Not all are privileged to work with a former Philippine president.
But for over 20 years now, I’ve had the blessing of serving alongside former President Fidel V. Ramos, who turns 93 today, March 18, whose love for our country and heart for good governance still ring a bell.
FVR or Tabako, as fondly called by his peers and constituents, is known not just for his thumbs-up sign, “Kaya Natin Ito” slogan, his ears or his tobacco but also for his push-ups and crunches and his programs of his administration especially with Philippines 2000.
Prior to the lockdown on March 15, 2020, even at a very ripe age of 92, he still reported to his RPDEV office in Makati almost daily but stopped playing golf since 2019 upon doctor’s advice.
Even in his nonagenarian years, he has never failed to carry on what he has started, always a good soldier who likes to say that he would rather die serving his country with his boots on than sit idly to enjoy his retirement. He continues to inspire and stimulate, stir and enthuse, define and redefine, challenge and defy.
Twenty three years after he finished his term as President, Fidel V. Ramos, FVR or Eddie, the private citizen, refuses to be “tired even while retired.” He continues to be “a reformer despite being a former President,” and “ex” but not excess and not yet expired.
Other former chiefs of state write their memoirs and then fade into the sunset. He has written more than 30 books while in retirement and through keynote speeches, roundtable discussions, university convocations, etc., keeps reminding his successors and other leaders of the urgent things that need to be done for our country and people to achieve a better future.
Our relationship can be described as a wonderful journey that transcends beyond the books we have done together. Since 2000, FVR has commissioned me to write on the biographies of his loved ones: “Enduring Legacy,” on his father Foreign Affairs Secretary Narciso Ramos; “ In A Class of Her Own,” on his mother Angela Valdez Ramos; “Mommy: The Pillar of Social Work” on his mother-in-law Josefa Jara Martinez; “Simply Ming,” on First Lady Amelita “Ming” M. Ramos; “Uncle Sim” on Simeon Marcos Valdez; and, “Colors of Light” on his artist, poetess and ambassador’s spouse auntie Lucia Mangapit Valdez.
Among the best book projects we worked and produced together are: Silver Linings, a story on the 25 Years of the 1986 Revolution, RPDEV @ 15: Our Continuing Voyage for Enduring Peace and Sustainable Development and the first volume, Teamwork for Enduring Peace and Sustainable Development chronicling ten years of the Ramos Peace and Development Foundation (RPDEV), a non-profit, non-political, non-partisan non-government organization where he acts as chair.
My latest book, co-authored with PVAO Administrator Gen. Nesty Carolina and Gen. Pol Bataoil, former Congressional Chairman for Veterans Affairs and now Lingayen mayor, was supposed to be presented on his birthday celebration on March 22nd at Fairmont Hotel but had to be cancelled due to COViD 19 and lockdown in Metro Manila. We eventually launched it virtually on August 31, 2020 in time for national heroes day.
It not only a singular honor and privilege writing books but I always consider it is a gift and a blessing from the Almighty and from FVR himself who has served as a constant guide, inspiration, editor and prime mover of said book projects.
The past 19 years and the several book teams formed have been a great journey of rediscovering FVR and RPDEV. Together, we now form part of a select group called Fidelistas, ardent students of Fidel V. Ramos. Working with him has allowed the various book teams, notably the millennials, to experience some of FVR’s core values and best practices such as CSW (Completed Staff Work), CSD (Caring, Sharing and Daring), and UST (Unity, Solidarity and Teamwork) – all advocated by FVR.
FVR has also become my loving mentor and my second father having earlier lost my own when he succumbed to cancer in 1994.
I recall the times he scolded me especially when coming in late for our appointed meetings; reprimanded me when I was not up to his high and excellent standards; and, he pat my back in times of appreciation and satisfaction on good works done.
During regular visits to his office, he personally sees to it that my team is served with his “coffee royale” laced with virgin coconut oil because according to him, it does well for one’s health and vitality. We all have to agree. After coffee, he treats us either with a glass of red wine or his special “FVR cocktail drink” invariably laced with soda, rum, cognac, whiskey or brandy while watching some documentaries or FVR taped interviews showcasing his milestone presidency and continuing work as senior statesman.
As for his many sorties overseas wherein I was privileged to join, he continues to be admired, respected and adulated as former President and head of state.
But there’s one unforgettable experience I had with him that showed the stuff he is really made of. I remember one incident in June 2013 when we staged the Pilipinas Roadshow with my co-book authors former DILG Secretary Rafael M. Alunan III and Gen. Reynaldo V. Velasco featuring our book “Silver Linings: 25 Years of the 1986 People Power Revolution,” and “Tagaligtas: A Documentary on the Spercial Action Force” (long before the Mamasapano massacre happened) in eight key cities in the United States to promote Filipino values and instill patriotism to the Fil-Ams in time for the Independence Day celebration.
Inspite of the debilitating pain on his back and leg when he injured himself in San Diego, California while doing his usual crunch with some Fil-Ams, FVR, who was very well beyond his years, withstood the pain and committed to continue the 8-city tour to Atlanta, Georgia, Washington D.C., Virginia, New Jersey and New York without any complaints or grievance. Beyond the pain, the show must go on. Such a kindred and brave soul and he taught the Pilipinas Roadshow Team a lesson or two on pain management, mind over matter, professionalism and honoring one’s commitment.
Through the years that I’ve known him, the many young and not so old writers that have been involved with the book projects have also seen the other human side of FVR – comical, witty and a tad bit serious when needed. I recall when he shook the hands of one lady writer and FVR feigned sickness to the lady writer’s great concern. Obviously, he was just joking. Such incidents would make most of them wonder how at his age, he still continues to work and contribute to nation building with his wealth of ideas, wisdom and experience. Unfortunately, for the many national leaders who came after him both in the executive and legislative, they didn’t seem to take the golden opportunity of tapping his vast reservoir of wisdom and experience, particularly in the areas of good governance and global diplomacy.
I believe that FVR is one of the greatest Philippine Presidents this country ever had, being a historian and eyewitness to Philippine history over the last 50 years.
Having served as 12th President of the Philippines from 1992 to 1998, FVR is best remembered for promoting the principles of people empowerment, a culture of excellence, and global competitiveness, focusing on programs to alleviate poverty and improve the lives of ordinary Filipinos. This is evident in the 229 structural/reform laws enacted by the 9th and 10th Congress during his term, achieved principally by building unity, solidarity and teamwork among government and civil society leaders.
As a soldier who served for 42 years, including stints in Korea, Vietnam and in the counter-insurgency campaign, FVR retired as a 4-star General and Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces. He served as Defense Secretary from 1988 to 1991.
As President and thereafter, he is better known as a peace builder with the forging of the peace agreements with the rebel-soldiers in 1995 and with the Moro National Liberation Front in 1996.
The former President who has been in public service since beginning his career as a cadet in the U.S. Military Academy in 1946, continues to practice his distinct brand of public service through the non-government RPDEV Foundation which he and key members of his former Presidential family organized only months after they left office.
His legacy of public service before, during and after his six year presidency are unmatched: West Point honor graduate, Korea and Vitenam War veteran, AFP Vice Chief of Staff, PC-INP Chief, EDSA 1 hero, AFP Chief, Defense Secretary, Philippine President, RPDEV and Boao Forum Chairman, EDSA 2 hero and Senior Statesman.
My only prayer for him is that he lives longer and at 93, I know he still can do more for our beloved Pilipinas. Incidentally, Pilipinas Kong Mahal is his all time favourite patriotic song.
Truly, Fidel V. Ramos has left an endearing legacy to our nation and he continues to give his indelible imprints on patriotism that celebrate a milestone of life, love, learning for his people and service to our beloved Philippines.
I am sure that with the global and national crisis being experienced today with the Chinese Virus (as described by US President Trump instead of COViD 19), FVR will surely tell everyone: KAYA NATIN ITO!!!
Happy birthday Mr. President!