‘Uncle Eddie’

That’s me slumped at the edge of the EDSA Shrine platform, wearing a white t-shirt and looking at the programme print out that has just been totally disordered by the arrival of wearing a white undershirt and addressing the crowd. I was co-emceeing and we just introduced him, his first appearance at the historic event. He walked from the airport to the EDSA Shrine because traffic was at a standstill and, when he arrived, immediately re-enacted his iconic “People Power Jump.” That’s FVR of course, the guy who has had a huge impact in our country’s recent history and who has died three days ago at 94 years old.

FVR addressing the crowd at EDSA People Power II. (Photo by Ramon Ramirez [+]/Arkibong Bayan)

My paternal grandfather Leon was reportedly a childhood friend and constant playmate of FVR’s dad, the diplomat and politician Narciso. There was also a claim by Pangasinan relatives that our respective families are kin. How, no one among the living on our side could now substantiate. So, far removed at best, if at all. A second degree aunt was a long-time caretaker of the Ramos family’s ancestral house in Asingan, now a museum. I once told this story to his nephew, veteran peace negotiator and former mayor-congressman-cabinet secretary Nani Braganza, and he and I have since taken to calling each other “manong”.

In my younger and hungrier times, I was a struggling business reporter when given an assignment to write a piece on former First Lady Ming Ramos’ Clean & Green Foundation-Piso Para sa Pasig. Someone must’ve have liked what I came out with because I was pirated on the day it was published. Then began nine years of me ghostwriting for the then FL. The most memorable pieces I churned out were her speeches. Inevitably, I had been tasked to do one for FVR himself when we launched the Pasig River International Marathon with him as special guest. That’s just a one off however, FVR having a dedicated team of highly-regarded wordsmiths as speechwriters when he was President, including my UP professor Butch Dalisay.

After his photo ops run with the runners, FVR was relaxing under a tent with his trademark unlit cigar (never saw him smoke them) when the Foundation executive director grabbed my arm to drag and introduce me : “Mr. President, meet the guy who wrote your speech, Raymund,” she said. Before I could greet him good morning, the old man had by then grabbed my hand for a shake and squeezed so hard I began to tear up. “I liked the speech,” he said. He said more kind words but I could not recall them now, remembering only that I was struggling not to yelp while trying hard to squeeze hard back to save some dignity.

He asked me to have a sit with him and, prolly noticing my skin, asked, “Ilokano ka met, balong?” “Ybanag, Mr. President. But my father is Ilokano from San Manuel.” I then told him about my father’s family’s claim of once being close to his family. He then fished out a cigar from his breast pocket and offered it to me, saying “For that speech, kaanakan,” he said.

The author [right, in white t-shirt] during the violent dispersal of protesters during FVR’s 1994 SONA. (Photo by now unknown photographer)

Of course I did not tell him I was an activist and became one when he was president.  I did not like that he privatized many government assets and I disagreed with his liberalization of the economy. One time, when he was no longer president, we met him at his Peace and Development Foundation office in Makati to ask him to remind the water concessionaires to make good with their commitment to treat wastewater per their privatization contracts. We told him the Pasig River will never be fully rehabilitated if untreated wastewater is still dumped on the country’s most famous waterway. He rebuffed us, but in a nice enough way.

I rejoined journalism years later and started reporting on the peace process between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). I learned that the most number and most significant peace agreements were forged with the former general as president. Among these were The Hague Joint Declaration, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (which was affirmed by the Joseph Estrada administration a few months after its crafting). These are the documents that—surprise! surprise!—the NDFP insists should be respected and used as framework in the talks, unlike the militarists and the social democrats who always try to have them dismissed as “documents of perpetual division.”

Peace talks between the GRP and the NDFP were most successful with Ramos as GRP President, both parties agree. Veteran negotiators like to narrate that once the GRP panel declared an end to the talks and went home because of a very contentious issue, FVR ordered them go back and resume the negotiations with the words: “Who told you to stop negotiating?”

We know how the talks went with the Erap, GMA, PNoy and Duterte administrations. Based on pronouncements of the new administration, it is looking like there will not a resumption in the near future either.

If only for how FVR pushed forward the peace process, let me say, “Agyaman, Uncle.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

The former president’s wake shall be at the Heritage Park in Taguig City starting tomorrow, August 4 until August 8. He will be interred at the Libingan ng mga Bayani on August 9.