Presidents of our life: Some reminiscences

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2nd instalment
Corazon Cojuangco Aquino
That historic events installed “the losing candidate” Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, Ninoy’s wife, to the presidency together with Salvador “Doy” Laurel as her vice president by virtue of an extrajudicial manner seldom seen in the wretched world of politics.

Her first executive actions were: Establish a revolutionary government and form a constitutional commission composed of members appointed by her to write a new constitution patterned for her government (today known as the “Cory Constitution”); set free the top communists jailed by President Marcos and sent an emissary to fetch Muslim rebels holed in the Middle East to “come home to mommy.” Those stratagems were too much to bear for the rightist segment of the Armed Forces; several coups d’etat against her government led by a charismatic and courageous colonel named Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan from Bicoland were carried out, mainly for ideological reasons, and “mishandling of government affairs;” other justifications for hostilities against her government without doubt shall be verbalized by historians some other time. All those deliberate violations of constitutional form, fortunately for Pres. Cory failed; the people’s strong sympathy for her at the time dashed the chances of public support for any hostility against her. Popularity unfortunately, is no synonymous with executive ability. The valid reasons by the coup plotters were further buttressed by more examples of inexperience and mismanagement, the reason Cory was taken advantage of by rascals around her wearing Ninoy masks

For fuzzy reasons (till now), the Cory-Doy alliance broke up less than halfway during their term. It was told in whispers that some promises were not kept, the division of power not met, etc.; at one time in a moment of obvious tantrum President Cory exclaimed indignantly in public, “Itong Doy na ito ay parang langaw lamang na dapat pitikin” (This Doy is just like a pesky fly that needs to be finger-flicked). That settled the suspicion that like a couple on the brink of separation Cory and Doy had “irreconcilable differences.” Before the end of their term, the partnership had ended. The above episodes are archetypal mistakes due to human limitations, good to be remembered but better to be accepted with compassion and understanding. Lesson learned: presidential faux pas or blunders can be fatal to a democratic country such as ours, proven by grave problems ignored or left unchecked which bedevil this country until now.

The Cory years, as described by neutral observers, “placed this country in darkness” described by the misplaced words “brown-out.” Under Cory’s watch, a “revised form of cronyism” continued, saw the death of the Sabah claim and other detestable decisions, such as the “Mendiola Massacre” of demonstrating poor farmers on Mendiola St., increased taxes, high prices of food and other commodities, the escalation of the cost of electricity and other anti-poor executive decisions. Many well-meaning critics ascribed her innocence to her being “born with a silver spoon” and being “just a wife,” oblivious of political realities and unfamiliar with the sordid world of ordinary mortals. Many people even attributed the many natural calamities which visited the country during her term as “karma” for her “indifference to poor people’s miseries.” But despite misfortunes and negativities in her presidency, President Cory was admired and loved by many for her outward modesty, humility, honesty and religious demeanor as president.

Those admirable attributes, to many Filipinos came to a fault when the Marcoses returned to the Philippines without any opposition from her a year before her term ended. She has not shown vindictiveness against them – a revenant family coming back with a vengeance into the political front in full battle gear, and as of this writing is succeeding and persisting. What a brain teaser it is that the people who drove them away just a few years before are the same people who elected them to office upon their return. Lesson learned: the Filipino either has a poor memory, forgiving, or cockeyed. Or perhaps think rather oddly today that “martial law after all is better than constitutional law.” Amidst today’s difficult times with more people below the poverty line, it is not at all surprising to hear people say: “The Marcos years were better.” There are reasons to assume nevertheless that Cory Aquino shall be judged by history as “the symbol of democracy regained in the Philippines.” (Was it fair when some people said: “Everytime Cory blunders we see Ninoy turning in his grave?”)


Fidel Valdez Ramos
The desire for power and money is strong and unquenchable; but to paraphrase Siddharta Gautama, the Buddha, confessing to his disciples his temptations and weakness: “The most powerful force and desire in man is sex.” In this country, power and money are more powerful; with due respect to the Buddha, sex comes later. Toward the end of Cory’s term, presidential wannabes increased by leaps and bound, knowing that the presidency was power and, with it, money. The EDSA Revolution hero Fidel Valdez Ramos (FVR), Cory’s AFP Chief, at the outset led the pack of those drooling for Cory’s “anointment” as her candidate for president. (According to friends in the know, “Eddie,” FVR’s pet name, and Cory were friends when both of them were in the US, Cory in the New York and Eddie at West Point.)

Over and above, after delivering Marcos a mortal blow, Eddie and Johnny (Ponce Enrile) with thousands of the brave souls of the EDSA People Power Revolution delivered the presidency to Cory Aquino. It was no surprise therefore that even when Ramos lost in the convention to choose the candidate for president, Cory gave him her blessing to “go alone but go for it, Eddie!” At the time, Ramos had already formed his own “Lakas Tao Party” with just a handful of members but totally motivated to campaign for their idol. To strengthen and reinforce his party, Lakas merged with the National Union of Christian Democrats (LAKAS-NUCD) a pre-eminent political league in Europe with alliances around the world. For his running mate he chose the unassuming but smart Emilio “Lito” Osmeña of the prominent Osmeña clan of Cebu.

Not a strongman, the No. 7 is not FVR’s favorite number. It was instead his nightmare when 7 other candidates of national political repute joined the confused and tumultuous mingling in that election: the feisty Miriam Defensor Santiago, the wealthy Marcos crony Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, Ramon Mitra, the beautiful Marcos widow Imelda, Jovito Salonga, Cory’s estranged VP Salvador Laurel and Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel. That presidential election was the original “Game of Thrones” on television by author George RR Martin, only more profound with characters in flesh and blood.

When the smoke cleared after the counting, Cory-anointed Eddie Ramos emerged the winner. In a country where there are winners and no losers (only the cheated) his victory was “questioned by sore losers” according to Jack who concurs with the age-old “right or wrong” epigram, “the end justifies the means” buttressed by the conventional wisdom that there is no substitute for victory. Unfortunately, VP candidate Lito Osmeña lost to defeated candidate Eduardo Cojuangco’s running mate Joseph “Erap” Estrada (Joseph Ejercito) who earlier was almost convinced by Mitra to be his running mate but prevailed upon by well-meaning friends to accept Danding’s offer instead.

The media dubbed the Ramos government appropriately as “The Centennial

Government” being close to the 100th year (1998) of an independent nation. Much like a racy campaign blitz before the Summer Olympics, President Ramos waved a “Philippines 2000” banner, a proud — albeit superficial — declaration of good cheer by a country struggling for positive recognition in the midst of economic adversity. No administration has ever steered clear from what has become a culture of negative attributions of misconduct and corruption, the Ramos government included. The sale of prime government real estate such as Fort Bonifacio and others, the so-called “Centennial Expo” scam, bases privatization, sale of Petron to favored parties, and other “anomalous transactions,” remain in the consciousness of the public. President Ramos, as in other “questioned irregularities,” was named only cursorily without direct connection, the reason perhaps why he was called “The Teflon President” — Teflon, a trademark for a material used in utensils that prevent sticking. No scandal ever stuck on him — because he is either too smart or really innocent.

To his credit — passing though they were — there was relative peace and order in the country, foreign investments increased, and a much-needed conciliation with rebellious groups, an elusive dream of past presidents, were achieved — notable hallmarks of his administration. His social grace and intelligence were personal assets which did him well—a reflection of an elegant family upbringing. Aside from his military education at West Point in the US, his father, Narciso Ramos, was one of the country’s respected diplomats and held the position of Secretary of Foreign Affairs for a long time. President Fidel V. Ramos shall be long remembered for his homely and unpretentious wisdom and his positive “prophet of boom” outlook which inspired our people. And watching him with a thumbs up and yelling “Kaya natin ito!” made him an icon of hope and optimism.

(Last installment next Monday)
Eddi Ilarde is a former senator, freelance writer and independent radio-TV host and producer. This three-time Lifetime Achievement Awardee for radio-TV is heard over dzBB 594 kHz AM radio every Saturday and Sunday at 1.30 p.m. You may send him letters through PO Box 107 Makati City 1222.

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