Fidel V. Ramos and Red-Tagging

“It makes sense that the one who would want peace the most for the country is the soldier who became our greatest president.”

Last March 18, Fidel V. Ramos (FVR as he is affectionately called), former president of the Philippines, turned 93 years old. According to a story in this newspaper, he celebrated this milestone privately with his family. My wish is that someday soon we can gather together to toast this great Filipino.

Cely Dimaculangan, FVR’s spokesman, shared an anecdote about FVR’s last meeting with friends before the lockdown last year. Among those he met was newly-appointed Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, now the chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. When FVR saw Sobejana, he immediately recalled that he had granted the latter with the Medal of Valor way back in 1996.

FVR is my hero. He has been the best President of the Philippines—at least since Ferdinand Marcos.

I am biased of course about saying the FVR is the best because I was one of the youngest in his Cabinet. In early 1996, when I was in my mid 30s, Ramos appointed me Undersecretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). I was recommended by his namesake, then DENR Secretary Victor O. Ramos, and FVR did not hesitate to appoint me for my credentials and record and cognizant that I did not have any political backing.

FVR was truly committed to sustainable development. He boasted about us when the DENR disallowed the building of what would have been the largest cement plant for the world in Bolinao, a town in FVR’s home province of Pangasinan. He liked that the Philippines was described in the international press as The Green Tiger of Asia. He was hands on in the Kyoto climate negotiations and was thrilled when US President Bill Clinton called him to enlist the help of the Philippines in concluding the negotiations in its final days. He sent me and Secretary Ramos the thank you note of Clinton and congratulated us for our work in Kyoto.

FVR left a legacy of good governance to the country, a template for future administrations: Complete staff work, a consensus building and inclusive approach to decision making, a global perspective, a passion for peace, adherence to democratic principles and processes,  a total commitment to levelling the playing field, modernization of our economy and government processes, reforming the tax system, and an emphasis on the social reforms, basic decency, and above all his belief that we can overcome our differences and tribalism and come together as one Team Philippines.

Indeed, Ramos’ greatness is that he sought to unite us in spite of our differences. Others sought to exploit those differences or pitted us against each other—even for good causes like national security, social reforms, anti-corruption, and the war vs drugs.

Ramos acknowledged these challenges and said that only a United Team Philippines can solve them. His attitude is one we badly need today as we face a pandemic that has again taken a turn for the worse for the country.

FVR reminds us that we can be a great country and not the bickering, conflict-driven, and disunited nation that Marcos, Erap, GMA, PNoy, and Digong has given us.

On a personal note, FVR was personally affectionate with me, especially when I joined the provincial Cabinet visits where he made me the point person for mining concerns. It’s interesting that my boss Secretary Vic Ramos assigned me to do those trips because some people apparently accused me of being a communist or a radical and that my best protection was for FVR to get to know me.

That is happening again today as red-tagging becomes a norm in the Duterte government. Among others, the mad dogs of anti-communism have targeted human rights, environmental, and indigenous peoples defenders. I am all of these, with student and youth activists and Lumad children and educators as my most prominent clients.

I am not a communist but proudly a radical on environmental and social justice. I believe absolutely in non-violent means to change society and is committed to a peaceful resolution of all our disputes. I am fully committed to uphold human rights and the rule of law and justice.I have worked, representing the country in climate negotiations and in peace processes with the MNLF, MILF, and NDF, for all presidents from FVR onwards.

I have worked and continue to work with many government departments, responding to requests for assistance on the subjects I have expertise on. I have engaged with many top and retired military and police officials and have taught/mentored (and continue to teach/mentor) dozens of young officers of the AFP.

There should be no reason why I should worry about my safety. But I do. I am actually resigned to being attacked, even killed by the mad dogs who have no capacity to distinguish between dissent and terrorism.

FVR is the best president we have ever had, and not the least because he put a stop to red-tagging during his time by repealing the odious Anti-Subversion Law. It might seem ironic but it actually makes sense that the one who would want peace the most for the country is the soldier who became our greatest president.

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