President Ramon Magsaysay & Mt Manunggal, Cebu

This time, I am posting a story on the life and death of President Ramon Magsaysay who is unknown to most of the runners, seniors and younger ones. I was barely five years old when he died. My recent visit to Cebu City and Mt Manunggal gave me the idea to share what I’ve seen in this historic place.

President Ramon Magsaysay was the 7th President of the Philippines and the 3rd President of the Third Republic. He was elected as a Member of the House of Representatives in 1946 in the lone district of Zambales and later re-elected for a second term in 1949. He became the Chairman of the National Defense Committee in the House of the Representatives and on August 31, 1950, he became the Secretary of National Defense during the administration of President Elpidio Quirino in 1950 at the height of the Hukbalahap and insurgency problem in Central Luzon. Due to intrigues and “power play”, he resigned as Secretary of National Defense on February 28, 1953. He was urged by the different sectors of the society and the masses for him to run for the Presidency. According to public opinion, the only way to solve the problem of communism/insurgency was to have a good governance and a government that serves the people. And that governance lies on the presidency and leadership of President Ramon Magsaysay. According to President Magsaysay’s opinion, a corrupt government and  a bad administration are the causes on the rise of communism & insurgency. He later became the presidential candidate of the Nacionalista Party and won the presidency with a landslide victory over the incumbent President Elpidio Quirino.

He was the first President who used the Barong Tagalog during his Oath-Taking Ceremony. He was the staunch supporter of the United States in its fight against communism. He made Malacanang Palace open to the public and literally making it a “house of the people” and created a machinery/system of the government to hear and solve the complaints of the ordinary people and masses. He personally showed acts of integrity by paying services done/given to him. In one instance, he was invited by the Philippine Air Force to ride in a demonstration flight of a new plane and he asked for the operating cost of the flight per hour and immediately signed a check for the payment. He encouraged the people to have their own business through open access to loans and government subsidies. During his administration, the military was able to arrest most of the leaders of the Communist Movement in Metro Manila and its top leaders surrendered to him, practically ending the insurgency problem of the country.

On 16 March 1957, he was invited to three separate speaking engagements in Cebu City. Using his Presidential Plane, Mt Pinatubo, he visited Cebu with an entourage of 26 people to include the plane’s crew, government & military VIPs, journalists, and security detail/staff. He was scheduled to depart back to Manila at 1:00 AM and the plane took-off from the Lahug Airport at 1:17 AM. The last radio transmission from the plane was an instruction to his staff in Malacanang Palace for the President to be fetched at Nichols Air Base (Villamor Air Base) at 3:00 AM, the expected time of arrival of the presidential plane from Cebu. The plane did not arrive as scheduled and the plane was declared missing on the early morning of 17 March 1957.

On the late afternoon of that day, a lone survivor, Nestor Mata, burned and wounded, was discovered and rescued on the site of the plane crash. it was the residents in the Mount Manunggal ranges who heard of the explosion and seen the fire of the wreckage on the early morning of that day and were the first ones who reached the crash area. The President’s dead and mangled body was recovered and later identified through the wristwatch he was wearing and later through his dentures. Nestor Mata, being a journalist and reporter of Philippine Herald Newspaper, made his newswire report to Manila entitled, “The President Is Dead” while he was at the hospital. At present, Mr Nestor Mata still writes for the Malaya Newspaper.

President Ramon Magsaysay was buried on 22 March 1957 with the attendance of more than two million mourning Filipinos.

During my earlier visit last year to my troops with the 78th Infantry Battalion based in Balamban, Cebu, I asked the Battalion Commander where Mount Manunggal is. I did not receive any good answer from him making it appear that he does not know the answer. That could not be possible because he always pass through the mountain range when going to Cebu and going back to his camp in Balamban. Well, lately, I relieved that Battalion Commander for some administrative “lapses” and he is now under investigation.

Last week, a senior Enlisted Personnel who acts as my security detail while I am in Cebu, brought me to the exact place where “Mt Pinatubo crashed in Mt Manunggal”. From the Highway going to Balamban proper from Cebu City, you could hardly see the “directional” sign or road marker in one of the smaller roads that crosses the Highway which leads us to the peak of the mountain.

This is the old road sign marker hardly seen along the Cebu City-Balamban Highway. It should be noted that Magnolia (Chicken) was the one who donated this marker.

The road that goes to the plane crash area in Mt Manunggal consists of cemented and feeder/dirt road which is considered as an all-terrain road but the road is very steep where one needs to ride in a 4X4 vehicle. Mt Manunggal is considered as the highest mountain in Cebu Island. After a winding, 8-9-kilometer road, we reached the Chapel where we disembarked from our vehicles and walked towards the bust monument and and where the National Historic Institute’s Market is located. In the earlier years, people and “trekkers” would walk along the trails for hours and days, depending where they start, to reach the peak and camp out for the night during yearly celebrations of the death of President Ramon Magsaysay in this mountain.

This is one of the newly-installed billboards along the route, as one enters the park,  that leads to the NHI Marker. It is noted that DENR, Cebu Provincial Government, Cebu Mountaineering Society, and Ayala Center (Cebu) are the sponsors of these small billboards. Last year was the Golden Anniversary (50th year) of the death of President Magsaysay and celebrations had been made on the site of the crash.

This is the view from the peak of Mt Manunggal. Seen from this location is the Chapel and the end of the feeder road towards the NHI Marker. A trail from the Chapel to the right leads the visitors to the NHI Marker and Camp Site.

The NHI Marker and a Poem Dedicated to President Ramon Magsaysay engraved on the right side of the Bust’s Pedestal.

The white cross is the “marker” where the exact site of the crash as seen from the NHI Marker.

From the Marker, I again walked in going to a higher elevation towards the actual crash site where the plane engine is still there to serve as the “marker” and the side of the mountain which was considered as the exact point where the nose of the plane hit upon impact. Another cemented wall was constructed with a “marble plate” where the names of the 27 passengers of Mt Pinatubo are engraved.

Walking uphill towards the crash site area.

This is one of the engines of the Presidential Plane, Mt Pinatubo, a C-47 plane which serves as the marker where the engine’s plane was discovered by the rescuers. The pole on top of the cemented engine is the post of the white cross seen from the NHI Marker.

This cemented portion with a marble plate where the list of the names of the passengers of Mt Pinatubo is engraved is the exact side of the mountain where the nose of the airplane hit on impact. This site was established and improved by Brig Gen Neon Ebuen, son of Brig Gen Benito Ebuen (one of the fatalities in the crash and then the Commanding General of the Philippine Air Force) in September 2002

After visiting this historic and memorable place where President Ramon Magsaysay crashed and died, I have the following observations and insights about the place and the incident:

1) The road “directional” marker at the road crossing from the Cebu-Balamban Highway to the crash site area be changed and improved to be visible to all people passing the area.

2) The Mt Manunggal area and environs should be made as “National Protected Wildlife Park” to protect it from illegal settlers and illegal “loggers” or makers of charcoal.

3) The camp area should be improved with water source available.

4) The road access from the Highway to the Chapel at the crash site should be completely cemented.

5) I found out that the presidential plane, Mt Pinatubo, flight back to Manila was during night-time. I am just curious if the plane, a C-47, with only 100 flying hours after being donated by the US Government as newly-refurbished plane, was installed with a “night navigation” capability. I think, the plane did not have any.

6) The result of the plane crash investigation pointed to “metal fatigue” in one of the parts of the engine’s rotors which caused the plane to crash. How could the investigators knew about such findings since most of the plane’s engine parts were burned. In our plane crashes today, we seldom hear about such thing as “metal fatigue”. What we hear as the cause of plane crashes today is “human factor”.

7) In the book, “The Portrait of A Cold Warrior” by Joseph B Smith which was published in 1981, it was insinuated that Pres Magsaysay was a “creation” and supported by CIA from the time he was the Secretary of National Defense up to the time he was the President and the CIA had a “hand” and knowledge on the plans to “eliminate” the President, making the crash as caused by a “sabotage” on the plane’s system, because of the reason that President Magsaysay had distanced himself from his CIA “handlers”.

8) The pilot of the plane was a certain Major Florencio Pobre, not Brigadier General Benito Ebuen, Commanding General of the Philippine Air Force at that time. I heard of a rumor that one of the sons ( a Brigadier General of the Philippine Air Force) of the late Brig Gen Benito Ebuen was not considered as the Commander of the PAF’s Presidential Wing because he is the son of the pilot of the ill-fated presidential plane of President Magsaysay.

9)  There is a need for more involvement of the national government in the development/improvement of this area, Mt Manunggal, and possibly made as a tourist destination.

10)  More information and awareness program on the life of President Ramon Magsaysay should be given to all students and citizens of the land. In my visits to my troops, I always emphasize the four “Fs” to eradicate insurgency from the words of President Magsaysay—Find them, Fix them, Fight them, & Finish them. From Mr Max Soliven, he added another “F”—Fool them!

11) Remembering President Ramon Magsaysay should not be done only during the celebration of his death anniversary in Mt Manunggal but on a “daily basis” for the reasons of studying why he was able to solve the problem of insurgency during his time; to emulate his ways and deeds to set the example of a government official with the highest degree of integrity and free from “scandals of corruption”; and find out why and how he was well-loved by the Filipino “masses” and other sectors of the society.

12) Lastly, if you are a VIP, consider wearing a “sturdy & reliable” wristwatch. The wristwatch worn by a person might be the only way a victim/fatality in plane crash or sea accident is identified. Breitling Watch came up with a watch that emits signal/beacon if the wearer is lost due to air or sea accident/mishap and gives the rescuers easier and faster time to locate/rescue survivors and bring them to immediate care and treatment.

I am highly recommending visitors to Cebu to see the place and remember an important era in our history during the incumbency of President Ramon Magsaysay.


2 thoughts on “President Ramon Magsaysay & Mt Manunggal, Cebu

  1. mariabeverlysambajon

    Sir good day! I am Maria Beverly Sambajon, a program researcher of GMA 7’s Case Unclosed. Currently, we are working on an episode on the Magsaysay aircrash. I was just wondering if you still have a copy of the book “The Portrait of A Cold Warrior” by Joseph B Smith and if we could borrow it. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at 9271893 or through I hope to hear from you as soon as possible sir.

    Thank you.

    Maria Beverly Sambajon


  2. I have just visited the crash site and was left with many questions after my visit. Having a background in aviation, i know something about piloting and aircraft design. It seems unlikely that a mechanical failure could be determined from parts left on a mountaintop, and later looted. Even if one engine failed, C-47s are able to maintain level flight if the bad engines prop is feathered. In any event unless the planes altimeter was faulty, the pilot should have realized that the the plane was below 3000 feet the height of the mountain range he was crossing. If he felt a power loss shortly after take off, why didn’t he turn around and land at Cebu before crossing the mountains? It was a clear night with a nearly full moon, He would have been able to see the mountains in silhouette. Barring an altimeter failure and even with that being the case pilot error seems the most likely cause of the accident. I have flown the route many times using a flight simulator, it takes only 5-8 minutes to reach Mt. Manunggal from Lahug, climbing at 100 knots. Flying on one engine it is possible to maintain altitude with the plane carrying 25 passengers and luggage. I am interested to visit the site again and get some GPS readings. feel free to contact me if you like.


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