Philippine History: President Ramon F. Magsaysay: Champion of the masses

The 107th birth anniversary of President Ramon F. Magsaysay, the seventh President of the Philippines, is remembered today, August 31. For Filipinos, he was “The Guy” who lived simply and humbly, and with his heart for the less fortunate. He was “Champion of the Masses” because of his advocacy for fairness and justice, embodied in his credo: “Those who have less in life should have more in law.” He left a legacy of integrity and nationalism, a good and people-centered governance, and is remembered for opening Malacanang as “house of the people.”

Commemorations are led by his children Ramon Jr., who became a senator of the Philippines, and Milagros. There will be floral offerings and speeches at his gravesite at the Manila North Cemetery and at his monument at the Magsaysay ancestral house in Castillejos, Zambales. The house serves as a museum with memorabilia about the well-loved leader. President Magsaysay was the first President who took his oath of office on Dec. 30, 1953, wearing the Barong Tagalog, the national costume for men.

The Ramon Magsaysay Awards, Asia’s Nobel Prize, was established in his honor in 1957 to recognize courage and service among individuals and organizations in Asia. Awarding ceremonies are held annually on his birth anniversary to honor his memory and perpetuate his legacy of honesty, idealism, and dedicated public service.

His government service started after the proclamation of Philippine independence in 1946 when he was appointed military governor of Zambales. He won as Zambales congressmen in 1946 and was reelected in 1949. He was appointed secretary of national defense in 1950. He ran for the presidency under the Nacionalista Party in 1953 and won.

As president, he worked for approval of the Laurel-Langley trade agreement, War Damage Commission payments to the Philippines, creation of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, enactment of Republic Act 1400, the Land Reform Act of 1955, the Treaty for Collective Defense of Southeast Asia or Pacific Pact, the surrender of Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon rebels, passage of Congressional Act 1292, the special fund for Filipino traders, creation of the National Marketing Corporation and cooperatives for marginalized sectors.

He was awarded the Bronze Star and Legion of Merit, Degree of Commander, by the United States government. Fordham University, New York, conferred on him a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa. He received the Military Merit Medal from the Philippine Army, the Legion of Honor, Officer Class, the Presidential Medal of Exemplary Public Service, and a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, from Quezon Colleges.