Fidel Valdez Ramos was the first to be elected President of the Philippines who did not have a political background. He ran in only one election; he was elected President in 1992 over six prominent opponents by the slimmest of margins, 23.58 percent. Yet he quickly established common ground by reaching out and rallying the nation behind his leadership.
“To this work of empowering the people, not only in their political rights but also in economic opportunities, I dedicate my Presidency,” he declared in his inaugural address at the Luneta on June 30, 1992.
He interpreted his mandate to lead as being made up of three elements: first, the Filipinos disdained old politics and sought new forward pathways for attaining peace and prosperity; second, as the first Protestant to be elected President, he called for interfaith solidarity; and third, he believed in the people’s determination “to be greater than the sum of all the problems that confront us… (and to) climb higher than any summit we have already scaled.”
Thus did he serve as the consensus-builder and unifier who brought erstwhile contending parties to the table and rallied them to win the peace. The eventual establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao was the culmination of a long and arduous peace process that he initiated during his watch.
He said he had asked Mang Pandoy and his family “to be my guests in this inaugural ceremony as proof of my resolve to obtain for families like theirs all over the country the humanities of life.” Felipe Natanio, or Mang Pandoy, was a Filipino street vendor who was featured in the 1992 presidential debates; he became the “face of the poor” during the Ramos administration. He garnered broad public support — and endeared himself to the Filipino masa — not by dint of oratorical flourish but by assiduously establishing empathy.
Scores of ordinary Filipinos trooped to the former President’s wake before his scheduled inurnment today at the Libingan ng mga Bayani to pay their last respects and manifest their gratitude for what he had done to uplift their lives. Many of them carried personal mementoes such as autographed photos and cigars that he generously shared with common people.
Those who served with him as Cabinet secretaries or members of his personal staff witnessed at close range his exemplary work ethic: how he would conduct field visits in the regions from dawn to dusk, and continue working through the night with stacks of paper work that he tackled enthusiastically. His marginal notes on newspaper clippings and office memoranda reflected his intense focus on day-to-day issues, as well as radiated his infectious enthusiasm to work 24 by 7.
By doing seemingly ordinary things extraordinarily well — this was how he transformed himself from being a professional soldier to an inspirational Commander-in-Chief and exceptional Chief Executive.
Through trials and tribulations, the Filipino nation could always draw unbounded enthusiasm and encouragement from his memorable exhortation, “Kaya natin ito!” Yes, we can!
Farewell and Godspeed, former President Fidel Valdez Ramos!