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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Fidel V. Ramos: Life, Death, Legacies, Achievements and Controversies

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MANILA, Philippines. Former President Fidel V. Ramos passed away on July 31 at the age of 94. His family is yet to announce the cause of death as well as the wakes and funeral arrangements.

“Perhaps because I am a military man by training and an engineer and builder by background, I brought to the presidency a different view of how problems should be faced and mastered… Trials and challenges for me are not debates over principles and dogmas. They must rather be overcome in the most pragmatic, cost effective, and fastest  way.” 

Former President Fidel V. Ramos

From 1992-1998, FVR served as the 12th President of the Republic of the Philippines. He assumed the presidency at the age of 64 despite his relatively weak support base as a minority candidate. As the founder of Lakas-CMD (Christian – Muslim – Democrats Party), he was the first Christian Democrat President of the country and was heralded as the “centennial president” for presiding the 100th anniversary of the country’s declaration of independence.

As we commemorate the legacy of FVR, Politixxx Today remembers his contributions in nation-building. Here are some of his most notable legacies/policies:

Key Figure in Overthrowing Marcos’ Dictatorial Regime

FVR was one of the advisers of Former President Ferdinand Marcos in implementing the Martial Law. He was the commander of the paramilitary Philippine Constabulary which functioned as the country’s national police until 1972. He became the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Vice Chief in 1981. In February 1986, he turned against the dictator he formerly served and expressed support for the tagged dissidents during the EDSA Revolution. He urged the Marcos family to publicly apologize to the victims of Martial Law and joined the masses in condemning the atrocities that transpired at the time. He became one of the leading forces that toppled the regime he once helped build.

Resolved the 1992 Power Crisis

The 1992  power crisis was among the many problems FVR inherited from his predecessors. It can be traced to the 1983 foreign debt crisis under the Marcos regime and the subsequent administration’s move to bottleneck the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant project. Left with no other viable choice, he encouraged the private sector to participate in resolving the crisis. He pushed the Congress to pass laws that would initiate the privatization and deregulation of power industries i.e., The Electric Power Crisis Act of 1993 and the Amended Build-Operate-Transfer Law. This marked the shift of power industries from government control into private sector monopoly. Little did we know, this was only the start of a much bigger economic strategy towards liberalization.

Spearheaded Neoliberal Economic Policies

At the onset of Ramos’ administration and the administration before him, the country suffered from great socio-economic unrest. The country was buried in debt, export prices were falling, monopolies and cronies were amassing disproportionate wealth, government corruption was unchallenged, and others—we were heading toward a severe state of recession. 

To resolve this, he focused on crafting reforms that sought to introduce a comprehensive reform strategy. He did this by slowly opening the economy, competing in the world market, and developing a business-friendly environment. While neoliberal policies date back to his predecessors, particularly former President Corazon Aquino, it was during FVR’s administration that such policies gained serious traction and accelerated. 

 To “foster market efficiency”, he began reform efforts characterized by, among others, deregulation and privatization of industries. These industries include, but are not limited to, electricity, telecommunications, banking, domestic shipping, airline, oil, and others. Prime example of this is the former military reserve Fort Bonifacio which was sold to the private sector in large chunks and stands now as the commercial hub Bonifacio Global Center (BGC). This was presumably done to upgrade the fighting capability of AFP. Other public enterprises that were privatized and deregulated were Meralco, National Power Corporation, Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company, Petron, PHLPost, Philippine Airlines, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, and many others. 

To cement Ramos’ goal for the liberalization of local and international trade, the Philippines became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), replacing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). This was followed by a wave of deregulation and privatization policies i.e., Higher Education Act, Indigenouos Peoples’ Rights Act, Downstream Oil Industry Deregulation Act of 1998, General Banking Law, Public Telecommunications Policy Act of the Philippines, etc. 

Under his watch, the Philippine economy was able to recover, albeit slowly, from the lingering decline brought about by the inadequacies and abuses of the administrations before him. Ramos implemented a comprehensive Social Reform Agenda (SRA) that sought to address the long-standing problem of poverty: unemployment and underemployment, health, education and skills training, housing, environmental protection, children and the youth, the elderly and the handicapped, agrarian reform, and access to equal opportunity.

Moreover, his ambitious socio-economic program “Philippines 2000” sought to introduce a new milestone with industrialization and the tenets of liberalization at its core. While this program transcends past his term as a President, its impacts on the long run were indeed significant as it led to a large-scale economic boom, technological advancement, political stability, and efficient delivery of basic needs.

Staunch Military Strategist 

FVR was the first and only President to have single-handedly climbed the ranks in the Philippine military from Second Lieutenant to Commander-In-Chief. He attended the United States Military Academy and afterwards joined the Philippines’ 20th Battalion Combat Team of the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea (PEFTOK). He fought in the Korean War as a platoon leader from 1950-1853.

As an AFP Chief-of-Staff from 1986-1988 and later Secretary of National Defense from 1988-1991, he founded the Special Forces Regiment of the Philippine Army and the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Resumption of Peace Talks

As a soldier himself, FVR understood the importance of peace talks to address the root cause of insurgency. In 1992, he engaged in peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) and initiated a peace negotiation with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). In the same year, he signed the bill repealing the Republic Act 1700 or the Anti-Subversion Law which was one of the many instruments of the Marcos regime in silencing dissent. As a result, membership in the CPP was legalized. This sent a strong message that his administration is determined to compromise and  address the root cause of rebellion so long as insurgents “compete under our constitutional system and free market of ideas – which are guaranteed by the rule of law.”

In 1996, he signed another peace agreement with MNLF’s leader Nur Misuari wherein members of the organization were allowed to join the Armed Forces of the Philippines and surrender their arms and weapons in exchange for money. This bold move earned him the coveted 1997 UNESCO Peace Award. 

Foreign Policy

Ramos’ foreign policy revolved around four core priorities: “the enhancement of national security, promotion of economic diplomacy, protection of overseas Filipino workers and Filipino nationals abroad, and the projection of a good image of the country abroad.”

He expeditiously boosted foreign relations of the country with other countries through state visits and fora with other state leaders. Through his leadership, the Philippines hosted the APEC Leaders Summit in1996. Under his administration, FVR signed the first RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement which is an implementing agreement of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty. He also mitigated the attacks following the disputed Spratly Islands by engaging in a diplomatic dialogue with Beijing on the one hand and strengthening the military workforce of the country on the other. This was substantial in keeping the relationship between the two countries. 

The Centennial President’s Legacy 

An effective strategist and crisis manager, FVR leaves a rather complicated legacy characterized by his paradoxical display of authority. In almost every endeavor of national significance, he attempted to play both sides of the coin. He challenged and served the Marcos dictatorship, fought against and initiated peace talks with armed groups, and stabilized the country in the 1990s by accelerating neoliberal policies. Perhaps this would explain why his administration appears to be the least divisive presidential term post-86. At his best, he advanced the ideals of democracy and good governance. 

While his term was far from perfect and was not free from controversies and shortcomings, let us use this moment to pay tribute to the man who made peace between diametrically opposed parties possible, paved the way for industrialization, instigated economic recovery at a time when the country was in recession, reformed government systems, and reintroduced the Philippines to the world stage. Let us always remember his reputation as a fighter in the political arena and the battlefield—a true soldier and a public servant. Above all this, may we find inspiration from the grand legacy he built through the course of his life. Salute, Former President FVR!

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