The Explainer: Philippine National Red Cross at 60

Tonight: the Philippine National Red Cross at 60.

I’m Manolo Quezon. The Explainer.




LAST Sunday, the Philippine National Red Cross had its 60th anniversary celebration.

That celebration was a happy occasion, and a touching one. Awards were given, speeches were made, and victims of disasters came forward to bear witness as to how the Red Cross had helped them, even saved their lives.

But let me tell you about just one of the many nice people I met at that anniversary.

I met the young fellow you see here. His name is Justin. He’s 12 years old. He was with his mother, Cynthia, and they’d come all the way from Balanga City, Bataan to take part in the ceremony.

Now we’re used to seeing kids dragged to events by their parents, and I suppose Justin was pretty bored, or at least got dizzy from meeting so many adults. But you see, he wasn’t there just there because he had to tag along with his mom. He was there, because he’s one of millions of young people who this early on in life, are an important part of the Red Cross.

Shy young Justin is a Red Cross Youth Volunteer.

He’s been a volunteer four years running now, or since he was 8 years old.

And you know what? Chances are, he will still be a volunteer when he stops being considered a member of the youth, and is considered an adult. The Red Cross is like that. Service and volunteerism becomes a way of life. The shy young man you see here is one of many millions of young men and women, from Aparri to Jolo, who give their time, effort, energy, sometimes even their meager allowances, to help others.

Now Justin and the oldies were together last Sunday, to mark a particular point in our history. And that was, April 15, 1947. That’s the day our own Red Cross achieved independence.

During the era of our first Republic, an effort had been made to set up a Red Cross association, under the patronage of the first Mrs. Aguinaldo.  But it didn’t achieve recognition, even though Felipe Agoncillo tried to have the Philippines recognized by the International Committee of the Red Cross. That recognition wasn’t forthcoming, because our independence wasn’t recognized by the community of nations, and so the ICRC couldn’t recognize our Red Cross.

Our national independence was finally recognized, internationally, on July 4, 1946. And with our independence began the process required for us to have our own Red Cross. It started with a reorganization here at home. From the turn of the 20th century, the Red Cross in the Philippines was a chapter of the American Red Cross.

On December 1, 1946, the first Filipino Red Cross Manager, Dr. J. Horacio Yanzon, was appointed, and the first 36 Chapters of the Red Cross locally were organized.

Remember our previous episodes, where we discussed the Geneva Conventions? President signed those conventions in the name of the Republic on February 14, 1947. The Philippine Senate quickly ratified that act. Then Congress proceeded to pass the Philippine National Red Cross  (PNRC) Charter, Republic Act 95. This was signed into law on March 22, 1947. Five days later, on March 29, 1947 Mrs. Aurora Aragon Quezon, the first PNRC Chairman, received a cable from Geneva indicating that the ICRC approved to recognize the PNRC.

And so, on April 15, 1947, if you had been around at that time, you would have heard this on the radio:


That was the first minute of the coverage, which concluded, with the president’s speech. Let’s pause to hear part of President Roxas’s speech during that ceremony.

By September 17, 1947, the PNRC was admitted as a bonafide member of the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (now known as the Federation).

By its membership, our Red Cross commits itself to upholding the guiding principles of the global organization.

The 1965 International Conference in Vienna adopted seven basic principles which should be shared by all parts of the Movement, and they were added to the official statutes of the Movement in 1986.





Voluntary Service




How does the Red Cross uphold these things? By rendering service. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, to which of course the PNRC belongs, and which assists our own PNRC as do the national Red Cross societies of many countries, emphasizes that nature of the assistance the Red Cross provides.

Explainee, would you like to read?

 “assistance without discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions.”

Crucial, too, is the Red Cross’s modern mission, which is to “improve the lives of vulnerable people.” This is a mission that, in some ways, challenges our traditional views of the Red Cross and our assumptions of what it’s about.

Explainee, would you like to read how Red Cross defines “vulnerable people”?

“those who are at greatest risk from situations that threaten their survival, or their capacity to live with an acceptable level of social and economic security and human dignity. Often, these are victims of natural disasters, poverty brought about by socio-economic crises, refugees, and victims of health emergencies.”

This is a more thorough approach to humanitarian assistance: it goes beyond traditional notions of charity and temporary assistance, or focusing strictly on conflict and disasters. One Red Cross official explained it to me in this manner: the Red Cross of yesterday rendered service in times of war, famine, and other disasters; the Red Cross of today realizes that the fundamental notion to uphold is that of human rights, and that there are things that are a kind of permanent, and continuing, emergency, that require sustained attention.

When we return, what the PNRC does.




Last year, the Philippine National Red Cross served in various ways over a million victims of disasters, particularly families that displaced by landslides in Southern Leyte, and super-typhoons Reming and Seniang in the Bicol region. The efforts of the PNRC during such disasters, year-in and year-out, carries with it untold stories of heroism. But more than that, each and every instance of PNRC involvement in a time of natural or man-made disaster, bears as well, the mark of the dedication. The dedication of volunteers and professionals, young and old, rich and poor, who work without thought of compensation, recognition, or rest.

To undertake its programs, the PNRC has 84 chapters and nine subchapters. It is represented in virtually every province of the country. Each chapter and subchapter has a professional administrator who acts as branch manager in charge of administrative and operational functions. At headquarters, the PNRC board of governors undertakes the governance of the organization; at the chapter level, it is the board of directors that sets the direction.

A total of 277 people are employed at headquarters with 140 people at the managerial, supervisory and technical levels, while 137 people comprise the support staff (clerks, drivers, etc.). At the chapter level, staff varies from a minimum of two to a maximum of 19 people. The gender balance amongst employees is roughly equal. At present, the total membership of the PNRC is estimated at 7 million, comprising 6.7 million youth volunteers and 300,000 adult volunteers.

The work of the PNRC is broadly divided into the following.

Disaster Management; The roles of the Disaster Management Services (DMS) are to provide relief in times of disasters and to carry on measures to minimize the suffering caused by them. Disaster preparedness is also a major component of its program that aims to prepare especially the vulnerable communities in the event of calamities.

The Blood Program; the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) is one of the key organizations tasked to provide safe blood to the country through its active role in advocacy, promotion of voluntary blood donation, retention, donor care and the operation of a network of 69 Blood Service Facilities all over the country. Rosa Rosal of course, personifies this program to countless Filipinos: she was recently conferred the Order of the Golden Heart by the President, for her decades of service. And every President from Roxas onwards, has supported the Red Cross, though perhaps the most personal support has been rendered by Fidel V. Ramos, one of the leading blood donors of the program.


To continue with the other programs, there are:


The Safety Services Program, the Safety Services program includes the conduct of training in First Aid, Basic Life Support – Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, Water Safety (Swimming, Aquatic Lifesaving & Lifeguarding), Accident Prevention and other basic rescue courses. The Safety Services also renders first aid, ambulance, beach patrol, lifeguarding and basic rescue services.

And the Red Cross Social Services, which focus on advancing human welfare in peacetime, producing the requirements of the Red Cross programs, and of course, the Volunteer Training Program.

And last but not least, the Red Cross Youth. These young volunteers receive training in first aid, CPR, disaster assistance, and find ways to uphold Red Cross principles in what they do and in their communities.

The staggering number of young people who serve as Red Cross volunteers is particularly impressive to me. I’ve had a few chances to meet and talk to some of these young volunteers: each and every one of them serves as a living reproach to those filled with gloom and doom about the prospects of our country. The Red Cross Youth members give generously of their time, energy, and in many cases, of their own families’ meager resources, simply out of a sense of humanitarian concern. In the process, as many of them have told me, they’ve learned assistance is its own reward: they learn leadership and team skills, they pick up knowledge in first aid, and of course, they have fun.

Which brings us back to Justin Balan-Guevara, his mother, Cynthia Balan-Guevara, the volunteers and staff in Balanga and in the entire Bataan Chapter of the PNRC, from Dr. Rosario Acuña its Chairman, Ms. Junielyn Viesca its CA. Justin is a second-generation Red Crosser; there and third and fourth generation Red Crossers, today. Justin and his mom have to represent for us, tonight, all the many other and volunteers and staff in all the chapters and sub-chapters of the PNRC.

I’d like to close this portion of the program, with a recording from the PNRC Fund Drive for 1948.

It’s the voice of my grandmother, and I’d like to ask you to listen to her, because in the fifty-nine years since this speech was broadcast, generations of Red Cross volunteers have come and gone, but united in the sentiments expressed in this speech.


Let’s listen:

When we return, the next 40 years, going toward the PNRC Centennial.


III. Interview


Richard Gordon isn’t the first senator to head the PNRC, that honor goes to Geronima Pecson, the first lady senator of the republic. But he’s the first serving senator to hold a political position in government and simultaneously head the PNRC.

IV. My View


We are, of course, a nation of vulnerable people –vulnerable at home, and vulnerable abroad. This reality shows how the service traditionally rendered by the PNRC has to evolve, and is changing, both in orientation and practical application. What the PNRC has done so well, it continues to do, quietly, without fuss, in partnership with volunteers and professionals here and abroad. What it has to set out to do, to meet the standards and mission established by the Red Cross globally, will be a tremendous challenge. As the PNRC marks its 60th year, it’s embarking, in many ways, on an entirely new and yet entirely traditional, chapter in its organizational life.

Always First. Always Ready. Always There.

To learn more about the PNRC and how you can help, please contact the PNRC Hotline at (02) 527-0000 or visit

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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