Citizen FVR and his seeds of wisdom

Having the vast wisdom that comes with life's experiences of triumphs and challenges, FVR has also trained his sights on imparting his "thoughts" on the youth who will be tomorrow's leaders. And where better to start than with his grandchildren – all eight of them, who he says are now mature enough to "learn something from lolo (grandfather)."

It was 1992 when Filipinos first elected Fidel Valdez Ramos (FVR) to the highest office of the land. He turned over the reins of the presidency in 1998 after establishing a much improved Philippine economy and a stable national security.

Twelve years later and now 82 years old, the elderly statesman has kept his wit and focus as he tirelessly continues to push for his ultimate goal of a better life for all Filipinos – but this time as citizen FVR.

He admits that he may not see the fruits of his labor in his lifetime but the man is adamant in making sure that he does everything within his power to contribute to the future where the nation is stable and prosperous and its people enjoying a higher quality of life. "

Having the vast wisdom that comes with life's experiences of triumphs and challenges, FVR has also trained his sights on imparting his "thoughts" on the youth who will be tomorrow's leaders. And where better to start than with his grandchildren – all eight of them, who he says are now mature enough to "learn something from lolo (grandfather)."

Sunday evenings at the Ramos' residence in Alabang are reserved for the family. "We host a dinner for our children and grandkids so we can see each other at least once a week and we talk about everything."

During this interview, FVR was very much the father and grandfather who was very open in discussing lessons and experiences and imparting thoughts and wisdom that he believes are important in leading a fruitful life.

Making time, setting targets

"You don't find time; you make time." Such is one of the main mantras that FVR lives by. Even while he was president, he says he always plans ahead and multi-tasks to maximize his time.

"We don't have days off because we should learn that we need to always go beyond what is expected of us.… It's like juggling. As president, while you're juggling the balls, your feet are not on the ground because your feet are on a high wire about 100 meters up."

Throughout his lifetime, FVR – as a boy, a soldier, a government official, a president and now as a not-so-ordinary citizen - always plans ahead. "You need to have a vision of your objectives and you work towards that.

"Early on in the military, I learned and eventually taught about backward planning. If you're objective is something you want to achieve in say 25 years, what you do is plan what you should be doing now, in five years, 10 years, 15 years, until you reach that time. And whatever you do, do not do it if it cannot contribute to the achievement of that objective. Remember that whatever comes your way – if you planned for it, you will be ready for it."

FVR stresses that "planning" is the key to one's success. "It took me 20 years to finish my MBA. From the time I enrolled in UP in 1960 until I graduated from Ateneo in 1980. I was a working student who was in and out of Manila, but I made time and made plans. You can do it if you plan your day, your time, your year… Even today, I already know my schedule until June 2011."

 

On governance

Heal. Include.

For FVR, these two simple words may be the most important ones when one starts to lead a nation. "Heal, because the campaign is brutal; you may have hurt a lot of people. Include, because you need to bring everybody to your side; you cannot rule just with the people in your own party. You need to include everybody because you are now all working for the whole country."

In one of his columns for the Manila Bulletin, he says he used the 3Cs to talk not about the first 100 days but the first 200 days of the Aquino administration. "It's a subtle way of saying not much was done (in the first 100 days) but let's give it another chance. That's why I came up with the 3Cs. The first C – clean up the mess of the previous president; the second C – converge because there are a lot of overlaps in government, you need to focus with minimal staff and less expense but with better efficiency; and the third C – compete so that we can bring the country forward."

FVR also imparts some of the best practices that his administration undertook. "I don't want to be compared with the other presidents and I don't want to tell them to do what we did. All I'm saying is that these are the things we did, if you want, maybe they can be useful to you."

Among those best practices he mentioned were:

  • the creation of LEDAC (Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council) and the National Unification Commission;
  • clustering of the Cabinet and the 5Ds - devolve, decentralize, deregulate, democratize, develop;
  • the passage of the Social Reform Agenda on Poverty Alleviation Act (RA 8425) in 1997, which includes providing micro-credit and the comprehensive, integrated delivery of social services; and
  • the adoption of CORD (Cabinet Officer for Regional Development) where every Cabinet member was assigned specific regions to oversee.

"There is no development without equity. The owner of those buildings may be rich, but look down from those buildings and you will see lots of squatters. There's a big difference – a big gap. The poor are getting poorer; you have income gap, education gap, opportunity gap, life expectancy gap.

"But the worst gap is 'tang-gap' – and that's what really creates all these gaps. And that's what needs to be fixed."

In governance, FVR stresses that the most important lesson one needs to remember is to "first focus on your objective. Don't think in terms of six years. Focus on giving a better life for all Filipinos, a higher quality of life for the nation. It may take more than one generation but your term should be part of the steps leading to it."

 

On leaving a legacy

"Legacy isn't about having a big building or something people can look at, it is about how far that legacy can spread and how it tries to influence the thinking of young people."

And so, from Day 1 after he stepped down from the presidency, FVR already knew what he wanted to do and already took actions to set those plans in place – giving birth to the Ramos Foundation for Peace and Development (RPDEV).

RPDEV is a non-partisan, nonprofit, non-stock organization dedicated to the promotion of peace and development in the Philippines and in the larger Asia-Pacific region. "The task of nation building is generational. It could take 25 or 50 years. We became a republic in 1946; are we there yet? Not yet. But look at Korea, they're there now and even a member of G20 nations.What's the difference? They have values, a shame culture that makes leaders jump off of buildings because of remorse. That's what we need to instill in our people – values, not just as individuals but as a family."

 

FVR notes that the most basic thing is the need to emphasize values, civics and the national plight even in grade school. "I saw it in China; they teach values as early as 1st grade. We should teach our children to love our country, love God, love our family, love our neighbors, love time, love music and art, and so on."

He says that if his contributions can lead to development, he is a happy man. "What I want to see is not one change but the total quality of a better life for all Filipinos, regardless of socio-economic status, religion, family origin."

 

The other side of FVR

While the man seems all business when it comes to proper governance and wanting to leave a lasting impact, FVR keeps his sense of humor when talking about his other passions – his wife, and sports, particularly golf.

When asked if he has more time to go on dates with Mrs. Ming Ramos, he quips that they have dates every night. "We sleep on the same bed." They also enjoy playing golf and jogs together every now and then. At the end of the interview, FVR was gracious to show off RPDEV's office – and in one of the rooms was a special space where he pointed to a photo of a young woman hanging on the wall and asked "Do you know who that is?" It was a photo of Mrs. Ramos, along with her other photos of their times together.

On a more serious note, the former President says that while he is busy with his advocacies, Mrs. Ramos – much like him – does not seem to have any plans of retiring either. "She still works at the international school three days a week, and she has a garden classroom where they teach farmers to grow high value crops," FVR says. "She also has a lot on her plate. She is also very involved in protecting the environment."

At 82, FVR continues to play golf, boasting that he is actually Senior Class 2 Amateur Champion. "I'm holding my own. I asked if there was a Senior Class 3 because I'm already 82 and Class 2 are only for 75-80 years old. But I was told that the next one is GOFU (good only for urinating), so I said I'll just compete with the younger ones, 75-80 years old, I can still take them (he says laughing)."

With his hectic schedule, there's no stopping FVR. "I wake up at 4 am, read the papers, jog at the golf course, play golf three times a week, do my work here at RPDEV, make my speeches – that's how I rest.

"You don't retire until you drop dead my dear lady, just do your duties as a good citizen. Those who decide to retire, 'kapuy na yun', they lack energy," he says jokingly.