Excerpt from “Introductory and General,” in The Magsaysay Administration: A Critical Assessment, by A.V.H. Hartendorp, Philippine Education Co., Manila, 1961
His Personal Magnetism.—Masking Magsaysay’s lack of intellectual qualities, was a remarkable personal magnetism. This attraction appeared to derive not only from his manly and handsome form and facial features, but from a great vitality and warm-heartedness. During the election campaign, and after, people came for many miles not just to see or hear him, but to touch him and to be touched by him. This is a phenomenon not unknown in history,—as in ancient France and England people sought the touch of the King, believing this would cure them of the “King’s evil”, scrofula.
The attraction between Magsaysay and the people was mutual. Whenever, as President, he ran into difficulties with the politicians, as he soon did, particularly with some of those who had assisted in raising him to the presidency for reasons of their own, he would abruptly depart for the provinces, not only, it seemed, to find refuge in the affection of the barrio people, but for moral reassurance. He seemed to want this so much that he carne to employ certain deliberate tricks to appeal to them, such as refusing to take available shelter, or even to accept an umbrella, because the people who had assembled around him remained standing in the rain.
The love of the people which he so plainly commanded, gave, or could have given, him great political strength, but, physically courageous as he was, he seemed to be afraid to rely on this strength. He seemed ever fearful of losing the affection of the people, and he rarely, if ever, made a decision which he believed would be unpopular. Was this because he knew that as time passed something meretricious had crept into his relations with the masses? The politicians of the old guard, taking advantage of the fact that Magsaysay did not seem “to know his own strength”, forced compromise after compromise upon him.
Magsaysay did not have the indomitable will and fighting spirit of his great predecessor, Quezon. Both men exercised a personal magnetism, which instantly impressed itself. Both were handsome men, genial and appealing in manner, though Magsaysay, large-boned, strong, was a man of imposing physique, and Quezon, victim of a life-long illness, was of slighter build. Both alike were possessed of great vitality,—Magsaysay’s largely physical, Quezon’s of the mind and spirit. But while Quezon, lordly in mien and surpassingly persuasive in speech, fired the imagination of his countrymen by his brilliance, impetuosity, and courage, filling them with admiration and pride, Magsaysay, for his simpler and more common qualities, which made them feel at one with him, more easily won their love. Both were men of impulsive action, but Quezon’s was generally intuitively wise and far-sighted, Magsaysay’s short-sighted and bumbling. There was confidence in the Quezon government even during the Commonwealth’s threatened years; there was a continuously lessening confidence in the Magsaysay government.