Fidel V. Ramos Is the President That '90s Kids Remember

That crucial decade before the dotcom boom.
IMAGE RTVM

The Fidel V. Ramos presidency, which ran from 1992 to 1998, took up the majority of a crucial decade when the world was on the verge of internet connectivity. During those years, people survived the entire day without fidgeting with smartphones and emails have yet to evoke anxiety.

The cigar-chomping, proud ex-general and the last of the pre-dotcom Philippine presidents, died at 94 on Sunday. He led the Philippines at a time when hopes were high that the nation would join the ranks of Asia's tiger economies.

FVR: 90s President who looked to 2000

Often praised for his vision, Ramos coined the term "Philippines 2000" to articulate the country's ambition of becoming a high-income nation by the new millennium. Of course, the 1997 Asian financial crisis happened and that goal is unmet to this day.

One of his successors, and erstwhile ally, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, tried to hype a "Strong Republic" until the end of her nearly decade-long rule in 2010. Arroyo laid the foundations for strong economic growth, however the collapse of the U.S. banking system again set the country back. Then in 2020, COVID happened.

Photo by PRESIDENTIAL MUSEUM AND LIBRARY.
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In the mid-1990s, Philippines 2000 was a brand for hope and young families who got their first cars proudly displayed their license plates emblazoned with that FVR slogan. Gross Domestic Product or GDP growth during the Ramos years peaked at 5.9% in 1996, according to the World Bank, before shrinking 0.5% on the year he stepped down.

Those years were the heyday of the giant shopping malls on EDSA. Absent the MRT, SM Megamall, Robinsons Galleria and Shangri-La Plaza cut imposing figures to motorists and commuters.

Air travel boomed during those years as Cebu Pacific entered the market and undercut its rivals in terms of price. The country was so ready to showcase itself to the rest of the world that it hosted the 1994 Miss Universe, won by India's Sushmita Sen.

FVR: Pre-dotcom President 

Without the internet, people devoured content in newspapers, magazines, and TV.  It was Ramos who broke ground on what is now the GMA Network Center in Quezon City and during his speech, he ribbed the audience to cheer louder so that rival ABS-CBN can hear them from a block away.

Television was so powerful that time that ABS-CBN anchors Loren Legarda and later, Noli de Castro, would win seats in the Senate, with Legarda running under Ramos' ticket.

Afternoon TV on state-run channels would often air Ramos' press briefings at Malacanang's Heroes Hall, the one with giant white overhead daylights and dark wood walls. Reporters covering the Palace then, who typed stories and filed via fax, remember Ramos as the most approachable president for the media. Many of the newsroom executives now, honed their skills at the Malacanang Press Corps under Ramos.

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Without Netflix and chill, TV viewing then was regimented, right after TV Patrol on ABS-CBN, Saksi on GMA saw Ramos take on the news of the day such as rotating brownouts and the rebellion in the south, and networks aired sitcoms and drama anthologies head-to-head, until Friday when cartoons ruled.

Thanks to Ramos being active in Southeast Asian affairs, kids at that time knew that Mahathir Mohamad was the the prime minister of another rising tiger, Malaysia. Mahathir would often refer to Ramos as a friend and Kuala Lumpur's Proton cars entered the Philippine market with its Wira, basically a reworked Mitsubishi Lancer.

FVR: President with the most trademarks

The double thumbs up became an FVR signature for his photo-ops, even after he stepped down. It was how he attempted to stir optimism, as in his sixth and last State of the Nation Address on July 28, 1997.

"I would say this: The best thing we did has not merely been to restore the economy to the path of growth. I would say our greatest accomplishment has been to bring back the Filipino’s sense of self-respect and pride; of faith in ourselves and of confidence in the future," he said.

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Ramos also chomped on a cigar, as newspaper columnists and pundits on radio and TV referred to him as "tabako". He is also a health buff, having graduated from the U.S. military academy at West Point. It has become a habit for the former president to challenge reporters covering him to a round of push-ups in full view of news cameras.

When he announced his recovery from heart surgery, accompanying photos on newspapers of the day showed him swimming a few laps in the pool.

In Filipino, he would always say, "Kaya natin to", which translates to "We can do this" in English.

FVR: Controversies that hounded his term

There was the PEA-Amari land sale deal, the alleged overprice of the Philippine Centennial Expo in Clark and Electric Industry Power Reform Act or EPIRA, that solved the chronic brownouts of the Aquino years but led to higher electricity rates.

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The Ramos years were also the time when solving the organized crime menace became a national priority. He tasked his vice president and would-be successor, Joseph Estrada, to head the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission together with Sen. Panfilo Lacson, then a senior police officer.

Ramos was among the most vocal of the former presidents when it comes to national issues, often offering advice to incumbents. As the years passed, his regular public appearance would be the annual anniversary of the 1986 People Power Revolt.

Almost every year before the pandemic, Ramos would recreate the victory jump that signaled the defeat of the Ferdinand Marcos Sr. dictatorship.

He died Saturday as the Philippines settled into the presidency of Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., whose family is telling their side of what happened from 1986.

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