Ming Ramos: In full bloom
() - September 17, 2005 - 12:00am
Like she didn’t leave Malacañang at all, former First Lady Amelita "Ming" Ramos is still very much in the thick of things. She continuously juggles her hectic schedule to find time to attend to her myriad responsibilities as consultant for International School Manila (ISM), president of the Philippine Badminton Association (PBA), chairperson or officer of several foundations and NGOs committed to helping the poor or protecting the environment, and as a resident of a community.

After raising five daughters, the former First Lady has for years now been focusing her nurturing gifts on Philippine badminton and a lush garden in Silang, Cavite.

Credit her leadership as president of the Philippine Badminton Association for the popularity of the sport in every town and city where, it seems, brand-new gyms have been sprouting like mushrooms.

"Either that or rice granaries and idle warehouses have been hurriedly converted into badminton centers to accommodate the ever-growing clamor for playing areas," says Mrs. Ramos.

Now you see working moms, along with young professionals, rushing from their offices, not to catch their favorite telenovelas, but to get first crack at the use of a badminton court. Even celebrities in film and on television, Mrs. Ramos points out, suddenly have time to swat shuttlecocks alongside their counterparts in both houses of Congress.

Still languishing in the doldrums in 1997 when Mrs. Ramos was first elected PBA president without her husband knowing that she was running for the position, badminton indeed has come a long way. For her, the challenge now lies in sustaining its popularity. "We have to think of ways to get more people to play the sport. So apart from intensifying our grassroots program in the provinces, we’ve agreed on the idea of putting out a quarterly, glossy magazine on badminton."

Called Badminton Today, the maiden issue will come out in October, before the opening of the Southeast Asian Games in November. It will, among other things, chronicle the latest developments in the sport, give tips on how to sharpen one’s game, as well as carry regular columns by the masters, and profiles of athletes and celebrity players.

Running the national badminton association is part of Mrs. Ramos’ frenetic weekdays. In between, she may squeeze in a round of golf early in the day, or play badminton late in the afternoon with daughter and former Philippine Olympic Committee president Cristina. Mrs. Ramos was badminton’s RP singles runner-up in 1943 and a national doubles champion in 1946.
Welcome To Ming’s Garden
One is apt to think that such tiring weekdays would leave Mrs. Ramos resting all weekend. True, she motors to her garden in the coffee-and-vegetable town of Silang but not just to smell the roses. Though she keeps a staff of 15 to attend to the garden, she helps shovel soil into pots and water the blooms and other ornamental plants. If she’s not doing that, she’s overseeing the improvements in her garden or talking to buyers.

"Look, I don’t have colored nail polish," she says. "I’m a hands-on type of employer. I work side by side with my employees."

Four large greenhouses straddle the two-hectare Ming’s Garden along the highway, starting from Sta. Rosa, Laguna, and going up the mountains of Silang through Tagaytay City. Growing inside them are flowers and other ornamental plants – as many as a botanist can name.

Ming’s Garden in Barangay Pasong Langka in Silang sells blooms and other ornamental plants in pots. The foreign species are sprung from the seeds she brings home from her overseas trips. There are mini-chrysanthemums and honeysuckle from Japan and rainbow showers from Honolulu, amaranthus and anthuriums, African violets, Jamaican jasmine and orchids of all kinds and colors. As breathtaking as these foreign blooms and plants are, the local species, from the amapolas to the zinnias, are equally eye-catching.

Business at Ming’s Garden must be so good that Mrs. Ramos has allowed a cousin to manage a coffee shop inside, which boasts two separate bathrooms so clean they might as well be living rooms! Inside each comfort room, a mini garden lies opposite the door and past two cubicles. Sunlight filters through the transparent roof, bathing the entire space with soft light.

Whether the customers need it or not, Mrs. Ramos makes it a part of the garden tour to invite them to the bathrooms. "These are the kinds of toilets I want to see in our establishments," she tells them seriously.

Across the highway from Ming’s Garden lies yet another lush paradise nurtured by Mrs. Ramos. It is a virtual forest of bamboos, vines, mosses, bushes, plants and trees that only her family and a few friends are privy to. The place never fails to calm the mind and a waterfall tucked away in the right corner takes your breath away.

"I don’t know what to call this place yet and what I will use it for. I love it, I love its greenness and tranquillity. I like to think of it as my own neck of the woods, my safe harbor."

To get to the other side of Ming’s Garden, one has to scale any of the three flights of steep stone stairs of at least 140 steps or take the mechanized inclinator with a capacity of four people.

The place used to be a coffee and pineapple plantation, according to Mrs. Ramos. "But it takes one-and-a-half years to harvest pineapples and the coffee industry was in a moribund state in 1996, so we just planted trees and vines and other plants, like the black bamboos from Indonesia and giant ferns."

Apart from setting up the inclinator that travels at a steep 45-degree angle, erecting three flights of stairs, paving narrow walks, riprapping the walls and putting additional large stones hauled from Baguio, the place, according to engineer Emmanuel Espejo, was not disturbed much.

In the making are two Igorot houses. From Banawe, the frames of two authentic Igorot houses were transported to the place. Four natives are weaving the materials that will serve as the roofs, walls and windows of the houses. One will be placed on the level approach and the second 140 steps or so below.
All-Around Athlete
Once she sets her sights on doing something, Ming Ramos doesn’t give up easily. She remembers having fallen 50 times in water before she managed to stand up and learn how to water-ski properly. "I simply had to learn the sport and do it well because my husband and our five daughters are all good water-skiers. I won’t be happy just watching them from the sidelines."

It’s common knowledge that the Ramos family is very athletic and competitive. The matriarch herself says that at one time or another, she participated in 20 sports and, in her prime, was highly competitive in a few. To this day, she remains a mean badminton player and golfer. She gets a good laugh from recalling a few golf one-on-ones she had with her husband.

"At a time when he was playing three times weekly and I could only manage a once-a-month schedule on the greens, I could still beat him fair and square. Imagine how your President must have felt during those times. I suspect that was the reason he was always suggesting that I give up golf."

And so it was that when the Ramoses moved to Malacañang, she brought with her the discipline and tenacity of a sportswoman, the adaptability and patience of a soldier’s wife, and the intelligence nurtured by a solid formal education. Without fanfare, she embraced numerous causes and showed results, notably in her livelihood training for the poor and environmental crusade to clean the Pasig River.

One unforgettable memory Mrs. Ramos has of her stay in Malacañang was how fast the large number of her so-called friends dwindled when a new President was elected to replace her husband. "Those who had offered me the chairmanship of their foundations and for which I had raised millions of pesos quickly shifted their loyalties, ran to the incoming First Lady, and offered her the same position that at the time I was still holding. Can you imagine a foundation having two chairpersons?" she says without the slightest trace of bitterness in her voice.

"You learn to accept things as they are when you live the military life. As a soldier’s wife, you accept where your husband is posted and movement is quite constant. You adapt to new situations. When functions to which my husband and I were invited and for which I had already done my hair and makeup got canceled at the 11th hour, I never lost my cool. Sometimes things just go awry."
Still Hale And Sprightly
Mrs. Ramos finds dignity in honest work. "ISM did not let me go when I opted to retire so we agreed that I would do consulting work for the school Mondays to Wednesdays."

She continued working at ISM even during her husband’s presidency. "Why should I quit when I was earning more than Eddie even when he was President?" Altogether, she has logged in 50 years of service for the school.

No stranger to hard work, responsibility, patience, determination, she remains as healthy and sprightly as ever. "Exercise, exercise and exercise, and eat healthy food," she advises. Those who know her well say she’s still capable of putting to shame players 30 years her junior in a game of badminton.

Those who know her will attest to her kind-heartedness and warmth as a person. She easily initiates conversations with people she’s around, no matter what their stations in life. She considers the Ramoses’ household help, business employees and friends, as family.

"Ricky Reyes is our sixth daughter and during our stay in Malacañang, Eddie used to refer to him as ‘First Bakla,’" she says of the beauty expert who helped her in her livelihood programs. "I call my sixth daughter ‘Mother.’"

Imelda Cruz, 33, of Hagonoy, Bulacan, has a heartwarming story to tell. From 1993 to the last day of the Ramoses in Malacañang, she was Mrs. Ramos’ personal valet. In 2004 she received word from her former employer asking if she’d want to work in the garden. She said yes to the offer but there was a problem: she wanted to work with her husband and son, to which Mrs. Ramos agreed. The Cruzes both work in the garden’s coffee shop and with it comes free housing amid a lush setting.

"She’s a good boss," Imelda says. "She’s easy to talk to – and we always gossip about showbiz people!"

BADMINTON FIRST LADY GARDEN HUSBAND MALACA MING MRS MRS. RAMOS RAMOS SILANG
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