2022 PH presidential race

6 years after Ramos backed Duterte, his ex-officials endorse Robredo

Mara Cepeda
6 years after Ramos backed Duterte, his ex-officials endorse Robredo

STAMP OF APPROVAL. Presidential aspirant and Vice President Leni Robredo gestures during a meeting with the BPO sector in Cebu City on December 13, 2021.

Jay Ganzon/OVP

Former Ramos officials release a statement of support three days after meeting with Vice President Leni Robredo

MANILA, Philippines – Six years ago, former Philippine leader Fidel V. Ramos supported Rodrigo Duterte for president. Now, his former officials are going the opposite way. 

Former Cabinet members and officials under Ramos released a statement on Thursday, January 13, to support the presidential bid of Vice President Leni Robredo, the opposition leader seen as antithesis to Ramos’ pick in 2016.

In their statement of support, the 23 signatories said Robredo espouses the same leadership qualities as Ramos, who led the Philippines from 1992 to 1998. 

Three of the signatories confirmed the statement to Rappler: former presidential assistant Benjamin de Leon, former finance undersecretary Milwida Guevara, and Senate Minority Leader Frank Drilon, who was justice secretary under Ramos and is now vice chair of Robredo’s Liberal Party. Robredo’s spokesperson Barry Gutierrez also verified the statement. 

The Ramos officials first presented the statement to Robredo herself during a virtual meeting on Monday, January 10. It was primarily penned by former socioeconomic planning secretary Cielito Habito.

“We see the 2022 national elections as a critical crossroads for the country, especially as it emerges from the deep scars inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and society. The country needs to elect a leader who will lead us into the positive path to the unified, humane, just, progressive, economically vibrant, sustainable, and equitable society that is the dream of every Filipino,” said the Ramos officials.

“We believe that Vice President Leni Robredo is the only presidential candidate who possesses the above-described qualities, and who can credibly lead us Filipinos closer towards that dream,” they added. 

The Ramos officials then urged Filipinos to also support Robredo’s presidential bid, pledging their “wholehearted commitment” to help campaign for her

In February 2016, Ramos had endorsed the vice presidential bid of then-Camarines Sur 3rd District representative Robredo. 

But a month later, the former president was also pictured raising the hands of both Duterte and his running mate Alan Peter Cayetano, which some took as his apparent endorsement of the Duterte-Cayetano tandem. 

Ramos ‘disillusioned’ 

A vote for Robredo is often seen as a vote against Duterte, who plunged the Philippines in its worst economic, political, and human rights crises in decades. Robredo, a human rights lawyer known for her firm yet compassionate leadership, is regarded as Duterte’s opposite.

Even Ramos was eventually “disillusioned” with Duterte, said De Leon.

Before this, Ramos was among those who convinced Duterte to seek the presidency. In his inaugural speech, Duterte even directly addressed Ramos: “President Fidel Ramos, Sir, salamat po sa tulong mo (thank you for your help) making me President.”

“For me, FVR thought he was okay at first,” De Leon told Rappler in a mix of English and Filipino. “For the first time, we will have a president from Mindanao. But in the first 100 days, he observed that he was going astray. He warned him. He became disillusioned through the rest of Duterte’s term.”

Milwida Guevara, who was finance undersecretary under Ramos, also believes her former boss may have regretted his initial support for Duterte. “That was very early on. Many of us disagreed with his endorsement of Duterte. Later on, he may have regretted it,” she told Rappler in a text message.

In the first months of the Duterte presidency, Ramos often gave unsolicited advice to the President. Duterte had said Ramos was one of his sources for his list of personalities allegedly linked to the illegal drug trade, but Ramos denied this. In July 2016, Ramos even accepted the President’s offer to be his envoy for China.

Ramos, however, had said the Philippines was already “losing badly” during Duterte’s first 100 days. In 2017, he later said there was an emerging culture of impunity in the country because of the spate of killings linked to Duterte’s bloody war on drugs.  Duterte is now under a crimes against humanity probe by the International Criminal Court because of these killings.

The 93-year-old Ramos, who had to battle several ailments in the past, has not been active in public life since then.

A military man before entering politics, Ramos had earned praise for the economic boom and political stability during the first three years of his administration. But his presidency was also marred by controversies, such as the corruption scandal hounding the construction of the Clark Centennial Expo, and affected by the 1997 Asian financial crisis, which saw the Philippine economy plummeting by the end of Ramos’ term.

A second cousin of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Ramos headed the Marcos-era Philippine Constabulary from 1972 to 1986, implementing martial law and having the dictator’s critics arrested. Ramos eventually defected and prompted the series of events that led to the EDSA People People Power Revolution that ousted Marcos in 1986.  

The 23 Ramos officials supporting Robredo are the following:

  1. Angel Alcala, former secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)
  2. Tomas Africa, former administrator of the National Statistics Office
  3. Dante Canlas, former deputy director general of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA)
  4. Ma. Nieves Confesor, former secretary o thef Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE)
  5. Vicente Carlos, former secretary of the Department of Tourism (DOT)
  6. Benjamin de Leon, former presidential assistant at the Office of the President
  7. Frank Drilon, former secretary of the Department of Justice
  8. Jose Brillantes, former DOLE secretary
  9. Ramon del Rosario Jr., former secretary of the Department of Finance (DOF)
  10. Ernesto Garilao, former secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform
  11. Jaime Galvez Tan, former secretary of the Department of Health (DOH)
  12. Milwida Guevera, former DOF undersecretary 
  13. Cielito Habito, former NEDA director-general
  14. Lina Laigo, former secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development
  15. Delfin Lazaro, former secretary of the Department of Energy
  16. Ester Garcia, former chairperson of the Commission on Higher Education
  17. Patricia Licuanan, former chairperson of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women
  18. Narzalina Lim, former DOT secretary
  19. Ben Malayang III, former DENR undersecretary
  20. Edmundo Mir, former secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways
  21. Victor Ramos, former DENR secretary
  22. Carmencita Reodica, former DOH secretary
  23. Roberto Romulo, former secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs
Robredo ‘honored, humbled’ by support

In a series of tweets, Robredo said she was “humbled” by their support. She said she looks up to Ramos, who had “one of the best pool of Cabinet secretaries” in recent years.

“I look up to the leadership FVR espoused, which I believe was affirmed by the brilliant people who served alongside him – matitino at mahuhusay (good and competent),” she said.

“Honored by the faith you have placed upon me, Sirs and Ma’ams. Makakaasa po kayo na lagi kong sisikapin (You can be sure that I will always try) to be worthy of the trust you and our fellow Filipinos have given me,” Robredo added.

According to De Leon, there are other Ramos officials supporting Robredo, but they could not sign the statement because of the policies of their current offices to be nonpartisan.

Still, De Leon said Robredo was “very happy” to gain the support of their group, whose “doors are open” for any policy consultations with the opposition presidential bet.

“Statement of support was read for her information and [she] was very happy and expressed her appreciation. I might add there are others who expressed their total support [for Robredo] but can’t sign the statement because of the policy of their offices to be nonpartisan,” said De Leon.

Robredo has improved her voter preference rating in the December 2021 Pulse Asia survey, rising to 20% from her 6% to 8% rating in mid-2021. But she is in far second place to her rival, the late dictator son’s Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., who has outpaced all other presidential bets with 53%. 

This isn’t the first time several officials under Ramos met with a 2022 presidential bet, however. 

In November 2021, some officials who served under Ramos, and former presidents Corazon Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo met with Manila Mayor Isko Moreno to discuss his agricultural and economic platform.

But no statement of support for Moreno was released after this meeting. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.