Ramon Magsaysay

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To read this article in Filipino, see Ramon Magsaysay.

Ramon del Fierro Magsaysay (31 August 1907 - 17 March 1957) was a politician who served as the seventh president of the Philippines and the third president of the Third Republic, holding office from 30 December 1953 to 17 March 1957, when he died in a plane crash. After fighting the Japanese as a guerilla leader, he became military governor of Zambales. He also served as Liberal Party congressman in the province for two terms. Magsaysay hailed by his countrymen as the “champion of the masses,” was known as commanding yet charismatic, and his grounded approach to leadership drew the ”common people” close to him.

Early life and career

Ramon Magsaysay was born in Iba, Zambales to Exequiel Magsaysay, a blacksmith, and Perfecta del Fierro, a schoolteacher. Of Visayan descent, he nonetheless was ethnically affiliated with the Ilocanos of Iba and considered himself one of them. He went to high school at Zambales Academy (ZA).

In 1927, he enrolled at the University of the Philippines. He took up a pre-law course and later shifted to engineering, all the while working as a chauffeur to support himself. However, he did not finish his course due to illness. Eventually, he studied commerce at the Jose Rizal College, graduating in 1931. Just out of college, he started to work as chief mechanic for the Try Tran Bus Company in Manila. At the time, the company was losing money, but after the introduction of new working methods and measures against corrupt employees, the company started to be profitable and Magsaysay became the general manager. He first met his future wife, Luz Banzon, at the office of Try Tran, when she was picking up the payment for a bus company that her father had sold to Try Tran. They married on 10 June 1933.

When World War II broke out in the Philippines, Magsaysay joined the motor pool of the 31st Infantry Division of the Philippine army as a captain. Following the fall of Bataan in 1942, he organized the Western Luzon Guerrilla Forces that fought against the Japanese. He still maintained the rank of captain when the American forces liberated the Philippines in early 1945, although he commanded by then 12,000 men. He had refused to promote himself, but the American command made him a major. At the end of the war, he was appointed military governor of Zambales, inaugurated on February 4, 1945. Two months later, the provincial administration was transferred to a civilian governor.


On 23 April 1946, Magsaysay was elected as an independent candidate to the Philippine House of Representatives. In 1948, President Manuel Roxas chose Magsaysay to represent the country in Washington as chairman of the Committee on Guerilla Affairs, to help to secure passage of the Rogers Bill, giving considerable benefits to Philippine veterans. In the so-called "dirty election" of 1949, he was re-elected for a second term in the House of Representatives. During both terms, he was chairman of the House National Defense Committee.

Secretary of National Defense

In early August 1950, he offered President Elpidio Quirino a plan to fight the communist guerillas, using his own experiences in guerilla warfare during World War II. After some hesitation, Quirino realized that there was no alternative and appointed Magsaysay secretary of national defense on August 31, 1950. He intensified the campaign against the Hukbalahap guerillas, waging one of the most successful anti-guerilla campaigns in modern history. This success was due in part to the unconventional methods he employed, namely utilizing soldiers to distribute relief goods and other forms of aid to outlying, provincial communities. Where before Magsaysay, the rural folk looked on the Philippine Army if not in distrust, at least with general apathy, during his term as defense secretary, Filipinos began to respect and admire their soldiers.

In June 1952, Magsaysay made a goodwill tour to the United States and Mexico. He visited New York , Washington, D. C. (with a medical check-up at Walter Reed Hospital) and Mexico City, where he spoke at the Annual Convention of Lions International.

By 1953, President Quirino thought the threat of the Huks was under control and Secretary Magsaysay was becoming too powerful. Magsaysay met with interference and obstruction from the president and his advisers, in fear they might be unseated in the next presidential election. Although Magsaysay had at that time no intention to run, he was urged from many sides and finally was convinced to vie for the presidency. He resigned from his post as defense secretary on February 28, 1953, and became the presidential candidate of the Nacionalista party, disputing the nomination with Senator Camilo Osias at the Nacionalista national convention.


In the election of 1953, Magsaysay was decisively elected president over the incumbent Elpidio Quirino. He was sworn into office wearing the Barong Tagalog, a first by a Philippine president.

As president, he was a close friend and supporter of the United States and a vocal spokesman against communism during the Cold War. He led the foundation of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, also known as the Manila Pact of 1954, which aimed to defend Southeast Asia, South Asia and Southwestern Pacific from communism. He was also known for his integrity and strength of character.

During his term, he made Malacañáng Palace literally a "house of the people," opening its gates to the public.

One example of his integrity followed a demonstration flight aboard a new plane belonging to the Philippines Air Force (PAF).  President Magsaysay asked what the operating costs per hour were for that type of aircraft, then wrote a personal check to the PAF, covering the costs for his flight.


On March 16, 1957 Magsaysay left Manila for Cebu City, where he spoke at three educational institutions. That night, at around 1 a.m., he boarded the presidential plane Mt. Pinatubo, a C-47, heading back to Manila. In the early morning hours of March 17, his plane was reported missing. It was late in the afternoon that day that newspapers reported that the airplane had crashed on Mt. Manunggal in Cebu, and 26 of the 27 passengers and crew aboard were killed; only newspaperman Néstor Mata survived. Vice President Carlos P. García, who was on an official visit to Australia at the time, assumed the presidency to serve out the last eight months of Magsaysay's term.

An estimated 2 million people attended Magsaysay's burial on 22 March 1957. He was survived by First Lady Luz Banzon-Magsaysay (1915-2004) and their three children: Teresita (1934-1979), Milagros (b. 1936) and former congressman and senator Ramon Jr. (b. 1938).


  • President Magsaysay patterned his people–oriented government after the principles which he found in the 1952 edition of the biography of past President Lázaro Cárdenas of Mexico, which was written by William Cameron Townsend, the founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators and the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL International).
  • In the novel Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein, pg 218, Magsaysay is lauded and described to be the “chief of psychological warfare if he were alive today.”


  • Cortez, Rosario Mendoza (1999). Philippine Presidents - 100 Years. The Philippine Historical Association in cooperation with New Day Publishers.
  • Zaide, Gregorio F. (1984). Philippine History and Government. National Bookstore Printing Press.  
  • Townsend, William Cameron (1952). Biography of President Lázaro Cárdenas.  
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlos_P._Romulo Carlos P. Romulo and Marvin M. Gray: The Magsaysay Story (The John Day Company, 1956, updated - with an additional chapter on Magsaysay's death - re-edition by Pocket Books, Special Student Edition, SP-18, December 1957)

See also

  • President of the Philippines
  • Magsaysay Award
  • Ramon Magsaysay, Jr.



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