By Melandrew T. Velasco
“We Filipinos have always found it easier to die for our country than live for it. In times of peace and civil order, we seem to fritter away in bickering. We split so easily into fractions, each intent on its petty agenda. We play at intrigue: each pursuing his or her self interest, although doing so may be self defeating.”
Thus wrote former President Fidel Valdez Ramos as part of his foreword in the landmark book “Twilight Glory: A Tribute to Filipino Heroes and Veterans” published in August 2020 by Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO), Media Touchstone Ventures, Inc (MTVI( and the Ramos Peace and Development Foundation (RPDEV).
Prophetic it may seem were the former Chief Executive’s words of wisdom, Twilight Glory would go down as my last book collaboration with FVR who joined our Creator last Sunday, July 31, at the ripe age of 94.
For over 20 years since my first book on the Ramos family published in November 2000 in time for the birth centennial of FVR’s father, Ambassador Narciso R. Ramos, I have authored and co-published 15 landmark books on FVR’s family members and his foundation.
Not all are privileged to work with a former Philippine president. I’ve had the blessing of serving alongside FVR whose love for our country and heart for good governance always ring a bell until he breathe his last.
FVR or Steady Eddie, as he was fondly called by his peers and constituents, was better known not just for his thumbs-up sign, “Kaya Natin Ito” slogan, his ears or his tobacco but also for his push-ups and crunches and his programs of his administration especially with Philippines 2000.
Before Covid 19 came into being in early 2020, FVR, even at a ripe age of 92 still reported to his RPDEV office in Makati almost daily but stopped playing golf in 2021 upon doctor’s advice.
Even in his nonagenarian years, he never failed to carry on what he had started. Always a good soldier, FVR always liked to say that he would rather die serving his country with his boots on than sit idly to enjoy his retirement.
Thus, I remember him continuing to inspire and to stimulate, stir and enthuse, define and redefine, challenge and defy the odds. In hindsight, even 24 years after he finished his term as President, FVR or Eddie, the private citizen, refused to be “tired even while retired.” He continued to be “a reformer despite being a former President,” and delighted by an “ex” but never considered him to be an excess and not yet expired. Other former chiefs of state write their memoirs and then fade into the sunset. FVR was an exception. In fact, he had written more than 30 books while in retirement and through keynote speeches, roundtable discussions, university convocations, etc., kept reminding his successors and other leaders of the urgent things what’s needed to be done for our country and people to achieve a better future.
My relationship with FVR can be described as a wonderful journey that transcended beyond the books we have done together. As stated earlier, since 2000, FVR had commissioned me to write on the biographies of his loved ones: “Enduring Legacy,” on his father Foreign Affairs Secretary Narciso Ramos; “ In A Class of Her Own,” on his mother Angela Valdez Ramos; “Mommy: The Pillar of Social Work” on his mother-in-law Josefa Jara Martinez; “Simply Ming,” on First Lady Amelita “Ming” M. Ramos; “Uncle Sim” on Simeon Marcos Valdez; and, “Colors of Light” on his artist, poetess and ambassador’s spouse auntie Lucia Mangapit Valdez.
Among the best book projects we worked and produced together are: Silver Linings, a story on the 25 Years of the 1986 Revolution, RPDEV @ 15: Our Continuing Voyage for Enduring Peace and Sustainable Development and the first volume, Teamwork for Enduring Peace and Sustainable Development chronicling ten years of the Ramos Peace and Development Foundation (RPDEV), a non-profit, non-political, non-partisan non-government organization where he served as chair.
Our last book together as co-publishers was co-authored with PVAO Administrator Gen. Nesty Carolina and Gen. Pol Bataoil, former Congressional Chairman for Veterans Affairs and now Lingayen mayor. “Twilight Glory” was supposed to be presented on his 92nd birthday celebration on March 22nd 2020 at Fairmont Hotel but had to be cancelled due to COViD 19 and lockdown in Metro Manila.
Looking back, it is not only a singular honor and privilege writing and publishing books. All these years, I always consider it is a gift and a blessing from the Almighty and from FVR himself who always served as a constant guide, inspiration, editor and prime mover of said book projects.
The past 21 years and the several book teams formed have been a great journey of rediscovering FVR and RPDEV. With his passing to the great beyond, we have a bunch of team that now form part of a select group called Fidelistas, ardent students and admirers of Fidel V. Ramos. Working with him has allowed the various book teams, notably the millennials, to experience some of FVR’s core values and best practices such as CSW (Completed Staff Work), CSD (Caring, Sahring and Daring), and UST (Unity, Solidarity and Teamwork) – all advocated by FVR. There’s no denying that FVR also became my loving mentor and my second father having earlier lost my own when he succumbed to cancer in 1994.
Just like a disciplinarian father, there were times when FVR scolded me when especially when coming in late for our appointed meetings; reprimanded me when I was not up to his high and excellent standards; and, he patted my back in times of appreciation and satisfaction on good works done.
During regular visits to his office, he personally saw to it that my team was served with his “coffee royale” laced with virgin coconut oil because according to him, it works well for the health and vitality. We all have to agree.
After coffee, he treated us either with a glass of red wine or his special “FVR cocktail drink” invariably laced with soda, rum, cognac, whiskey or brandy while watching some documentaries or FVR taped interviews showcasing his milestone presidency and continuing work as senior statesman.
As for his many sorties overseas wherein I was privileged to join, I witnessed how he continued to be admired, respected and adulated as former President and head of state. But there’s one unforgettable experience I had with him that showed the stuff he was really made of.
I remember one incident in June 2013 when we staged the Pilipinas Roadshow with my co-book authors former DILG Secretary Rafael M. Alunan III and Gen. Reynaldo V. Velasco featuring our book “Silver Linings: 25 Years of the 1986 People Power Revolution,” and “Tagaligtas: A Documentary on the Spercial Action Force” (long before the Mamasapano massacre happened) in eight key cities in the United States to promote Filipino values and instill patriotism to the Fil-Ams in time for the Independence Day celebration.
Inspite of the debilitating pain on his back and leg when he injured himself in San Diego, California while doing his usual crunch with some Fil-Ams, FVR, who was very well beyond his years, withstood the pain and committed to continue the 8-city tour to Atlanta, Georgia, Washington D.C., Virginia, New Jersey and New York without any complaints or grievance.
Beyond the pain, the show must go on. Such a kindred and brave soul in FVR and he taught the Pilipinas Roadshow Team a lesson or two on pain management, mind over matter, professionalism and honoring one’s commitment. Through the years that I’ve known him, the many young and not so old writers that have been involved with the book projects have also seen the other human side of FVR – comical, witty and a tad bit serious when needed.
I still recall the usual drill when he shook the hands of one lady writer and FVR feigned sickness to the lady writer’s great concern. Obviously, he was just joking. Such funny incidents and lighter moments would make most of them wonder how at his age, he still continued to work and contribute to nation building with his wealth of ideas, wisdom and experience.
Unfortunately, for the many national leaders who came after him both in the executive and legislative, they didn’t seem to take the golden opportunity of tapping his vast reservoir of wisdom and experience, particularly in the areas of good governance and global diplomacy.
With his passing, I believe that FVR is one of the greatest Philippine Presidents this country ever had, being a historian and eyewitness to Philippine history over the last 50 years. Having served as 12th President of the Philippines from 1992 to 1998, FVR is best remembered for promoting the principles of people empowerment, a culture of excellence, and global competitiveness, focusing on programs to alleviate poverty and improve the lives of ordinary Filipinos. This is evident in the 229 structural/reform laws enacted by the 9th and 10th Congress during his term, achieved principally by building unity, solidarity and teamwork among government and civil society leaders.
As a soldier who served for 42 years, including stints in Korea, Vietnam and in the counter-insurgency campaign, FVR retired as a 4-star General and Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces. He served as Defense Secretary from 1988 to 1991. As President and thereafter, he is better known as a peace builder with the forging of the peace agreements with the rebel-soldiers in 1995 and with the Moro National Liberation Front in 1996.
The former President who has been in public service since beginning his career as a cadet in the U.S. Military Academy in 1946, continues to practice his distinct brand of public service through the non-government RPDEV Foundation which he and key members of his former Presidential family organized only months after they left office.
His legacy of public service before, during and after his six year presidency are unmatched: West Point honor graduate, Korea and Vitenam War veteran, AFP Vice Chief of Staff, PC-INP Chief, EDSA 1 hero, AFP Chief, Defense Secretary, Philippine President, RPDEV and Boao Forum Chairman, EDSA 2 hero and Senior Statesman.
Not that he is gone, I can only recall the best times I have with him. Incidentally, Pilipinas Kong Mahal is his all time favourite patriotic song.
Truly, Fidel V. Ramos has left an endearing legacy to our nation and with the books that we have done over the last 20 years, I now comfort myself for being the torchbearer in bringing his indelible imprints on patriotism that celebrate a milestone of life, love, learning for his people and service to our beloved Philippines. Rest easy now FVR.
Thank you Mr. President for your service to our country and our people. To honor your legacy, we will always carry on your favorite battle cry: KAYA NATIN ITO!!!