For FVR, Philippine economy, tension with Taiwan no laughing matter

‘Don’t vote for me,’ says the former president (right) with Consul General Mario de Leon Jr. The FilAm photos

‘Don’t vote for me,’ says the former president (right) with Consul General Mario de Leon Jr. The FilAm photos

By Cristina DC Pastor

“Feel free to quote me. My name is Manny Pacquiao.”

This throw-away line by former President Fidel Ramos kept Consulate officials, staff and guests in stitches during a June 14 visit to New York to promote his latest book and film.

It was one running gag after another as the former military general shook hands with members of the community. “Remember, don’t vote for me,” he quipped, sending women in giggle fits.

Putting an unlit cigar to his lips, he pitched the benefits of Philippine cigars over the pricier Cuban cigars, saying Philippine tobacco leaves are rolled by Ilocanos and not by communists. As for the legend about Cuban virgins, he said they’re all gone because of Fidel Castro. The people who milled around him hedged off on that joke.

When he spoke out on the raging issues of the day – the Philippine economy and the Taiwan “imbroglio” – the punch lines stopped.

Ramos warned the reported 7.8 percent growth achieved by the Aquino Administration may not be sustainable or inclusive, with the growth based mostly on construction and vulnerable to a “property bubble.”

“I hope not,” he said wryly.

In the event of a boom-and-bust, he cautioned the economy could “come crashing down again.” Instead of investing in power, potable water and other basic infrastructure, he said the Aquino government may be “overdoing” the real estate development.

On Taiwan, he sounded even more somber. He seemed to be lamenting the current state of hostility between the Philippines and Taiwan, as he urged both nations to resolve their differences “expeditiously.”

Ramos’s ties to Taiwan are both personal and historical. His father Narciso was a Philippine ambassador to the then-Republic of China in the mid-1950s to 1960s. That was long before the Philippines adopted the one-China policy in the 1970s.

Turning nostalgic, Ramos reminisced about the flowering of Philippine-Taiwan relations. This began when the Kuomintang Government lost the civil war to Mao’s communists in 1949 and the anti-communist Chinese fled in big numbers to the Philippines, which provided them sanctuary. In the Philippines, the Chinese people found family and opportunity. They got married, set up their own businesses and prospered. One Filipino-Chinese who did very well is Ernesto Ting, who according to Ramos, owns three five-star hotels in Taiwan when there were no top-line hotels in Taipei.

Taiwan, on the other hand, sourced its domestic and factory workers from the Philippines providing jobs to more than 80,000 Filipinos.

“There’s too much emotion,” said Ramos, describing the reaction of the Taiwan government.

He urged both governments to move on and “not prolong” their animosity, which was triggered by the death of a Taiwanese fisherman after he was shot by a Filipino Coast guard. The government of Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino has issued an apology, but Taiwan appeared unmoved.

“It is in no one’s interest” for the conflict to continue, said Ramos. “The important thing for both sides is to move on.”

Ramos was in the U.S. for a two-week roadshow to promote the documentary “Tagaligtas,” about the role of the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force during the 1986 People Power Revolution. The film, produced by former Local Government Secretary Raffy Alunan, has a companion book, “Silver Linings,” about the untold stories of the EDSA revolt. The book was written by Melandrew Velasco and retired PNP Deputy Director General Reynaldo Velasco.

Ramos said former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and former Senator Gregorio Honasan declined to be interviewed for the book.

Ramos at a press conference, with (from left) Reynaldo Velasco, Raffy Alunan and Melandrew Velasco

Ramos at a press conference, with (from left) Reynaldo Velasco, Raffy Alunan and Melandrew Velasco

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