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Fidel V. Ramos

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September 2000. The year was 1996. There were good reasons to be optimistic. Filipino expatriates were coming back to the Philippines to try the robust business environment under the Ramos presidency. Foreign investments were trickling in as political stability pervaded the nation. There was peace in Mindanao and Manila served as host to the world's most powerful leaders.

No one could be happier than former President Fidel Ramos in 1996, the crowning jewel of his six-year administration. The economy was growing by six percent, a sharp turnaround from the previous year which has been hit by a rice shortage. In September of that year, the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) inked a peace pact, which was to end the 24-year Muslim rebellion in the south. In November, the country hosted what was described as the most successful Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, participated in by 21 countries.

Then came the Asian economic crisis in 1997. But President Ramos' strong economic fundamentals made sure the Philippines would be least affected by the slump. True enough, the Philippine economy still grew by over two percent in that year, while other ASEAN countries suffered recessions. Ramos wanted the country to become a newly industrialized economy by the year 2000, but his term was good only until 1998. He could only watch his successor, President Joseph Estrada, take his own economic path.

Ramos assumed the presidency from the dark, figuratively. He was the chosen successor of former President Corazon Aquino, whose term was plagued by 7 coup attempts by the right-wing faction of the military, and a crippling energy crisis. In 1992, the energy problem was so critical, most houses spent dark nights. But light was restored when Ramos became the country's first Protestant president. He initiated numerous multi-billion energy projects that would answer the need for electricity of even the biggest businesses in Subic, Laguna, Cavite, and Bataan.

He traveled extensively abroad, to entice foreign investors. In the provinces, he was an active speaker in both government and private projects. His term saw the rise of huge infrastructure projects such as the anti-lahar mega-dike in Pampanga, the roads leading to Subic, bridges, flyovers, energy plants, government buildings, and the MRT railway.

His constant hectic schedule drew complaints from members of the Malacañang Press Corps who could not cope up with him. His focus on poverty eradication led to the demolition of the Smokey Mountain garbage site, which was replaced with resettlement buildings. So important was he to the economy that his reported heart attack caused jitters among stock traders in the early part of 1997.

Of course, Ramos also drew flak for many of his controversial measures. In his peace accord with the MNLF, he was accused of giving Mindanao to the Muslims, of graft and corruption in his infrastructure projects, and of selling the country to foreigners in his investment programs. But he denied all of these, and disclosed vital information to the press.

The end of his term saw mounting opposition to such proposals as his national ID system. An attempt to tinker with the Constitution brought fears that he would stay in power even after his term ended in 1998. Instead, Ramos chose to step down and give way to President Estrada, who, after only two years, would be the first Philippine president to be impeached.

Fidel Ramos was born in Lingayen, Pangasinan on March 18, 1928 to former Foreign Affairs Secretary Narciso Ramos and Angela Valdez. He graduated valedictorian from elementary school, and attended the UP High School, before enrolling in the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) where he earned a scholarship to the US Military Academy in West Point. While in the US, he also obtained a Masters Degree in Civil Engineering in University of Illinois.

In 1952, he joined the Philippine Army and became part of the Philippine Expeditionary Force in 1952 during the Korean War. In the 1960s, he was Chief of Staff of the Philippine Civil Action Group in Vietnam. From there, he quickly rose from the ranks to head the Philippine Constabulary, and later on, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces.

In 1986, together with then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramos sparked the People Power Revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship. He then helped former President Corazon Aquino overcome the seven coup attempts led by now Senator Gregorio Honasan. In 1992, Aquino anointed her as her candidate for the presidential elections.

Today, the 72-year-old former president is back in the limelight, admonishing incumbent President Estrada for not listening to the people. Ramos himself listened to the people when he was asked to step down at the end of his term.

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