Last Updated: April 4th, 2019
Ushering a golden era during his presidency, Ramon Magsaysay was one of the most well-loved politicians in the Philippines. His brand of transparency, integrity, and corruption-free governance made him one of the best leaders to unify the Philippines after the rise of insurgency, communism, and the devastating effects of World War II.
Born on August 31, 1907, in Iba, Zambales, Ramon del Fierro Magsaysay was the son of Exequiel Magsaysay y de los Santos, a blacksmith, and Perfecta del Fierro y Quimson, a schoolteacher.
He studied grade school in the small town of Castillejos, Zambales and entered the University of the Philippines in 1927 to study engineering while working as a chauffeur.
By 1928, the young Magsaysay transferred to Jose Rizal College to study commerce and finally obtained his degree in 1932.
World War II
During the outbreak of World War II in the country, he joined the motor pool of the 31st Infantry Division of the Philippine Army.
With the fall of Bataan in 1942, he evaded the occupying Japanese forces by heading for the hills. He then organized the Western Guerilla Forces and was commissioned captain on April 5, 1942. For the next three years, Capt. Magsaysay operated under Col. Merrill’s guerilla outfit–first as a supply officer and later as commander of a 10,000 strong force.
Magsaysay was among those instrumental in the clearing of the Zambales coast before the landing of the American forces on January 29, 1944.
He married Luz Rosauro Banzon, a native of Balanga, Bataan, on June 16, 1933 and had three children–Teresita, Milagros, and Ramon.
In his first foray in the political field, Magsaysay was elected to the House of Representatives as a representative of Zambales on April 23, 1946, and reelected in 1949 under the Liberal Party. In April 1948, he was handpicked by President Manuel Roxas to lead a veterans’ mission to Washington which lobbied for the passage of the Rogers Veterans Bill, giving benefits to Filipino war veterans.
During his time in Congress, Magsaysay served as the Chairman of the House National Defense Committee.
Secretary of Defense
President Elpidio Quirino appointed Magsaysay as the Secretary of National Defense on September 1, 1950, with the encouragement of his American advisers. As head of the country’s national defense, Magsaysay intensified the fight against the Hukbalahap guerillas (also known as Huks). His fight against communism led to the arrest of 29 top leaders of the People’s Liberation Army and 6 members of the Politburo of the Communist party of the Philippines.
He also encouraged The Huks to surrender by offering medical, treatment, and parole, and homesteads. While this was considered a success at the time, the re-established Communist party reoccupied areas of Central Luzon and other parts of the country.
Initially having no intention to run for president, he was prodded by many sides of the political spectrum to seek the presidency and run against President Quirino. He was then convinced that this is the only way he can continue his fight against communism and ousting the corrupt administration–which, in his opinion, led to the rise of the communist guerrillas by bad governance.
He resigned from his post as Secretary of National Defense in 1953 and became the presidential candidate of the Nacionalista Party.
Ramon Magsaysay, together with his running mate, Carlos P. Garcia defeated President Elpidio Quirino and José Yulo in the 1953 elections.
He also popularized the use of “campaign jingles” during elections–which continues to be emulated by many politicians to this day.
When sworn in for office, Ramon Magsaysay wore the barong tagalog, a first by a Philippine President.
During his term, the Philippines became a close friend and supporter of the United States and its policies against the rise of communism. He also led the foundation of the now-defunct Southeast Asia Treaty Organization that aimed to defeat communist-Marxist movements in South East Asia, South Asia, and the Southwestern Pacific.
His administration then led the conclusion of the long drawn reparation agreement with Japan. While initially demanding a sum of eight billion dollars, the final agreement signed by both governments included twenty million dollars to be paid in cash in Philippine currency; thirty million dollars, in services; five million dollars, in capital goods; and two hundred and fifty million dollars, in long-term industrial loans.
He also opened the gates of Malacañang to the public and his administration was considered as one of the cleanest and corruption-free in Modern Philippine history. It is often cited as the “Golden Years” in the country’s history where trade and industry flourished and the Philippine military was at its prime. The Philippines was also cited as second in Asia’s clean and well-governed countries.
Magsaysay boarded the presidential plane “Mt. Pinatubo” in the early hours of March 17, 1957, and was later reported missing. By late afternoon, newspapers reported the airplane crashed in Mt. Manuggal in Cebu. With 25 people on board, only newspaperman Néstor Mata survived.
Vice President Carlos P. Garcia assumed the presidency and served the last eight months of Magsaysay’s term.
Held on March 22, 1957, his state funeral drew an estimated two million people.
Magsaysay was awarded the Quezon Service Cross on July 4, 1957–the highest national recognition of the Republic of the Philippines.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award established in April 1957 by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund was named after him. The award is internationally-recognized as Asia’s Nobel Prize counterpart and is the highest award given to Asian individuals and organizations.
The Manila Project
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- The Magsaysay Story, Carlos P. Romulo and Marvin M. Gray (1956)
- The Philippine Presidents from Aguinaldo to Garcia, Eufronio Melo Alip (1958)
- Official Gazette
- Other articles