A tribute to Fidel V. Ramos
THE DEATH OF FIDEL V. RAMOS on July 31, 2022, at the age of 94 brought sad news to Filipinos who remembered him for his heroism, patriotism, and leadership. He died at the Makati Medical Center in Makati, Philippines as a result of an unsuccessful battle with COVID-19.
Ramos began his military career in 1950 when he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. When he went back to the Philippines, the newly appointed Secretary of National Defense Ramon Magsaysay was so impressed with 2nd Lieutenant Ramos that he offered him to be his aide-de-camp. But Ramos respectfully declined and told Magsaysay that he’d rather be sent to war. Magsaysay sent him to serve in the Korean War under the Philippines’ 20th Battalion Combat Team of the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea (PEFTOK).
Ramos was assigned to lead a company of 44 men into the highly contested Eerie Hill, which was overran by Chinese forces. He led his company to sabotage the enemy in Eerie Hill. Prior to his taking command of the company, his company attempted nine times at capturing Eerie Hill and failed. He was then picked to lead the assault on the position.
The U.N. forces needed to pass through Eerie Hill before they could push forward into the north. Capturing it was therefore essential, and they primarily relied on the 44-man team Ramos assembled for this objective.
Ramos, who was untested, proved his mettle when his team was tasked to attack and capture Eerie Hill. According to historical account, Ramos divided his men into four separate groups: the sniper group, the rifle group, scouts, and forward observer group. Each group had a radio operator, a medic, and a runner who would act as a messenger between the groups.
What happened was a brilliant execution of warfare. For two hours, they crawled through mud, barbed wires, and rice paddies. When they arrived at Eerie Hill, the forward observers and scouts reported that it was heavily fortified by the Chinese communist forces that were armed in bunkers with howitzers, mortars, rockets, and .50 caliber guns.
Then, Ramos called for air and artillery support, which were promptly delivered by the U.S. Air Force. Positions on Eerie Hill were bombarded with napalm but were not enough to drive out the majority of the Chinese inside the bunkers. Ramos and his men then charged forward and resorted to close-quarter fighting in order to capture the front trenches. Surprisingly, they were able to drive back the Chinese forces.
Ramos then ordered the rifle team to assault the flank while the sniper team provided support. Two hours after their initial attack, Ramos and his men successfully captured the strategic hill.
After the battle, the Filipinos only suffered one injury, while the Chinese forces lost 1,100 men and 2,540 wounded.
Once again, Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s famous declaration was proven: “Give me ten thousand Filipinos and I will conquer the world.”
Ramos also served during the Vietnam War as a non-combat member of the Philippine Civil Action Group to Vietnam (PHILCAG). His team was assigned to a tiny province at the Cambodian border – the so-called Alligator Jaw.
He was belittled by the press at home for his role as a non-combatant civil military engineer. He responded by saying: “Of course, we were physically there as non-combat troops. But you try to be a non-combat troop in a combat area – that is the toughest kind of assignment.”
During the presidency of Cory Aquino, Ramos personally handled the military operations that crushed nine coup attempts against the Aquino government.
In December 1991, Ramos declared his candidacy for president. On May 11, 1992, he won in a seven-way race, narrowly defeating Miriam Defensor Santiago. The first three years of his administration were characterized by an economic boom, technological development, political stability, and efficient delivery of basic needs to the people. He advocated party platforms as an outline and agenda for governance.
Contrary to expectations as a former military general, Ramos made peace with the country’s various armed rebel groups, kickstarting the process by creating a National Unification Commission (NUC).
Upon the recommendation of the NUC, Ramos eventually decided to grant amnesty to the rebel military officers of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) led by Col. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan.
Ramos was instrumental in the signing of the final peace agreement between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) led by Nur Misuari in 1996.
Under his administration, the Philippines enjoyed economic growth and stability. The Philippine Stock Exchange in the mid-1990s was one of the best in the world and his visions of ‘Philippine 2000,’ which led the country into a newly industrialized country in the world and the “Tiger Cub Economy in Asia.”
Although he battled Communist rebels as a young lieutenant in the 1950s, Ramos signed into law the Republic Act No. 7636 that repealed the Anti-Subversion Law. With its repeal, membership in the once-outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines became legal.
I have the honor of hosting Ramos in Sacramento several times beginning on May 14, 2005. I remember that day because my eldest daughter Lara gave birth to her first-born child. Ramos arrived in a limousine at the restaurant where we held the dinner reception. I invited the Filipino-American community leaders that included then-Judge Tani Cantil-Gorre – now California Chief Justice — Davis Mayor Ruth Asmundson, West Sacramento City Council Member Christopher Cabaldon and a retinue of the leaders of various community organizations.
After his presidency, Ramos founded the Ramos Foundation for Peace and Development (RPDEV). The foundation is a non-partisan, nonprofit, non-stock organization dedicated to promoting peace and development in the Philippines and the larger Asia-Pacific region. RPDEV supports Philippine national interests and people empowerment. Operating as a network of individuals and institutions inside and outside the country will serve as a catalyst for constructive change, a medium for fostering unity, stability, and progress, and a force for mutual understanding.
Ramos left us a legacy of heroism, patriotism, and leadership. He’ll be long remembered as the president who brought peace and economic stability to the country. May his soul rest in eternal peace. (PerryDiaz@gmail.com)
PHOTO CREDIT: Wikipedia. Photo #1: President Fidel V. Ramos in April 1998. Photo #2: Fidel V. Ramos on his Inauguration as 12th President of the Philippines on June 30, 1992.