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 (1957).

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.

Back Next