Ramos’ defection was one of the highlights of the People Power movement that toppled the Marcos regime, known for its widespread human rights abuses and looting up to $10 billion from government coffers.
He later served as army chief and secretary of defense in the post-revolution administration under democracy icon Corazon Aquino. He then succeeded him as 12th President of the Republic, from 1992 to 1998.
Ramos leaves behind a mixed legacy. To his supporters, he is a hero of the revolution who urged the Marcos family to publicly apologize for their misdeeds. As president, he was credited with helping to modernize the economy and forge a peace accord with rebel forces in the southern Philippines.
To his critics, he has yet to be held accountable for police and military abuses under his watch – and his actions have not been enough to prevent Marcos’ possible return.
Born on March 18, 1928, Ramos was a career military officer before entering politics. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
When Marcos declared martial law in 1972, Ramos led the Philippine Constabulary. In a 2017 interview with Maria Ressa, co-founder of the Rappler news site and winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, Ramos explained why he turned on Marcos – despite a long history that involved the future dictator in hiding in his family’s sanctuary during World War II. .
“You have to understand that even with this close relationship and association during the war…why did I go against this guy?” he said. “It’s because of what’s in the constitution. … You obey the orders of your superior, of your commander, if they are legal orders. But when he started to stray during the years of martial law…it went against my values.
During his tenure, Ramos brokered a peace deal with the Moro National Liberation Front, then a separatist group operating in the Muslim-majority south.
In 2016, Ramos lent his support to populist candidate Rodrigo Duterte, the tough-talking strongman who would later be known for a brutal anti-drug campaign that claimed thousands of lives.
But in the same year, the former president called Duterte’s government a “huge disappointment and disappointment,” criticizing Duterte’s constant swearing and hostility to the United States on foreign policy in a column for the Manila Bulletin television news.. He resigned as Duterte’s appointed special envoy to China the same year.
Duterte also authorized the controversial state burial of Marcos at the Heroes’ Cemetery. Ramos opposed the decision, prompting thousands of people to take to the streets in protest. When Ramos was president, he allowed the family to bury the late dictator in their home region of Ilocos upon their return from exile in the United States. Some Marcos critics think Ramos shouldn’t have allowed them back.
In this year’s national elections, the party founded by Ramos backed the dictator’s son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who won a landslide victory. However, Ramos’ cabinet officials have publicly backed opposition candidate Maria Leonor Robredo. Ramos himself, who had been out of public view due to the pandemic, failed to make a public endorsement.
Despite the criticism, Ramos has generally aged as a respected figure in Philippine politics. His contemporary Juan Ponce Enrile, a former Marcos defense minister who defected to his side, faced corruption scandals and has since backed down from criticism of the dictator. He has since returned to power and serves as legal counsel to Marcos Jr. at age 98. Ramos’ successor as president, Joseph Estrada, was later ousted in a second People Power Revolution amid corruption concerns.
In a forum covering Ramos’ legacy last year, veteran political columnist and journalist John Nery said the former president “has stood the test of time”.
“It should be clear by now that ultimately, and to the very end, he retained an unwavering loyalty to the primacy of the constitution. …regardless of the constitution,” Nery said. He added that Ramos’ loyalty to the law was the reason for his defection.
“There is no doubt about his constitutional meaning and his faithfulness to it. When I think of the possibilities open to him, at the time of the coup attempts, to choose the other side – which would have completely changed the history of the country -, I appreciate all the more that he knew his limits.