7th Secretary of National Defense
September 1, 1950 to February 28, 1953
January 1, 1954 to May 14, 1954
A war hero of the Japanese occupation days, as Secretary of National Defense, he brought rout and disorganization to the Communist movement in the Philippines. He later became an admired and respected President of the Philippines. The late Ramon Magsaysay had a spectacular rise from a bus mechanic to occupant of the highest position within the gift of the Filipino people until his tragic death in a plane crash on March 17, 1957.
Ramon Magsaysay was born on August 31, 1907, in Iba, Zambales to Exequiel Magsaysay and Perfecta del Fiero, carpenter, blacksmith and school teacher. He studied at the elementary school in Castillejos where the family had moved; walked back and forth to the distant Zambales Academy in San Narciso for his high school course; and took up engineering at the University of the Philippines in 1927. Working as driver while studying, Ramon got sick. He transferred later to the Jose Rizal College and graduated in 1932 with a Bachelor of Science in Commerce degree.
In 1945, he and his men captured the powerful Zambales airstrip from the Japanese and led the American forces in liberating Zambales. He was appointed military governor of the province on February 4, 1945 by General Charles P Hall of the 11th Corps and promoted to major on September 23, 1945 by order of General Douglas MacArthur. He received his honorable discharge on February 8, 1946.
Magsaysay turned politician when he was elected representative of Zambales on April 23, 1946, and reelected in 1949. In both terms, he was chairman of the House National Defense Committee and member of the Appropriations Committee. As congressman he went to the United States in 1948 and obtained the famous Rogers Bill providing for additional benefits to Filipino veterans. In April 1950, he went to Washington again and obtained more military assistance.
President Quirino named him his Secretary of National Defense on September 1, 1950. When the Huks were at the height of their power, Magsaysay whipped up the countr4y's weakening armed forces, used guerilla tactics in fighting Huks and his unorthodox methods, which routed the Huks, were applauded and copied in other parts of the world. He not only used force against them but also helped brought basic social services to the remote areas of the country and won the people's heart back for the government. Magsaysay's conquest of the Huks was Asia's first victory against internal communism.
In 1953 the government attempted unsuccessfully to end the Huk rebellion by a peace parley with the rebel leaders. In the presidential elections, held on November 10, former Defense Minister Ramón Magsaysay won a decisive victory over the incumbent Quirino, and because of his vigorous conduct of the campaign against the Huks, the back of the rebellion was broken, although it was not entirely suppressed. He became popularly known as "The Idol of the Masses".
Congress approved, on August 11, 1955, legislation empowering President Magsaysay to break up large landed estates and distribute the land to tenant farmers. On September 6, 1955 the Philippines and the United States concluded a trade agreement on private US investment in Philippine enterprises.
In the mid-1950s the United States and the Philippines jointly acknowledged Philippine ownership of US military bases in the islands. The Philippine Senate also ratified the peace treaty with Japan and a Philippine-Japanese agreement providing for US$800 million in Japanese reparations.
Magsaysay died on March 17, 1957, in an air crash in Mt. Manunggal, Cebu on March 17, 1957. The following day, Vice-President Carlos P. Garcia was sworn in as President. In June a statute outlawing the Communist Party was promulgated. The statute provided a maximum sentence of death for active party membership but allowed surrender without penalty within 30 days after promulgation. Some 1,400 holdouts of the Huk movement surrendered. Garcia was subsequently elected president, and Diosdado Macapagal, an opposition Liberal Party candidate, was elected Vice-President. Macapagal was elected President in 1961, but in the elections of 1965 he lost to the Nationalist candidate, Ferdinand Marcos.
As President, he received honors abroad. In his visit to the United States in 1952, Washington awarded him the U.S. Bronze Star and the Legion of Merit, Degree of Commander, Fordham University, new York conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa. He was keyhole speaker at the Lions International Convention in Mexico in 1952.
He was also recipient of the Military Merit Medal, Philippine Army; Legion of Honor, Officer Class; Presidential Medal of Exemplary Public Service, and Doctor of Laws, honoris causa from Quezon Colleges.
The Congressional Press Club, during Magsaysay's term as congressman, named him one of the ten most useful congressmen in 1946 and 1949, and of the 20 outstanding solons for the four-year term in 1946-1950.
Magsaysay was married to Luz Banzon of Bataan with whom he had three children: Teresita, Milagros and Ramon, Jr.