MANILA (Updated 6:40 p.m.) — Philippines former President Fidel Valdez Ramos, who died on Sunday, was a fighter during wars in Korea and Vietnam and a survivor in the political arena, emerging from a high-ranking security role during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos Sr to win the vote for the nation’s highest office. He was 94.
Ramos became a hero to many for defecting from Marcos’ government, where he led the national police force, spurring the dictator’s downfall during the 1986 popular uprising against his rule.
Others, though, would not forgive or forget his role in enforcing martial law under the Marcos regime.
Ramos narrowly won a contested election in 1992 to replace the People Power leader Corazon Aquino who unseated Marcos. Though he gained less than 23% of the vote, Ramos soon polled at 66% support and his presidency was remembered for a period of peace, stability and economic growth.
“It is with great sorrow that we learn of the passing of former President Fidel V. Ramos,” said Trixie Cruz-Angeles, press secretary for the dictator’s son, the recently elected Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
“He leaves behind a colorful legacy and a secure place in history for his participation in the great changes of our country, both as military officer and chief executive.”
Known as FVR, Ramos attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and fought in the Korean war in the 1950s as a platoon leader. He served in the late 1960s in Vietnam as a leader of the Philippine Civil Action Group.
Ramos held every rank in the Philippine army from second lieutenant to commander-in chief.
He never lost that military bearing and swagger, bragging many times “No soft jobs for Ramos.”
The former diplomat’s son became the only Methodist leader of the mainly Roman Catholic country.
His six-year administration opened the country’s economy to foreign investments through deregulation and liberalisation policies.
Ramos broke up monopolies in the transportation and communications sectors. Through special powers granted by the Congress he restored the ailing electricity sector, ending debilitating 12-hour power outages that plagued the country.
During his tenure, the Philippine economy surged and poverty rates fell to 31% from 39% through his Social Reform Agenda.
Ramos fought right-wing, leftist and Islamic rebels during his time in the military, but later held peace talks with all “enemies of the state”, including rogue soldiers who attempted nearly a dozen times to unseat Aquino during her tenure.
He eventually signed a peace agreement with the Islamic separatists of the Moro National Liberation Front in 1996 and succeeded in shrinking the number of Maoist-led guerrillas to more than 5,400 rebels from a high of 25,000 in early 1986.
Ramos was a multi-tasking workaholic and athletic leader. When he was military chief, he would play golf and jog at the same time, running after his ball. His early morning jog was legendary among his staff officers and even at 80, he would jump to reenact what he did during revolt in 1986.
—Reporting by Enrico Dela Cruz and Karen Lema; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Lincoln Feast