Advocacy Mindanow: That man called FVR PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 23 June 2011 13:55

VISITING  FVR — Last Monday, I dropped by at the office of former President FVR at Makati. He still holds regular office at his  RPDEV (Ramos Peace and Development) enclave and presides over his staff, just like still being head of state – although to a much smaller “constituency”.  I have not visited  him for sometime. But  dropping by, even unannounced,  is always a welcome treat. You walk through the corridor and you feel like walking through history and memory lane.  His office complex is a veritable museum with all the memorabilia, his books , his file photos and even collections of monogrammed  golf balls from  all over the world.

All lined up on the office walls were autographed pictures with presidents of nations and the world’s VIPs, his collection of the EDSA revolution photos, state visits,  memorable golf shots and long putts that show the ball dramatically in the hole  ( some must be simulated, I thought), all kinds of events chronicling FVR’s activities in the service of the country. A photo photos had lampoon captions  for kicks.
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‘CSW’ —Just like old times when he was president, his still unending schedules, printed and folded  with red markings and scribbling  is still tucked in his wallet, held together by a rubber band.  His table is still up to the neck  stacked with all sorts of papers, clippings and correspondence. The whole  floor is half occupied by papers and materials, neatly piled and ready to go somewhere. Unknown to many, FVR keeps his being a stickler to documentation. Remember  his famous “CSW”? No single decision or directive left his office without thorough study and research unless “complete staff work” was done in writing.

Every time he  travels abroad, even when no longer president, he documents every detail, including media clippings, and blasts them off to almost all concerned, whether in government or in the private sector , complete with policy recommendations and all. He runs a regular Sunday column at the Manila Bulletin where his thoughts continue to free flow for the benefit of those in government and out.  You can consider his pieces occasional “sermons on the mount” if you wish.

“I am now kuya and will give advice to everyone, solicited or otherwise,” he usually tells visitors with his familiar grin while  chewing on his unlit trade mark  cigar. (He disposes –or consumes — a cigar that way, faster than by puffing it. And his advice: Smoking is dangerous to your health. Translation: Cigars are ok!) 
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WORKAHOLIC—  You should see him at work when he was president. At early dawn and still dark, his aides would already roam the streets and grab copies of the newspapers fresh from the printing press, ink probably still wet.  Relevant news items were  clipped then pasted on a clipboard that went to him first hour. With his red pen, he jotted down  instructions, with arrows and all, “cc”, “attention”, etc to all concerned and then by sunrise, everyone got a copy in his/her fax machine. I used to wake up early dawn while still dark outside and already I could  hear my home fax machine buzzing .  His working style put him  on top of everything that moved, anywhere in the country at any given time. His knowledge of the archipelago was extensive and grounded. From years of military service, he would know where one barangay road would lead or where one river emptied and where the next town was – like the palm of his hand.
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MINDANAO LEGACY –Unexpected from a military officer who was schooled in the art of warfare and who fought the rebels in the front lines, he led the nation into a “peace paradigm” when he occupied Malacanang.  The long-drawn peace negotiations with the Moro National Liberation Front ended with a peace agreement during his watch in 1996. He also forthwith started negotiations with the break-away Moro Islamic Liberation Front  when the group decided to stay outside  of the MNLF peace accord.  Significantly, he “invaded” MILF camps with development projects even when negotiations were still on going.  I remember then Mindanao pointman Paul Dominguez, upon FVR’s instructions built a concrete road inside Camp Abubakar leading to Chairman Hashim Salamat’s doorsteps. Everytime I would visit the MILF camp then, a big water tank  emblazoned “Philippines 2000” was conspicuously in Kagi Murad’s backyard. I failed to see it again years after when President Erap launched his all-out attack at Camp Abubakar.

On the CPP/NPA/NDF front, on several occasions during FVR’s time ,  we were dispatched to the Netherlands to engage Joma Sison and his Utrecht group. At one time,  FVR even scolded all of  us over the speaker phone for allowing the difficult peace talks to “collapse”. He barked: “ Gaddamit! Who authorized you to collapse the talks?” He   ordered all of us back to the negotiations table.     His book series  “Break Not the Peace” is Peace-Making 101.
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SOME FVR ADVICES —I cannot forget FVR’s advice about keeping faith with the peace process. He said that peace talks must be preserved at all cost until the end game of a peace agreement is achieved – however long and tedious it would take. And there are three things a peace negotiator must have: First: patience. Second: More patience. Third, more and more patience. That’s his formula.

Another advice is: One has to contain a problem.  Otherwise, it’s like picking up a small pile of “shit” and putting it in front of an electric fan.  A small pile is spread and thrown with all its stink all around. Reversing it will be in futility. I recall this was exemplified by government’s sensitive handling of the moro rebel problem in the south during his time.

Then he loves to illustrate his idea of good governance and ideal citizenship through the example of a Filipino “bibingka”. You cook it with fire on top (which is government) and the fire below (which is the citizenry). Without that convergence, the “bibingka” is not well cooked.

And of course, his usual refrain: “Kaya ba natin ‘to?” with his thumbs up sign. He expects a resounding “kaya”. And if the crowd response is not too loud, he then says: “Lakasin natin para mayugyug natin at marinig tayo sa Malacanang”, etc.  That’s classic FVR.!
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“SPIKED” COFFEE –In his office today, coffee is immediately served, whether you ask for it or not. And it’s not the usual coffee one gets somewhere. It is “spiked” coffee. A jigger of brandy in a steaming cup gives a twang – and a sip gives you the warmth until you wish for another cup.  At times  “Girl Friday” Mae Gaffud peeps into the room then pops open a red wine bottle  for the succeeding rounds. A steady supply of bottles of ordinary  rhum, brandy or gin  (I guess from friend Ramon Ang of San Miguel ) enables FVR to  hand out  some gift bags  on your way out with freebie  bottles. Nothing classy but “pang sundalo” drinks, he would stress.  Then, after  some “kodakan” with the customary “kaya ba natin ‘to thumbs up” sign, everyone gets an FVR-autographed photo of the visit as one heads for the exit door.
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STILL BURLY AND FIT  —You guessed it: FVR has not retired,  far from it.  He entertains  in his 36th floor office, a stream of callers and visitors almost everyday when he is not otherwise travelling somewhere in the world where his inputs and words  of advice still attract  attention – and generate traction — from all over.   He’s one of the best salesmen of the country, everywhere he goes until now.

Still burly, fit  and trim at age 83 (born March 18, 1928), he still  maintains a respectable  swing  at the golf course – although his handicap must have also grown  irreversibly with age.  A fair warning to golfers:   If FVR is at a locker room and you are nearby, you better be able to “drop” and do a few push ups when he says “Everybody drop!”. And when he starts counting,  you’ve better count with him – to show you’re pumping as well.  I’ve seen many friends after reaching the count of “10” continuing the count aloud  but no longer pumping  while FVR pushes the count to the limit.

Of course, his favorite “hi-tech” eye glasses are still  on his desk. He always highlights the great Filipino  inventive capacity  and then shows off wearing the glasses saying they’re unbreakable, ultra clear, can be worn in the rain,  self-adjusting and  good for both short and long distances,  Made in the Philippines. Then he sticks out his two fingers through the “lenses”. That’s the only time you learn that they are  all just frame minus the lenses.  So at times, when I see him with glasses on, I cannot always tell whether they’re for real or just  for vanity to give him that “intellectual look” – and of course   camouflage, although in futility,  those eye bags that come with age. (Sorry, sir.)
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“COMFORT ROOM TEST” – I recall his unusual way of checking out a place. Whenever he got invited to a newly built building or visit a new golf clubhouse , he would go first check the comfort rooms.
I learned of his formula many years ago when  I joined him in a visit at the newly refurbished clubhouse of the Apo Golf & Country Club in Davao City. He was given a tour of the spanking  clubhouse but then he  asked that he’d like to see the comfort rooms first.   He then told me aside  that the true measure of a place is the condition of its  comfort rooms. Come to think of it, indeed, the comfort level one gets in checking into hotel rooms, or restaurants or resorts, even hospitals  or any public establishment  is usually determined by the condition of  comfort rooms. Yes, that’s FVR’s comfort room test.
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FATHER OF BIMP EAGA – During my visit last week, he immediately asked about the latest on BIMP EAGA (Brunei Indonesia Malaysia East Asian Growth Area). He fathered its formation when he was still president by getting together the other three heads of state to give focus to the sub regional areas, like Mindanao and Palawan for economic development.  He said he was in Kota Kinabalu recently to attend a BIMP EAGA event. (He was a bit unhappy though  because the Philippine delegation was “sloppy” during that event.)  FVR, by the way will be keynote speaker on June 30 in a BIMP EAGA event at the Asian Development Bank to review and  formally close a German-sponsored project in the sub-region that got underway while I was still there.
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PRESS SEC RICKY CAME – I was chatting with FVR when Press Secretary Ricky Carandang arrived. He came to consult FVR on some  current issues, among which was the on-going public debate on the Marcos burial. Ricky, by the way, was host/anchor of ABS-CBN ANC when I was press secretary and I can recall his support  in my not-so-easy task then. “Now you can exchange notes,” FVR told both of us when I said that Ricky somehow was a big help to me  when I was press sec and I wished to return the favor.
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SEN. RENE SAGUISAG – Former Sen. Rene Saguisag also came and was part of the discussion together with Cris Carreon of the People Power Commission.  My good friend, Adventurer Art Valdez of the now famous Balangai boat group also joined in. Ilongo Art  led Filipino adventurers in scaling Mt. Everest, traced the century-old route of early sea farers on board a replica called Balangai.  I learned from him that he  was plotting his next adventure somewhere. He was Usec Art of DOTC  during FVR’s time.

Rene was still as sharp as ever. Although mellowed by age and still nurturing physical and perhaps moral  wounds suffered from that car accident where he lost his soul-mate, Dulce, Manong Rene in the discussions about the Marcos burial issue exuded with institutional  memories of the historic past  which I found instructive. He was an active player then starting from President Cory until that accident years back.
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IN CONFIDENCE —I guess the discussions that followed were done “in confidence” hence I am not  at liberty to write about the details of what we talked about in this column.
FVR of course was in his usual elements. He volunteered  his thoughts  on the Spratlys issue, the Marcos burial,  the present cabinet, etc.  He emphasized the need for President Noynoy to consult some more  - through  more frequent  cabinet meetings, the LEDAC (executive, legislative mechanism), the National Security Council where former presidents together with other high officials give their thoughts on issues.  His advices, I’m sure,  are still valuable to everyone – including, I hope,  to Pres Noynoy. Ricky, hopefully will re-echo to his boss some of  the  unsolicited advices of this man who saw it all.

Here is one fellow who has stood the test of time – and age. He used to tease us all with:  “Who knows, I may run for president again. However, I have a   problem. What if I win.? “    (  --Jess Dureza