OF TREES AND FOREST
Former Senate President
When his parents gave him the name Fidel, they probably saw something in him that told them he was going to be great someday. Fidel is a name that was derived from the Latin “fidelis” which means “faithful”. And that embodied what Fidel Valdez Ramos turned out to be: dutiful, steadfast, and, dependable.
FVR died last week at the age of 94. His was a life worthy of his trademark “thumbs up” seal of approval. His term as president was generally regarded as one of the best in our political history. He served his country with fidelity to its Constitution and its people as a good soldier. He fought in the Korean War and was a non-combat personnel in the Vietnam War. He also headed the Philippine Constabulary and later became Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces and Secretary of National Defense. Even when he retired he became an important statesman for the country.
I entered Philippine politics the same year FVR became president. It was 1992 and I won as an independent candidate representing the district of Las Piñas and Muntinlupa. I used to joke that he was my most important constituent since he was a resident of Muntinlupa.
I think there were six independent members of 9th Congress which included myself Joker Arroyo and Sonny Belmonte. FVR convinced me to join Lakas-NUCD. So, this was my first political party. I would later leave Lakas to help revive the Nacionalista Party after the death of another good friend former Vice President Salvador “Doy” Laurel.
Not many people know that FVR was a trained civil engineer. This is the reason why he was so fascinated with infrastructure development when he became President. And this was probably the reason why we hit it off almost instantly—our common interest. FVR acquired a Bachelor of Science in Military Engineering degree from West Point in the United States and a master’s degree in civil engineering at the University of Illinois. He placed 8th in the Civil Engineering Board Exam in 1953.
To fully appreciate the outstanding performance of FVR as President, it is important to understand the context of his assumption to the highest post of the land. He was elected as the 12th President of the Republic of the Philippines with the slimmest of margins—the lowest plurality of 23.5 percent. This thin mandate was exacerbated by the crises he faced—insurrection led by the Muslim rebels and the Communists insurgents, an underperforming economy made worse by frequent power interruptions, an obsolete infrastructure, and a people that has grown dissatisfied and disillusioned with politics.
It would be wrong to say that FVR was the messiah that solved all our problems. No. Some problems remained and some new ones emerged. But FVR rallied the entire nation to a vision of achieving tiger economy status. He successfully pursued peace talks with insurgents, liberalized the economy, deregulated key industries, privatized a number of public entities, and began the process of modernizing our infrastructure. Utilizing the revitalized BuildOperate-Transfer scheme, the FVR administration focused on improving land, sea, and air facilities, built new bridges, roads, and, rail transport.
FVR, in fact, was the original champion of what we now call Build, Build, Build. I remember he would sometimes call me and ask me to join him in inspecting roads and highways. I can still recall the bounce in his steps whenever he talked about infrastructure. He was a civil engineer geeking out and explaining to me the importance of highway engineering, or showing me the plan and design of the road to be built.
There were those who doubted his vision, encapsulated in the Philippines 2000 slogan. But it was important to have a clearly defined goal, a dream, that all Filipinos can embrace. FVR also knew that he needed to inspire the people and that is what he did.
He inspired them into believing in the Filipino dream again. He showed our people, and the entire world, that it is possible to remove the unsavory “Sick man of Asia” tag and become one of the emerging tiger economies in the region.
It was his faith in the Filipinos, his steadfast belief in the future of the country and his dedication and work ethic honed by years in military service and public office that made FVR the perfect President at the perfect time for the country.
He will be missed by a truly grateful nation.