Presidents and kings live an uncommon life. The magnitude of their responsibility and security makes them inaccessible to ordinary mortals. The space separating them from the hoi polloi makes them mystics. Thus, legends, mostly embellished, shroud their lives. One of the tasks of a writer-investigator is to pierce into their guarded life to humanize them by writing anecdotes that hopefully will reveal their true persona and the influences on their mindset and decision.
Kindly indulge me as I continue my narrative about former president Fidel Ramos whose wake culminates today. He was one president who was enamored with the game of golf, perhaps his catharsis and therapy from the pressure exacted upon by the presidency. I thought I could help unmask him with accounts of a few anecdotes of my rare encounters with the man I respect so much. The following is partly culled from my past article.
One of the commendable features of the FVR presidency was conducting Cabinet meetings in the provinces, sort of “bringing the government to the people.” The proceedings were opened to the public. I often represented Tourism secretary Mina Gabor, being her undersecretary, due to her volume of work and aversion to travel. One time we had a Cabinet meeting in Cagayan de Oro City and had to spend the night at the guest cottages of Del Monte Philippines, Bukidnon, with its sprawling championship golf course. I suspected it was by design that we spent the night there so that FVR could play golf.
After performing my soboh (dawn prayer), there was a knock at my door. It was Gen. Jose Magno (Ret.) who was then president of GSIS and often doubled as man friday of FVR. He told me that FVR preferred me to be in his flight over DTI Secretary Cesar Bautista allegedly because I play better. Playing with the most powerful man in the country can unnerve one and get butterflies in one’s stomach. I felt pressure, but the long years of playing golf makes my swing mechanical or go on auto-pilot, unaffected by my emotion.
While playing, FVR would often challenge his flight mates to a friendly bet by guessing what their “ATM” or at the moment blood pressure is. As part of the presidential security protocol, at the first tee mound, there was always a nurse to take our blood pressure. He had the habit also of asking his flight mates to pre-declare their score based on their golf handicap, which pressured them not to cheat on their handicap. It’s easy to tell if one is sandbagging (golfer intentionally mishitting shots to score bad) at the last hole to achieve one’s predeclared score.
One of my fond memories of FVR was when I was part of his official entourage in foreign state visits. In these visits, playing golf was oftentimes a part of the itinerary. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, we played at a military course you could hardly call a golf course because of its poor fairways, quality of grass and greens. Contrast this with the picturesque golf course in Manama, Bahrain where the fairways were splattered with streamers welcoming FVR.
The “caring and sharing” mantra of FVR’s Foundation, RP-DEV, finds application with the way he cared for the welfare of the downtrodden caddies and ground workers in golf courses. He always went out of his way to see that they were taken care of by management and gifted during Christmas.
In the pre-pandemic past, I was invited with other select friend-golfers of FVR for a tournament at the Malacañang executive golf course. I thought he wanted to relive the days when he was a resident there. And there, we were gifted with T-shirts and golf caps emblazoned with “Malacañang Tigers,” personally autographed by FVR, a common giveaway when he sponsored tournaments. We had fun exchanging stories when he was president.
FVR would no doubt leave an indelible footprint in the history of Philippine golf. If there was such a golden period or boom in the industry, it was when he was president. Upon his initiative, golf legends Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Nick Price and others came to play here. Golf courses were constructed and golf shares of stocks were at their prime.
Before the pandemic, we sometimes bumped into each other at the Aguinaldo golf course, Saturdays usually, with his usual coterie of golf buddies, greeting everybody.
I daresay, FVR lived a full and fulfilled life. And as I described him before, he would ride into the sunset with a contented smile like John Wayne of western movie fame.
Farewell, dear boss. Maybe you will finally find a “cure” for your sand trap woes in the hereafter.
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