By ARNOLD A. GARBANZOS
March 17, 1957 was the day President Ramon Magsaysay and 25 of his companions died in that tragic plane crash at Mount Manunggal, Cebu. Among them was Iligan’s most illustrious son, the late Senator Tomas L. Cabili, President Magsaysay equivalent to today’s “Bong Go” and close confidant.
There was a poignant twist to Senator Cabili being in President Magsaysay’s entourage on that fateful day in Cebu because he was not supposed to be there. At the time of his death he was a private person, having ended his term as Senator but being a loyal friend he could not resist the invitation of “Monching” to be with him in Cebu.
Ten days before that he just celebrated his 54th birthday and he had no plans to go to Cebu.
Based on the story shared with me by Lolo Totoy (Fulgencio L. Cabili) Senator Cabili had a minor “misunderstanding” with President Magsaysay. He was not visiting Malacanang and he was shying away from public view. President Magsaysay asks his aides, “why is Tommy Cabili not here with us? He has not visited me here in Malacanang for almost a month. One of the aides answered, “may tampo siya sa iyo Mr. President”. The President asked why and got worried. The aide answered, “don’t worry Sir will visit him at his home at Quezon City, March 7 is his birthday sir.” Yes, let’s surprise him, quipped the President.
So in the wee hours of March 7, 1957, the President and his men went to Senator Cabili’s house in Quezon City for a dawn “mananita” which caught the family of Senator Cabili by surprise. The President was there with 3 staff members and 2 media men.
Lolo Totoy heard a knock at the door and to his surprise it was the President Magsaysay who asked him “where’s your dad”?
Lolo Totoy went to his dad’s bedroom and told the Senator that the President is here in the house. Thereupon the Senator woke up and went outside to meet the President.
“Tommy I came here to celebrate your birthday and have breakfast with you”. And at the breakfast table, President Magsaysay shared with one and all their friendship and their guerilla days during World War 2. He in Zambales and Senator Cabili in Lanao. He also shared how Senator Cabili was responsible for making him the Secretary of National Defense (during President Quirino’s term). Senator Cabili was the one who strongly endorsed him to President Quirino to be DND Secretary, having been a former DND Secretary himself during the presidency of President Osmena.
“This man (pointing to Senator Cabili) was also responsible for my Presidency for if not for my exploits in the DND I would just be another politician from Zambales.” “So in November Tommy when I will file for my second term as President I want you to be my running mate, you will be my VP. And after that I will hand over the Presidency to you being my worthy successor”. Senator Cabili was caught by surprise by all these pronouncements in the presence of the media people who were with them on the table. “And to show you that I am not joking we can put everything in writing Tommy, we can even make a covenant to make sure that you will be the Philippine’s next President. Let us put everything in writing.”
Calmly Senator Cabili answered the President while patting him on the knee, “Monching you can never do that”. President Magsaysay asked, why? Senator Cabili answered, “Because the Presidency is not a matter of a covenant but is a matter of the will of the people” To which President Magsaysay gave a hearty laugh, winked at the media people with them and said, “and that gentlemen is Tommy Cabili, always above board, a man of principle and a true public servant, now you know why we are best friends”
All of this Loloy Totoy heard while looking in awe at the personalities at the breakfast table.
“By the way Tommy join me in Cebu on the 16th and 17th” said the President.
And the rest folks is history. They will always be buddies forever-Senator Tomas Cabili and President Ramon Magsaysay. Both Statesmen and heroes of the Republic.