Diosdado Macapagal was born in Lubao, Pampanga on September 28, 1910 to Urbano Macapagal and Romana Pangan. Known as the "poor boy from Lubao," He rose to become the 9th President of the Philippines in 1961. His journey from his humble beginnings in Lubao to the country's premier office in Malacanang was an inspiration for Filipinos. He was a man who brought a true sense of nationalism to public service and brought honor to the term politics.
Despite extreme poverty, Macapagal studied law at the University of Santo Tomas as the protege of Honorio Ventura who was then the secretary of the interior. After receiving his law degree, Macapagal was admitted to the bar in 1936 and started his law practice with an American employer. In 1940 he became President Manuel Quezon's legal assistant.
During World War II he
practiced law in Manila and aided the anti-Japanese resistance and also served
as intelligence liaison with U.S. guerillas. His first wife died of malnutrition
and he himself barely survived the Liberation. He was later married to the
former Evangelina Macaraeg.
In 1948, President Elpidio Quirino, appointed Macapagal second secretary to the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC which was his first stint in public office. A year later Quirino asked him to run against a Huk candidate as representative from Pampanga. Macapagal won and was elected to a seat in the Philippine House of Representatives. He was re-elected in 1953 and served until 1956. In Congress he authored the "Minimum Wage Law" and the "Rural Health Law" that sent mobile medical teams throughout the country. He was designated head of a Philippine delegation which was sent to the United States to work out the US-RP Mutual Defense Treaty.
Macapagal, who was a member
of the Liberal Party, became vice president in the administration of Carlos P.
Garcia in 1957. Later in 1961 he was elected President of the the Philippines
with an impressive 55.04 percent of the votes in a five-candidate race that
included Carlos Garcia, Emmanuel Pelaez, Sergio Osmena Jr., and Gil Puyat. The
principal element of his platform was his crusade against graft and corruption
in government which he vigorously pursued as president. He is credited for
restoring the trust of the Filipino people in government. Macapagal adopted the
"Filipino First" policy and pushed for a foreign policy shift to Asia.
As Chief Executive, the former poor boy from a farming community yielded to pressure from the International Monetary Fund and liberalized foreign exchange and import controls. He also devaluated the Philippine peso in an effort to stimulate the sagging economy through greater sugar exports. But domestic manufacturers were hurt and industrial unemployment rose.
His administration passed a land reform code substituting leaseholds for share-cropping. However, inadequate appropriations and opposition from landlords resulted in little change. His five-year socioeconomic program shifted investments from light industries to chemicals, steel, and industrial equipment. His reforms, however, were crippled by a House of Representatives and Senate dominated by the opposition. One of his major foreign policy achievements was the forming of Maphilindo (composed of Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia) in 1963 which paved the way for the creation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or Asean.
Macapagal was instrumental in the changing of the date of the Philippine Independence Day from July 4 to June 12. This coincided with the date Filipino patriots in 1898 declared independence from Spain after nearly 400 years of colonial rule. It was also during his presidency that the Retail Trade Nationalization Law was enacted and the Philippines' filing of a formal claim to Sabah. The renaming of Dewey Boulevard to Roxas Boulevard, Camp Murphy to Camp Aguinaldo, and Fort McKinley to Fort Bonifacio also came about during his term.
In 1965, despite an earlier promise not to seek reelection, Macapagal ran against Senate President Ferdinand Marcos and lost. He later became an outspoken critic of the Marcos government. When the Constitutional Convention was convened in 1971, Macapagal was elected president of the body. The change from the presidential form of government to a parliamentary form was one of the major provisions that came about in the new Constitution of the Philippines.
He died on April 21, 1997 at the Makati Medical Center (MMC) due to heart failure, pneumonia and renal complications. He was 87 years old. Speaker Jose De Venecia extolled former president Diosdado Macapagal as "a great Filipino, in whose symbolic shadow we as a nation stand poorer with the loss of this most dedicated public servant. Like some of the greatest leaders Asia has produced this century, former president Macapagal was a man of the soil who rose in public office through integrity, untainted by scandal. This, more than any other experience in his entire life and more than any school that had nurtured his restless mind, gave him the rare gift to look into the heart of each poor Filipino and feel for them as his own. In this, his career has few parallels in modern democracy."
Former Majority Leader Alberto Romulo also spoke well of President Macapagal and said: "He did not abuse his office ... did not enrich himself or his family while in office. He did not oppress people nor betrayed the nation's trust."
*see other presidents