66 years after death, Ramon Magsaysay still a yardstick of presidency

By: Linda Bolido - Philippine Daily Inquirer | March 26,2023 - 11:43 AM
The late President Ramon Magsaysay was also the first Chief Executive to wear a barong in his inauguration on Dec. 30, 1953.

DID YOU KNOW? The late President Ramon Magsaysay was also the first chief executive to wear a barong in his inauguration on Dec. 30, 1953. (Photo courtesy of Mila Magsaysay)

MANILA, Philippines — In the online knowledge-sharing platform Quora, Filipinos, many of whom probably know only of Ramon Magsaysay from what they read or heard about the seventh president of the Philippines, talk about what could have been if he did not die in that plane crash on March 17, 1957, or 66 years ago.

To them, apparently, the late president remains the champion of the underprivileged and downtrodden and the yardstick to measure political leaders’ commitment to public service.

The discussions were apparently triggered by the last two presidential elections, with both winners presenting themselves as everyday men dedicated to the welfare of the common tao who the late president had repeatedly and unequivocally declared was what his government was for. The discussions began sometime after the 2016 election and peaked during the highly polarized elections of 2022.

Although the names of the former and current presidents were not mentioned, comments tended to hark back to a time when problems were resolved not with iron fists but with compassion and a deep understanding of their root causes.

They talked about how the “Man of the Masses” walked the talk — willing to get his hands dirty with car oil and grease when needed — and strove to deliver on his campaign promises, including listening to the people literally by opening Malacañang’s doors and personally attending to their problems two or three days a week.

Mechanic’s touch

“Ordinary citizen” Romy Pico said RM or The Guy, as Magsaysay was also known, was the best Philippine president. “He was a very good statesman who led his country where trade and industry flourished and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) was at its prime.”

Perhaps it was because RM was a mechanic that he was good at fixing things, Pico surmised. The president, he added, “literally” opened the doors of Malacañang to the masses and allowed ordinary people to explore its grounds and buildings.

“His achievements, both national and international, were so outstanding that it might be hard to compare him with any past, present, or future president,” Pico said.

Walked the talk

Pico said Magsaysay eliminated the local communist movement and his administration “ranked second as the cleanest and noncorrupt government in Asia.”

Aran Cabreros said the course of Philippine history would have been different if Magsaysay was reelected.

“We might have a better agrarian system and projects that are really needed by our nation,” Cabreros said, adding that the economy would be better.

Paul Perry said Magsaysay was a man of “humble background, exemplary war record as a guerrilla fighter, agrarian reformer.”

Although it was reported RM worked with the US Central Intelligence Agency, Perry said the president “was not owned by them.”

For Rex Rafael Collado, who describes himself as a utility worker, Magsaysay was the champion of the masses because he walked his talk.

If he didn’t die

Magsaysay persuaded many people who joined the anti-government Huk (originally Hukbalahap, or Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon) to surrender by giving them what they needed and wanted.

A certain Juan of the Philippine Deep Dive commented, “Perhaps if he (Magsaysay) did not die and was reelected as President, there would be no NPA (New People’s Amy, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines).”

During the administration of Rodrigo Duterte, Mon Que said, “I wish our president is like the first and only true president who was pro-poor and pro-masses — President Ramon Magsaysay.”

Que added that Magsaysay wore the barong “with dignity.”

Magsaysay, for Rodel Louron who calls himself “a politically aware Filipino,” was definitely “the best Filipino president to date.” His term of office was not marred by any political scandal.

Magsaysay was the most popular Philippine president because he worked hard to uplift the poor, Jun Dolor said. Although people learned of his work then only through radio, his popularity would be unmatched and the Filipino poor loved him.

Threat of communism

Computer systems integrator Galileo Valiente said Magsaysay was the best president of the Philippines because he contributed to the common good.

Magsaysay is also the favorite president of John Israel Balaong because he led the country to become the second cleanest country in Asia in terms of corruption and he signed a Southeast Asian treaty that helped slow the spread of communism.

The seventh Philippine president was the “Champion of the Masses” because he prioritized uplifting the lives of Filipinos, said Allan Daniel Serrano who studied at the Cavite State University. Magsaysay helped improve agricultural production by providing farmers with the necessary tools and resources and the infrastructure, like farm-to-market roads.

The president also encouraged medium-sized enterprises and promoted Filipino culture and language, Serrano added.

Magsaysay regained the public trust and promoted peace, Ian Angelo Sogocio said.

Magsaysay’s term was the cleanest and least corrupt, said Kim Kim, while Jose Param, a former Government Service Insurance System employee, said Magsaysay was a true nationalist. The president opened Malacañang to the people and did not put any of his relatives in government positions.

Television personality Kim Atienza called Magsaysay the idol of the masses. The president, who is buried at Manila North Cemetery and not the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes Cemetery), was proof that what mattered was not where a person was laid to rest but what he did for the country, Atienza said.

More in law

On his show “Tsismis Noon, Kasaysayan Ngayon” on Channel 5, Lourd de Veyra described RM as one of the greatest presidents of the Philippines.

Magsaysay, according to the YouTube Vlog Kasaysayan Pinoy, was a model for the youth — respectful, honest, frugal. He worked with dignity. In his brief life, the Vlog said Magsaysay inspired so many people to follow his example. He always presented his true self, was never selfish, and did not use his position to enrich himself. RM had all the traits of the ideal politician the country needed.

De La Salle University History professor Xiao Chua, in a YouTube video, said Magsaysay prioritized the basic needs of the people. He listened to them and declared: “He who has less in life should have more in law.”

RM was the fountain of relief for the people in need and would — or should — always be the standard by which to judge the sincerity and commitment of Filipino leaders, Chua said.


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