Former President Fidel ‘Eddie’ V. Ramos.
Photo by Mark Chester Ang
‘Eddie’ at 91: Still steady
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - March 21, 2019 - 12:00am

Fidel “Eddie” V. Ramos, the Philippines’ 12th president, turned 91 last Monday. In a greeting to her boss of 27 years, his executive assistant Mae Gaffud wrote: “Happy birthday, Boss!  Here’s to another busy year ahead!”

After all, the week before his birthday, the general-turned-commander-in-chief received a slew of visitors — technocrats, former generals, journalists, former aides.

In an interview with PeopleAsia two years ago upon his conferment of the Max V. Soliven Lifetime Achievement award, he told contributing writer Kap Maceda Aguila, “Who wants to slow down? The most glorious way of dying, as far as soldiers are concerned, is to die from an enemy’s bullet in combat. But equally glorious and noble is just to drop dead of old age after providing for a family, paying your taxes, and helping your community and your neighbor. That’s what I’m after now.”

Asked to describe FVR, Mae said in a heartbeat: “He is someone who has given so much for his country and people and never expects anything in return.”

Yale graduate Sam Ramos Jones, one of FVR’s grandsons, says his Lolo Eddie has always led by example.

“For him, it is not enough to just love one’s country. You have to conduct yourself in a manner that shows it,” says Sam, son of FVR and Ming Ramos’ eldest daughter Angel.

And loving one’s country doesn’t just mean fighting enemies of the state. Sam has this favorite anecdote of how his Lola Ming was apprehended for a traffic violation by a policeman when FVR was Philippine Constabulary chief. Ming didn’t try to drop the name of her husband. Instead, she took the name of the policeman.

Sam narrates that during the next flag raising ceremony at Camp Crame, FVR called for the cop whose name his wife noted down and asked him, “Did you flag down my wife Amelita Ramos for a traffic violation?”

The nervous cop turned as white as his inner shirt and said almost contritely, “Yes, Sir!”

Then FVR told the cop before the huge assembly, “For that I am promoting you! You did your job!”

“I really admire my lolo’s work ethic,” Sam adds. “He walks his talk. He always starts his day by reading all the newspapers because he always wants to be well informed before setting out for work. Even in his retirement, he is working to promote the Philippines.”

As a grandfather, his Lolo Eddie is “funny, goofy, a big joker.”

“Every now and then, he sings, which makes my Lola Ming plug her ears,” Sam laughs.

EDSA hero

FVR is a hero of the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution. Photo by Bullit Marq uez /AP

A hero of the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, Ramos is widely credited for the strengthening of the institutions of democracy that were restored by his predecessor Corazon Aquino, who “anointed” him to be the next chief executive.

Cory Aquino led in the restoration of democracy against many odds. But it fell into Ramos’ hands (1992-1998) to ensure that the gains of democracy were preserved so that another kind of revolution, an economic revolution, would liberate Filipinos from the tyranny of poverty.

I covered FVR briefly at Malacañang (we called him “Tabako” because of the symbolic unlit cigar he would chew on or hold between his index and middle fingers)  and remember how he would exhort supporters to “stay with me, the best is yet to come.” And who could forget his trademark thumbs-up sign whenever he would lead his troops to battle, whether the battle meant the rebuilding of a bridge or of tattered peace talks? “Kaya natin ‘to (We can do this)!” he would say.

I also remember his days as Armed Forces chief-of-staff, defense secretary and eventually commander-in-chief as the days of “Steady Eddie.” There were no upheavals, no coup attempts, and during the Asian financial crisis of 1997, he steadied the ship of state.

Sen. Loren Legarda once told me that she learned from FVR, one of her mentors, the importance of “CSW” or “Completed Staff Work.”

“That’s what I learned from FVR. He was my mentor. He was the one who made me run for senator in 1997 for the 1998 campaign,” said Loren, who is now running for representative of Antique.

Under CSW, no project or proposal could be evaluated unless “all documents were complete and a thorough study undertaken.”

FVR’s Ramos Peace and Development Foundation Inc. (RPDEV) headquarters in a Makati high-rise is filled with mementoes of an exciting life, and a momentous period in Philippine history. There are photos of virtually all world leaders shaking his hand. There are also framed golf balls, as the former president is an avid golfer.

I asked him what he thinks is his best legacy, and his answer is virtually the answer of anyone who was already of age in 1986: EDSA.

But not only EDSA.

“A lot…EDSA…the peace and development aspect of that...non-violent regime change, accompanied by sustainable socioeconomic development,” he replies when asked for what he considers his greatest legacy.

“Legacy, that’s my legacy to you. If you don’t like it, go home. I hope you understand the odds…You go up against the Commander-in-Chief and General (Fabian) Ver, Chief of Staff. They had the tanks, they had the helicopters, they had the fighter bombers, they had the artillery, they had the Marines. We had nothing except for 300 people.”

After the interview, he sent me a book where he wrote, “Why did more than a million Filipinos, armed only with their patriotic convictions…come out in defiance of overwhelming odds…?”

His answer: “We gathered at EDSA and made our stand against the Marcos dictatorship because we loved freedom, and were tired of the nation we had become.”

He also said in the book that good governance is the only thing that the Philippines cannot rely on foreign sources for.

“The only thing that countries cannot outsource is good government — which must be homegrown — along with leadership, national solidarity, competence, teamwork, and other cherished values.”

FVR played the game of the generals deftly, and succeeded in helping overthrow a dictator. But perhaps, it wasn’t a game to him. Serving his country (now as private citizen and elder statesman) is his life, and certainly, the secret to his longevity.

(You may e-mail me at Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

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