Mount Manunggal and Its Tragic Place in Philippine History

Mount Manunggal - one of the most infamous mountains in Philippine history.

Aside from being one of the highest peaks in Cebu, Mount Manunggal is a plane
crash site of one of the most esteemed Philippine Presidents.

Mount Manunggal in Balamban is the highest peak in Cebu—nearly one thousand meters above sea level. However, it did not grow famous because of its high altitude but because of a devastating event in Philippine history.

It is where the Philippine presidential plane, named Mt. Pinatubo, crashed and caused the death of over twenty-six passengers, including former Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay, on March 17, 1957.

In his honor, a bust of him, a marker, and the actual engine of Mt. Pinatubo are placed on the central plateau of Mount Manunggal.

A historical marker commemorating the tragedy is placed on the central plateau of Mount Manunggal.

The history of Mount Manunggal has made it a popular trekking and camping spot. Moreover, the trail is busiest during the death anniversary of Ramon Magsaysay because several historians and outdoor enthusiasts hike up the mountain to commemorate him.

Ramon Magsaysay

Ramon Magsaysay is the seventh Philippine president, famous for taking down the Hukbalahap.

Who Was Ramon Magsaysay in Philippine History?

Ramon del Fierro Magsaysay was born in Iba, Zambales on August 31, 1907. After a brief stint as a pre-medical student at the University of the Philippines, he finished his Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce at the Institute of Commerce at José Rizal College (now José Rizal University).

After serving with the Philippine Army during the Second World War, he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1946, his first appearance in Philippine politics. He also served as the Chairman of the House National Defense Committee, which extended to his second term after his re-election in 1949.

Then, he was appointed as the Secretary of National Defense by then-President Elpidio Quirino to deal with the Hukbalahap (Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon) Rebellion – one of the most infamous communist insurgency groups in Philippine history. Also known as the Huks or the People’s Anti-Japanese Army,this was a communist guerilla movement formed by Filipino farmers who fought against the Japanese soldiers in Central Luzon during the Second World War.

In dealing with the Rebellion, he promised and provided land and equipment to members who agreed to surrender and conform to the Philippine government. Furthermore, he reformed the Philippine Army and revamped its operations against the Huks, which led to their utter defeat in 1954.

His success in taking down the Huks gave him the confidence to run for president against then-President Quirino, who he claimed to have a corrupt and incompetent administration. With his growing popularity among the Filipinos, he was elected the seventh president in Philippine history on December 30, 1953.

The Death of President Ramon Magsaysay

Celebration of the Death Anniversary at the Mount Manunggal Marker.

Devotees flock to the Ramon Magsaysay Bust and Historical Marker on the
death anniversary of Ramon Magsaysay to commemorate him.

After holding speaking engagements at three universities in Cebu, President Ramon Magsaysay boarded Mt. Pinatubo to fly back to Manila.

Ten minutes after departure, the plane had to fly past Mount Manunggal. However, it quickly lost altitude because of metal fatigue, as discovered in the official investigation.

It is said that it could have cleared the summit if not for a giant tree blocking its path. So, it lost one of its wings and crashed down the slope at around a hundred feet.

The crash was one of the deadliest in Philippine history, with the explosion burning all passengers, including President Ramon Magsaysay—who died at the age of forty-nine.

The only survivor was newspaper journalist Nestor Mata, who was hospitalized for the next six months before moving on to write a memoir, One Came Back (1957). The memoir detailed the last moments of beloved President Ramon Magsaysay and his struggles after surviving the tragic accident.

It continues to be an ideal mountain trekking and camping spot in Cebu.

Mount Manunggal is still a very popular place for mountain trekking and camping. While some would hike there solely to see the bust of Ramon Magsaysay and the historical marker, others seek to immerse themselves in the lush mountain ranges and the magnificent view.

The open field in front of the historical marker in Mount Manunggal is spacious enough to function as a campsite. So, bring your camping gear if you want to stay there overnight. You might want to build a bonfire there, though, because it can get chilly in the evening because of the high altitude.

Here are a couple of ways you can reach Mount Manunggal:

  1. Through Barangay Gaas. It is accessible through the Cebu Transcentral Highway, where you can find other famous attractions, like Charlie’s Cup and Lakeview de Jardin.
  2. Through another mountain in Balamban, called Mount Mauyog. Expect to trek on muddy trails there.

Thanks to its not-too-far-from-the-city-location and its relaxing atmosphere, Mount Manunggal continues to be one of the most prominent peaks in Cebu for many outdoor enthusiasts. However, its tragic history involving esteemed former Philippine president, Ramon Magsaysay, is what made it unforgettable among Filipinos.

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