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Newsmakers

Behind the Red Pen: ‘Old Soldiers Never Die’

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Behind the Red Pen: âOld Soldiers Never Dieâ
Then President Ramos greets his close-in reporter Jojo Terencio as visiting US President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton look on. Clinton went on a state visit to Manila in November 1994.

In less than two weeks, Filipinos will troop to the polls to elect a new President a legacy of the Constitution that was ratified in 1987 after the EDSA People Power revolution.

Fidel V. Ramos or FVR, whom Corazon Aquino anointed and campaigned for to be her successor, is the first president to be elected under the 1987 Constitution. FVR finished his term without incident and with many significant accomplishments. He also presided over a peaceful turnover of power after his term to Joseph Estrada, his then vice president.

Jojo Terencio, his close-in reporter for the six years FVR was President, recently came out with a very personal, detailed and informative book about the Ramos presidency entitled, Behind the Red Pen. You see, FVR, a very hands-on manager, wrote instructions — usually marginal notes, on memos, press releases, even newspaper clippings — with his trademark red pen. The book’s release was timed for FVR’s 94th birthday in March.

I feel very proud of Jojo, whom I recruited when he was only 21 years old to be a writer in the Presidential Press Staff of then President Cory Aquino. After the Aquino presidency, I could have chosen to stay as I had qualified as a career public servant, but I accepted an offer from my mentor Betty Go-Belmonte to rejoin the Philippine STAR. Jojo also mulled returning to the private sector.

He quotes me in his book as advising him to stay on for another year: “You have not fully experienced the presidency and the thrill of covering the highest official. Not everyone is given that opportunity.”

He stayed, and became “the youngest close-in reporter who covered the presidency of FVR.”

He describes his stint with the general-turned-President as “a six-year roller-coaster adventure that I had never thought of or prayed for.”

He was the youngest in the pool, but he was chosen to “shadow” FVR. “There was no logic to it,” says this Aklan native, who took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and first dreamt of being a movie, not a political, reporter.

And despite his youth and then relative inexperience, he met FVR’s exacting standards till the end of his presidency. A career public servant, Jojo would stay on till the Estrada presidency and part of the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Jojo writes this book especially for the “Xennials” and the “Millennials” who may not remember or know of that period in history.

“In times of fake news and historical revisionism to suit one’s political interest, I hope to be one of the voices — no matter how soft — on the side of factual and accurate reporting.”

I remember Jojo as very hardworking, with a keen eye for detail and an eidetic memory for the colors behind every event, without losing his focus on its substance. You could say his writing had this kind of military precision that was not lost on FVR.

Jojo, for instance, remembers that after FVR took his oath, I sat down before my computer to write the story on his inaugural speech and assigned him to cover Mr. Ramos’ first Cabinet meeting.

“While the photographers were scampering for their best shots, FVR rolled up the sleeves of his barong Tagalog, flashed the thumbs-up sign and told his Official Family: ‘Let’s hit the ground running.’”

‘Steady Eddie’

Jojo says he will always associate FVR’s moniker “Steady Eddie” with “grace under pressure.”

“Even when faced with big controversies and crises, FVR was always cool — or at least that’s what he appeared to be in public and even in our presence, his staff.”

Embedded in Jojo’s mind is how FVR handled the crisis that followed the execution of OFW Flor Contemplacion in Singapore in March 1995.

“There were various rallies around the country blaming the Ramos government for failing to save the life of the Filipina domestic helper. The opposition and some militant groups used this issue to stir public emotions and destabilize the government.”

Jojo recounts that FVR, sensing that his inner circle and staff were “worried and scared of what could happen,” told them: “Don’t panic. This will pass.” By January 1996, diplomatic ties between the Philippines and Singapore were restored.

FVR would also not act on recommendations if he saw that they had not undergone “Completed Staff Work” or CSW.

According to Jojo, he would return documents to Cabinet members if he felt they lacked substance, with this note written his trademark red pen: “This is not CSW. Revise.”

Kind-hearted

Though he was not openly affectionate, FVR was always caring and gentlemanly towards First Lady Ming Ramos, and considerate of his staff. For instance, Jojo recalls that when they were on duty but FVR had no official appointments, the staff would be invited to dine with the First Family in their rest house in Tagaytay.

When Jojo needed money for a hearing aid that he could not afford at the time, he got a call from FVR himself, who told him, “I will take care of the bill.”

On one flight from Mactan to Manila in turbulent weather, FVR would not leave the airport till the press plane (slower than the presidential plane) landed without incident.

I personally admire FVR for strengthening the newly restored democracy he inherited from Mrs. Aquino, and building on its gains. They may not have always agreed on things when he was already President, but as he told Jojo, Cory never asked for anything in return for her much-sought-after endorsement for his candidacy.

“Ah, walang ganun,” Jojo quotes him as saying. “Cory never asked for anything. She just told me she believed I was the best candidate to succeed her and that she will campaign for me.”

In one of his informal chats with FVR before the pandemic, Jojo expressed disappointment that the country had not yet attained the “Newly Industrialized Country” status.

“You know, we can still attain that,” FVR said. “We just need a road map, a long-term vision for the Philippines. And that has to be provided by the President and everybody must work together to make that vision a reality.”

Jojo shares, “Till his forced retirement due to the COVID pandemic, FVR was always talking about our restored democracy and the need to further strengthen it.”

As FVR would tell Jojo, and even this writer, “Old soldiers never die.”

(You may e-mail me at [email protected]. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

EDSA PEOPLE POWER REVOLUTION

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