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Ramon Magsaysay

Ramon Magsaysay, known popularly as "The Guy," was born in Iba, Zambales on Aug. 31, 1907. He was the second child of Exequiel Magsaysay and Perfecta del Fierro. As the eighth president of the Philippines, Magsaysay endeared himself to the Filipino masses by giving them easier access to the Office of the President and providing them more opportunities to air their grievances. To this day, his qualities and his kind of leadership are looked up to as standards for Filipino leaders.

He took up mechanical engineering at the University of the Philippines but ended up with a commerce degree from Jose Rizal College in 1933. During his time, most Philippine political leaders were of Spanish descent, however Magsaysay was of Malay stock, like most of the common people.

He started as a mechanic in the Try-Tran Bus Company and rose to become a branch manager. Magsaysay attained fame as an able guerrilla leader in World War II and was subsequently named by Gen. Douglas MacArthur as the military governor of Zambales when the U.S. liberated the Philippines.

He served two terms (1946-1950) as a Liberal Party congressman for Zambales. This was his first experience in politics. Magsaysay was instrumental in having the US Congress pass the GI Bill of Rights, which accorded benefits to Filipino war veterans. Pres. Elpidio Quirino appointed Magsaysay secretary of defense to deal with the threat of the Huks which established the People's Liberation Army that called for the overthrow of the government. As defense secretary, Magsaysay, was remembered for his successful campaign against the communist insurgents or ``Hukbalahap'' by using both military and political solutions to break the backbone of the rebellion. It has been recognized that he carried out until 1953 one of the most successful anti-guerrilla campaigns in modern history.

Realizing that the Huks could not survive without popular support, he strove to win the trust of the peasants by offering land and tools to those who came over to the government side and by insisting that army units treat the people with respect. Reforming the army, he dismissed corrupt and incompetent officers and emphasized mobility and flexibility in combat operations against the guerrillas. By 1953 the Huks were no longer a serious threat, but Magsaysay's radical measures had made many enemies for him within the government, compelling him to resign on February 28, when he charged the Quirino administration with corruption and incompetence.

Although Magsaysay was a Liberal, the Nacionalista Party successfully backed him for the presidency against Quirino in the 1953 elections, winning the support of Carlos P. Romulo, who had organized a third party. He was easily elected and became the 8th president of the Philippines in 1953.

Magsaysay's administration launched major programs of land reform, social welfare, and public works. It benefited farmers by resettling landless peasants in pioneer areas, establishing an agricultural tenancy commission and court of agrarian relations, forming an agricultural credit and cooperative financing agency, and creating more rural banks to compete with usurious moneylenders. Magsaysay promised reform in every segment of Philippine life, but he was frustrated in his efforts by a conservative congress that represented the interests of the wealthy.

Despite initial support of Congress in 1955, Magsaysay was unable to pass effective land-reform legislation; government indifference to the plight of the peasants then undid most of his good work in gaining the support of the people against the Huks. Nevertheless, he remained extremely popular and had a well-deserved reputation for incorruptibility. Magsaysay was unusually accessible to the people. He toured the barrios, opened the Malacanang Presidential Palace to the public, solicited and acted upon the complaints of "little men."

His manner was direct, his dress and speech simple. The farmers' trust in him was crucial in his suppression of the Huk rebellion. Many regarded him principally as the president whose heart truly bled for the common man. In foreign policy, Magsaysay remained a close friend and supporter of the United States and a vocal spokesman against Communism during the Cold War. He made the Philippines a member of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, which was established in Manila on Sept. 8, 1954, and at the Bandung Conference in Indonesia he rallied Afro-Asian nations against world communism.

Magsaysay was married to the former Luz Banzon. He was killed in a plane crash in Cebu on March 17, 1957 while campaigning for reelection. His vice president, Carlos P. Garcia succeeded him.

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