The “meteoric rise” of Ramon Magsaysay from being a poor bus mechanic to the highest position of the land has been unequalled in the Philippine political history.
Childhood and Early Education
Ramon was born on August 31, 1907 in Iba, Zambales. His parents were Exequiel Maysaysay, a school teacher and Perfecta del Fierro, who taught him religion and alphabet.
He finished his elementary at Castillejos and his high school at the Zambales Academy, where he graduated with honors. He was a student Jose Rizal College, taking Commerce, when the second world war broke out.
When the Japanese took over the reins of the country, Maysaysay joined the guerrilla forces with the rank of captain. He was the supply officer and considered by his companions as their “eyes and ears”. His valor and leadership endeared him the men under his command. He led his men in ridding the coast of Zambales of Japanese soldiers in preparation for the return of the American troops.
After the war, he appointed military governor of Zambales. He was also successful and so loved by the people of the province that he was asked to run for Congress. He did and won by a landslide.
As congressman, he headed a mission to the US which worked for the passage of the Rogers Veterans Bill. He was elected at the next election but President Elpidio Quirino appointed him secretary of National Defense. His growing popularity with the masses took a sudden leap forward with this appointment.
Magsaysay launched a full-scale military offensive against the Huks by reorganizing AFP and equipping them with field military, bomber planes and mobile units. At the same time he gave the battle-weary peasants cash, credit, legal services, wells, health clinics and homesteads.
Saviour of Democracy
Overnight he became a legend as the saviour of democracy and hope the masses. The people clocked to him with genuine affection, electing him president by a landslide in 1953.
Magsaysay’s personalized, on the spot solutions to the problems of the people restored their faith in government. The Catholic hierarchy and the rich business community valued his anti-surgency work. A host of bright, young professionals joined the government service as the “Maysagsay boys”. As mass support for the armed struggle eroded, the country enjoyed a period of relative peace.
He scored a landslide victory against President Quirino in 1953. He outlined his program of government as based on the “happiness and security of the common man”. To carry this out he announced that his administration would develop the rural areas, for “what is good for the common man is good for the whole country”.
As the New President
The new President realized that the agrarian unrest in the Philippines had been caused by the unequal distribution of wealth. The wealth of the land was, he said in the hands of the few. A great majority of the people were poor.
To correct the condition, President Magsaysay had Congress pass the Land Tenure Reform Law, which provided the large landed estates should be bought by the government and resold to tenants on easy payment basis.
To bring the barrios closer to center of population, barrio roads were constructed. By 1955, 565 kilometers of new roads had opened, and 1,194 kilometers of roads improved and repaired. Many bridges, too, were built.
National and communal irrigation ditches were constructed. Farmers in the remote rural areas were instructed by agricultural experts so that they could improve production. To help them market their products, the Agricultural Credit and Cooperative Financing Administration (ACCFA) was established.
Also very much in President Magsaysay’s program was the improvement of health conditions in the rural areas. Towns and even the remotest barrios were given potable water and artesian wells.
Medical services were done free for barrio people. Scientific and educational campaigns to eradicate disease, like malaria, were pushed through. Barrio councils, assemblies, 4-H Clubs were set up to educate the people in the community life.
Encouraged by President Magsaysay’s concern for the common man, Congress passed the Social Security Act of 1957 which makes it compulsory for corporations to make their employees members of the social security system.
Regarding the education, President Magsaysay said, “if we were able to participate fully in the blessings of science, we must recast our educational system to train more engineers and scientists”, He therefore announced the adoption of educational reforms geared towards scientific and economic progress.
Another important step taken by him is the integration of the national minorities. The Muslims,being fierce lovers of freedom, had never allowed themselves to be conquered by foreigners. The result was that they had not identified themselves with the national government, whether under Spain or under US.
A True Man of the Masses
President Ramon Magsaysay’s simple way of life, his concern for the common man, his success as a Huk fighter truly endeared him to the people. He truly earned the titles “Saviours of Democracy” and “Man of the Masses”.
He restored the people’s faith in government. He was the first President to really care about the barrio folk. He minimized extravagance in government and Malacanang functions. He imposed a high moral code of conduct for public officials. He did not appoint family members and relatives to government positions, and did not allow plazas, streets, bridges towns to be named after him. He also asked the people to call him just “Mr. President” and not “Your Excellency”.
It was very unfortunate that in the President’s eagerness to implement his program of rural development, he met his untimely death. He spend most his time going from province to province, to remote barrios to see for himself how the barrios were doing, to listen to their needs, to find ways to improve their lives.
On March 16, 1957, together with some friends and newspapermen, he went to Cebu on a speaking engagement. The plane that they were on crashed into a mountain killing him and all but one of his companions. The tragedy was a great shock to the Filipinos and for a long time they mourned the death of one of the most beloved presidents the country has ever had.
* Indeed, his life is full of glory and admired by many Filipinos as explained in this biography (talambuhay) of Ramon Magsaysay.
|< Prev||Next >|