The best Philippine President ever

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Of the 17 Philippine presidents, including President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., only eight have personal connections with me. Or, this was from the time of the late President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. when I was still in grade school during the 1960’s. Of the eight, Marcos Sr. was the longest serving president from 1965 until his ouster from Malacañang Palace during the EDSA People Power Revolution in February 1986.

Fast forward. The namesake son of the late strongman is the 17th President of the Republic. But I got to personally cover only four of the past eight Presidents from 1986 to year 2004 while still pounding the beat of Malacañang as a senior reporter then. As far as I’m concerned, it was former President Fidel Valdez Ramos (FVR) who stood out as the best of them all.

Alas. The 94-year-old former president died due to a COVID-related infection last July 31, or two days after he was rushed to the hospital. The late “father of the nation” is survived by his family, led by his wife, now widow, former First Lady Amelita Ramos.

FVR was trained as a soldier from cadet days at the West Point Academy in the United States. Aided by his civil engineering degree, he actualized his vision to bring the Philippines into ranks of newly industrialized country, or NIC-hood as he called it. Taking over the country during a period of acute power supply shortage crisis, he set into motion liberalization, deregulation, and privatization that jumpstarted the NIC-hood of the Philippines.

FVR rose to the ranks from a young Army 2nd Lieutenant until his last stint in government when he became the Commander-in-chief of the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as the 12th President of the Republic.

He was the AFP vice chief of staff when the people power-led EDSA revolt took place. He joined the military ouster plot that swept into office at Malacañang the late president Corazon Aquino. Mrs. Aquino named FVR as her Defense secretary who quashed at least nine military putsches against her.

To continue their journey together in having restored democracy in our country, Mrs. Aquino anointed him as her presidential candidate in the May 1992 presidential elections. FVR got elected and won by plurality votes, with slim margin of victory over his six other rivals. As soon as he was officially installed into office, FVR immediately reached out to all the opposition ranks as well as to the left and right wing armed rebel groups and Muslim separatists. From June 30, 1992 until June 30, 1998, he carried out his personal campaign for unity, solidarity and teamwork.

Thus, it gave birth to the “Team Philippines” of the FVR administration during his six years of watch over the country.

Recognized as the country’s “first Protestant President,” he did not proselytize but brought about instead “inter-faith” dialogues. At each and every ecumenical gathering organized at his behest, FVR exemplified his leadership even to his own political allies at the Lakas-National Union of Christian-Muslim Democrats (Lakas-NUCD) now shortened to Lakas Christian-Muslim Democrats (CMD).

He was most popularly referred to his FVR initials. But his ardent fans dubbed him as “steady Eddie.” To his close aides, they nicknamed him as “Tabako,” in fond digs at his favorite habit of chomping tobacco, although unlit.

For the many pooled coverage of presidential events in and outside the Palace, I won several times in the drawing of lots among reporters of the Malacañang Press Corps (MPC). The last pooled coverage turned the most memorable one when FVR went around Pangasinan, with me on board presidential vehicles travelling with him over land and on air.

I got to ride in the iconic white and blue presidential Bell chopper that took off from Malacañang Golf course across the Palace proper. I was seated behind FVR as we flew going to his home province for the last stretch of the campaign before the May 1998 presidential elections. It was in support of his anointed candidate, a fellow Pangasinense, Speaker Jose de Venecia as the presidential standard bearer of their Lakas-NUCD.

De Venecia had been faring poorly in mock polls to frontrunning presidential candidate, Joseph Estrada who was FVR’s erstwhile vice president. But this did not dishearten FVR in giving his all out support to the Speaker. Despite the odds stacked up against them, FVR gestured his trademark “thumbs up” sign. Then added his favorite expression: “Don’t panic.”

He is not only a certified airborne paratrooper but was also a scuba diving afficionado. He even provided MPC reporters a crash course in scuba diving so that we can cover him under the sea. And if we wanted to come along for “President’s time,” meaning at the golf course, we were likewise given basic golf swing techniques. All courtesy of the Presidential Security Group as our trainors.

And as we wont to say, the rest is history. FVR lived his life to the fullest even after his presidency. He continued with his peripatetic travels all around the country and abroad in speaking engagements. He put up the Ramos Peace and Development Foundation that published volumes of all copies of his speeches here and abroad. He collectively called it as “FVR Sermons.” One of which included a reprint of my Commonsense column published here on March 21, 2014: “So you still want to be President of the Philippines?”

Tomorrow will be the final day of national mourning for the demise of a great leader of the country. His cremated remains will be laid to rest in state funeral rites at high noon at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig City. FVR is the only Philippine President immortalized in a Korean War Memorial Museum in Seoul as a veteran of the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea (PEFTOK).

Fitting to his glorious career in the uniformed service, a 21-gun salute and military taps to honor and cap the final farewell rites for the late President. It was not just because he was a former President but FVR is a true hero.


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