Ramos to Take Over Presidency from Aquino
MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Leadership of the Philippines, and responsibility for problems ranging from three insurgencies to a crippled economy, passes to Fidel Ramos on Tuesday.
The 64-year-old former defense secretary succeeds President Corazon Aquino, who supported him in the May 11 election because he had defended her against seven coup attempts.
Ramos must address such critical issues as amnesty for communist, Muslim and rightist rebels. The economy is in a shambles and he must reconcile contradictory demands to hold down spending and protect those who depend on public service programs.
A secretive man, Ramos has given few clues to his plans but says economic revival will be a priority. He takes office with the smallest mandate in Philippine history - 23 percent of the vote in a seven-way race. He is popular with domestic and foreign businessmen because they believe his military background gives him the best chance of restoring political stability, exercising firm leadership and pursuing economic reform.
The former general’s stock is lowest in the military, where he spent nearly 40 years. Juan Ponce Enrile, who preceded him as defense chief, described Ramos as ″a good chief of staff, but not a commander.″
For the last six years, Mrs. Aquino relied on Ramos to protect her from military rebels and he gained stature with the public as a defender of democracy. Critics deride him as ″Cory in trousers,″ meaning he vacillates.
His dilemma will be how to create his own image without offending relatives and supporters of Mrs. Aquino who retain influence.
Ramos, a graduate of West Point and the University of Illinois, has promised to review relations with the United States. He has said he will erase the ″anti-American image″ that resulted from the government order last year that the last U.S. military base on Philippine territory be closed.
For 17 years, Ramos commanded the Philippine Constabulary, widely viewed as the most corrupt branch of the armed forces. Ramos claims he could do little about it because of the influence of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, his second cousin, and Gen. Fabian Ver, the military chief of staff.
Col. Arturo Aruiza, a Marcos aide, wrote in a memoir, however, that Ramos played a major role in the 1972 martial law crackdown. He said Ramos arrested opponents without warrants, then asked Marcos to sign the orders.
In 1986, Ramos broke with Marcos and helped lead the public uprising that installed Mrs. Aquino.
Dissent in the ranks nearly toppled the new government. Enrile, then defense minister, demanded the ouster of ″leftists″ from government, a hard line against communist rebels and guarantees against trials of soldiers accused of human rights abuses under Marcos.
Ramos threw his support to Mrs. Aquino, who fired Enrile in November 1986. As Enrile’s eventual successor, Ramos steered the administration away from accommodation with the communists. He persuaded Mrs. Aquino to establish a civilian militia to fight the rebels. Abolition of such groups, notorious for human rights violations, had been one of her campaign promises.
Imprisoned leaders of the communist rebels say that, after 23 years of fighting, they are ready to talk peace with Ramos - if he drops his demand that they first lay down their arms.
A Muslim rebellion has flared only sporadically since a cease-fire in 1986. Military dissidents responsible for the coup attempts say they will see what Ramos has to offer before deciding to end their resistance.
Ramos has said the economy is his chief priority. Unemployment stands at 13.2 percent and less than two-thirds of the labor force is fully employed.
A critical electricity shortage threatens to discourage foreign investment and has cost more than $740 million since March.
American economic aid has been reduced by 60 percent with the closure of U.S. military bases. More than 20 percent of export earnings go to paying the $29 billion foreign debt and Ramos has said he would appoint Emmanuel Pelaez, outgoing ambassador to Washington, as a full-time debt negotiator.
The outlook is not entirely bleak, however. The Aquino administration, in its final months, liberalized currency regulations and began dismantling tariffs to attract investors.
Also, the discovery of large petroleum deposits off Palawan Island raises hopes that the Philippines can become self-sufficient in energy.