Lila Shahani, niece of FVR, pays tribute to 'Uncle Ed'

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Lila Shahani, niece of FVR, pays tribute to 'Uncle Ed'
Former Philippine president Fidel Ramos (C) gives a salute during the change of command ceremony at Camp Aguinaldo in Manila on October 26, 2017. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte leads the military change of command from outgoing chief of staff General Eduardo Ano to new head Lieutenant General Rey Lenonardo Guerrero.
AFP / Noel Celis

MANILA, Philippines — Lila Shahani, the niece of former President Fidel V. Ramos, remembers the late chief executive as an uncle who would gladly joined her in swimming while he had his eyeglasses tied around his head with a rubberband.

In a tribute she posted on Facebook, Lila shared how the late president became her father figure growing up and how that shaped her to be the person she has become.

Ramos, the 12th president of the country and one of the key figures in toppling the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos Sr., died on Sunday. The family has not disclosed his reason for passing.

The late president and military man stood as Lila's father figure after she lost her father Ranjee at an early age. Her mother, Letty, was a senator and then a diplomat. The Shahani siblings grew up with their grandparents until her grandmother passed away.

That was when her Uncle Ed stood as the mentor to the Shahani siblings, taking them to swimming classes, trips around the country and even allowing her to enter the cockpit of an Army helicopter.

Ramos has a long storied career in the military, starting at the US Military Academy before returning to the Philippines and joining the Korean War with the Philippine expeditionary forces. Lila shared that her Uncle Ed told her that the scar on his upper left lip was from a Chinese bayonet.

"The higher up he went in his military career, the busier he got. He was often away on the weekends, ‘maintaining peace and order,’ according to my Lola, who would always speak about him in hushed tones," she said.

Lila remembered how, when the family was together, her mother’s concerns on human rights, women, social development and culture and the arts were seen as "soft," while her Uncle Ed’s were matters of "great consequence."

Ramos "preferred to surround himself with people who never questioned his views and simply facilitated their immediate implementation," she continued.

This drove a wedge between her mother and her uncle.

"But there is little doubt in my mind that Uncle Ed was brilliant," she said.

Human rights

When she grew older, she was hounded by questions on human rights during her uncle's time as a military man and during the Martial Law of the late dictator, prompting her to write an open letter in 2009.

"I was particularly concerned about the 5th Constabulary Unit (CSU) in Camp Crame, where numerous torture victims had been detained. His silence at the time was deafening," she said.

According to Amnesty International about 70,000 were imprisoned, 34,000 were tortured and 3,240 were killed during Martial Law from 1872 to 1981. President Ferdnand Marcos Jr. and his political allies dispute the number.

The government Human Rights Victims' Claims Board has recognized and processed reparations claims for 11,103 victims and their next of kin.

Lila said Ramos instead chose to show clemency to "military personnel who had been part of the complex system of torture during the Martial Law."

"If anti-Communist and anti-Muslim vigilante groups had been encouraged during his predecessor’s term, his administration was characterized by a constant focus on efficiency and unity," Lila continued.

"This often meant that perpetrators of human rights violations were simply slapped on the wrist and reabsorbed elsewhere in the bureaucratic fold, arguably compounding the problem of impunity even further."

But as she went on in her career in human rights work, Lila said she learned that while Ramos had an idea what was happening under his watch of the Philippine Constabulary, it was General Fabian Ver who had a direct hand in the torture. Detainees have also mentioned that her uncle treated them with more decency.

President Marcos Jr. declared a ten-day period of national mourning for the former president. Resolutions and tributes have come from the Senate and from the House of Representatives — where the president’s cousin and son sit as House speaker and senior deputy majority leader respectively.

The House resolution expressed condolences to the family of Ramos, who was chairperson emeritus of the resurgent Lakas-CMD party.

While praise has come for Ramos as a visionary president with a career in the military and as a "true statesman", most tributes have omitted his pivotal role in the EDSA People Power Revolution that ousted the elder Marcos in 1986.

But Lila said Ramos was still remembered as one of the best presidents the Philippines ever had—a description she agrees with.

"Such bittersweet but fond memories—so much pride and honor, sadness and love. RIP, dear heart," she added.

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