PHILIPPINES IN GOOD SHAPE IN THE 1990s UNDER FIDEL RAMOS

1992 ELECTIONS IN THE PHILIPPINES

In early spring 1992, everyone's attention was turned to the upcoming national elections. Who would be the first president elected since the restoration of democracy? What would be the composition of the new Congress? Would the new president and the new Congress strike out in bold new directions or would it be more business as usual? The future of the Philippines depended on the answers to these questions. Nearly 85 percent of eligible voters turned out to elect 17,205 officials, including the president, the vice president, 24 members of the Senate, 200 members of the House of Representatives, 73 governors, and 1,602 mayors. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The election was relatively peaceful; there was no threat of a military coup before, during, or after the election and only 52 election- related deaths were reported, compared to 150 in the 1986 presidential election. Despite claims of election fraud from losing candidates, the Commission on Elections apparently exercised effective control and relatively few voting irregularities were substantiated. Ramos won the election on his appeal for stability and a continuation of Aquino policies, and Santiago received strong support for her anticorruption candidacy. Cojuangco's substantial support, however, suggested that a large share of the electorate favored a return to the economic policies and the traditional patronage system of the Marcos era. *

Fidel Ramos succeeded Corazon Aquino as president of the Philippines on June 30, 1992, after winning a 23.6 percent plurality in the May 11, 1992, general election. Ramos, secretary of national defense in the Aquino administration and handpicked by Aquino to succeed her, narrowly defeated Secretary of Agrarian Reform Miriam Defensor Santiago, who received 19.8 percent of the vote, and former Marcos crony Eduardo Cojuangco, who received 18.1 percent. *

Fidel Ramos: President of the Philippines from 1992 to 1998

Fidel Ramos was the president of the Philippines from 1992 to 1998. The former commander of the national police under Marcos, and his second cousin, Ramos helped Marcos establish martial law in 1972 but later turned his back on the dictator and supported Aquino in her fight against Marcos in 1986.

According to Ramos “made national unity a priority. He tried to finally reach peace deals with the patchwork of communist rebels, Muslim separatists and disaffected soldiers who led a rag-tag existence throughout the islands and frequently resorted to violence to score some attention. Some treaties and agreements were worked out, but often as one group would agree to lay down its arms, the members would simply go off and start another conflict. [Source: Lonely Planet]

“Meanwhile there was growing discontent among the populace as it became clear that just having your own constitution wasn't enough to shake off years of feeble economic growth. With an economy that had been dependent on the rent from the US bases and Japanese grants (which were cleverly designed to turn the Philippines into a market for Japanese goods rather than a competitor), the nation missed out on the economic boom that enriched its neighbours.

Fidel Ramos’s and Home Life

Ramos was born in 1928 in the town of Lingayen, the site of a Japanese invasion in December 1941 and an American one in February, 1945. Educated at West Point and the University of Illinois and sometimes referred as an "American boy," Ramos was a competent but uncharismatic figure who often went by his grade school nickname "Steady Eddy. " A platoon leader who fought alongside U.S. forces in Korea and an officer in Vietnam, he peppered his speech with military terminology and used to entertain his friends by parachuting into his own birthday parties.

Ramos and his wife Amelita have five daughters. Ramos was a Protestant not a Catholic. A Methodist who keeps a statue of the Virgin Mary in his office, he enjoyed golf and sometimes wore and red bandanna wrapped round his forehead. He often had an unlit cigar in his mouth but was never seen with a lighted one. He once attributed his success and good health to never eating pork, working eight days a week and "do not drink liquors more than what the doctors prescribe."

Ramos was very fond of karaoke and singing. In the 1990s. After Chinese President Jiang Zemin sang "Love Me tender" while cruising in Manila Bay, Philippine president Fidel Ramos told him, "That's the favorite song of Bill Clinton; you have to prepare. When he visits you, you will surprise him."

Ramos played a major role in the People Power struggle that ousted Marcos (See People Power article). He also helped protect Cory Aquino from coup attempts when he served as her armed forces chief of staff and defense secretary. Ramos was an architect of the Marcos’s martial law. Some believe that he was involved in two of coup attempts against Aquino (in 1987 and 1989).

Ramos as President

In 1992, Fidel Ramos was chosen by Corazon Aquino as her successor and elected president in a seven way race in which he won with only 23.8 percent for the vote. Arguably one of the Philippines better presidents, Ramos is crediting with transforming the Philippines from a country with a history of poverty, corruption, rebellion, ineptitude and tax evasion into an economic marvel referred to as Asian tiger cub. One economist told Newsweek, "in three years Ramos achieved what Taiwan and Korea took two decades to do."

Ramos kick started the economy, generated new growth and gave the poor and disenfranchised hope. Economic growth tripled while he was in power. Ramos ended the Philippines' frequent power outages and brownouts improved the environment, fought corruption and reduced red tape. He was popular during the first three years of his term.

President Ramos worked at coalition building and overcoming the divisiveness of the Aquino years. Mutinous right-wing soldiers, communist insurgents, and Muslim separatists were convinced to cease their armed activities against the government and were granted amnesty. In an act of reconciliation, Ramos allowed the remains of Ferdinand Marcos—he had died in exile in the United States in 1989—to be returned to the Philippines for burial in 1993. Efforts by supporters of Ramos to gain passage of an amendment that would allow him to run for a second term were met with large-scale protests supported by Cardinal Sin and Corazon Aquino, leading Ramos to declare he would not run again. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Shortly after his inauguration, Ramos sought a reconciliation with his former rivals from the presidential election, Imelda Marcos and Eduardo Cojuangco. In the House of Representatives, Ramos gained the position of speaker of the House for Jose de Venecia, his close political ally and secretary of the Lakas ng Edsa-National Union of Christian Democrats (Lakas-NUCD). Ramos received support from the fifty-one members of the House elected under the banner of the Lakas-NUCD alliance, which he had formed when he failed to get the nomination of the Laban Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) party. In part because of his conciliatory approach, Ramos was also able to marshal support from a substantial share of LDP members, from members of Eduardo Cojuangco's Nationalist People's Party, and from members of the Liberal Party. He was less successful in the Senate, where LDP chairman Neptali Gonzales was elected president. Ramos seemed likely to face a major challenge getting his program to stimulate economic growth and restore order to the Philippines through a divided and potentially hostile Congress. *

Economy Under Ramos

President Fidel Ramos (1992-1998) was given high marks for handling the economy. By breaking apart monopolies, liberalizing foreign investment laws and privatizing business and industries by controlled powerful families, Ramos was crediting with transforming the Philippines from a country with a history of poverty, corruption, rebellion, foreign ineptness and tax evasion into an economic powerhouse that was not yet an Asian tiger but was sometimes referred to as Asian tiger cub.

Oliver Teves of Associated Press wrote: “For a brief period of the 1990s, the Philippines under the presidency of Fidel Ramos registered high growth rates and was touted as the next Asian "tiger" economy. But the ingrained poverty, corruption and crime rate, and the abiding threat of another popular uprising conspire to scare away investors and drain the country of its best brains and hardest workers. [Source: Jim Gomez and Oliver Teves Associated Press, February 25, 2006 +^+]

The Philippine economy showed some improvement in early 1992, spurred by increases in agricultural production and in consumer and government spending. Budget deficits were well within IMF guidelines--P3.2 billion in the first two months. At the end of April, the treasury posted a P5.5 billion surplus as a result of higher than programmed revenue receipts, mainly from the sale of Philippine Airlines. The increased revenue permitted the early repeal of the 5 percent import surcharge, stimulating both import spending and export growth. The money supply grew more rapidly than desired, but was kept under control. Treasury bill rates fell to 17.3 percent in March 1992 from 23 percent in November 1991, and inflation was down to 9.4 percent for the first quarter of 1992, from 18.7 percent in 1991. *

One of the greatest threats to the Philippine economy in 1992 was the power shortage. The fall in the water level in Lake Lanao caused a 50 percent reduction in the power supply to Mindanao in December 1991, and the resumption of full power was not expected until almost the end of 1992. The power shortage in Luzon continued to be chronic. Power cuts of four to five hours per day have been common; in May they reached six hours on some days in Manila, the country's industrial hub. To help to meet this chronic shortage, the government reactivated the contract with Westinghouse Corporation to restart construction on a 620 megawatt nuclear power plant on the Bataan Peninsula that had been abandoned in 1986. This plant however was not scheduled to go on line until 1995. *

To get the Philippines economy going, Ramos and the Philippine Congress abolished tariffs and preferential terms that enriched the rich families. He reformed the banking system and drove down interest rates. He overhauled the electricity infrastructure so that energy shortages and brown outs became a thing of the past.

The growth rate during the Ramos years was a robust 5 percent a year and inflation was in the single digits, down from 25 percent in 1990. Under his leadership, fiber optic lines were installed, property values soared, five star hotels and condominiums were built, the stock market showed big gains, overseas workers began returning home and the former American military bases at Subic and Clark became thriving trade and industrial centers.

Foreign investment increased. Companies like Acer (a Taiwanese company) and Intel moved into the Philippines Much of the prosperity was linked to investments from Hong Kong by tycoons like Gordon Wu, who shipped their money to Manila before the reunification with China. In the early 1990s, the Philippines was regarded as an economic rival of Thailand and Malaysia now it lags far behind them.

Ramos Steps Down

Ramos’s popularity rating plummeted to 4 percent (Marcos' was 30 percent when he fled) after the 1995 election when he announced belt-tightening reforms and tax hikes. When protestors took to the streets they claimed that Fidel "Vampire" Ramos was "sucking the country dry." To this Ramos said, "You want progress? Then pay the right amount of taxes."

According to the Philippines constitution Ramos had to step down in 1998. When he began hinting that he wanted to change the constitution so he can run again for president in 1998, a half million people took to the streets in September 1997 to show their disapproval. By that time Filipinos liked Ramos and appreciated what he did for the Philippines but they didn't want a repeat of Marcos years. The demonstration was the largest since the People Power demonstrations on 1986 that ousted Marcos.

Ramos was prevented from amending the Constitution to allow him to serve two terms by an effort spearheaded by Cory Aquino and Cardinal Sin. Ramos told the Los Angeles Times near the end of his term, "I have denied this many times. I am ready to go at the end of my term on June 13, 1998."

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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