Fidel Ramos, Philippine president who split with Marcos, dies at 94

Fidel V. Ramos, a military leader who succeeded Corazon C. Aquino as President of the Philippines, and who presided from 1992 to 1998 over robust economic growth, exceptional political stability, and reconciliations with Communist insurgents and Muslim separatists, died Sunday in Manila. He was 94 years old.

The Department of Defense confirmed his death in a statement on Sunday.

Longtime aide Norman Legaspi told The Associated Press that Mr Ramos died at Makati Medical Center and was suffering from heart disease and dementia.

In a nation battered by the corrupt dictatorship of Ferdinand E. Marcos, who was ousted in a popular uprising in 1986, Ms. Aquino and Mr. Ramos waged a struggle, consecutively for six years under the banner of ‘People Power’ , to restore democracy, reform a prostrate economy and make peace with extremists.

It’s easy to say, as many Filipinos have, that Ms. Aquino restored democracy and Mr. Ramos restored the economy. In fact, she initiated many of the economic policies that flourished under Mr. Ramos, and he successfully defended Ms. Aquino’s fragile democratic government against repeated military mutinies.

Mr. Ramos, a first cousin of President Marcos, was the scion of a patrician family steeped in public service. His father was an ambassador during World War II and foreign minister under the Marcos regime. Mr. Ramos is a graduate of the United States Military Academy, served in the Korean War with American troops and commanded a Philippine contingent in the Vietnam War.

It was also a study of contradictions. Filipinos puzzled by the deeds and character of a Protestant turned president of a Roman Catholic country, a hard-line general who brought about liberal economic, political and social change in a nation exploited for centuries by colonialists Spaniards and Americans, Japanese invaders and the infamous two-decade reign of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.

Early in his career, Mr. Ramos was a Marcos loyalist who commanded a security force that committed human rights abuses and arrested thousands of dissidents, including Ms. Aquino’s husband, Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr., who was imprisoned for years, exiled and then murdered the day he returned. Critics called Mr Ramos a ruthless henchman for Marcos.

But Mr Ramos, who insisted he was just enforcing law and order, was later hailed a national hero for taking the moment of truth decision to break with the president Marcos, sounded the death knell for his regime and pledged allegiance to Constitution and Mrs. Aquino. She appointed him chief of the armed forces and then minister of defence, but did not support him for the presidency.

Narrowly elected by majority vote, Mr Ramos took office vowing not to be a carbon copy of Ms Aquino. “She has done her job, which is to establish political freedom,” he told The Far Eastern Economic Review. “But the second phase is to strengthen democracy. My priority is to unify the country.

He struck peace deals with two long-standing active guerrilla insurgencies, the communist New People’s Army and the Muslim separatists of the Moro National Liberation Front, granting amnesty to thousands of people. He also purged the National Police of 600 corrupt officers and cracked down on dozens of warlords involved in smuggling, drug trafficking and other crimes.

To revive the economy, he led reforms to encourage private enterprise, open trade and foreign investment. He traveled throughout Asia and the United States, meeting with government and business leaders to highlight his country’s stable political climate, falling inflation and favorable exchange rates. According to some estimates, it has generated $20 billion in new foreign investment in the Philippines.

He deregulated and privatized industries in an economy dominated by a few large corporations, overhauled the government’s inefficient tax system, and encouraged family planning practices to curb population growth. To improve unreliable power supplies, he reorganized the state power company, authorized new power plants, and made brownouts a rarity.

National growth under Mr Ramos fell from nearly stagnant to almost 6% a year, before sinking into a regional crisis in East Asia at 3% in his final year in office.

“The Philippines has proven to be a good model in the developing world for demonstrating that democracy and development are compatible,” Ramos told The New York Times in 1998. rapid growth, is not compatible with a free market system, which must be transparent and predictable.

Fidel Valdez Ramos was born in Lingayen, north of the capital, Manila, on March 18, 1928, to Narciso and Angela Valdez Ramos. His father, a journalist, lawyer and congressman, was a war envoy to Taiwan and a Marcos foreign minister. One of Fidel’s sisters, Leticia Ramos Shahani, was a Filipino diplomat and senator.

After graduating from West Point in 1950, Mr. Ramos earned a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Illinois and other degrees in business administration and national defense from Philippine universities.

He married Amelita Martinez in 1954. She survived him, as did their four daughters, Angelita Ramos-Jones, Carolina Ramos-Sembrano, Cristina Ramos-Jalasco and Gloria Ramos. A fifth daughter, Joséphine Ramos-Samartino, died in 2011.

After his Korean and Vietnamese service, Mr. Ramos returned to the Philippines amid protests against the Marcos regime. He joined the dictator’s inner circle, one of the “Rolex 12” advisers who received gold watches, and was appointed commander of the Philippine Constabulary, a national security force that dealt with terrorists.

Banned by law from running for a third term in 1972, Marcos declared martial law, citing the threat of Communist and Muslim insurgencies. Governing by fiat, he curtailed civil liberties, shut down Congress and arrested opponents, including Mr. Aquino, who was jailed for seven years and shot dead at Manila airport upon his return from exile in 1983.

The murder catapulted his widow into the political spotlight. Three years later, in a snap election authorized by Mr. Marcos because he thought he could not lose, Ms. Aquino won the presidency. Mr. Marcos tried to get it back by fomenting a military coup.

For Mr. Ramos, the head of the armed forces, the moment of truth came on November 22, 1986, when he had to choose between remaining loyal to Marcos and his former military comrades, or supporting Mrs. Aquino.

Around midnight, his command decision was communicated to troops across the country: “The new armed forces of the Philippines support the government of President Aquino, having been elected and installed by the people. We must not betray our country and our people.

Three days later, Mr. Marcos fled the Philippines.

Jason Gutierrez contributed reporting.

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