Embracing the legacy of Rafael M. Salas-A A +A
Saturday, March 1, 2014
BAGO City will honor its illustrious son on Monday, March 3, in time for his 27th death anniversary.
The city government of Bago passed a city ordinance declaring every March 3 in the city as an annual commemorative celebration of the life and works of Rafael M. Salas, who rose to international prominence as a leading figure in the United Nations.
Salas was a scholar, author, poet, statesman and academician.
This year’s theme is "Embracing the Legacy of Rafael M. Salas.” Activities include a program of poetry readings, children's quizzes, a painting competition and presentations remembering this remarkable man.
For 16 years, until his untimely death in 1987, Salas served as the Undersecretary-General and first Executive Director of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA).
His tenure was an unprecedented success— with the UNFPA growing from a small trust fund into the world's largest multilateral provider of population assistance.
Salas was born in Bago City on August 7, 1928. From a very early age he showed his 'can-do' qualities by excelling in school. He graduated valedictorian from the Negros Occidental High School in 1947. He finished Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude and Bachelor of Laws cum laude at the University of the Philippines (UP) in 1953.
He was also president of both the UP Student Council and the Student Council Associations of the Philippines.
He was Philippine government scholar at the Harvard University where he got his Master of Arts in Public Administration in 1955. He also studied in Germany and Japan. Later he served as UP vice president under Carlos P. Romulo. He was one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines in 1962.
He went on to head the Students Magsaysay-for-President Movement. So impressed was Magsaysay that when he became president he created the Presidential Council on Youth with Salas as chairman. Salas was then 25 years old.
The succeeding years were marked by a number of high-level government and business positions.
In 1966, at the age of 37, he was personally picked by then President Ferdinand Marcos as his Executive Secretary to handle administrative and social matters.
In this role, Salas was the chief administrator of the country, making him second only to Marcos in authority.
Salas is also credited with transforming the Philippines from a rice importer to a rice-sufficient country— an event that had not happened in some 80 years.
But in 1969 he quit the Marcos government over major policy disagreements. He then joined the United Nations to head a new agency, the UNFPA.
Population experts described him as one of the few figures who transformed the obscure field of family planning into an accepted component of developmental science, helping planners overcome initial opposition to population control in underdeveloped, Roman Catholic and Marxist countries.
In recognition of his achievements, Salas received about 33 honorary degrees and academic awards from institutions in 28 countries.
He died on March 3, 1987 in Washington, DC cutting short a very brilliant career. He died from an apparent heart attack as he prepared to return to the Philippines shortly after the People Power Revolution of 1986 that swept Marcos from power.
It was speculated at the time of his death that Salas would make a run for the presidency of the Philippines.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said, “Rafael M. Salas was, indeed, a true Filipino. He had the depth and the brilliance to transform his country and his people. He is the best president of this country; the best president we never had and will never have.”
(Robert Harland is a trustee of the Rafael M. Salas Library Society)
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on March 01, 2014.