‘Hero' Ex-Philippine President Who Helped Oust Dictator Dies at Age 94

Former Philippine President Fidel Valdez Ramos was known for his “we can do this” rallying call, thumbs-up sign, attention to detail and firm handshakes. HE served as president from 1992 to 1998,

Former Philippine President Fidel Ramos
AP Photo/Aaron Favila

Former Philippine President Fidel Valdez Ramos, a U.S.-trained ex-general who saw action in the Korean and Vietnam wars and played a key role in a 1986 pro-democracy uprising that ousted a dictator, has died. He was 94.

Ramos’s family announced his death with profound sadness but did not provide other details in a brief statement that asked for privacy.

One of his longtime aides, Norman Legaspi, told The Associated Press that Ramos had been in and out of the hospital in recent years due to a heart condition and had suffered from dementia.

Some of Ramos’s relatives were with him when he died on Sunday at the Makati Medical Center in metropolitan Manila, Legaspi said.

“He was an icon. We lost a hero and I lost a father,” said Legaspi, a retired Philippine air force official, who served as a close staff to Ramos in and out of government for about 15 years.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. condoled with the family of Ramos in a Facebook post. “We did not only lose a good leader but also a member of the family,” he said.

The newly elected president is the namesake son of the former Philippine dictator, whose 1986 ouster came after Ramos, then a top official of the Philippine Constabulary, and defense chief Juan Ponce Enrile withdrew their support in defections that sparked massive army-backed protests.

Ramos was the late dictator's second cousin, and in 1972 had helped him implement martial law during which thousands of people were incarcerated, tortured and became victims of extrajudicial killings and disappearances.

The Department of National Defense, which was once led by him, said Ramos was a decorated soldier who spearheaded the modernization of the military, one of Asia's most underfunded. He organized the elite special forces of the army and the national police.

The United States, the European Union and other foreign governments expressed their condolences. “His contributions to the U.S.-Philippines bilateral relationship and advancing our shared goals of peace and democracy will always be remembered,” the U.S. Embassy in Manila said.

The cigar-chomping Ramos, known for his “we can do this” rallying call, thumbs-up sign, attention to detail and firm handshakes, served as president from 1992 to 1998, succeeding the democracy icon, Corazon Aquino.

She was swept into the presidency in 1986 after the largely peaceful “People Power” revolt that toppled the elder Marcos and became a harbinger of change in authoritarian regimes worldwide.

In a memorable moment of the revolt, as the tide turned against Marcos, Ramos jumped in triumph with his hands high up while Enrile was rallying a crowd under a Philippine flagpole, drawing applause and cheers from rebel forces. The scene was captured by an AP and a few other photojournalists and had been reenacted by Ramos each year during the anniversary of the revolt, until age and his failing health prevented him from showing up.

Marcos, his family and cronies were driven into U.S. exile, where he died in 1989.

After Aquino rose to the presidency, Ramos became the military chief of staff and later defense secretary, successfully defending her from several violent coup attempts.

In 1992, Ramos won the presidential elections and became the largely Roman Catholic nation’s first Protestant president. His term was marked by major reforms and attempts to dismantle telecommunications and other business monopolies that triggered a rare economic boom, bolstered the image of the impoverished Southeast Asian country and drew praise from business leaders and the international community.

One of his legacies was the 1996 signing of a peace pact between his government and the Moro National Liberation Front, the largest Muslim separatist group at the time in the volatile southern Philippines, homeland of minority Muslims.

Ramos’s calm bearing in times of crises earned him the moniker “Steady Eddie.”

A son of a longtime legislator and foreign secretary, Ramos graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1950. He was a part of the Philippine combat contingent that fought in the Korean War and was also involved in the Vietnam War as a non-combat civil military engineer.

Ramos is survived by his wife, Amelita Ramos, a school official, pianist, sportswoman and an environmental advocate, and their four daughters. Their second child, Josephine Ramos-Samartino, died in 2011.

Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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