Sam Ramos Jones on losing his grandfather and mentor
For Sam Ramos Jones, he was Lolo Eddie. The 29-year-old grandson of former President Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) looked back on his relationship with his grandfather a day after the burial, evidently melancholic yet dignified throughout the whole conversation. Much has been said about the former president’s career and what he had been able to do for the country but hearing Sam’s personal accounts offered a different perspective on the leader.
“Behind that military image and maybe later in his years, as the kind of goofy, very charming, elder statesman, he was a real nerd,” Sam revealed. While preparing for his eulogy, he found himself reading and double-checking notes FVR left behind when he found a letter.
“He had written his sister, former Senator Letty Ramos-Shahani, when he was, I think, still a captain or even a lieutenant. In the letter, he said, ‘We’re going out in the jungle next week’—or something like that—‘And I’ve taken a copy of Shakespeare as something to keep me occupied and prevent me from losing my finer sensibilities.’ You know, he was joking and it was very cute.”
The former president, who was known to be hardworking, also required a lot from the people around him. He’s often remembered as meticulous, strict, and how he drilled the concept of complete staff work (CSW) into his ministers.
'One of the things that I think, I know, he was disappointed to see both in domestic and international politics, was how it seemed to lose its sense of dignity.'
This, Sam shared, was also something he experienced as a grandson. “He traveled a lot before, during, and after his presidency and he invited us to travel in ways that we were not just on vacation,” Sam said. He and his cousins would work as an aide or an intern during those travels. Most of them also got to spend time working at the Ramos Peace and Development Foundation (RPDEV). “It was a great experience, maybe a little difficult to appreciate at the time or not appreciate it as much because he was quite demanding, when he was your boss,” he chuckled.
Good leadership is infectious, often without having to say much and that’s something the former president inspired among the people around him. Sam included, as he admitted that while he was lucky to never have been chewed out by the exacting president, there was no special treatment for the family or FVR himself. His grandfather would eat whatever was available in the kitchen and often spent time with the public.
When FVR was appointed as Special Envoy to China by then-President Rodrigo Duterte, Sam agreed to become his executive assistant, but only if he could do more than photocopying and getting coffee. “So, he gave me a lot of responsibility in terms of doing research, putting things together, submitting recommendations.”
One just couldn’t mess up while working with him, even in his later years. As his assistant, Sam would brief him for the day at 5:30 a.m. as he needed to be ready for the day by seven. “It was rough, but I guess I was also younger, right? He had this thing of bringing the best out of you and you try to match him,” he recounted.
When things needed to get done, Sam shared that his grandfather could be all business and no-nonsense. “But in terms of the relationships and how we dealt with people, he was never not funny,” he said. “Humor was one of his standout qualities.”
People don’t often see the connection between good policies and economic improvements and there’s no such thing as a perfect presidency but one thing FVR’s administration was proud of was the Comprehensive Social Reform Agenda, a policy move which hoped to reduce poverty while boosting the economy. The former president didn’t see himself as a messiah who could fix everything but was happy with the improvements he was able to instigate.
FVR was also well-loved internationally as he was instrumental in bolstering bilateral relations between the Philippines and other countries. A veteran of the Korean War before joining politics, South Korea also mourned FVR’s passing. “His very special affection for Korea has become a cornerstone of today’s deep friendship and trust between our two countries. His achievement and dedication will be remembered for long in the hearts of the people of our nations,” said the Embassy to the Korea in a statement. Japan, France, Israel, and China were some that expressed their condolences.
After years of hard work, Sam said that FVR found himself focusing on family in his latter years. After all, life in the military and the public eye can be straining to a family. Even before the pandemic, FVR also avoided things that stressed him out, including watching the news.
“One of the things that I think, I know, he was disappointed to see both in domestic and international politics, was how it seemed to lose its sense of dignity,” he said. “The way people began talking to each other, about each other, and about issues.” Sam recalled how FVR formed a coalition government after winning by a slim margin in 1992. During his inauguration address, the EDSA hero noted how the country had no shortage of problems to address, calling for solidarity. “We might have differences of opinion on certain things but there are way bigger issues that I think the vast majority, citizens, and—with hope—politicians can agree on,” Sam said. “It strikes me that this is again, part of the reason he stopped watching so much television later in his life. So much time is being wasted, on bickering over personal nonsense. Instead of the real problems that are at hand and especially with the world as it is today.”
After the burial, Sam is seeking a sense of normalcy and some quiet time to properly mourn the loss. Come December, the digital Presidential Library, which will keep records of his Lolo’s legacy is slated to launch. “There are other exciting things in the works to not just preserve but also carry forward his legacy in different ways,” he said. “He lived a long, very rich life—94 years. But the waves he’s made and will continue to make will be for decades and decades to come, if not longer.”