JoAl’s vision and FVR’s regrets | Inquirer Opinion
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JoAl’s vision and FVR’s regrets

/ 02:05 AM February 27, 2015

It was a full house at Club Filipino’s Kalayaan Hall last Wednesday, and I’m sure many more would have been there if not for the horrendous traffic scene in the area around Edsa and the Edsa Shrine.

I happened to arrive early and so had an easy time queueing up for autographs from the coauthors of “Endless Journey: A Memoir.” The book arose from an oral history project initiated by Japanese Prof. Yutaka Katayama with former general and Ramos national security adviser Jose Almonte. With months of research, including 17 interviews with the man himself as well as a visit to Almonte’s hometown and more interviews with key subjects in the memoir, Marites Dañguilan Vitug took a six-month hiatus from a journalist’s deadlines to accept a fellowship from Kyoto University to, as she put it, “erect the frame and design the structure” from the building blocks provided by the subject of her book.

When Marites reminded the general who I was, he peered at me and apologized: “You know, my eyesight is failing me. Of course I know who you are.” Fortunately for us, Almonte’s hindsight is sharper than his senior-citizen vision, for the book walks us through postwar Philippines, through seminal events in our recent history. Through anecdotes and analysis, he brings back to life events like our involvement in the Vietnam War, the martial law years, the Edsa revolt, the seven coup attempts against the Cory Aquino administration, the Ramos administration where he played an important role, and his maybe peripheral but still crucial participation leading to the ouster of Joseph Estrada and the foiling of a mulled term extension of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Little-known and seldom acknowledged, but discussed at great length in the book, is Almonte’s role in reforming the Philippines’ economic and political structures, starting with countering the rampant smuggling and corruption that left most businesses in the hands of a selfish elite, on to the breakup of monopolies and the creation of alternative centers of power.


* * *

Indeed, through much of his public life, Almonte, “JoAl” to his friends, had a sinister and dark reputation, one he might have secretly fostered, since he apparently preferred to work in the background, skulking in the shadows, operating far from the limelight.

During the book launch ceremony, Vitug confessed to sharing that impression, but apparently discovered a different side to him when, retired from public life, Almonte met with her and some colleagues frequently, providing background and context to the swirling events of the day.

Guest of honor at the ceremony was no less than Almonte’s “boss” through much of his public career, former President Fidel V. Ramos. But while Almonte in his remarks seemed content to reflect and reminisce, only once referring to current events by bewailing the treatment that the “SAF 44” received from those who had fired upon them as “fellow combatants” in that cornfield in Mamasapano, FVR appeared obsessed with the day’s occasion.


This was, after all, the 29th anniversary of the Edsa uprising, in which of course FVR played a leading role. Maybe he was perturbed that the two “costars” of Edsa—Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile and himself, had been sidelined in the commemoration. Enrile is under hospital arrest (transferred to the Makati Medical Center because of pneumonia on that day), but FVR’s fate is perhaps more painful, for he was simply ignored.

* * *


It was both moving and hilarious to see him, toward the end of a rambling address, command everyone to stand and reenact with him the “victory jump” he executed that morning 29 years ago at the gate of Camp Crame, when the tide appeared to have turned the rebels’ way.

Before then, he raked up previous observations he had made about the Mamasapano operation and the sacrifice of the “Fallen 44.” Of course he was entitled to his charged feelings. Ramos, after all, founded the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force when he was the chief of the Philippine Constabulary. Recently, he explained that the SAF was founded as a “counterforce” to the military, which was then under the command of Gen. Fabian Ver whose loyalty was not to country or to his men but to the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. And while the SAF was never called on to trade shots with soldiers, SAF personnel, said Ramos, provided security cover for the Edsa personalities and RAM leaders during the Edsa standoff. The SAF was also on hand to serve as security for the Aquino family in the seven coup attempts launched by the RAM, which had turned renegade. So it’s understandable that he is taking Mamasapano personally.

But one could also sense that Ramos felt keenly the fading away of the force and influence of power. It’s a fate that awaits all those who hold office and thus hold sway in affairs of state. Retirement and redundancy loom, for in a democracy, lifelong rule is neither desirable nor effective.

* * *

I don’t know if FVR has read “Endless Journey,” or if he believes that indeed his place in history can be reached only after a struggle without end.

But Almonte provides a blueprint for fashioning a vision beyond one’s time in service, or indeed, one’s time on earth. He uses the metaphor of “passing the baton,” as in a relay race, and foresees the time when “everyone, regardless of their status in life, will fashion, according to our core values, their own baton which will provide the direction and energy to sustain our endless journey.”

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Looking forward, JoAl’s vision is still 20/20.

TAGS: “Endless Journey: A Memoir”, edsa revolt, Fidel V. Ramos, FVR, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, JoAl, jose almonte, Marites Dañguilan-Vitug, memoir

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