SINDANGAN, Philippines — He may be the shortest man on Earth, but Junrey I. Balawing has become a giant in the eyes of his countrymen.
The son of a poor blacksmith and a homemaker in rural Zamboanga del Norte province on the southern island of Mindanao, 18-year-old Junrey, who stands a mere 23 and a half inches tall and weighs only 12 pounds, was recognized Sunday as the world's shortest living man.
"I'm pleased to announce that we have a new world record holder," Craig Glenday, editor-in-chief of Guinness World Records, said to a cheering crowd of local officials and townspeople. "Officially, he is the world's shortest man."
The announcement, which took place on Junrey's 18th birthday and which also coincided with Philippines Independence Day, was met in this seaside town of 90,000 with rapturous adulation by residents celebrating their country's freedom from Spain 113 years ago.
"This is the first time in the history of Sindangan that we have entered into this kind of competition with Guinness World Records," said Norma Mamugay, 45. "We are so happy that this town is now known."
"We are so lucky to have him," added her husband, Bobby, 46. They, along with dozens of other townspeople, crowded into Sindangan's municipal hall to await the announcement.
Junrey smashed the former record, held by Nepal's Khagendra Thapa Magar, by nearly three inches. Magar was measured at 26.4 inches tall in 2010, according to Guinness World Records.
Glenday and Sindangan health officials conducted six sets of measurements over two days to confirm Junrey's height. Three were carried out privately on Saturday, and three were done publicly on Sunday.
Glenday said Junrey's official height consisted of an average of measurements made while he was standing and lying down.
Although he is not the shortest man in history — that distinction belongs to India's Gul Mohammed, who was only 22 inches tall and who died in 1997 — it is unlikely that Junrey's record will be upended anytime soon.
"I imagine it'll be very hard to beat," Glenday said. "I can't imagine anyone else being quite so small."
Although no monetary award accompanied the Guinness announcement, Junrey was given a plaque by the organization, and local townspeople immediately began showering him with cash and other gifts, including a birthday cake that was almost as long as he is tall.
Glenday said it was very likely that Junrey would continue to receive gifts and other assistance from fans around the world.
He cited the case of 27-year-old Sultan Kosen of Turkey. After being confirmed as the world's tallest man in 2009, Kosen received numerous gifts from around the globe, free medical care in the United States and has since traveled widely.
"It basically changed his life," said Glenday. "Maybe the same thing will happen for Junrey."
The son of Reynaldo Balawing, 37, and Concepcion Balawing, 35, Junrey is the oldest of four children — two boys and two girls. Their other children are growing up normally.
Speaking to reporters, Concepcion Balawing said she was happy that her son had been recognized as world's shortest man.
"I'm so proud of my son," she said.
It's unclear exactly why Junrey stopped growing when he was just a toddler, but Dr. Lolita Hamoy, Sindangan's municipal health officer, said he lacked normal growth hormones and that an endocrine imbalance was probably to blame.
Because of his condition, Junrey has trouble speaking, and he cannot walk without assistance or stand very long on his own.
However, the child-size man clearly relished in the attention showered upon him, grinning happily and mugging repeatedly for journalists' cameras and well-wishers who pressed in to have their photograph made with the world's newest celebrity.
It was also evident from Sunday's festivities that local officials are hoping their town will also cash in on Junrey's new-found fame.
"Sindangan now holds the bragging rights to where the shortest man in the world resides," said Alanixon A. Selda, a lawyer who serves as the town's municipal administrator.
"Life is good," he added later with a grin.
(Brown is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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