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Wednesday, October 5, 2022

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LIFE MATTERS: FVR

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By Col. Dencio Acop (Ret)

‘That’s a Filipino accent’, I thought. For a Filipino cadet still a bit homesick after about a year at the Point, the sound was a pleasant surprise! Then Major General Fidel V. Ramos was a guest of the Endy’s that Spring weekend. The general was attending his class’ 30th alumni reunion and was staying at the quarters of Colonel Clarence Endy ‘60 and his Filipina wife Elionora. The Endy’s lived in a beautiful house by the Hudson River inside the grounds of the United States Military Academy at West Point in upstate New York. After I was introduced to the then Philippine Constabulary Chief, Ramos quickly asked if I was related to Romeo ‘70 and Reynaldo Acop ‘71, both PC officers and graduates of the Philippine Military Academy. ‘My first cousins sir’, I snappily replied. That was my first-ever encounter of the legendary FVR. Never knowing that we would meet again. And that my upcoming career would be forever marked by his. Before that, I had only heard of him superficially as a CAT and ROTC officer and then PMA cadet.

My initial orders upon returning home was to be assigned with the Philippine Army. I had just graduated with the Class of 1983 in May. But a subsequent paragraph reassigned me to the Philippine Constabulary. A marginal note scribbled by no less than the PC Chief himself said ‘to train with PC SAF then assign PC Brigade’. When we graduated from the SAF’s ranger school that November, Ramos himself was there to keynote the event. He would only say ‘I see you made it’ before handing me my diploma that day in Silang. When again we completed the SAF’s airborne school a year later, the Chief was there. He was always around. He was a macro leader but he also never missed a tree for the forest. The PC Brigade got dissolved by the time I got my Ranger tab. I would have been with the 61st PC Battalion in southern Luzon. So I ended up becoming absorbed by the newly-formed elite unit that trained me, the PC Special Action Force.

The Special Action Force was the brainchild of the PC Chief. Ramos was no stranger to elite units. He had commanded the army’s Special Forces Battalion as a major. So why not also have an elite unit for the Constabulary? Ramos had the PC SAF sent to every insurgency hotspot in the country as a maneuver unit searching and destroying the enemy in surgical-type operations.

In 1985, I got handpicked by my SAF superiors to be a security officer to Ramos who had by then become the acting Armed Forces Chief with the indictment of General Fabian Ver in the Aquino-Galman double murder case. In the same year, my now late wife Joji and I chose FVR to sponsor our wedding.

Then the EDSA revolution erupted in February 1986. When it did, I was in FVR’s security group. Our teams initially secured Camp Crame when there was no one to secure it. Later we moved in with Ramos and waited for loyalist forces to attack us. Unknown to many, Ramos had all high-ranking officers suspected of amassing ill-gotten wealth investigated prior to EDSA. The tide turned when the people supported the small group of rebels holed-up inside Camp Crame. The SAF added muscle to the rebel defense.

Ramos was appointed permanent AFP Chief by President Corazon Aquino. And he proved to be a loyal and very competent top soldier of the Republic defending the newly-restored democracy through several coup attempts between 1986 and 1992.

In 1988, FVR was appointed Secretary of Defense by Aquino. The enlarged scope of his work fit right into FVR’s capacity for leadership and management. Not only did Ramos defend the government; he likewise led all programs to manage through the great disasters that plagued the country in 1990 and 1991. As deputy head of his security group, I saw how he tipped the scales of power in favor of the government of Cory Aquino.

By 1991, no one in Philippine public service had the credibility and length of experience that FVR possessed. His popularity in surveys convinced FVR that he was considered a serious contender for the presidency of the Republic. He then decided to give it a go and painstakingly began his gradual transition into the world of politics. FVR the stern professional soldier had to quickly transform into the savvy ‘Steady Eddie’ who kissed babies.

We protected FVR through his rigorous presidential run in 1991-1992. Despite his huge popularity, it was an uphill climb. Ramos lost to Ramon Mitra in the primaries. The dirty game of politics was as dirty then as it is dirty now. President Cory Aquino saved the day for Ramos when she defied convention endorsing the defeated FVR instead of Mitra.

I had meant to leave the military after completing my eight-year return service. But when Ramos won Malacanang in 1992, the call of duty was too strong to ignore. I decided to stay in the service and serve with the Presidential Security Group of FVR during his term of office. Between 1992 and 1998, we protected the Head of State and Commander-in-Chief FVR through countless presidential engagements in the capital, provinces, and anywhere in the world. I saw how a President was supposed to serve his people according to his sacred oath. No public servant woke up earlier than FVR. No leader retired later in the night than FVR. Rare is anyone who had served the Philippines more than the fifty-two years that he had. While he once served under an autocracy, he was also humble enough to see when enough was enough. Thereby safeguarding and nurturing a fledgling democracy and give peace a chance. While he had been a warrior, the lessons from being one turned him into a peacemaker if it was what was needed in order to achieve economic prosperity and social justice. While he could have turned autocrat himself, the goodness in him relinquished power even to caretakers he himself knew would merely destroy what he built. In the end, he let go and let others. Frail and dying, in the end, he let go and let God.

FVR was no saint. As none of us are. Although the world he led and managed through was gray, I would say FVR was more black or white at the core of his being. He was loved, but also hated. He bawled out people but was also kind. He would attack, but also later apologize. He was larger than life, but also was humble and very down to earth. He was very strict, but would always invite me for breakfast and dinner with his family in Alabang while on duty with him. He once gave me a hand me down blazer with West Point buttons just out of the blue. His red ink corrections that were more robust than my drafts taught me how to write well. Our near-mishaps in fixed-wings and rotaries, countless in-harm’s ways sealed our bond. The countless alma maters we sang on many founder’s days and army-navy’s now reverberate like ghosts of Benny Havens past. He was the last of his kind. The end of an era. There is none like him. I miss his brand of leadership and management. I miss his decent statesmanship. I miss his delicadeza. And I am proud that he was so predominantly all about Duty-Honor-Country. Boss, I salute you one last time. Well done sir. Be thou at peace.

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