PRIOR to his planned candidacy in 1992, President Fidel Valdez Ramos, 94, had several memorable brushes with members of the Baguio media. As his remains lies in state at the Heritage Park in Taguig City, personal experiences and stories told by PFVR himself come to mind.
An experience with him that I describe as extraordinary began sometime in 1989 when he sent his driver-secretary to look for newsmen whom he wanted to toss spirits with. Unluckily, there were only a few of us available that evening.
At the Cabinet Hill Defense Cottage, Baguio Midland editor Eli Refuerzo, sportswriter Fred Puntawe, Pony Boys Asso. boss Dinky Casem; elders Ramon Dacawi and Willie Cacdac, and I were saluted by DoD Sec. FVR who was in Japanese slippers and his ever-present tobacco.
“Apay sikayo lang?” (why are you few), he opened the conversation as we followed him to the dining table where a bottle of Hennesy was waiting to be opened. As we shook hands at the same time identifying ourselves, he said “dinuguan, pinakbet and dinakdakan” were on the stove.
“That camera is a war veteran like me. I have one just like that,” he remarked, when he saw the Nikon F that I was carrying. He added that he still loved to see pictures in Black and White.
Down-to-earth conversations and stories of many issues were heard, including his declaration to run for the presidency, while everyone in the room, including the driver-secretary-cook, shared a basket of boiled peanuts washed down with FVR’s favorite brandy.
Then he quickly related a story about news correspondent Sid Chammag whom he called “Dean” of the Baguio media. Understandably, the late “Chammy” was revered by him due to an unfortunate event in Buguias, Benguet.
We almost downed two Hennesy bottles that made one of us throw up. It was at this moment that we came to understand why he was admired by his men, even while the Philippine Constabulary which he headed during Martial Law was chiefly answerable for the abuses of civilians.
FVR served as Martial Law implementor for 13 years and five months from 1972 to February 22, 1986. As a true believer in martial law, he said in a speech before businessmen in 1972: “It is a martial law that is uniquely our own, a Philippine-style martial law…” But that is another story.
Back at the tipsy table, while one of us vomited the peanuts and the expensive brandy, FVR quickly positioned one of the plates under the guy’s head, a quick move unexpected from one who was to become the next president of the republic.
I stole a few shots of the scene with my Nikon F but the room was dark and I had no camera flash. I already expected the negs and pics to be “not good”.
Still with a sharp mind, FVR said he expects us to jog with him at 4 A.M. around the Teachers Camp oval as he ushered us to the front door where a military jeep was waiting to bring us to our homes.
In 1989, FVR called for a breakfast-press con at the Camp John Hay golf shop. The first person he looked for was Sid Chammag who was nowhere to be found. “Where is Chammag? The breakfast will not be served without him,” FVR jokingly said.
The press con had already started when he saw the late Chammy going down the stairs of the golf shop. “Oh, here comes Dean Chammag. Agtugaw ka dituy abay ko” (Sit beside me), FVR quipped as he waved at Chammy.
At the same press conference, FVR learned that the PTV8 was headed by Richard Valdez who carried his middle name. Upon meeting Richard, the soon-to-be president said, “You really look like a Valdez”.
Over a year after winning the presidency, presidential guards were following PFVR down Session Road when he suddenly took a left turn and entered the famous Dainty Restaurant and ordered the late Ah Kong’s black coffee.
The guards were all stunned, they knew not what to do. The next scene was a crowd of waiters, lawyers, contractors, “istambays” and early customers from all walks jostling for space to have their faces photographed with President Ramos.
Then at Itogon in 1996 when FVR was in the middle of his term as president, he was having a dialogue with the people of the barangays to be affected by the construction of the San Roque dam when a commotion where the photojournalists were positioned flared up.
Then I saw colleague Jojo Lamaria venting inaudible words to one of the Manila-based photogs. As usual, photogs jockey for positions to get good pictures of the incident, especially so when the subject was none other than FVR talking to ordinary folks.
But be careful, jockeying for good positions can put one into trouble. The late war veteran and photographer Angel Villaralbo kept moving back to take a good angle of FVR who was about to drive the first shot of a golf game at Camp John Hay.
FVR’s drive was interrupted as the photographer Villaralbo fell from the four feet stone terrace of the golf shop. To loosen up the situation, PFVR called on his guards to check if the photographer had injuries.
Apart from having rounds at the fairways which could be the reason why he was always in Baguio, the foregoing events were situations that involved PFVR with the Baguio media. Surely, he will feel at ease with those of our media colleagues who will cover every game in the great golf course. They all rest in peace! PFVR, Dean Chammy, and all.