Former president Fidel V. Ramos was known by the nation as the leader who brought rapid economic growth and political stability in the Philippines.’
But in the eyes of the people who closely worked with him for a very long time, Ramos is not only viewed as the leader who served and steered the country through various challenges.
Ramos, more popularly known as FVR, was a boss with a photographic memory, a master of psywar, someone who does not miss breakfast, a leader who always brings a pen and paper, and a workaholic.
During the tribute program for FVR on Sunday, Aug. 7, some of his long-time closed-in security officers walked down the memory lane and shared stories of their working experiences with the former commander-in-chief.
‘Boss never left home without breakfast’
Retired Police Brigadier General Noel “Barry” Baraceros, who became one of the security officers of FVR in 1988 when he was appointed chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), fondly remembered the late president as someone who never misses a breakfast.
“Boss never left home without having breakfast as he always said ‘you’ll never know when your next meal will be’,” he said.
Baraceros recalled that this was among the lessons he learned from FVR, saying he learned it the hard way.
“I learned this hard lesson when one time I was not able to take breakfast as I need to follow up on something, and lo and behold, he had a series of activities during the provincial sortie,” he said.
He was only able to have his first meal that day late at night.
If there is something as important as breakfast in FVR’s daily routine, it was the news clippings.
His close-in aides said FVR can finish a pile of newspapers and even magazines for a day, leaving them a new set of articles to clip “even late at night.”
Every time he finishes all reading materials prepared for him for a day, Baraceros recalled, the former president always quipped: Is there any more papers there?
“He expects everyone to follow or adapt his work habits and ethics. Everybody whom he worked whether here or abroad, knows that boss starts his day very early reading the news clippings, he finishes all documents for that day with his quip ‘wala na bang papel diyan?'” Baraceros said.
“When he read all the newspapers or magazines for that day, leaving us with more articles to clip even late at night. He even works on weekends,visiting and checking some projects, making the staff and even Cabinet on standby,” he added.
‘Boss is very workaholic’
All his close-in security officers, who spoke on Sunday night, attested that FVR was indeed a workaholic.
“Si boss po ay (Boss is) very workaholic, mapalad na po kami kung sa maghapon na lakad namin for that day, naunahan namin si Mrs. Ramos sa pag-uwi sa bahay, tuwang tuwa na kami nun (we’re lucky if we got home earlier than Mrs. Ramos that day),” said Technical Sgt. Jaime Ancheta, of the Philippine Army, a close-in aide of FVR since 1996.
Ancheta, however, said those instances were rare as they would usually end up working late night, even making the carpark as the former president’s working area.
“Pero mostly, inaabot po ng gabi then pag dumating ng maaga by 8 or 9 in the evening hindi pa bababa ng sasakyan, nandun pa sa parking at gumagawa ng paperworks (we work until late night if we arrive early by 8 or 9 in the evening, he will not go out of the car yet and deal with paperworks at the parking area),” Ancheta recalled.
While FVR works until late night, he is also an early riser, starting his day at 6 a.m. in the office.
“His workdays started at 6 a.m. It was filled with meetings to check the progress of the initiatives, doubling, doing even more field visits. We all work until late in the evening, weekends and holidays,” Major General Anthony “Cantoy” Alcantara recalled FVR’s work schedule when he became the military chief.
He added that “on many days, he ran with the troops at 4 a.m., many many days. He proved his battlecry true: let’s show them how to work.”
“When he became President, his ways of doing things never changed. Provincial visits on weekends, Cabinet meetings on Tuesdays, reaching out to religious leaders and peace builders, shifting the international community’s perception of his smokey mountain image to that of a nation surviving and thriving. Six years was a short time to make a difference,” Alcantara said.
‘Boss expects that we are always ready’
There was a reason why the staff of FVR always carry that one big bag with them every time the former president has an appointment.
Baraceros said whatever FVR asks— be it a pen, paper, a copy of his speech, or even his cigar—it must be readily handed over to him.
“Boss expects that we are always ready and have everything with us, always bringing extra or reserve,” he said.
“This is the reason why you must observe that we, the aides and security officers, always carry that big bag containing everything that the boss might ask,” he added.
In real life, Baraceros said, he learned from FVR that “we need to anticipate, to always be ready and prepared for contingencies, that it is better to have something ready when we need it.”
‘Anything important needs to be written’
While his security officers know that FVR has a photographic memory, including recognizing new staff in just a week, the former president loves taking notes.
“PFVR has a photographic memory but he considers that anything important needs to be written, the reason he always has with him and of course, we as the aides and security, pens and notes wherever,” Baraseros said.
Wherever, included golf courses.
The long-time aide recalled that there was a time FVR wrote on a tissue paper an important matter he needed to remember because the officers failed to bring a paper with them.
“We should not rely on our memory,” the former president used to say, Baraceros said.
“This provides him with a wealth of references and reminders on schedules, people to call, and matters that need to be acted upon,” he said.
The former president, according to Baraceros, has a clever way of resolving disagreements in his Cabinet.
The clever idea even includes a small, cold meeting room with no coffee.
“Boss have some clever ideas on how to make Cabinet Secretaries or even staff come into agreement by asking them for a meeting in a very small room in the Palace and leaving them for a while, telling them to discuss and for them to advise him when they come into agreement,” Baraceros said.
“Then, he instructed me or the security officer to ask the technician to put to maximum the aircon temperature and do not serve coffee,” he added. “After a while, they come up with an agreement.”
Baraceros said he learned that as a staff, “we should provide the boss not half-baked but a well-studied and factual analysis of a problem or situation and a set of educated intervention.”
As a leader, FVR, considered that everything has a solution and never made a hasty decision, he said.
‘Boss is a master of psywar’
According to Baraceros, if FVR knows someone is being rattled, “the more he will harass you.”
“I remember one time, early in the morning, mainit talaga ang ulo ni boss, that was the time of Flor Contemplacion case. I was balled out the whole day and nobody would like to get nearby, making me the receiving end of all his brunt, parang feeling ko medyo resigning na ako nun (I felt like I was on the verge of resigning back then),” he recalled, earning laughter from the guests and Ramos’ family at the wake.
But one thing that Baraceros never forgot was what FVR did later that day.
He said before alighting the car, FVR tapped him in the shoulder and humbly apologized.
“I can’t utter a word and just muttered a silent ‘yes sir’,” Baraseros said.
“PFVR teaches us to get angry with misdeeds or wrongdoing, but not to be personal about it,” he said.
If there is one thing that all his aides said about FVR, aside from being workaholic, is his genuine care for his subordinates.
Alcantara said FVR taught him to “inspire your men by taking care of them.”
Baraceros, for his part, said, “being an officer holding various leadership roles at all levels of command in his long years in military, PFVR exemplified the principle of taking good care of his men and looking after their welfare and even their families. Even when he was already the president, he never failed to take care of us.”
“Thank you more for your great leadership, for showing us the way, for providing the political will, that as you said in your inaugural address: this nation will endure, this nation will prevail, this nation will prosper again if we hold together.”
And each of them ended their messages to their former boss with a snappy salute.