Ramon Magsaysay Essay

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Honest and efficient presidents are like white lions–they are a breed of politicians so rare we sometimes think they don’t exist anymore.

And then came Ramon Magsaysay, the humble automobile mechanic-turned-president who became known as the “Champion of the Masses.” We remember him as the one who blazed a trail through his “servant leadership” in the 1950’s–half a century before President Noynoy Aquino uttered the words “Kayo ang BOSS ko!” in his inauguration address.

Also Read: Unsolved Mystery – The Magsaysay Plane Crash

Magsaysay was not a perfect president; his administration also faced several issues and controversies. But his greatness overshadowed the flaws of his administration, and had he not died on that plane crash, he would have achieved more things that all his successors could only wish for.

In the words of author Jose Veloso Abueva, Magsaysay’s governance, despite its brevity, remains “the yardstick by which Filipino presidents should be judged.”

So, is Magsaysay the best president our country ever had? Read this article and you be the judge.



Table of Contents

1. His brilliant counterinsurgency efforts were unprecedented.

In the early 1950’s, the insurgency launched by a group of peasant farmers called Hukbalahap (Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon or People’s Anti-Japanese Army) was at its peak. Both the previous and incumbent presidents struggled to stop the rebellion: Roxas simply banned the organization in 1948 while his successor, Quirino, was stained with corruption and cronyism, infuriating the Huks even more.

Desperate to stop the Hukbalahap threats from worsening, Quirino made a strategic move: He appointed Ramon Magsaysay–a celebrated WWII guerrilla leader–as the new Secretary of National Defense. As a new appointee, Magsaysay did what his predecessor failed to do: He identified the root cause of the problem and started from there.

Also Read: 10 Unforgettable Pinoy Politicians We Wish Were Still Alive

With the help of Lieutenant Colonel Edward G. Lansdale, an Air Force intelligence officer who served as his  personal advisor, Magsaysay toured the whole country and saw firsthand the driving force behind the insurgency. At that point, he realized that most of the Huks were not actually Communists; they were simple peasants who thought that rebellion was the only answer to their sufferings.

In the words of historian Teodoro Agoncillo, the Hukbalahap was the “culmination of centuries of peasant degradation, loss of self-respect, and abject poverty.”

Of course, in order for Magsaysay to execute his plans of ending the rebellion, he needed the help of the Armed Forces. But here’s the catch: The country’s military arm was also suffering from several issues, most serious of which were poor leadership, corruption and patronage system.

In other words, ending the insurgency wouldn’t be possible without first addressing the serious problems that had plagued the Armed Forces. It was a challenging task, but this is when Ramon Magsaysay showcased his exemplary leadership skills and political prowess.

Magsaysay completely transformed the AFP. He fired the AFP Chief of Staff, the Chief of Constabulary, and other officers who were implicated in graft and corruption. He also changed the way the AFP fight the insurgents, emphasizing that “the Huks are fighting an unorthodox war” so they should also fight them “in unorthodox ways.” 

This warfighting innovation, also known as “Find Em, Fight Em, Fool Em,” was a combination of intelligence, combat operations and psychological warfare.

Eventually, the Huk rebels were tracked down and their members surrendered one by one, culminating to Luis Taruc’s arrest on May 17, 1954. All of these were achieved through the newly revamped AFP and Magsaysay’s social reforms, namely the legal assistance program for the peasants and the Economic Development Corps (EDCOR), a rehabilitation program that gave surrendered Huks an opportunity to have their own house and land.

Magsaysay’s military and social reforms were so effective that the Communist Party leader Jesus Lava himself admitted that many Huk soldiers left the insurgency group “because repression was ending.”


2. He gave land to the landless.

When Magsaysay ran for president, the barrio-to-barrio campaigns only opened his eyes even more to the issues of the rural folk that had been neglected by previous presidents.

He realized that the Philippine government shouldn’t be a government of the elites, but an entity fully dedicated to the welfare of all its people–especially the peasant farmers long considered to be the “backbone of the nation.”

Magsaysay believed that insurgency would continue to exist as long as the government stays deaf to the calls of the rural folk. “To  be really secure,” he once said, “a country must assure for its citizens the social and economic conditions that would enable them to live in decency, free from ignorance, disease, and want.” 

Also Read: A Touching Story of How Filipinos Saved A Million Lives At The Most Unexpected Place

Magsaysay became the voice of the voiceless, and his impressive rural development programs only proved that he’s sincere in uplifting the lives of the oppressed.

To turn his vision into a reality, Magsaysay implemented several projects–all for the benefit of the rural poor.

He improved the land tenure system through the Agricultural Tenancy Act in 1954, which gave tenants the “freedom to choose the system of tenancy under which they would want to work,” and the Land Reform Act of 1955, which was passed to enhance landlord-tenant relations.

Also Read: 10 Famous Filipinos Who Almost Became President

Public lands were also distributed to qualified settlers: A total of 28,000 land patents, covering 241,000 hectares, were issued during the first year of Magsaysay Administration alone. By 1955, an impressive 23,578 agricultural lots were distributed to landless applicants. In the same year, a total of 8,800 families were also resettled by the  National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Administration (NARRA) in 22 settlement projects.

Magsaysay also initiated an intensive community development through the Presidential Assistant for Community Development (PACD). The said agency  helped build roads and other facilities for the rural folk as well as improved both the medical and education services in the barrios.


3. Ramon Magsaysay created a government of the people, by the people,  for the people. 

President Ramon Magsaysay was genuinely pro-Filipino. For instance, he wore the traditional barong tagalog during his inauguration. He also used the Ilokano wine called basi to exchange toasts with foreign diplomats, and took every chance he could get to promote local products.

For the Filipino people, however, Magsaysay’s most memorable achievement was his effort to earn back people’s trust to the government. Known as the “The Champion of the Common Man,” Magsaysay would listen to the problems of the common “tao” for at least two to three times a week. In fact, he established the Presidential Complaints and Action Committee (PCAC) to make sure that the complaints of the masses were taken care of.

For the first time in many years, Filipinos gained the courage to condemn corrupt public officials without fear of repression. PCAC was so successful that in 1954 alone, they already received an overwhelming 59, 144 complaints.

Also Read: Ramon Magsaysay’s Haunting Last Photo

Wanting to prove that his government was really for the people, Magsaysay also opened the doors of the Malacañang Palace to all its citizens–and he meant it quite literally. Soon, the masses began swarming the official residence, transforming the lawns into picnic grounds. So many people flocked to Malacañang during the Magsaysay era that some began to describe it as a “miniature Divisoria,” a combination of market and cockpit.


4. He is a good role model for the youth.

Magsaysay’s upbringing holds the answer on why he turned out to be a man of principle. Born in Iba, Zambales to a blacksmith and a schoolteacher, the young Ramon Magsaysay was trained to respect the elders and develop the virtues of humility, honesty, frugality, and love for hard work.

It is said that when he was only six years old, Magsaysay’s father, Exequiel, lost his job in a public school after refusing to pass the school superintendent’s son in his carpentry class. For this reason, the Magsaysays were forced to move to Castillejas, where Exequiel built a small blacksmith shop to support his family.

Although a minor hurdle, this experience instilled the importance of honesty and clean living to the young Monching.

As a young man, Monching loved to play with other boys of his age. He was a bit of a prankster, but he never forgot how to respect and shower his parents with love. One day, Exequiel bought several blocks of ice because he was expecting to receive several guests the next day. He was planning to make an ice cream, but was surprised upon finding out that the buried ice blocks were missing.

Also Read: 11 Reasons Why Jose P. Laurel Was A Total Badass

As it turned out, Monching and his friends took the ice blocks the night before, drove out of town, and enjoyed all the ice cream they made. In her biography, Perfecta (Monching’s mother) described how furious his husband was when he found out that there was no ice. He immediately rushed towards the rice field where he found Monching together with the other children.

Exequiel was so mad that he was ready to spank his son. However, his heart melted when Monching showed him the ice cream and said ‘Father, I brought the ice in the field to make the ice cream myself so that you won’t get tired making it.’ In the end, he gave more ice cream to the boys, and what’s left behind were given to the guests.


5. He refused special treatment.

President Magsaysay was so loved by the masses because he didn’t think highly of himself. He earned people’s trust because of his  humility and sincerity to address the needs of the ordinary citizens.

Unlike other politicians, Magsaysay refused to name towns, bridges, avenues, and plazas after him. He lived in a simple home, wore simple clothes (usually an “aloha” shirt and slacks), drove his own car, and spoke a language easily understood by the masses. Indeed, the late President Ramon Magsaysay was the epitome of simplicity.

He wanted to set an example, someone that other public officials would look up to. When he was still a Defense Secretary, for example, he refused special treatment and lived within his means–a government salary of about $500 a month.

Historian Xiao Chua also shared two anecdotes about the great president. It is said that while Magsaysay was on his way to the Malacañang to meet then President Elpidio Quirino, their car suddenly stopped. Because his driver, Kosme, was clueless on how to fix it, Magsaysay–who once worked as a mechanic at the Try Transportation Bus Company in Manila–didn’t think twice in fixing it himself, even while wearing a barong tagalog. 

The same driver also once violated traffic rules. When the policeman saw the plate number and the passenger within the car, he allegedly said “My goodness! Pardon me Mr. President. You can now proceed.” 

Also Read: 10 More Haunting Last Pictures Ever Taken in Philippine History

However, Magsaysay refused to accept the “privilege” and said this instead: “Oh no, sargeant. You said awhile ago that the law is the law.  And in that principle I do believe.  While I am the president, the law applies to everyone, there is equality.  Please give us the necessary ticket.”


6. Ramon Magsaysay banned nepotism and corruption.

Unpretentious, selfless, and completely uninterested in money, President Ramon Magsaysay had all the qualities that an ideal politician should have.

While the rest of Philippine politics were being plagued with nepotism and “compadre system,” Magsaysay was working hard to break the stereotype. He wanted to set an example so he put the needs of the Filipino people above all–even at the expense of his own relatives.

He hated nepotism so much that when he learned that a community well was being dug on a property owned by a relative, he immediately sent a directive and had the well moved in the middle of the village square. An uncle, on the other hand, failed to get a big government cement contract after Magsaysay personally cancelled the order.

He also banned his brother, who was a lawyer, from accepting any case for anyone connected with the government, or for anyone “who wants to get close to the government.”

Magsaysay also hated corruption, and he started to fight it as soon as he entered Philippine politics. On his first day as Defense Secretary, for example, he fired several high-ranking officials in the AFP–including the Chief of Staff and the Chief of the Constabulary–as part of his military reforms. When he became president, his administration was synonymous to honesty and clean governance.

Also Read: 10 Things Filipino Politicians Must Stop Doing

Such was his effort to combat graft and corruption that public officials–from top to bottom–started to fear his presence. “Every time I sit here and look at my stamp drawer,” recalled a local postmaster, “I start to think, well, I don’t have much money and my family needs food, maybe I ought to swipe some. Then I start thinking that that damn Magsaysay might suddenly show up … just as my hand is going into the petty cash drawer, and he’d throw me in jail.”





Agoncillo, T. (2012). History of the Filipino People. 8th ed. Quezon City: C & E Publishing, Inc., pp.474-488.

Chua, M. (2012). Ramon Magsaysay: Role Model for the Youth. [online] It’s XiaoTime!. Available at: http://goo.gl/BUJzGN [Accessed 9 Sep. 2014].

Francisco, R. (2013). Magsaysay and the AFP: A Historical Case Study of Military Reform and Transformation. [online] Presidential Museum and Library. Available at: http://goo.gl/cz8fD6 [Accessed 6 Sep. 2014].

Gin, O. (2004). Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopedia, from Angkor Wat to East Timor, Volume 1. 1st ed. ABC-CLIO, p.54.

Greenberg, L. (1986). THE HUKBALAHAP INSURRECTION, A Case Study of a Successful Anti-Insurgency Operation in the Philippines, 1946-1955. [Case study] Library of Congress, Historical Analysis Series. Washington, D.C.

Halili, C. (2004). Philippine History. 1st ed. Rex Bookstore, Inc., pp.257-260.

Magat, M. (2013). Ramon Magsaysay’s continuing relevance. [online] INQUIRER.net. Available at: http://goo.gl/VRmhYY [Accessed 9 Sep. 2014].

Rivett, R. (1954). Magsaysay–The Racket ‘Killer’. The Argus, [online] p.4. Available at: http://goo.gl/xfdUyv [Accessed 6 Sep. 2014].


More Fascinating Pinoy Facts

Inaugural Address of His Excellency Ramon Magsaysay
President of the Philippines
Independence Grandstand, Manila | December 30, 1953

My countrymen:

You have called upon me to assume the highest office within our gift. I accept the trust humbly and gratefully. My sole determination is to be President for the people.

The office of President is the highest in the land. It can be the humblest also, if we regard it – as we must – in the light of basic democratic principles. The first of these principles is the declaration of the Constitution that “sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates form them.” This simply means that all of us in public office are but servants of the people.

As I see it, your mandate in the past election was not a license for the selfish enjoyment of power by any man or group of men. On the contrary, it was an endorsement of the principle – at times forgotten – that the general welfare is the only justification for the exercise of governmental power and authority.

Your mandate was a clear and urgent command to establish for our people a government based upon honesty and morality; a government sensitive to your needs, dedicated to your best interests, and inspired by our highest ideals of man’s liberty.

We have a glorious past. Now we must build a future worthy of that past.

It is significant that we begin on this day and on this ground hallowed by the supreme sacrifice of Jose Rizal. We can find no finer example of dedication to country to light our way.

All too often, however, we speak of Rizal – and of Del Pilar, Bonifacio, Mabini, and our host of heroes – as if their work were done, as if today their spirit had ceased to have any meaning or value to our people. The truth is that we need their spirit now more than ever. We need it to complete the work which they began.

We need men of integrity and faith like Rizal and Del Pilar; men of action like Bonifacio; men of inflexible patriotism like Mabini. We need their zeal, their self‑reliance, their capacity for work, their devotion to service, their ability to lose themselves in the common cause of building a nation.

We have a glorious past. Now we must build a future worthy of that past.

I will have such men. From this day, the members of my administration, beginning with myself, shall cease to belong to our parties, to our families, even to ourselves. We shall belong only to the people.

In the administration of public affairs, all men entrusted with authority must adhere firmly to the ideals and principles of the Constitution.

I will render – and demand – uncompromising loyalty to the basic tenet of our Constitution; that you, the people, are sovereign. The rule of government must be service to you.

Accordingly, I pledge my administration to your service. I pledge that we shall extend the protection of the law to everyone, fairly and impartially – to the rich and the poor, the learned and the unlettered – recognizing no party but the nation, no family but the great family of our race, no interest save the common welfare.

The Bill of Rights shall be for me and the members of my administration, a bill of duties. We shall be guardians of the freedom and dignity of the individual.

More than this, we shall strive to give meaning and substance to the liberties guaranteed by our Constitution – by helping our citizens to attain the economic wellbeing so essential to the enjoyment of civil and political rights.

The separation of powers ordained by our Constitution – as an effective safeguard against tyranny – shall be preserved zealously. Mutual respect for the rights and prerogative of each of the three great departments of government must be observed.

The legislative power vested by the Constitution, in the elected representatives of the people will, I trust, operate vigorously to prosecute our common program of honest, efficient and constructive government. As Executive, I look forward to intimate cooperation with the members of Congress, particularly with those statesmen who have stood guard over the rights and liberties of our people.

The independence of the judiciary shall be strengthened. Our courts must be freed from political and other baneful influences, so that they may function with the same integrity and impartially which have made our Supreme Court the fortress of law and justice.

Heretofore, social justice has raised fervent but frustrated hopes in the hearts of our less fortunate citizens. We must not permit social justice to be an empty phrase in our Constitution. We must bring it to life – for all.

The separation of powers ordained by our Constitution – as an effective safeguard against tyranny – shall be preserved zealously. Mutual respect for the rights and prerogative of each of the three great departments of government must be observed.

In consonance with this purpose, my administration shall take positive, energetic measures to improve the living conditions of our fellow citizens in the barrios and neglected rural areas and of laborers in our urban and industrial centers.

The land tenure system of our country shall be reexamined, to purge it of injustice and oppression.

“Land for the landless” shall be more than just a catch‑phrase. We will translate it into actuality. We will clear and open for settlement our vast and fertile public lands which, under the coaxing of willing hearts and in­dustrious hands, are waiting to yield substance to millions of our countrymen.

Democracy becomes meaningless if it fails to satisfy the primary needs of the common man, if it cannot give him freedom from fear and on which a strong republic can be built. His happiness and security are the only foundations on which a strong republic can be built. His happiness and security shall be foremost among the goals of my administration.

We must develop the national economy so that it may better satisfy the material needs of our people. The benefits of any economic or industrial development program shall be channeled first to our common people, so that their living standards shall be raised.

While I shall give priority to our domestic problems, my administration will not neglect our international res­ponsibilities. We cannot escape the fact that, today, the destinies of nations are closely linked. It is in this spirit that we regard the goodwill and assistance extended to us through the various programs of international economic cooperation with the more developed nations, chiefly the United States. Considering this aid to be primarily a means of speeding up our progress toward self‑reliance, I pledge that every peso worth of assistance will be spent honestly and to the best advantage.

It is to our common interest that this Republic, a mo­nument to mutual goodwill and common labor, should prove to the world the vitality of the democracy by which we live.

We shall continue to cooperate with the United Na­tions in seeking collective security and a just world peace.

No effect will be spared, no element of cooperation will be withheld in strengthening and safeguarding our physical security. We are prepared to live up to all our obligations under our Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States.

To our Asian brothers, we send our fraternal greetings. They are beset by problems of the same nature and complexity as those that confront us. We invite them to share our experience in finding solutions to those problems through democratic means. It is my hope that we can exchange experiences and information on methods that each of us has found most effective in subduing illiteracy, poverty, disease, under-productivity, and other common evils which have afflicted our countries of past generations.

The problems and opportunities ahead of us set the measure of the effort we must exert in the years to come. We must have unity to solve our problems, cooperation to exploit our opportunities. I urge you to forego partisan differences whenever the national interest clearly demands united action. We must not be distracted from our work. We have no time for petty strife.

Certainly we cannot temporize with armed dissidence. I therefore call upon the remnants of the Huk uprising still hiding in the hills to lay down their arms – and rejoin the rest of the nation in the ways of peace. I say to the rank and file of the Huks – who have been misled by the lies of the Kremlin – that they can win the economic security and social justice they desire only within the framework of our democracy. We shall welcome back the truly repentant with understanding and with sympathy.

But, to the leaders of the Communist conspiracy who would deliver this country and its people to a foreign power, this I say: I shall use all the forces at my command to the end that the sovereign authority of this government shall be respected and maintained. There can be no compromise with disloyalty.

I have been warned that too much is expected of this administration, that our people expect the impossible. For this young and vigorous nation of ours, nothing is really impossible!

Let us have faith in ourselves, the same faith that fired the heroic generation of revolution. They waged and won their struggle with nothing but bolos in their hands and courage in their hearts. Without political training and experience, they wrote a constitution comparable with the best, and established the first republic in Asia. Our own generation was told by doubters and enemies that we would never have independence from the United States. We live today under a free and sovereign Republic. Our faith was fulfilled.

I have been warned that too much is expected of this administration, that our people expect the impossible. For this young and vigorous nation of ours, nothing is really impossible!

Today, we are told anew that it is impossible to do what must be done. But our people, sustained by God, under whose protection we have placed our destiny and happiness, and strengthened by an abiding faith in His goodness and mercy – our people, united and free, shall shape a future worthy of our noble heritage if we but act; act together; act wisely; act with courage; and act unselfishly, in a spirit of patriotic dedication.

(Source: Gov.ph)

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