller IV. I’m in that element. The Senate is a very deliberate body. It puts a lot of experience as a priority,” Magsaysay said.
Call to serve
Magsaysay said he was up to his neck on the dairy farm overseeing the production of fresh cow’s milk, low-fat chocolate, white cheese, ice cream and yogurt and had no political plans when he got a call from Sen. Franklin Drilon in May.
“He said, ‘I think you should come back. If you want to help out in the reforms, this is the time.’ Impeachment was ongoing,” he said, referring to the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was later found guilty and removed from office for underdeclaring his assets, a violation of the Constitution.
Magsaysay sensed “something unusual” happening in the Aquino administration, and, over the reservations of some members of his family, accepted the invitation to run for the Senate with the Liberal Party, his party when he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1965. He met with President Aquino in July.
“I saw it as a challenge,” he said. “I’m just looking at how I can help in the administration, try to improve our governance, simplify the process of doing business, streamline taxation, lessen bureaucracy.”
In the administration coalition, the plan is for candidates to campaign in groups of three, and when the campaign goes in full swing in February next year Magsaysay is expected to barnstorm with the President’s cousin, Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, and social activist Risa Hontiveros.
“There’s nothing like pressing flesh,” he said, but conceded that he will need to mount a campaign on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to connect with tech-savvy young voters. He plans to have his own Twitter account.
Magsaysay is excited about it. When young voters Google his name, he said, they’ll find out he’s also a “techie.” After all, he sponsored the Electronic Commerce Act, which requires government departments and agencies, and government-owned and -controlled corporations to use electronic data messages in their transactions, for which he earned the accolade “Internet Man of the Year.” He also pioneered cable TV in the country in the 1970s.
Next on his agenda is setting up WiFi in all barangays “to link every person” to the Internet, he said.
“E-Commerce Law will provide the government infrastructure and network information, and that will extend to far barangays so that fishermen, farmers, young and old, basically everybody, have access to information,” he said. “It will be affordable, present and reliable.”
Magsaysay was elected to the Senate in 1995 for a six-year term, and was reelected in 2001 for another six-year term.
In 2006, as chair of the agriculture committee, he opened an inquiry into the diversion of the P728 million for farm inputs to political use in the 2004 presidential election, which then incumbent President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo won.
The committee recommended the filing of criminal charges against key players in the “fertilizer fund scam,” including the alleged “chief architect,” former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante.
Last year, after years of delay, plunder charges were filed in the Sandiganbayan against Bolante, former Agriculture Secretary Luis “Cito” Lorenzo, and former Agriculture Assistant Secretary Ibarra Poliquit and several others.
“I think there’s political will [in the Aquino administration to jail the key players],” Magsaysay said. Otherwise he would be “very disappointed,” he added.
Magsaysay said he told the President that the prosecution of the respondents in the fertilizer scam case and the perpetrators of the Nov. 23, 2009, Maguindanao massacre, in which 57 people, including 32 journalists, were killed, should be expedited.
The opposition has thrown a roadblock to upset Magsaysay’s second run for the Senate: another Magsaysay in the race.
The race is tight, and a namesake running against him may pose some problems for Magsaysay. But he believes a withdrawal by Zambales Rep. Milagros “Mitos” Magsaysay will boost his chances.
The two Magsaysays have to fight it out with at least 32 candidates, including more “popular” members of Congress, to gain one of the 12 seats at stake in next year’s midterm elections.
Magsaysay acknowledges that the listing of Mitos’ name ahead of his on the ballot is a disadvantage. But he said she wasn’t a major cause for worry. He was more concerned with reelectionist senators and congressmen jamming the top six to 10 slots in the surveys.
“We’ll have to surmount that,” he said. “Mitos is not my immediate concern, although she can help a lot if she withdraws.”
Sought for comment, Mitos said: “That’s his opinion, but I’m not withdrawing. It’s too early to gauge who’s going to win or not. The battle has not even started. I don’t think anybody should be that confident at this point.”
In a survey released ahead of the President’s announcement in early September that Magsaysay was on the administration coalition’s ticket, Magsaysay ranked 12th to 16th. Mitos placed farther afield, which Magsaysay saw as a sign that voters could distinguish him from Mitos.
Mitos is the daughter-in-law of Magsaysay’s cousin, former Zambales Gov. Vicente Magsaysay. A House minority leader and loyal ally of Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative, Mitos is running with the United Nationalist Alliance of Vice President Jejomar Binay.
The son of President Ramon Magsaysay, who served from Dec. 30, 1953, to his death in a plane crash on March 17, 1957, Magsaysay said he disapproved of political dynasties. But he can’t “control” relatives from running for public office because “it’s a free country,” he said.
Mitos’ son is running for her seat in the House.
“Maybe because we have a small family. If I’m running, nobody is running in our immediate family,” Magsaysay said.
He did not discount the possibility of two Magsaysays both winning the senatorial race and ending up with a political dynasty of their own in the Senate, though “without intending to.” But he quickly added, “I’m with the administration; she’s with the opposition.”
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