By JIM GOMEZ
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Former Philippine President Fidel Ramos was laid to rest in a state funeral on Aug. 9, hailed as an ex-general who backed and then helped oust a dictatorship and became a defender of democracy and a can-do reformist in his poverty-wracked Asian country.
Ramos died July 31 at age 94 from COVID-19 complications at the Makati Medical Center in the capital region, his family said. He also suffered from a heart condition and dementia and had been in and out of hospital in recent years, former aides said.
An urn containing the ashes of the U.S.-trained general, who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars, was placed in a flag-draped coffin, which was carried by six pallbearers amid somber music.
His cremated remains were placed in his grave after a funeral procession led by honor guards and his family, which was showered with flower petals from two helicopters. The ceremony, which was broadcast live nationwide by state-run and major TV networks, was attended by newly elected President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and was capped by a 21-gun salute.
Marcos Jr. visited Ramos’ wake last week and condoled with the family of Ramos, who, he said, “was a symbol of stability after all the tumultuous events of 1986.”
Marcos Jr. 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 had helped the elder Marcos enforce martial law starting in 1972 in an era when thousands of people were incarcerated, tortured and became victims of extrajudicial killings and disappearances.
Ramos was laid to rest near the grave of the dictator, who was buried at the Heroes’ Cemetery with military honors in 2016 in a secrecy-shrouded ceremony after then-President Rodrigo Duterte gave his approval and the Supreme Court dismissed objections from human rights activists.
The Department of National Defense, which was once led by Ramos, said he 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 cigar-chomping Ramos, known for his “we can do this” rallying call to Filipinos, thumbs-up sign, attention to detail and firm handshakes, served as president from 1992 to 1998, succeeding democracy icon Corazon Aquino.
She was swept into the presidency in 1986 after the largely peaceful “People Power” revolt that toppled the dictator and became a harbinger of change in authoritarian regimes worldwide.
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 six-year 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.
In his last State of the Nation address before a joint session of Congress in 1997, Ramos said only sustained development, a modernized agriculture, industrialization and adequate infrastructure would allow the country to wipe out poverty. But he stressed it was crucial for Filipinos to safeguard democracy.
“We cannot allow our democracy to wither—because Philippine democracy is our unique comparative advantage in the new global order,” Ramos said then. “Without freedom, economic growth is meaningless. And so, freedom, markets, and progress go together.”
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’ calm bearing in times of crises, including the 1997 Asian financial crisis, 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.