Here's the Story of Zamboanga's Junrey Balawing, Once the World's Shortest Man
Junrey Balawing might not be a household name in the Philippines, but for a brief period, he was known all over the world. Balawing was declared the world's shortest man (non-mobile) by the Guinness World Records. He was officially bestowed the title when he turned 18 years old on June 12, 2011.
Balawing was about the size of a one-liter Coke bottle when he was born in the town of Sindangan in Zamboanga Del Norte in 1993 to his parents Reynaldo and Concepcion. He was the eldest of four children. In an interview with CGTN, Balawing’s father, a carpenter and later a blacksmith, said Junrey’s siblings are all of normal height. And as far as he knew, all of his ancestors were, too.
Balawing stopped growing at age one. His mother said she knew something was wrong when all the other children started outgrowing her son. He was sickly as a kid, his parents said, but they were not able to see a doctor who was able to diagnose his condition until he was 12 years old. By then, Balawing was unable to stand up or walk without being assisted. Doctors believed he suffered from proportionate dwarfism due to a malfunctioning pituitary gland. Balawing also suffered from a speech defect.
Eventually, Balawing’s condition reached officials of the Guinness World Records. Back then the record for world’s shortest man was held by Khagendra Thapa Magar of Nepal, who measured 67.08 centimeters (26.4 inches or just over two feet). Guinness proclaimed Magar the shortest mobile man when he turned 18 in 2010.
World's shortest man
But when Balawing turned 18 in 2011, he measured just 59.9 centimeters, or 23.5 inches—not even two feet. His birthday was a huge deal in his hometown, with representatives from Guinness World Records flying in to certify the record of him being the world's shortest man. Medical officers conducted a series of tests and measurements before he was officially certified.
With the world record came constant media attention.
“The media came here almost every day,” Balawing’s father Reynaldo said in the CGTN interview. “They would provide us food for free. I didn’t have to buy food anymore.
“Sometimes I couldn’t earn money,” he added. “I couldn’t work because of all the filming. It was like we were in a movie.”
But the publicity came with a few perks: regular health checks and even a job. The Fantasy Land theme park in the city of Dapitan employed Balawing and his parents, “on an on-call basis,” according to an official from the Dapitan City Tourism. He became an attraction, standing beside an exceptionally tall man named The Giant.
More comfortable life
Eventually Balawing and his family moved into a government building, where they were much more comfortable. While they used to be able to eat only bananas and fish, the new job meant they could now start eating meat. Balawing was also able to go to the municipal health office for regular check-ups.
“I would take care of him like a baby, but would talk to him like an adult,” Reynaldo said.
According to his father, Balawing would have different moods. Sometimes he wanted to be fed like a baby, other times, he fed himself. His siblings all respected him, though, still calling him Kuya Junrey.
In February 2012, Balawing lost the title of world’s shortest man when Guinness named another Nepalese, Chandra Bahadur Dangi, who stood at 54.6 centimeters or 22 inches. But Dangi passed away three years later, on September 3, 2015, which meant the title was Balawing’s once more.
Balawing lived five more years until it was reported that he had passed away last year, on July 28, 2020. According to a report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Dapitan City officials were unsure of his cause of death although there were reports that he had pneumonia. According to another report, his family was unable to send him to the hospital for fear that he would become infected with COVID-19.
After Balawing’s death, the current shortest living man is Edward Niño Hernandez of Colombia, who stands at 70.21 centimeters, or 27.64 inches.
See more photos of Junrey Balawing, once the world's shortest man, here: