ON EMPOWERING THE FILIPINO PEOPLE
By FIDEL V. RAMOS
FORMER PHILIPPINE PRESIDENT
Who was really to know what life with Eddie would be? I had no idea what I was getting into. Before we got married, Eddie drove me around Camp Aguinaldo where he worked at that time and through Fort McKinley, which is now known as Fort Bonifacio. I guess he wanted to see my reaction to military life. Well, they say love is blind. And at that time, I didn’t really look around me. There was no need. Eddie was everything I needed to see.
Our daughters came in succession – Angel, Jo, Chula, Cristy. Our youngest daughter, Margie, was to be born 13 and a half years after Cristy. She was our surprise baby. That was a very memorable year. Among the wives of the generals, I was the only one pregnant.
Now let me tell you that Eddie remained first and foremost a military man and second, a family man. He ran a household as he would ran a battalion. He set up a strict time schedule for everyone: Tthe time to sleep, wake up, eat. Not that it lasted. To put it quite simply, it was the kind of routine that invited mass rebellion. With five daughters, all in one way or the other resembling their father in temperament, Eddie Ramos’ attempt to militarize the Ramos family was a dismal failure. I think it was the only endeavor in which he failed, miserably I might add. This shows you the power that women have. Don’t worry men, the women let you have the last word anyway. That’s “Yes, dear!”
Being independent was a necessity in our family. I had the good fortune to have been brought up by parents who believed that their children should be capable of looking after themselves. With Eddie being assigned to various places in the Philippines and abroad, I became mother and father to the children. The values that my parents taught me became the values that ensured my survival as a military officer’s wife. So naturally, these were the same values I passed on to my children. Here I speak of the values of honesty, hard work, patience, and self-sufficiency.
Contrary to the term “military brats,” our children were hardly spoiled. They rode a six-by-six truck to school all the way from Fort Mckinley to UP. We used the six-by-six truck as their school bus. Eddie and I couldn’t afford to give them cars. In the meantime, the car I was using was already 13 years old. When the car finally broke down on the highway and Eddie learned that I was stuck there, he finally consented to buy a car – with me paying for it.
The children never got any special treatment just because of who their father was or what position he held. They still don’t get any special treatment now that they are the First Family, except, of course, for security arrangements.
On my side, I had to learn how to drive because Eddie was always on assignment and we had no driver. I also had to work for a living, partly because it is not in my nature to ask my husband for money and partly because Eddie’s salary as a military officer was not enough.
Come to think of it, Eddie’s present salary is still not commensurate to the time, dedication, and effort he places into his work. He does not even get overtime pay. He is overworked and underpaid like you here in UP. So how about a raise, Dr. Emil Javier?
Despite the fact that I am First Lady now, I am still working for mostly the same reasons 45 years ago. I still refuse to ask money from Eddie because husbands ask you too many questions like “Is it necessary?” “Isn’t it expensive?” Also, I need to give him money sometimes in the course of his term as the President because he donates his salary to various charities. Incidentally, he also donates my hard-earned money from International School where I work. It’s really a matter of who gets to donate whose salary first. Usually, he gets to do it first.
Going back to the subject at hand, our family life within the military was definitely not an easy one. When you have a husband out in the field or mountain somewhere, you wonder when he’s going to come home and if he will be able to come back home to you and our family safely.
Then there were five daughters to take care of, a household to run, a job to do to earn a living. In addition to these situations that sometimes brought many a wrinkle and frown to my face, Eddie’s work mandated that you had to be nice to people even when they are being obnoxious.
Life has not been a bed of roses for us. Given the nature of Eddie’s work, the children and I had to learn to deal with disappointments. Some were difficult to accept. Basically, it’s the kind of life that teaches a person to be tolerant and patient. You learn not to expect too much and live with what you have. The children and I learned this lesson very well. I do believe this was a lesson we took with us to Malacañang.
SEARCHING FOR A DEFINITION
The first year of my husband’s presidency was, to say the least, a period of great adjustment for me. Our children, excluding Margie who had left for studies in the US, were all busy with their own families. I am sure they have had to make their own adjustments as well, since now, being members of the First Family put them in the limelight, which all of us have always avoided.
In the meantime, Eddie and I were once again left to ourselves. It was like being in our first year of marriage all over again. How romantic, right? Although let me tell you, it wasn’t. This time, it was not just merely the role of a wife to which I was trying to get used to. It was to being the wife of the President, to being the First Lady.
I remember standing with my husband at the stage of Luneta Grandstand as he was sworn in as the new President by Chief Justice Andres Narvasa before the Filipino people and the world. That was my first official function as First Lady. I felt very self-conscious. To be honest, I still get nervous in front of the audience, like now.
I have always been a private person and now being First Lady meant reconciling my private life with a public role. But what public role? There is no handbook incumbent First Ladies can read which details how to be First Lady. There is no manual of procedures which I could study. I recalled how other First Ladies before me lived. I even did research on them. In the course of my research, I realized that being First Lady was to each her own kind of thing. They shaped the role as they saw fit. The First Ladies were in essence ladies of their time. The responsibilities they undertook, the projects they spearheaded, the image they reflected were all of their own choosing and of the unique demands of their generation.
So, simply put, I was down to my own resources on how to become the First Lady of this time.
Being a First Lady is a great, once-in-a-lifetime, make or break opportunity. It is a work that demands dedication. But then, during the first few months, I was too busy packing a few family belongings which we would take to Arlegui and had no time to think so much yet of what I would do officially.
We finally moved to the official residence in October, 1992. I was already tired just three months into the administration’s term. However, despite this, I refused to give up my job at the International school where I worked as admissions consultant.
There were two jobs I had to give up though. The first was as director of Manila Hotel because of “conflict of interest” – Manila Hotel being partly government-owned. The second job I had to give up was that of being a travel representative.
Now, not too may people know that I had been a travel representative for 25 years. I liked being a travel representative because one of the privileges was that I get to travel by paying only 25 percent of the fare. Unfortunately, a politician questioned my work and whether I paid taxes. If he had done his research well, he would have learned that I was paying my taxes and that it was reflected in my Income Tax Return. Anyway, to avoid further conflicts, I simply resigned. That was my first taste of a high-profile seemingly political attack on my persona as a First Lady.
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