Diosdado Pangan Macapagal was the first poor
man to become president of the Philippines. He was aptly tagged “Man of
the Masses” and the “Incorruptible” for his unquestionable integrity.
Born on September 28, 1910, Diosdado hailed
from San Nicolas, Lubao, Pampanga. He was the second of four children
of Urbano Macapagal, a “plebeian intellectual” and Romana Pangan, a
share tenant’s daughter. Despite poverty, he finished at the head of
his class in the Lubao Elementary School in 1925 and was salutatorian
at the Pampanga High School in 1929.
He received his Associate in Arts from the
University of the Philippines in 1932 and became a scholar at the
Philippine Law School, where he excelled in oration and debate. Then
Secretary of the Interior Honorio Ventura offered to shoulder his
expenses, provided he transferred to University of Santo Tomas.
Macapagal abided by the request. A rating of 89.95% made him the
topnotcher in the 1936 bar examinations.
He then finished his Master of Laws degree in
1941, Doctor of Civil Laws (1947) and Doctor of Philosophy in Economics
Macapagal first took on the job of an
assistant attorney with the largest American law firm in the country,
Ross, Lawrence, Selph and Carrascoso.
He married Purita dela Rosa, with whom he had
two children, Cielo and Arthur. She died of malnutrition in 1942. In
1946 he married Evangelina Macaraeg of Pangasinan. They had two
children, Gloria and Diosdado Jr.
When the Philippine Republic was established
in July 1946, he served the government as Chief of the Law Division of
the Department of Foreign Affairs. In 1948, President Quirino appointed
him as chief negotiator in the transfer of the Turtle Islands from the
United Kingdom. At the same time, he had a stint as Second Secretary at
the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Over 20,000 votes, the biggest in the country
that time, won him a seat in the Congress for Pampanga’s first
district. He was reelected in 1953.
In the 1957 elections, Macapagal was elected
Vice President. Since he was not given a Cabinet position, he found
time to tour the provinces and restore the image of the Liberal Party.
He also visited other countries to study their economies and problems
in relation to the country’s experience.
He won over the incumbent President, Carlos P.
Garcia, in the 1961 elections. Highlights of his administration
include: beautification of Rizal Park; development of “Miracle” rice by
the International Rice Research Institute; commencement of construction
of the North Diversion Highway and the South Expressway; construction
of tenement buildings for the poor; sale of PHHC houses to AFP enlisted
men and officers, and other government employees; filing of claims to
Sabah; changing of the date of Philippine Independence from July 4 to
June 12; and many others.
In his retirement, Macapagal produced quite a
number of books. He was also honorary chairman of the National
Centennial Commission, chairman of the board of CAP Life, and the
Angeles University Foundation in Angeles City, among others.