HIGHLIGHTS

  • As a Red Cross volunteer, ROSAL pioneered in mass blood-donating campaigns and persuaded other celebrities to join in. She mobilized the armed forces and citizen cadets for annual blood drives.
  • She urged the Red Cross to establish regional blood centers and to operate laboratories where anyone, rich or poor, could have their blood tested. She led in procuring the Philippines’ first refrigerated centrifuge and the equipment needed to screen blood for the AIDS virus
  • She pioneered in public service programs such as Damayan, through which many thousands of people have received urgently needed assistance.
  • The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation board of trustees recognizes “her lifetime of unstinting voluntary service, inspiring Filipinos to put the needs of others before their own.”

 CITATION

Volunteers. What school, church, or charity could function without them? What business, government agency, or NGO could carry on effectively without the willingness of its members, sometimes, to volunteer for something extra? So it is a rare person who does not do so, from time to time. But it is a rare person indeed who volunteers with the zeal and single-minded purpose that Rosa Rosal does, and has done for fifty years, at the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC).

Born Florence Lansang Danon in 1931, Rosa Rosal enjoyed a simple and happy childhood in Manila. She began working early, first as a radio announcer during the war and afterwards as a doctor’s secretary. A beauty at sixteen, she was spotted by a movie producer. Kamagong in 1947 was her first film and the beginning of a stunning career. (Prudently, she also earned a diploma in commerce at night school.) At first a femme fatale, she became a fine dramatic actress. In 1955 she was named Best Actress for Sonny Boy. And just a year later she starred in the award-winning classic, Anak Dalita.

As a teenager, Rosal formed the habit of volunteering at the hospital. One night, a young girl was brought in who had fallen from a five-story building. She was in a coma. Through the Red Cross, Rosal managed to find blood for a transfusion and then watched as the girl’s eyes fluttered open again, to life. The wonder of it led her, in 1950, to register as an official volunteer for the Blood Program of the Philippine National Red Cross. Through all the years of stardom that followed—and all the years, too, of quiet personal tribulation—this became her lasting commitment.

As a Red Cross volunteer, Rosal pioneered in mass blood-donating campaigns and persuaded other celebrities to join in. She mobilized the armed forces and citizen cadets for annual blood drives. She urged the Red Cross to establish regional blood centers and to operate laboratories where anyone, rich or poor, could have their blood tested. She led in procuring the Philippines’ first refrigerated centrifuge and the equipment needed to screen blood for the AIDS virus. With her own money, she refurbished the blood-giving room at Red Cross headquarters, prompting other donors to renovate the laboratory and blood bank. Indeed, she has been a tireless fund-raiser. During the bloody coup of 1989, Rosal appealed for blood over the radio and courted danger by personally delivering emergency supplies to city hospitals.

Today, Rosa Rosal is a PNRC governor and chair of the Red Cross Blood Program, which she has long since come to personify.

Rosal long ago abandoned the sensation-driven world of movies for family-oriented roles on television. She pioneered in public service programs such as Damayan, through which many thousands of people have received urgently needed assistance. In this and in myriad other and often personal ways, Rosal’s good deeds have spread far beyond the Red Cross. Today, her legions of beneficiaries include victims of illness and catastrophe; abused overseas contract workers; disadvantaged youth and women; and victims of rape, incest, and family violence—not to mention the young people she has educated at her own expense and the many babies, once unwanted, who now have loving adoptive parents, thanks to her.

Rosal admits she is relentless when moved to act. “I am a doer and a fighter,” she says, “but without stepping on anybody’s toes.” She has found fulfillment in her life of service. To her grandchildren, she says, she has only her good name to bequeath. “Pass it on,” she tells them.

In electing Rosa Rosal to receive the 1999 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, the board of trustees recognizes her lifetime of unstinting voluntary service, inspiring Filipinos to put the needs of others before their own.

 RESPONSE

Your Excellency, President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, First Lady, Dr. Luisa Ejercito Estrada, Members of the Magsaysay family, distinguished guests, trustees, fellow awardees, ladies and gentlemen:

I would like to thank the Board of Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, for giving me this year’s Public Service Award.

Red Cross came into my life, at the time when I was restless and craving to do something meaningful to consume me. I am a very intense person, and when I do something, I put my heart
and soul into it.

The one magic moment that attracted me to the Red Cross, was the sight of a dying child, badly in need of blood. Realizing that the family had no one to turn to, I immediately ran to the Red Cross. Hours after the blood transfusion, the child moved, as she struggled for a new breath of life.

I was deeply touched. That very moment, I knew in my heart that the rest of my life would be dedicated to the Red Cross. I found the answer to my restlessness. That first blood brought me completely under the spell of the Red Cross. And now, after almost 50 years, my heart still beats as strongly for this
organization.

Since then, public service became a part of me. For when we do something for the less fortunate, without expecting any personal gain or recognition, we are doing public service.

True service is working quietly, without counting the cost, without expecting fanfare, nor praises nor applause from anyone. True service chooses no time or place. Very often the urgent call comes at the least expected moment, at the
most unlikely places.

The awards and recognition I have received may serve as a symbol of my accomplishments. But to me, what I consider most precious is the memory of a dying patient, whose life was saved because of the blood he received on time. The tearful eyes of an overseas contract worker, who was raped and jailed, thanking me for successfully facilitating her return to the Philippines. The happy face of a disabled, whose self-respect and dignity were restored, because of the training skills that were patiently given him.

The award that I keep most dearly in my heart, is the joy of being able to share whatever I have with others. I thank God for using me as a vessel, to manifest His love for His people.

 BIOGRAPHY

Little in Rosa Rosal’s early life offered hope of the bright future that, even at a young age, she was so sure she would have. Her foreign father died before she could know him; home was a small apartment in one of Manila’s most crowded districts; and World War II exploded when she was barely a teenager. Despite all those setbacks, Rosal knew in her bones that someday she would be somebody, although she did not know how.

Florence Lansang Danon, as Rosal was christened, was born in Manila on October 16, 1931. Her Filipino mother, Gloria Lansang, was from Santa Rita town in the province of Pampanga . Florence’s father, Julio Danon, was of French descent on his father’s side and Egyptian on his mother’s. Rosal has no memories of her father and does not even know if he lived to see her. She knows only that her mother was much younger than Julio Danon when they were married, eighteen years old to his fifty, and that he was a widower with children from a previous marriage.

After Julio died, Gloria and her young daughter stayed with her mother. When Florence was five years old, Gloria married Ruperto del Barrio, a Filipino who was in the buy-and-sell business. The new family moved into a small apartment on O’Donnell Street in downtown Manila’s Santa Cruz district. Gloria supplemented her husband’s income with a catering enterprise; she was, like most women from Pampanga, not only a conscientious homemaker but also a fine cook.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)