Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ilocano Presidents - Ramon Magsaysay

Ramon Magsaysay is best remembered of his simplicity and humility, and his concern to the Filipino masses of their importance and dignity.

He was born on August 31, 1907 in Iba, Zambales to Exequiel Magsaysay and Perfecta del Fierro.

He took pre-law in the University of the Philippines but later shifted to engineering, working as a chauffeur to support himself. Due to illness, he did not finish the course. Eventually, he enrolled in Jose Rizal College and took Commerce. He graduated in 1931 and started immediately working in Try Tran Bus Company in Manila. At the time the company was losing money, but after Magsaysay had introduced new working methods and had taken measures against corrupt employees, the company started to be profitable and he 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 June 10, 1933.

During World War II, he joined the motor pool of the 31st Infantry Division of the Army as a captain. He later formed the Western Luzon Guerilla Forces against the Japanese. He still maintained the rank of a 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.

He entered politics and was elected to the Philippine House of Congress on April 23 1946. He was chosen by Pres. Roxas to head the Philippine Committee on Guerilla Affairs in Washington, D.C. to secure the passage of the Roger's Bill, that gave benefits to Filipino veterans. He was re-elected as a congressman on 1949.

During the administration of Pres. Quirino, Magsaysay was appointed as the Secretary of National Defense to deal with the communist guerillas. He used his knowledge in guerilla warfare and waged the most succesful anti-guerilla campaign. His methods included the utilizing the soldiers to outreach the outlying, provincial communities. It was during his term as Defense secretary that the military gained respect from the people.

Due to his good performance, he was convinced by many to run for presidency to continue his fight against the communist and to established a government for the people. He ran in 1953 against incumbent Quirino and overwhelmingly won. He wore Barong Tagalog during his inauguration, a first for a Filipino 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, that aimed to defend South East Asia, South Asia and the 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. He believed the importance of the common Filipino people and their right to live in liberty and happiness. Thus he earned the title, "Champion of the Masses".

His term was aborted with his death. During his return from an official visit in Cebu, his plane crashed in Mt. Manunggal on March 17, 1957. During his burial on March 22, 1957, an estimated 2 million people attended.

As a legacy, the Ramon Magsaysay Award was formed in his honor. This is the Asian equivalent of the prestigious Nobel Prize. Many towns were named after him. These are the towns in Occidental Mindoro, Palawan, Zamboanga del Sur, Lanao del Norte, and Davao del Sur.

Ramon Magsaysay - an Ilocano pride. His great spirit, his shown dedication to the Filipino people, and his example of high quality leadership will continue as an inspiration.

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