Baby Arenas wanted to be president after Fidel Ramos

MANILA, Philippines – Rose Marie “Baby” Arenas was not content with wielding power during the presidency of Fidel Ramos – she wanted to run for president and use the Ramos political machinery to succeed him in Malacañang.

Former National Security Adviser Jose Almonte revealed this in  Endless Journey: A Memoir, as told to Rappler editor-at-large Marites Dañguilan-Vitug. (Read about a policy debate on Scarborough Shoal here and the plot to kill President Ferdinand Marcos here.)

In his memoir, the retired military general recalled how Arenas asked for his help to win a Senate seat in the 1995 midterm elections. She dreamed of becoming Senate President and then, and ultimately, president. But she lost. 

“Being a senator, for her, was an avenue to the presidency. As a public official, I could not campaign for her. But she knew that I could talk to people. She knew my political capacity because we were together during the presidential campaign,” Almonte said in his memoir to be launched on Wednesday, February 25. 

Almonte had always been the "babysitter" of Arenas, a self-imposed task for the then national security adviser who recognized the threat posed by her past relationship with Ramos on the presidency. It was a role that would distance him from then First Lady Amelita "Ming" Ramos and the presidential children.

“It did not endanger his physical life but it posed a peril to his political life. I took it as part of my duty to secure the President from such harm,” Almonte said.

It was his job to make sure Arenas would not throw tantrums that could harm the presidency or be used by Ramos' enemies. He said Ramos couldn't have handled it like his successor, President Joseph Estrada, who was nonchalant about his reputation as a womanizer.

“He (Ramos) had never accepted the claim that he was in a relationship with Baby. When she said she could weaken Ramos, it meant that Baby could tell the nation that Ramos was lying and that would diminish the President’s credibility and make him less effective. My greatest fear was that he was going to be a lameduck President,” he said in his memoir.

Arenas helped Ramos in his presidential campaign and maintained a high profile during his administration doing philanthropic work, organizing concerts such as opera star Pavarotti’s, and gracing magazine covers.

She had the ears of the president and his men. She hosted dinners for the “Wednesday Club,” a regular gathering for Cabinet members and some businessmen.

Almonte was able to manage her tantrums, with a lot of help from Arenas' daughter Rachel. One time, Almonte had to stand by the gates of Malacañang to prevent Arenas from entering Malacañang when he got information that she was planning to confront the Ramos Cabinet.

“Baby, we’re not going to destroy this country,” Almonte remembered reasoning with her.

An angry Arenas replied, “You tell your boss that I cannot make him succeed by myself but I can make him fail by myself.” Almonte had no doubt she could and that meant watching her even closer.

Almonte eventually failed to manage her pride and ambition, the weaknesses that, he said, were tapped by a known enemy of Ramos.

“Senator Ernesto Maceda, I learned, goaded her into joining the [1995 senatorial] race. He was in the opposition and he never hid his dislike for Ramos so he was always finding a way to hit him. He identified Ramos’ weakness and parlayed this into the mid-term elections by tapping into Baby's pride and ambition,” according to his memoir.

Her 1995 electoral defeat would end Arenas' politicial ambition, and the nightmare for the Ramos administration that came with it. It also ended the friendship between Almonte and Arenas, who went to town blaming him for her loss. They haven't spoken since.

Almonte said babysitting Arenas was one of his most trying assignments. “In a way, my exploits in Vietnam and Communist China were much easier. I liked doing those missions. To the credit of Baby, I did enjoy the friendship.” – Rappler.com