WHILE the late President Fidel V. Ramos wasn’t the highest ranking officer in the military establishment that supported Ferdinand E. Marcos’ martial law when it was imposed — Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Romeo Espino who served until 1981 was — he was widely viewed as its strongest pillar.
This was not only because he was Marcos’ second cousin, who under Filipino culture would profess undying loyalty to the strongman. Ramos was head for 14 years until 1985 (when he was appointed acting AFP chief of staff), of the powerful and centralized Philippine Constabulary (PC).
It was the PC which had the main task of going after “subversives,” which included all civilians that were plotting against Marcos. The other three service commands were tasked mainly to go after the Moro insurgents. It was the PC’s dreaded Constabulary Security Units in each region which captured most of the Communist Party’s leaders, in my case, with members of the Manila-Rizal regional committee, the 5th CSU.
Those who had been accused of grave human rights abuses — mainly by the communists and its front organizations — have been, without exception, officers of the PC, which were under Ramos’ command.
Don’t get me wrong. I write on this topic, days after FVR’s death, to point out that the narrative of his life — skipped as if it didn’t happen — by nearly all newspapers the other day, was almost entirely on his crucial role in the 1986 toppling of his cousin and his presidency, the best according to most who wrote eulogies on him yesterday.
Furthermore, I emphasize his role in martial law to get anti-Marcos fanatics to think: If martial law is as bad — the “Dark Era” — as the Yellows have brainwashed Filipinos, why would Ramos have been its pillar? If “10,000 innocent” Filipinos were killed, tortured and incarcerated during martial, why did Ramos head the PC which did most of these alleged human rights abuses.
But Ramos was the most articulate defender of martial law, perhaps by necessity, as it was his men — the Philippine Constabulary — that were the most visible, and feared, executioners of strongman rule, from the dreaded Metrocom to the death squads of the Narcotics Command.
Indeed, Ramos spent 13 years and five months serving martial law (1972 to Feb. 22, 1986) and 12 years and four months (Feb. 22, 1986 to June 3, 1998) as a champion of the Yellow rule. In a speech before businessmen in December 1972, he was a true believer of martial law:
“It is a martial law that is uniquely our own, a Philippine-style martial law devoid of the interdiction of barbed wire, rumbling tanks and bloodshed, that are the normal appendages of such a system elsewhere in the world. The distinctive and benevolent character of our martial law doubles from our democratic background and compassionate nature as a people. We in the Armed Forces are too steeped in the principles of freedom and too accustomed to the norms of the gentle Filipino traditions to be capable of authoritarian measures.”
A remarkable man indeed, FVR is the sole Filipino leader to have spent the most productive period of his professional life, half with the Marcos regime, and half under the strongman’s nemesis, the Yellows.
He was one very lucky (or clever) man, one could say: he abandoned Marcos only on the morning of February 22, when hundreds of thousands of Filipinos — both true believers, the curious, and the overnight patriots — had already amassed at EDSA as a human shield, upon Cardinal Sin‘s injunction, to protect the amateurish RAM mutineers and their godfather Juan Ponce Enrile, whose coup plots were discovered a week earlier.
Why did he abandon Marcos? I cannot find any actual quote from him that he did so because he thought Marcos had turned into a corrupt autocrat whom the people wanted toppled. Ramos was a very logical man.
If he did not abandon Marcos, and the strongman survived, his rival Gen. Fabian Ver would have certainly eased him out of power, to force him into retirement. But if he left the strongman, there was a chance the anti-Marcos forces would win, and he’d be a hero of a revolution, that the world so to speak would be his oyster.
Did his US contacts help him decide? To believe so is reasonable, as he was known to have had close contacts with top US officials, even with its intelligence services. His decision to abandon Marcos eerily is right after US President Ronald Reagan, who had considered the strongman as a personal friend, decided to also do so. Unfortunately, and rather strangely, Ramos wrote very little on why he decided to defect to the Cory camp.
What we have though, as reported in his biography by W. Scott Thompson (a US “foreign affairs official”, his obituary read) is his intriguing farewell words to Col. Jose Almonte when they last met a day or two before EDSA broke out: “Whatever you’re planning, just don’t make it too bloody.”
FVR though was very realistic (opportunistic, others would say) that he quickly distanced himself from Marcos (even refusing to allow the family to bury him in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. He let the Yellows and the Reds weave their yarn of massive human rights violations during martial law, which he knew since he was the PC head was not the case, but the unavoidable result of the war the communists and the Moro insurgents waged against the Republic.
I am not a fan of Ramos. He was defense secretary when Cory Aquino bypassed him, effectively surrendering our sovereignty, when she asked the US ambassador in 1989 for American military help to neutralize the rebels’ World War 2-era planes by buzzing them with two Phantom jets. A self-respecting defense secretary would have resigned with that insult to him and the nation.
Almost all eulogies the other day claimed he changed the image of the country away from its “sick man of Asia’ image. But average GDP growth during his term was just 3.8 percent, just a bit higher than the 3.6 percent of his predecessor, and low compared to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s 5 percent from 2001 to 2007.
The core of his economic policy, as he attempted to popularize it, was deregulation and privatization. But that was merely following the so-called Washington Consensus — what the US-controlled World Bank, the Europe-controlled International Monetary Fund, and the US Bureau of the Treasury claimed was the tried-and-tested formula all developing countries should adopt.
Twenty years after Ramos’ free-market prescriptions were implemented, we still have one of the highest power and retail-electricity prices in Asia, among the most expensive petroleum products in the world, and one of the most efficient and expensive water services — while the oligarchs who acquired such firms during Ramos’ regime, including an Indonesian, have become richer and richer, moving to other sectors.
If there is something I admire in Ramos’ presidency, it was its efficiency. Right beside his office was his computer man, who kept track of all documents and letters sent to him, with a special watermark of sorts, with an “out” window, mostly with his notation addressed to an official concerned with the letters “NLT” plus date, which meant he was expecting a response from the official “not later than” the date noted.
Steeped in military-intelligence practice, Ramos also did not rely solely on his official Cabinet. He had so-called parallel groups which were mini think-tanks, paid well from his huge intelligence funds or private-sector donations, and independent of the Cabinet secretaries. A cluster didn’t know others existed.
These gave him feedback on his moves on particular issues, and data on the real performance of his officials. I think that because these parallel groups were collectives, they were more objective and careful with their reports — in contrast to the “we bulong” cabal of the Cory administration, and the informal advisers of most of his successors.
For instance, while almost his entire Cabinet supported then Foreign Affairs Secretary Romulo who was seen by an outraged public to have been less than sympathetic to the OFW Flor Contemplacion, accused of murder in Singapore, one of Ramos’ parallel groups advised him to fire Romulo, a move that helped him recover his political support.
It was his national security adviser, Jose Almonte, who supervised these parallel groups. One of these was the media group, whose core included hotelier and man-about-town then Perfecto Quicho of “Giraffe” fame, Alex Magno (as he himself implied in his column the other day), Liberal Party ideologue Mario Taguiwalo, novelist Alfred Yuson, and two others whose names I forget. No wonder, Ramos continues to have the best image among modern Philippine presidents.
But of course, the US media loved him, the West Pointer, like no other Philippine president.
In my 2016 book, Colossal Deception: How Foreigners Control Our Telecoms Sector*, I reported the claim of a top official of the First Pacific Co. Ltd. that Ramos helped that Indonesian conglomerate win the bidding for the Fort Bonifacio estate. He ordered the Government Service Insurance System and other private companies close to him to join that Indonesian-led consortium, allowing it to bid higher to beat the Ayala conglomerate. The records do show that.
Ramos, that official disclosed, also committed to help the First Pacific group take over San Miguel Corp., which he could indeed do by lifting the sequestration of the shares held by Eduardo Cojuangco. However, the PCGG officials dragged their feet in doing so that the project was overtaken by the end of Ramos’ term in 1998.
Indeed, if Ramos’ “cha-cha” plan had succeeded in giving him another term, our corporate landscape would have been so different.
*Available at rigobertotiglao.com/shop and amazon.com
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