Parents and Ancestry

Fidel Valdez Ramos was born on 18 March 1928 in Lingayen, capital of the northern Luzon province of Pangasinan1, to a quietly distinguished local family. He began life in a family that understood the home as a nurturing environment for leadership. Enrolled in public schools as a youth, he also learned early to live outside exclusive precincts. This childhood in an egalitarian setting—modulated by the aspiration to excellence modeled by his parents and other forebears—allowed the young Fidel a formative education in democracy.

The early 20th century version of this form of government was experienced everywhere in the Philippines as Peace Time under the American colonial government. In the countryside, this period was particularly rife with the possibility of studying to be leaders. Pangasinan is among the largest of the Philippine provinces, and since the 19th century has generated substantial wealth from agriculture and agricultural trade to support the education of a local elite in various aspects of leadership at the local and eventually national levels.

This productive province was the setting for the early education and character formation of Fidel, the son of the Ilocano- and Pangasinan-speaking, early nationalist Ramos and Valdez families of this province. The language environment in their home included Spanish and English. As it was among the elite and middle-class families of the Philippines’ modernizing provinces, childhood in a multi-lingual home nurtured individuals with breadth of vision beyond the place of birth. That privilege was understood in relation to the responsibility to protect this homeland, a concept that already encompassed both birthplace and nation at that early 20th century stage of Filipino nationalism.

Fidel V. Ramos’ grandfather, Plácido Tabadero Ramos, fought in the revolution for Philippine independence from Spain at the end of the 19th century. He joined the Kataastaasang Kagalanggalang na Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (KKK), the group that ambitioned full sovereignty and waged armed, coordinated revolts in various parts of the archipelago named Las Islas Filipinas by its Spanish overlords for four centuries. Plácido Ramos was one of the Katipuneros that defeated the Spanish forces in the Battle of Dagupan on 18 July 1898. Philippine independence had been declared in Kawit, Cavite on 12 June 1898, a month prior, so the proclamation rites were re-enacted in Pangasinan.

The Ramos grandfather’s war experience immediately preceded the birth of his son in 1900, on the cusp of a new century that brought another period of colonization to the Philippines. Narciso Rueca Ramos (11 November 1900 – 03 February 1986), was born in Asingan, Pangasinan to Plácido and his wife Ramona Bugayong Rueca. Living in both Pangasinan and the Philippines’ capital region, Narciso, Fidel’s father, was to continue the elder Ramos’ commitment to nation. He began his career under the Commonwealth established by the United States, becoming a journalist and subsequently a lawyer. In each profession, he was known for defending the poor. Elected to the Philippine Legislature in 1934, he successfully transitioned into politics and diplomacy. From being an independent assemblyman, he was assigned as Minister to the Philippine Legation in Buenos Aires; served as envoy to India during the commencement of the Non-Aligned Movement; and set up the Philippine Embassy in Taiwan. Narciso Ramos essentially created the structure of the Philippine diplomatic service at the end of the Second World War (during which he fought with the resistance against Japanese Occupation). President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos later appointed him Secretary of Foreign Affairs. It was in 1967, under Ramos’ tenure at the helm of the foreign service, that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was established.

Like both of her parents, Angela Marcos Valdez (06 January 1905 – 10 February 1977) was born in Batac, Ilocos Norte to a family similar to the Ramoses in stature, that is, born of nationalism and pedigree as educated Filipinos. Angela, Fidel’s mother, was daughter to a town that in the mid-19th century birthed the remarkable Bishop Gregorio Aglipay, who founded the heretofore unthinkable, a Philippine Independent Church; and Artemio Ricarte, military commander for the revolution against Spain. Her father, Hilario Maulit Valdez (unknown birth and death dates), and mother, Crispina Galimba Marcos (1876 – 1920), were among Batac’s professionals. Angela herself trained to be an educator, graduating from the University of the Philippines with a degree in this field. She taught at the Ilocos Normal School (an institution for teacher training), Pangasinan Vocational School, and Far Eastern University. Engaged in electoral politics as a campaigner for her husband as soon as he entered the field, the civic-minded proto-feminist went on to help establish the Philippine Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in 1948, and the Federation of Asian Women’s Association in the 1950s. She was known to be a devoted Methodist who spoke of values to her friends and family, and who consistently brought her children to Sunday religious services.  To the young Fidel, Angela Valdez Ramos was the model of upright character.

“The most important lesson that my mother taught me… was being focused, steady, and calm under pressure… our family life can be characterized as ‘middle class,’ peaceful and quiet but full of activity. My mother was at the core of this positive condition and environment.”

Narciso and Angela Ramos raised three children: Fidel, Leticia, and Gloria. Each was to live a storied life in public service and humanitarian advocacies.

Photograph of Fidel V. Ramos
in grade school.
The man who would be president spent his childhood years
in Pangasinan.
Ramos family archives
Narciso R. Ramos and Angela V. Ramos, parents of Fidel, Leticia
and Gloria Ramos. 
The accomplished couple raised a family given to excellence.
Ramos family archives
Fidel V. Ramos born 18 March 1928 at Lingayen, Pangasinan.
His birth certificate documents
his parents and birth
in a provincial setting.
Ramos family archives
The province of Pangasinan, among the largest and most productive in the Philippines.
Pangasinan's agricultural wealth had produced major national political leaders, and dominated the politics of Northern Luzon.
Ramos family archives

Family Culture

Pangasinan neighbors remember the Ramos household as being modest and generous. The three Ramos children were not unfamiliar with sleeping on mats and on the unsold newspapers of their father, often to accommodate unexpected visitors in their bedrooms. Their home shared in the spirit of hospitality of the typical Filipino, but it was unusually welcoming in that the comings and goings involved all kinds of people. Narciso, or “Nachong,”  lawyered for the poor. He presided over a domestic life which, in his words, did not “turn away or refuse food to anyone who came at any hour of the day and night particularly the weary traveler.” Angela cultivated a combination of literature and the arts, on the one hand, and the virtues of frugality and a spiritual inclination on the other. The Ramos home saw the movements of diverse ideas that both parents synthesized into a culture inclined to public service.

The children thrived in this environment of sustained interest in life outside their family, which manifested in the quality of their individual careers. Fidel was to articulate this ethos in his three interconnected words—“Caring, Sharing, Daring”—which in due course became his personal code of ethics, and his wish for the Philippines. In particular, he would look to the full display of his parents’ “sterling characters” during the Second World War, when they managed to keep the family intact and resilient, while contributing to the guerrilla resistance and helping prisoners-of-war. The young Fidel was drawn to their example. To him, the war years occasioned a full education in parental responsibility combined with a responsiveness to the demands of nationalism. This string of virtues he intoned through life—honesty, integrity, hard work, simplicity, and love of country—sprung from his experience of his parents, especially in dire circumstances.

Fidel V. Ramos birthplace at Primicias Street, Poblacion, Lingayen, Pangasisnan.
The rented house where Narciso and 
Angela Ramos raised their family 
has been given a marker by 
the National Historical Institute.
Ramos family archives
Interior furnishing of the Ramos ancestral home.
It is now a museum.
Ramos family archives
The Ramos Clan of Asingan, Pangasinan.
Second from left (seated) in this unusual photograph was Placido Ramos, father of Narciso Ramos, grandfather of Fidel Ramos; with Fidel Ramos
standing in front of his grandfather.
Ramos family archives
3 siblings on staircase.
L-R Gloria (youngest sibling), Leticia (middle sibling), Fidel (eldest sibling)
This photograph of  the Ramos siblings
in a light moment was taken in the
United States in the late 1940s.
Ramos family archives

Emerging Personality

In the rural setting to which he was born, signs were observed that appeared to portend an unusual life. Stories were told about his birth with his umbilical cord wound several times around his neck, a sign that his yaya, the midwife Juanita Casipit, understood to mean a future as an important person. The townspeople thought the midwife right to see augury. Guided by his parents, the young “Eddie”—the family’s nickname for the only son—consistently topped his classes through his years at the Lingayen Central Elementary School. He graduated as class valedictorian in 1940, and through different high schools during the war, at the University of the Philippines High School in Manila (1940-1941), Mapua High School (1942-1944), and Centro Escolar University Boy’s High School (1945), Fidel showed himself an excellent student. A biographer, W. Scott Thompson, writing about classmates from the Lingayen Elementary School class of 1940, described from memory their class valedictorian as “quiet and adventurous,” boding his career in public service.

Stamp collecting initiated the young Fidel into geography and world affairs. Household residents saw the nascent philatelist carefully steaming used mail envelops to remove the stamps, subsequently trading on their value to acquire more expensive specimens. He swapped with others in a nearby stamp club and the world in tiny images became real to him at an early age. To this reality he added details by reading widely. Shakespeare was a staple, with The Taming of the Shrew and A Midsummer Night’s Dream his favorites. The habit was cultivated by his mother who made sure books were available to her children. His relationship with books extended uninterrupted to his soldiering days, when books were part of his rations kept in his trouser pockets. In his youth, a household that valued intellectual curiosity encouraged this voracious reading habit.

Emerging to be the future soldier, engineer, and statesman, Fidel’s watchfulness of his parents’ example—their involvement in pioneering advocacies that included women’s rights and lawyering for the poor—made him understand that a career was more than a living. The idea of answering to a mission larger than its professional demands was inculcated in a youth with an already well-developed interest in national and global affairs.

At the University of the Philippines High School (UPHS), he was elected president of the freshman class, which consisted in large part of valedictorians of public high school graduating classes from different parts of the country. This teenage period of Fidel’s life, during the years prior to the Second World War, had brought him to Manila where the pan-Philippine UPHS community reinforced his sense of the nation as a whole. This understanding of the national political landscape was buttressed during the ensuing world war. The Narciso Ramos family had already moved to the Philippine capital city of Manila2, which was to endure horrors before the Japanese Occupation ended in 1945. Narciso himself was elected to the Philippine National Assembly to represent the 5th District of Pangasinan from 1934 to 1941, the years before Japan invaded the Philippines on 10 December 1941. Fidel was among the Filipinos whose teenage years played out in the immediacy of the mass atrocities committed by the Japanese military, and the destruction of Manila and many other Philippine towns at the hands of the nearly defeated Japanese and from the US effort to liberate these areas.

These experiences contributed to Fidel’s interest and then resolve to train to be a soldier and an engineer. He wanted to fight and rebuild, and until he passed away, these two ambitions underpinned his personal narrative. He began during the war years when, at 13 years old, he already served as courier and typist-stenographer for the underground anti-Japanese forces. It was during this period with the guerrilla movement when he developed an interest in intelligence work. He took to mnemonics to help him retain and employ qualitative and quantitative information of substantial density. These activities transpired with implicit encouragement from another positive force in his domestic formation: the Protestant ethos.

The Cosmopolitan Church, the family’s religious affiliation, was involved in the resistance. The ideas this church nurtured in the future president were clearly recalled by Ramos himself when, already President of the Philippines in 1996, he said during the 63rd anniversary of the Methodist Cosmopolitan Church:

Hope therefore is the power that could enable people to overcome adversity and a sense of helplessness. It unites them and nurtures their commitment to discover the excitement of life as the gift of God. Although I do not claim to know personally the circumstances of the painful travails suffered by the three Cosmopolitan heroes whom we honor today—Captain Vicente Gepte, Mr. Tito Dans and Mr. Serafin Aquino Jr.—I do remember their live, strong presence among us in Cosmo during the Occupation. I can also surmise that it was hope—hope for a brighter day—that kept the people of Cosmo together during that sad period in our lives.

The defeat of the Japanese military in the Philippines was the outcome of a resistance build-up that included the active engagement of the Protestant church. The Cosmopolitan Church3 building along Taft Avenue, Manila was used as a base of operations by guerrillas from 1942–1944, and for this reason was seized by the Japanese Occupation forces in September 1944. The building was destroyed in the Battle of Manila in 1945. The Ramos family have maintained their deep ties with the Methodist denomination until the present. For Fidel, the idea of fighting for the motherland was conjoint with the tenets of his religious affiliation. He was to maintain the coordinates of this moral compass for the rest of his life.

Fidel V. Ramos, a senior at
Centro Escolar University
Boys High School.
The 2nd World War made it necessary for young “Eddie” to finish his secondary studies at the
Centro Escolar University.
Ramos family archives
Fidel V. Ramos, a high school freshman, and classmate Amelita Martinez, the future Mrs. Ming Ramos, at the University of the Philippines.
Voted class president, young “Eddie” already exhibited marked leadership.
Ramos family archives
United Church of Christ in the Philippines (Cosmopolitan Church) at Taft Avenue, Manila.
Born into Protestantism, Fidel V. Ramos was an heir of the ethos of this Church and in turn moulded his leadership style as an expression of this ethos. 
Ramos family archives
President Fidel V.Ramos delivers a speech during the 63rd Anniversary of the Methodist Cosmopolitan Church.
It was in this speech that President Ramos looked back at his own Protestant culture and its significance in Philippine life.
Ramos family archives

1 Pangasinan’s modern history shows sustained participation in national politics by the local elite; as well as, in dense ways, the political life of northern Philippines. The majority of the population speaks Ilokano, a language originated from the northwestern seaboard of the island of Luzon. Pangasinense, a minority language today, was the original language of this area of the Philippines.
2 The Spanish-established capital, Manila (from 1571) remained the Philippine capital city until 1946. Manila reverted back to its status and function as national capital in 1976.
3 The Cosmopolitan Church's location is marked by the Philippine Historical Commission as a historical site. The current building was constructed in the 1950s, in place of that which was destroyed at the end of the Second World War in the Philippines.