But to serve people, you have to love people. – Motherless Brooklyn
We know Fidel V. Ramos to be the gung-ho, multi-tasking, Eveready Bunny President who logged punishingly long hours on the job and met all challenges and reverses head-on with an infectious optimism.
“Just a temporary setback,” was how Tabako dismissed all stumbling blocks thrown his way.
He is, after all, a civil engineer, a stickler for order, integrity, and functionality.
But he is not only a certified engineer, he also topped the board examinations. That explains his tough standards and exacting work ethic.
He knows how to size up a person’s professional and moral “tensile strengths”.
His personal qualities were reflected on the composition of his Cabinet who all shared the same demanding attitude to the work at hand.
He is known for his battle cry “Kaya natin ito” (We can do it), as an encouragement to the people to unite to help solve the country’s problems.
Upon assuming office, he promptly hit the ground running, building political consensus and partnering with Congress, unleashing the first wave of the infrastructure boom, and sustaining economic growth until the 1997 Asian financial crisis hit.
As the country’s 12th President from 1992 to 1998, he took over an office saddled with herculean challenges – crippling power outages, weak economy, crumbling public infrastructure, congressional gridlock, and lingering insurgencies.
The most visible national problem then, particularly felt in Metro Manila, was the crippling power shortage he inherited from the previous administration.
Realizing the enormity of the problem and the urgency of the appropriate solution, he scrambled to address it in due time.
He resuscitated the economy by inviting foreign companies to invest in the country.
The Philippines promptly earned plaudits as “Asia’s Rising Tiger” because of its fast-growing economy, with an average annual growth rate of six percent to seven percent.
But FVR also understood that prosperity cannot be sustained without an enduring peace and social stability.
It was during his incumbency that the government signed the historic peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front on Sept. 2, 1996 for which he was feted by the global community, covered by respected broadcast media outfits, and featured by prestigious international publications.
He may have worn a uniform during his long and illustrious military career all the way up to becoming AFP chief and later on as Defense secretary.
But when he became Commander in Chief, he wore a coat of many colors – visionary leader, committed reformer, tireless builder, relentless peacemaker, and statesman non-pareil.
But how was the man as the nation’s Chief Executive, the first Protestant President up close and personal?
His intimate persona could only be best profiled by an insider, somebody very close to him in the literal sense of the word.
And no one can fit the bill other Ped Xing’s deal, old friend Jojo Terencio.
As the nation goes to poll to pick a new leader two weeks from now, perhaps, it would be instructive to revisit FVR’s four-decade career in government service through the recently released book Behind the Red Pen written by Terencio, his former Malacanang close-in writer and confidant.
In the book’s foreword, FVR said he waxed nostalgic recalling his stint at the Palace. It brought so many memories of events that happened almost three decades ago, he said.
“My administration had its ups and downs. But overall, it was a good six years. It was an era where we proved what unity, solidarity, and teamwork can do for our country,” he pointed out.
The book’s title was inspired by the former President’s ubiquitous red pens, which he used since his military days to issue handwritten memoranda, marginal notes, and directives to concerned government officials and staff.
Terencio said it opens a portal for readers to walk through back in time and know the 94-year-old statesman as a leader and as a boss. It also gives the public a keener understanding of the man’s private persona.
“In times of fake news and historical revisionism to suit one’s political interest, I hope to be one of the voices — no matter how soft — on the side of factual and accurate reporting,” he said.
Talking about the country’s future, FVR said the next leader should have a solid roadmap and a long-term vision for the country to regain its “Asia’s Rising Tiger” status.
He said a sustained economic growth that would be felt by the grassroots should be the focus.
“You know, we can still attain that,” he said in the last interview given before bowing out of his public duties.
“We just need a road map, a long-term vision for the Philippines. And that has to be provided by the President, and everybody must work together to make that vision a reality,” FVR pointed out.
He, however, reminded the citizenry of their shared responsibility in sustaining the country’s progress and development: “The government cannot do it alone. We all have to do our share.”
FVR again likened the country to a “sinking ship” due to many leaks caused by internal strife and disunity.
“The President, as our captain, needs to be mindful of where these leaks are coming from and act on them immediately,” he stressed. “And because we are all together onboard, we need to pull an oar or plug a leak. We have to do everything for the country.”
More than two years into the pandemic and with the national elections just around the corner, the management of the health crisis and measures to rev up recovery for the economy still reeling from the effects of the pandemic remain at the heart of the issues that the next leader should face head on.
The book, edited by Iris Cecilia Gonzales, also offers never-before-seen photographs from the family album of the Ramos family and contributions of private individuals.
Behind the Red Pen is available at Solidaridad (Manila) and Popular Bookstore (Quezon City). For online orders and delivery, contact Serendipithings at 09202717323.
Behold God’s glory and seek His mercy.
Pause, ponder, act, and pray, people.