Eddie's Nuclear Family
Amelita "Ming" Martinez
Lieutenant Fidel Ramos married Amelita “Ming” Jara Martinez on 21 October 1954. The two members of the same Protestant denomination had known each other in secondary school at the University of the Philippines High School. They chose the Central United Methodist Church in Manila for the ceremony, which took place after the end of the Korean War and Ramos’ voluntary deployment in that conflict. The pair was a match between US trained youth from different parts of the Philippines: he was Pangasinan-born; she from La Paz, Iloilo. Born in 29 December 1927, Martinez was already academically accomplished at the time of her marriage to the West Point-educated army officer. She had earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education from Boston University’s Sargent School and later acquired a master’s degree in the same field from the University of California in Los Angeles. Like her groom, she was the child of an accomplished family and had two siblings. Her father, Rufino Martinez, was the Philippines’ first US-trained naval architect, while Josefa Jara Martinez, her mother, was a pioneering figure in the field of professional social work. The Ramos-Martinez partnership in many ways mirrored the accomplished Filipino middle class of the prewar period.
The five daughters born to the couple continued that momentum of accomplishment through their own careers: Angelita M. Ramos, Josephine M. Ramos, Carolina Ramos-Sembrano, Cristina M. Ramos, and Gloria M. Ramos. Fidel and Ming have eight grandchildren, five grandsons, and three granddaughters, who enjoyed the constant presence of the elder Ramoses. The family remained private through the entire arc of Ramos’ military and political career. It was also impossible for any family member to cross ethical boundaries. Ramos once asked his head of the Bureau of Customs, Colonel Guillermo Parayno: “If there is any information [of corruption or influence peddling] against my wife, or any of my children, he is not to report to me—he should just arrest them.” Significantly, no member of the Ramos family has been implicated in corruption charges, cases, or innuendos during his long career. And Mrs. Ramos, equal to the task of raising daughters with a military spouse, proved her métier as a model maternal figure channeling both the musical and sports worlds.
Amelita Ramos was an avid golfer, archery enthusiast, water-skier, swimmer, and, with special importance for her, badminton titleholder. She was a national women’s doubles champion for this last sport, and eventually its association’s president. She was also the captain of the Philippine Women’s University varsity swimming team when they won the national championship in 1946. A few years before she married, Fidel Ramos’ future life partner was already a human kinetics aficionado with an ethos akin to that of a soldier. Her persona as educator was also soldier-like in its tenacity and heightened sense of obligation, as she served the International School of Manila in various capacities for more than sixty years. Her sister-in-law, Senator Leticia Ramos Shahani, described the family circumstances that Amelita took charge of:
I thought that at [a] certain point, he [Fidel Ramos] would leave the military service because he was a captain for almost ten years and promotion was slow for him and his batch because of budgetary limitations. People think that his life in the military [was] always guns, power, and fighting for what you want. No. The way I saw him, he cheerfully went to parts of the country where he was assigned. He never asked for special treatment, and his family would be left here in Manila. This was also one reason why his wife Ming [was] used to holding down a job. Being an Army wife she realized that his pay was so small. She had to help him and be very much on her own….
Leticia Ramos Shahani (30 September 1929 – 20 March 2017) was elected to the Philippine Senate in 1987, five years before her brother assumed the country’s presidency. She, her brother, and Amelita Ramos would enter the highest echelons of power in their country in the years immediately following the events of People Power 1986. However, Senator Shahani preceded her brother in speaking against the authoritarianism12 of their second cousin, President Ferdinand Marcos. At this juncture, Marcos had already been president since 1965. Citing President Ramos, a New York Times account gives some details:
While visiting the Philippines in December 1985, Shahani was asked which presidential candidate she supported, the long-ruling Marcos or Corazon C. Aquino. ‘I am for change — that’s why I am for Cory,’ Shahani replied. She was the first high-ranking Philippine official to come out in Aquino’s favor, despite her family ties to Marcos and the prominent role that her brother, Fidel V. Ramos, played in the military and police command. ‘That was a class act — coming from a close Marcos relative — an unheard-of stance during those tumultuous days,’ Ramos wrote….
His sister’s break from the Marcos regime meant resignation from her position as Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations for Social and Humanitarian Affairs (1981–1986), a post she held while also spending a year (1985) as the Secretary General of the World Conference to Review and Appraise Achievements of the UN Decade of Women. Coming home from the UN Vienna headquarters, her shift to electoral politics in the Philippines commenced immediately after the fall of the dictatorship. This pivot from diplomacy (distinguished by appointments as Ambassador to Romania and Australia) to a legislative career was also built on her prior accomplishments of a Masters Degree from Columbia University and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Sorbonne University, Paris.
While Senator Shahani navigated her logical movement to the center stage of Philippine political life, Amelita Ramos, already widely known by her nickname “Ming,” maintained her privacy. In the public eye, she remained the sturdy, piano- and badminton-playing PE educator wife who preferred to keep to the relative obscurity of a sustained professional life. When she became First Lady, Mrs. Ramos was the first spouse of a Philippine president who continued to work and preserve her career. She went to work as registrar at the International School from their residence at the presidential palace. Emerging as a role model of the working mother, she was also to enhance the traditional role of First Lady by giving her time and energy to the specific environmentalism that the clean-up of the Pasig River13 and the development of an orchidarium at Manila’s Luneta Park required. Both projects were precisely defined, following their sponsor’s athletic sense of goals, but also massive in their impact on the life of Metropolitan Manila. The Pasig River, a main water artery winding through a metropolis of more that fourteen million residents, now thrives well beyond the point when it was regarded as essentially dead and toxic. Amelita Ramos defined for herself the role of a Head-of-State’s spouse as independent, low-key, and modern. Her husband, the soldier-turned-statesman, looked retrospectively on their partnership thus:
Really, there are many ways to go about telling you how important you are to me --- and how this special day for others makes me a little more sentimental than usual. It’s just that my words fail me in the face of the significance of all I feel … I am just proud and happy that I have a wife and family who believe in me. That is enough. In the end, history will judge me. What matters most is that we have remained together, with a great family, and very cute grandchildren!
The young cadet was determined to contributed to rebuilding a destroyed Manila as a soldier first and an engineer a close second.
Ramos family archive
Amelita “Ming” Martinez and Fidel “Eddie” Ramos exchange vows and embark on a life together.
Ramos family archives
Because of her inherent quality as an educator, her connection with children came naturally.
Ramos family archives
The First Lady was a patron of military hospitals, including V. Luna General Hospital and Veterans Memorial Hospital.
Ramos family archives
A Personal Ethos
Fidel Ramos was widely esteemed for consistency of character, which most observers understand as having been shaped early, from a youth with nationalistic role models in his immediate family, through the experience of the Second World War that saw the nearly total destruction of Manila. Postwar, he emerged having decided to be both a soldier and an engineer. The decision flowed from his wartime experience as a teenager in a guerrilla communications network of the resistance against Japanese occupation. War and reconstruction propelled him to an education, on a rare scholarship, at the US Military Academy in West Point and graduate school in civil engineering at the University of Illinois. These details of his formative years were too far in the past for most Filipinos to remember in his later life as a central public figure. But the national body politic nevertheless found in General and then President Ramos the “Steady Eddie” who was fixed on suing for peace and rebuilding after winning necessary wars. The personality created before the midpoint of 20th century Philippines, among an educated Filipino middle class—with both provincial and cosmopolitan grounding—was deliberate, austere, and driven. These qualities were in constant view as personified by Ramos in his various roles in the public sphere, especially during the popular uprising on EDSA and during the subsequent Ramos presidency.
Presidents Aquino and Ramos were different from each other in terms of ethical lineage. On the one hand, President Aquino was catolica cerrada, a deeply Roman Catholic woman whose family, allies, and circles of friends were similarly educated. On the other hand, the Pangasinan-Ilocano Ramos family was steeped in a Protestantism of two interrelated streams. The first is the Methodist denomination, and the other is the northern Luzon Philippine Independent Church (PIC). The latter, known widely as the Aglipayan Church after its key founder, Bishop Gregorio Aglipay, was an integral part of the nationalist turn after the 1896 Philippine Revolution. The PIC split from the Roman Catholic Church as a radical protest against the dominance of Spanish clergy. Aglipay and the PIC co-founder, union leader and folklore researcher Isabelo de los Reyes, were both born in Batac, Ilocos Norte, where Fidel Ramos’ mother and maternal grandparents were born and immersed in the culture that produced the schism.
President Ramos was not the first Protestant head-of-state of the Philippines, a country whose population is more than eighty-five percent Catholic. President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos, an Aglipayan, was famously the first president from outside the Catholic fold. In both cases of presidents hailing from the Philippine north, family life was related to American Protestant missionaries who arrived in the Philippines during US colonization in the early 20th century.14
The denomination to which Ramos’ family belonged, the Cosmopolitan Church, broke away from the American-led Episcopal Methodist Church in 1933 when young Fidel was five years old. It was a turn towards a Filipino-led Protestantism, which ran parallel to the departure of the Philippine Independent Church from the Catholic Church. He took this sense of the emerging Filipino as Protestant to his tutelage in West Point, where it was self-evident that his discipline was already well-defined as an expression of nationalism. The professional soldier and civil engineer who emerged from American universities and served in the Korea and Vietnam theaters of war exhibited an assiduous sense of order; hands-on knowledge of his working environment; and an engagement with localities, stakeholders, and civilian communities. From West Point, he further developed a mode of leadership overtly articulated as service and professionalism, following the military school’s motto of “duty, honor, and country.” As president, Ramos was admired for working hard, living a no-frills life, and embodying the frugality that had become characteristic of the Philippine north. In Fidel’s life, this culture fused with a nationalist Protestantism.
With his famous red pen, President Ramos would scribble a thorough set of hand-written instructions or HWIs, and set deadlines with acronyms NLT—“not later than”—on document margins.
Ramos family archives
President Ramos developed a system he applied and practiced throughout his public service career—handwritten instructions (HWIs) and marginal notes in red ink on the same document that required his action, attention, or information. Copies were distributed to persons or offices of primary responsibility (PPR, OPR) with expected outputs and deadlines indicated in the HWIs. Ramos family archive
President Ramos kept a red pen, his preferred writing instrument, on his person and maintained an inventory in his document bag, office, vehicle, and home.
Ramos family archives
The President’s work ethic, worthy of emulation, formed in childhood and adolescence, honed through his years as a soldier, engineer and statesman.
Photo credit: Behind the Red Pen: My Adventures with FVR by Jojo T. Terencio
Life as Athletic
The relatively light-built Ramos was not a natural athlete and, as a youth, had to deliberately build physical strength in preparation for life in West Point. Weight lifting and a daily push-ups regimen became a life-long practice—the push-ups to be quotidian well into his 80s. Self-improvement was firstly physical. It was also built on an appetite for competition. Ramos was a runner, motorcyclist, weight training enthusiast, and swimmer (this last sport shared with his wife). He took up diving in midlife, logging nearly two hundred open-water dives, and once planted a cross in the depths of the Anilao, Batangas dive site. Inserted into the surrounding reef, the cross anchored what has since been called the “largest underwater cathedral in the world.” Ramos cultivated an expertise in skydiving, and from his paratrooper days early in his military career in the 1960s, had completed one hundred sixteen jumps. With trademark lightness of spirit, he performed his celebratory jump (for retiring from the military and assuming the Secretary of National Defense post) over Laguna while holding a case of thirty still-cold bottles of San Miguel beer, which he later served to the anxious and waiting spectators and entourage. It was levity merged with gravitas that in his self-articulation seemed normal. His scuba practice was among the personal entry points into environmentalism that became a distinguishing feature of his presidency. Skydiving was his projected image of leadership in the military. The push-ups became a badge of camaraderie and brotherhood as soldiers, but also of discipline. He once pointedly made push-ups the penalty for rather grave offense, as a signal to the public about his fatherly stance within the institution.
His greatest sporting pursuit, and the one most identified with him, is the game of golf. Ramos played nearly until his passing. He played in the company of diplomats and other actors everywhere. He appeared to have regarded the game as a metaphor for life, and as a testing ground for strategy, excellence, and discipline. His golfing life was different in one respect, however: Ramos preserved a down-to-earth demeanor with a penchant for conversation. For a lifelong soldier and engineer leading a life of rigor and discipline, much of his public life is known for humor, often captured in anecdotes from his argosy of experiences with people of all stations from around the country and the world. This balance between, on the one hand, a steadfast, almost ascetic professionalism in his work-ethic and methodical leadership approaches, and, on the other hand, his light-hearted, folksy communication style, was Ramos’ formulation of self. That personality was understood by his myriad publics, appreciated, and admired to the extent that his mission for the Philippines was given a wide berth.
Physical activity to the President had to match mental challenges.
Ramos family archive
As PC Chief, Ramos was known to the rank and file as capable of doing himself what he commands.
Ramos family archives
PC Chief Ramos was extremely given to competitive physical exertion: golf, skydiving, scuba diving, swimming, bowling, water skiing, volleyball, badminton, pelota, running, chess; and he was partial to push ups.
Ramos family archives
12 Jennifer Jett, “Overlooked No More: Leticia Ramos Shahani, a Philippine Women’s Rights Pioneer,“ The New York Times, May 9, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/09/obituaries/overlooked-leticia-ramos-shahani.html.
13 The Clean and Green Foundation, founded by First Lady Amelita Martinez Ramos, formed a coalition with civic groups and spearheaded the rehabilitation of the then ecologically collapsed Pasig River. Its establishment followed the 1993 establishment of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Program (PRRP) which set the target of a fully revitalized river within fifteen years (1993–2008). See, among other newspaper accounts, Monjie Lustre, “Clean, green and a not-so-secret garden,” Starweek Magazine, February 23, 2003, https://www.philstar.com/other-sections/starweek-magazine/2003/02/23/196553/clean-green-and-not-so-secret-garden.
14 “Protestant missionaries began arriving after the establishment of the 1901 Comity Agreement between various Protestant missions, separating the islands into spheres of Protestant influence. Missionaries quickly learned local languages and began translating texts, and local converts took on leadership roles and established the foundations of an indigenous Protestant clergy, though Filipinos were frustrated by the racist attitudes among some missionaries. Missions provided an alternative community to what American Protestants perceived as a corrupt Catholic society—highlighting in particular activities such as gambling and drinking—through sports, American cultural groups, the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and other venues. A number of seminaries sprang up facilitating the growth of local clergy, and Protestants strongly supported the creation of a public school system.” From “Protestant Christianity in the Philippines,” Harvard Divinity School, https://rpl.hds.harvard.edu/faq/protestant-christianity-philippines.