MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 1 August) – Former president Fidel Valdez Ramos, a West Point graduate, was the consummate psywar expert. Among the top military officials serving the strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos, he stood out as being deliberate in depicting the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army as a terrorist group. In statements and press briefings, he barely used “rebels.” He coined instead the term “communist terrorist” and later, “dissident terrorist” to refer to the insurgents.
Compared with the then AFP chief of staff General Favian Ver, Ramos was the more professional soldier. (Or, at least, he managed to conceal his political ambition at the time.) But Marcos, who wanted to be dictator for life, chose Ver for his rabid loyalty.
It was only after Marcos was ousted via the EDSA People Power Revolt in February 1986 and Cory Aquino assumed the presidency that Ramos became the AFP chief of staff. Meanwhile, Juan Ponce Enrile, the other key figure of the civilian-backed mutiny, was retained as Defense minister but was sacked after the failed “God Save the Queen” destabilization plot against Aquino in November 1986, and was replaced by Rafael Ileto (a retired general and founder of the Scout Rangers).
Ramos disagreed with Ileto’s strategy of using sheer military force as the chief means to defeat the communists. He said it was more important to destroy the CPP-NPA’s political structure to deny its armed component a leadership.
Ramos subsequently replaced Ileto as Defense secretary, the post he used to promote his bid for the presidency.
Surprisingly, it was during his presidency that peace talks with the National Democratic Front made much progress. Nobody ever thought that a Cold Warrior like him would send his emissaries all the way to The Netherlands to reach out to Joma Sison, Luis Jalandoni and other self-exiled NDF leaders.
Early in his term, FVR succeeded in making Congress repeal RA 1700 or the Anti-Subversion Law as a gesture of goodwill to the NDF.
The overtures left the armed movement perplexed. “How do we deal with this ‘fascist’ turned ‘peace dove’?”
It was during his term too that the government and Moro National Liberation Front signed the 1996 Final Peace Agreement, the product of peace negotiations brokered by Jakarta.
But I think one of his undoing (apart from allowing the Marcoses to return) was the campaign for Charter Change near the end of his term. This was accompanied by a PR blitz portraying him as “the best president this country ever had.” Critics saw it as a ploy to extend his stay in Malacañang. A few even voiced fears he would impose martial law to fulfill that supposed ambition.
Of course, that didn’t happen. Joseph Estrada succeeded him in a peaceful transition of power.
Many I’m sure will share their own thoughts on the man. Not only as a president but also as one of the pillars of Martial Law being the chief of the notorious Philippine Constabulary, and as somebody who abandoned Marcos only because the odds had changed.
His memory will also be marred by his role in propping up former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo after the “Hello, Garci” scandal, and the controversies surrounding the Public Estates Authority (PEA)-Amari deal and other contracts entered into by his administration.
(The 1995 PEA-Amari deal involved the sale of a 158-hectare reclaimed property off the Manila-Cavite coastal road to Amari Coastal Bay Resources Corp., a Thai-Filipino company to be developed into so-called Freedom Islands as part of the Ramos administration’s Manila Bay Master Development Plan. In 2002, the Andres Narvasa-led Supreme Court struck down the deal, saying private companies may lease but cannot own reclaimed lands.)
Nonetheless, there will always be friends and countrymen who would love to say words similar to those that Mark Antony delivered at Caesar’s funeral. Lend them your ears.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. The author can be reached at email@example.com.)