Ex-president: ‘You can’t stay at the top forever’
By Fe Zamora, Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:01:00 07/17/2009
MANILA, Philippines — Former president Fidel V. Ramos Thursday told six aspirants to the presidency that being in power was not a permanent state.
“Going up to the summit is optional, but coming down is mandatory,” Ramos said, quoting the first Filipino mountain climbers to scale Mount Everest. “You cannot stay at the top forever.”
Ramos’ remarks were applauded by the six aspirants and their audience, to whom they presented their planned six-year socioeconomic programs. The venue was the 10th Ramos Peace and Development Foundation public lecture series held at RCBC Plaza’s Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium in Makati City.
“Bato-bato sa langit, ang tamaan huwag magalit,” a laughing Ramos also said, mouthing the old Filipino adage about being a sport in the face of criticism.
It was an apparent swipe at President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whose term ends in 2010 and, according to persistent reports, is preparing to seek a congressional seat representing a district in her native Pampanga province.
The six aspirants present were Senators Francis Escudero, Richard Gordon, Loren Legarda and Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chair Bayani Fernando.
Why Erap wasn’t there
Ramos said Vice President Noli de Castro, and Senators Manny Villar and Panfilo Lacson had also been invited. De Castro and Villar declined; Lacson has announced that he would not be in the running in 2010.
Ousted President Joseph Estrada was not invited because he was not yet considered a contender when the invitations were sent out in March, Ramos also said.
The forum was attended by businessmen and executives of multinational companies and international organizations.
Among the government officials in attendance were Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Ms Arroyo’s adviser on political affairs Gabriel Claudio, who were once “Ramos boys.”
Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes also dropped in.
Young but mature
Ramos praised the six aspirants for the “clarity, intellect and substance of their presentation.”
He said that compared to himself when he ran in 1992, “they are still very young [but] mature enough to assume the office of the presidency.”
The six aspirants presented their platforms of government in response to two questions:
How do you plan to maintain economic stability and stimulate economic growth in the Philippines?
How do you plan to deal with the peace and order situation in Mindanao?
Each was allowed 15 minutes to make a presentation. They later fielded questions in an open forum.
Platform of government
All agreed that focusing government resources on modernizing agriculture and improving productivity was key to sustainable growth, with Legarda championing the protection of the environment and rural folk as part of long-term solutions.
Fernando proposed a stronger state through the faithful implementation of laws. Gordon urged the nation to revisit its history, learn from the past and start “caring” for the people.
Escudero laid down a six-point priority program to address poverty.
Roxas talked about an “activist government.” Teodoro suggested that the government’s economic infrastructure, health and education programs, as well as public investment in peace and security, be continued.
All six aspirants said they believed that “good governance” was at the center of economic and peace efforts.
President as juggler
Roxas treated the forum as a “job interview.”
“To whom will I entrust the country?” he said, and used the global economic recession and domestic problems to paint the current picture of the economy.
He said serving as president was like “keeping the big picture in sight, juggling so many different things atop a high wire, while keeping [one’s] bearings, principles and vision intact.”
Roxas said “the binding constraint to our development path as a nation … has been poor institutions, the weakest institutions that stop our development.”
He called for an “activist government” that would be “nimble, quick to respond and professional,” and “built on the foundation of accountability, transparency, independence of enforcement agencies, meritocracy and professionalism.
Legarda pushed her proposed agenda on “rethinking development.”
“For far too long, our policies and strategies have only marginally altered the socioeconomic status of our people. The absence of an integrated, unified, and coherent road map is the culprit for the snail-paced Philippine economic and security development,” she said.
She called for a coordinated and integrated plan that would spur efforts toward a developed Philippine state.
“We need to fuse national economic growth with national security in the development of an integrated plan,” Legarda said.
Fernando, a professional mechanical engineer, proposed his “workplace economics” as the Philippine socioeconomic development framework.
He said he would implement this “if I am elected president, which I am sure will happen,” eliciting chuckles from the audience.
Fernando said the challenges were low respect for labor, unemployment and failure to enforce laws.
“It is inherent upon all of us to implement and obey the laws of the land,” he said.
He also said peace was a prerequisite of development, and that political will was essential to solving the ills of society.
Formula for peace and order
Teodoro said the country suffered from a “structurally flawed political system.”
He ticked off his policy agenda for economic stability and growth: good government, continuation of economic infrastructure programs, better education, health and overall quality of life, and order in civil society through public investment in peace and security.
Teodoro said the three “current threats” in Mindanao were lawless Moro groups, the Abu Sayyaf, and the communist insurgents.
He said the formula for peace and order in Mindanao was development, capacity building and DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration).
“Peace is contextual and must have an enforcement mechanism,” Teodoro said.
Gordon delivered an extemporaneous speech that was the most applauded.
“I don’t believe we are broken. We may have lost our confidence, but we are not a broken country,” he said, saying the country’s leaders should uplift the dignity of Filipinos.
Gordon said his vision for a new Philippines was an “enabled, ennobled and free” nation through stability, unity and transformation.
“I’d like you to believe that we can effect change in our country” through “transformational leadership,” and not “transactional leadership,” he said.
Gordon cited instances why many Filipinos were poor, uneducated and had violent tendencies.
“We don’t care enough,” he said, adding that Moro separatists and Abu Sayyaf bandits “came out because they are in pain.”
Escudero said good governance, strengthened finances, investment in youth and the country’s future, environmental stewardship, infrastructure development, and making local products globally competitive were the key elements of his six-point policy to address “decades of missed opportunities.”
“Primarily, we seek to eliminate poverty and improve the quality of life of every Filipino. This means striving for higher family income, a highly educated and trainable workforce, better health care, affordable food and housing and peaceful communities,” Escudero said.