Ramon Magsaysay was the Third President of the Third Republic of the Philippines, from December 30, 1953 until his untimely death on March 17, 1957.

Today, the online arm of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Office relives scenes from the aftermath of the tragedy that cast a pall over the nation fifty-six years ago. And though today we duly mourn Ramon Magsaysay and remember his bright, if too-short career of selfless service—as we, too, take a glimpse at the nation stunned by his loss—we likewise spearhead a collective tribute to the leader whose legacy, to this day, continues to challenge, if not resonate among those who followed in his footsteps.

Appointment at Mt. Manunggal

Appointment at Mt. Manunggal is a twenty minute documentary directed by Lamberto V. Avellana. It covers the life of Ramon Magsaysay leading up to his death at Mt. Manunggal in Cebu. Though spinning the familiar tale of the beloved president, this film distinguishes itself by providing actual recordings of The Guy addressing crowds of followers in a voice rarely heard but always sought–especially when the nation hits turbulent times. Here is our Guy, Magsaysay speaking to us generations later and we remember him in the hope of continuing his legacy.

This video is courtesy of the Magsaysay family.

Goodbye To The Guy: The death of President Ramon Magsaysay
President Ramon Magsaysay, upon his arrival in Cebu on March 16, 1957.

Fifteen minutes after takeoff from Lahug Airport in Cebu, the plane carrying President Ramon Magsaysay and twenty-five other passengers slammed against the slope of Mt. Manunggal. It was between one and two o’clock in the morning of March 17, 1957. The most powerful man in the nation had perished. In the minutes after the crash, the lone survivor, journalist Nestor Mata, would awaken to the pitch-black of Cebu’s mountain range, his calls of “Mr. President! Mr. President!” merely echoing and ultimately unanswered.

A sketch of the area where the Mt. Pinatubo had crashed on March 17, 1957.

The plane—christened Mt. Pinatubo, after the peak on which the President had once fought as a young guerrilla leader—had left Cebu after a whirlwind day of speaking engagements; politically strategic dinners; meetings with the officials of the province and labor leaders; courtesy calls (including one on former President Sergio Osmeña, who would twice bid the party to spend the night); and, at around midnight, an unscheduled inspection of a new housing project for the poor. Mt. Pinatubo—a converted US Air Force C-47, which traveled at 180 miles per hour—would leave Cebu at the behest of Magsaysay himself, who’d been firm in his desire to return home, to Manila. It would be seven hours later, long after what was then just supposed to be a three-hour flight—that the First Lady Luz Banzon-Magsaysay would listen to conflicting reports of where her husband was, of why the President of the Philippines had not yet come home.

* * *

When Ramon Magsaysay campaigned for the Presidency—pitting himself against the incumbent he had served as Defense Secretary—the streets pulsed to the beat of Mambo, Mambo, Magsaysay! Mabu-, Mabu-, Mabuhay! The strikingly tall, widely beaming Monching—the man who retained the proud bearing of the soldier he once was, even as he rose up the ranks of government—was a beloved symbol for the times. He was the son of a blacksmith and schoolteacher, an automobile mechanic himself who would love cars all his life, their puzzling and their assembling—would even, as the commander-in-chief of a nation, tour diplomats aboard a jeep he’d drive. He was a soldier, and then a guerrilla at the height of the Japanese occupation, fighting the war alongside the people he would inevitably lead. He was a Defense Secretary steely-eyed and unparalleled—dropping bombs on communist camps from planes, running after rebels in dense jungles and mountainsides that could have been a variation of those in his young life. He was the man of the masses—the most tangible manifestation of which was his throwing open the heavy doors of Malacañang for his people to stream through freely.

On March 17, the first twentieth-century-born President of the still-too-young Republic of the Philippines had died. The nation would wait hours to mourn their beloved leader, and would wait a little longer to say their goodbyes. The certainty of his demise, when it came, was a sensation: Condolences from heads of state were issued, tributes would be raised, and countless Filipinos would stream through Malacañang, in much the same way they did when its host was alive. Many more would watch the funeral procession coursing through the streets of Manila, the deep silence punctuated by weeping and calls for their President. And, indeed, in the immediate aftermath of Ramon Magsaysay’s demise—in that protracted pause between an urgent grieving and a people moving forward—the last two lines of the refrain of his once-joyful campaign jingle would sound too much like an omen realized: Our democracy will die / Kung wala si Magsaysay!

The grief of a nation: the funeral procession passing through Manila.
The iconic photo of President Ramon Magsaysay astride his horse Victory, digitally colorized by the PCDSPO. (Photo by Mr. Marcial S. Valenzuela, courtesy of Mr. Art G. Valenzuela.)


1953 Presidential Elections

The elections of November 10, 1953 pitted Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay against incumbent President Elpidio Quirino. The Nacionalista Party recruited Magsaysay, widely credited as having neutralized the HUKBALAHAP threat, to challenge Quirino, who was running for re-election. The elections proved to be a resounding victory for the popular Magsaysay and his running mate, Senator Carlos P. Garcia, resulting in the biggest first term landslide win in Philippine Presidential electoral history—a feat which remains unsurpassed even now.

This map shows the provincial breakdown of votes.

Philippine Electoral Almanac May 10 spreads44


The Music of Magsaysay

Magsaysay’s 1953 Presidential campaign was accompanied by jazzy odes to democracy composed by Raul Manglapus, the national coordinator of the Magsaysay for President Movement.

Mambo Magsaysay

1953. Music and lyrics by Raul Manglapus, arranged and conducted by Nestor Robles. The Mambo was widely credited for the success of the Magsaysay Presidential campaign.

We Want Magsaysay

1953. Music and lyrics by Raul Manglapus, arranged by Angel Peña and featuring Rene Antonio.