In A Nepal Monastery Ramon Magsaysay Jr. Talks About His Dad

[Here is another report on the visit of Magsaysay Awardees in Nepal]

ramon magsaysay jr in nepal

The senator son of former Filipino President talks about what it feels like to be a Magsaysay. Plus, hear him praising Gmail!! In the photo above, Magsaysay Jr. (right) is flanked by his son Francisco in Kathmandu’s Tilganga Eye Center. Pic by Dinesh Wagle

By Dinesh Wagle

“Many journalists have interviewed you,” this scribe started a conversation with Ramon Magsaysay Jr., the son of former Filipino President, in a monastery in Kathmandu and asked him to guess what my first question could be.

Without thinking much he said “Of course my impression of Nepal.” And without waiting for a follow-up question the 68-year-old Filipino senator rolled on: “It’s very positive. I see a lot of possibilities for Nepal that is facing challenges on peace, poverty and competitiveness in the globalized world.”

As he paused to breathe it was this scribe’s turn to shoot: “But I had a different question in mind. How does it feel to grow up with the brand name called Magsaysay?”

Seemingly puzzled, the man looked toward the horizon for a few seconds but quickly collected his breath and said, “It’s a deep honor.” Then the Senator briefly recounted his personal story fusing the past and present. “My late father started his public service during the World War II. I was a four year old boy. Fast forward to 2006. I am an old man, about to finish my second and last term in the Senate. Many a times I wonder am I being as good as my father or not quite up to him? With this question in mind, I just keep dong my best.”

ramon magsaysay jr in nepal

Photographer Magsaysay: Trying to capture Kathmandu from the Pullahari Monastary in Kapan.

Magsaysay Jr. was 18 when his dad died in a plane crash in 1957. He had no choice but to jump into politics to carry on the family legacy. While campaigning for a congressional post at the age of 27 in the same constituency that once elected his father, Magsaysay Jr. realized how much people wanted him to be like his dad. “People would say ‘oh your dad did this, you should also do the same; he wore wooden shoes, why are you wearing rubber shoes?’ Over the years I have learned to develop patience. Just respond them with a smile and accept whatever they say.”

Though he is a senator, Magsaysay Jr. is essentially a businessman, dubbed the “Father of Cable Television” in the Philippines for his role in setting up blueprint for the sector. Magsaysay Jr., a mechanical engineer by training and a graduate of Harvard Business School, finds it difficult to prefer politics to business. “Politics is interesting,” he said, adding, “You can have bigger and faster impact. But I also like business because your life is in your control. Profit and customer satisfaction are the key.”

Agrees Magsaysay’s son, Francisco, 38, who looks after Magsaysay Jr.’s cable business. “I will not join politics,” declared Francisco, who is in Kathmandu with his dad. “I am hoping to help out the country in a small way. I want to inspire the youth by proving that you don’t need to be in government to help your community.” He argues that politics has changed compared to that of his grandfather’s time. Francisco also shares with his father the experience of being a Magsaysay. “There is the pressure to maintain certain type of integrity,” said Francisco. “We have to conduct ourselves in a way that is commensurate with grandfather’s integrity. My father always tells me to remember grandfather.”

“Why even successful businessmen lunge for a political post?” reporter asked. “Business and politics are interlinked, aren’t they?”

“Yes, yes,” he said and told in detail how he was forced to pay ‘tax’ to the aides of former dictator Marcos when Philippines was under the marshal law. “They are. It helps if you have political connections.” Francisco shared this view but said he doesn’t like to pull political strings to promote business interest.

“Okay,” said Magsaysay Jr. and turned the table against this scribe, “Let me ask a few questions to you. What’s the situation of Internet usage in Nepal?”

This reporter explained him that Internet users, especially the young crowd, in Nepal were growing over the years, and in many colleges in city area you are considered unfashionable if you don’t have an email address. “My recent article about Gmail attracted more than five hundred invitation requests from readers,” said the reporter.

“That’s a very positive sign,” he said and added that increased awareness about technology would be helpful to advance society. Then he had some words of praise for the Gmail, “I also like Gmail because of big space and search facility. Let me give you my private Gmail account.”

[This article appeared in today’s edition of Kathmandu Post and it’s Nepali version in Kantipur]