Suddenly, there were no more coups d’etat. Although President Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) won barely 20 percent of electoral votes in the 1992 elections, the country seemed to have breathed a sigh of relief. How reassuring that perennial destabilizers, mutineers and plotters, the majority from the military and police, were content to bask in FVR’s limelight. Not a whimper from the Catholic Church, even if the Protestant president encouraged the Department of Health and all related offices to actively promote family and population planning. A “Rainbow Coalition” emerged in the querulous House of Representatives.
In May 1997, FVR made a State Visit to Mexico, accompanied by a group of Filipino industrialists and business people as well as academics. The Philippine Centennial Commission convened a conference, “ El Galeón de Manila, un mar de historias” ( The Manila Galleon, a sea of histories) FVR inaugurated the event. Scholarly papers were published in a book with the same title, dedicated to FVR and President Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico.
“Philippines 2000” was FVR’S battle cry; it had an authoritarian ring which sounded like a portent of ominous times to come. According to the 1987 Freedom Constitution a president has a fixed 6-year term without extension. No one dared question why “Philippines 2000” was engraved on license plates, official stationery, permits, tickets, etc. Travel and tour agencies incorporated FVR’s slogan in their promotional materials; it appeared on rooftops, walls, waiting sheds, on every available space. FVR’s message was not subliminal, it was explicit. The “good president” deserved at least 2 more years in office (if not more) to sustain the Philippines’ rise to “Tiger of Asia” status.
To achieve FVR’s “Philippine 2000”, Gen. Jose Almonte, National Security adviser, orchestrated a movement for charter change, popu;arly known as Cha-cha, a favorite dance of Filipinos. Almonte’s choreography was intricate; the first step was PIRMA, 4 million signatures collected nationwide as proof of vox populi. During tri-media interviews, the mysterious General assured us that Cha-cha’s objective was not term extension because FVR could very well achieve that, if he really wanted to, through “people’s initiative”, a democratic device embedded in the 1987 Constitution.
If memory serves, General Almonte’s equation was–PIRMA signatures plus “democratic initiative” equals to public perception that FVR was doing so well he deserved a term extension. Step two was to convert Congress into a parliament. We suspected that FVR was determined to thwart the political ambitions of Vice-President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, the formidable rival of the ruling LDP party.
In all fairness, FVR put a lid on the restive military, thereby restoring political peace and order. He also ended those horrendously unproductive 10-hour daily power outages that made life difficult under Pres. C. Aquino. . By 1996, the GNP had soared to 7.2 percent and the GDP to 5.8 percent; but euphoria was quickly smothered by the 1997 Asian financial crisis. GNP plummeted to 0.1 percent and GDP to 0.6 percent.
Be that as it may, the stage remained set for “Philippines 2000” , Cha-cha and all its pirouettes when FVR suddenly had a change of heart. No parliament was established, there were elections in 1998. FVR anointed General Rene de Villa as standard bearer of the LDP, only to dump him in favor of Congressman Jose de Venecia who lost miserably to the charismatic movie idol , Vice-Pres. Joseph Estrada.
I wonder if FVR ever regretted his indecisions. According to a reliable source, he was hesitant when People Power I erupted along EDSA and irresolute during all those coups against President C. Aquino. However, FVR was steadfast during the Oakwood mutiny when two hundred young disgruntled military officers took over the Ayala business center. They denounced corruption in the military, demanded modernization and the resignation of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. One of their leaders was Antonio Trillanes, a navy lieutenant who was later elected senator. The Oakwood demands were similar to that of the RAM. Like a knight in shining armor, FVR dashed to Malacanan and during a solo press conference at the Kalayaan Hall, pledged his support for the beleaguered Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
I used to be annoyed at how FVR rolled up the sleeves of a formal barong tagalog, but I shall always be grateful for his precious legacy– Republic Act 8492, “An Act Establishing a National Museum System Providing for Its Permanent Home and for Other Purposes. “ The old Senate is now the National Museum of Fine Arts. The Department of Finance and Department of Agriculture (later Department of Tourism), twin edifices, face to face at the AGRiFINA Circle, are now, respectively, the National Museum for Anthropology and National Museum of Natural History. Thank you, FVR.