, January 25, 2005  (STAR) BULL MARKET, BULL SHEET By Wilson Lee Flores - How can we boost the Philippine economy, defy the doomsayers and overcome the recent international credit rating downgrade? Enjoying his retirement as a senior statesman and public speaker in international conventions worldwide, ex-President Fidel V. Ramos is telling foreign investors and political leaders that the Philippines has a robust long-term future due to our talented people, our strategic location as the northernmost nation in ASEAN nearest the market of booming China, plus many other advantages.

FVR is chairman of the prestigious Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) held every summer in Chinaís island province of Hainan. In November and December 2003, he served as co-chair of the BusinessWeek CEO Forum in Hong Kong and the 12th Annual Asia Leadership Forum in Shanghai. In a tete-a-tete with FVR over delicious, endless cups of barako coffee in his wife Mingís three-hectare farm restaurant in Silang, Cavite, as well as many glasses of Henessy XO Cognac, the ex-President openly discussed the true state of the economy and GMAís so-called "Strong Republic."

PHILIPPINE STAR: What is your comment on the recent international credit grading downgrade on the Philippines, and its impact on our economy?

FIDEL V. RAMOS: Donít panic or over-react, downgrade lang konti yan. Our economy is still OK. Our long-term future is positive.

Some people suggested that despite the present governmentís record-high budget deficit problem, this is not new, that your administration and those of others also had these deficit problems.

No, we didnít have a budget deficit. Do not compare my administration with those of Erap or Gloria, I donít like comparisons. Thatís the trouble with our present presidential form of government, politicians tend to start from square one if elected, often no longer continuing our reforms and ignoring the gains made by predecessors.

Are you referring to GMA not continuing your economic reforms?

No, thatís not what I meant. I donít want to criticize the President. In fact, I urge the public to support our leader because she is the captain of our ship. I am honorary chairman of the ruling Lakas-NUCD party, she is the chairman and Speaker Joe de Venecia Jr. is the president; weíre in the same team.

I believe the political power elite of this republic had shamelessly failed the nation for generations, causing our economy to continuously lose its competitiveness compared to other Asian nations. What is your comment?

In the new global economy where international competitiveness is crucial, the new arithmetic is one plus one equals three, or equals five or 100, depending on the quality of synergy within a nation. In the Philippines, because of our personalized and self-serving kind of politics, one plus one could be zero, or minus three or even minus 100! Synergy means putting everything together and creating something bigger. The yearly competitiveness report of Switzerlandís International Institute of Management Development (IMD) suggests where we have gone wrong. In 1997, the Philippines ranked 31st. Three years later, we fell to 37th. Two years ago, we ranked 40th, and it was 40th again last year among the 49 countries. The IMD report reveals that we are No. 1 in the availability of skilled workers and rated third in the availability of senior managers, but we are ranked second to the bottom (No. 48) in the level of government corruption. It is government Ė including officials at the national level and the entire gamut of the legislative, judicial and executive branches, as well as local government units Ė which has been failing the Filipino.

What should be done to help our stability and progress?

Clean up the mess. There must be closure, on cases like those on Marcos and Erap.

Do you have any unsolicited advice to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo?

Whatever advice I have to share with the President, thatís between her and me. I sincerely respect her as our national leader.

What can be done to prevent a future EDSA 4?

There is no such thing as EDSA 3, so there can be no EDSA 4! Why not? First, that May 1 Labor Day uprising was not nationwide in scope. Second, it didnít have the military and police components unlike EDSA 1 against Marcos and EDSA 2 against Estrada. Third, it didnít have the participation of credible civil society, NGO and other sectoral leaders. Fourth, it failed.

Why do we have so much economic problems, despite GMA being an economist with a doctorate degree?

Letís give her a chance. Let us not be too negative, because if the ship of the Philippines sinks, you donít know how to swim in the high seas (laughs).

Can you give your predictions for the Philippine economy in the Year of the Rooster?

I enjoyed reading the predictions published in your Lifestyle section on how the different birth signs will fare this year. Iím happy your newspaper published that a Dragon like me will have a good year in 2005. The Dragon is compatible with everybody, it is the noblest animal in the ancient Chinese zodiac, the composite of all the good things about other animals.

What do you think about a President being polygamous? Donít you think this contradicted Erapís family planning program?

(Laughs) This country has 83 million people, tomorrow it will become 84 million. My administration had a family planning program, Responsible Parenthood, which helped couples have a better quality of life. On your impertinent question (laughs), donít you know that Iím an honorary sultan and that I can have four wives? In fact, I asked my wife Ming about this and she said OK I can have four wives, as long as they are honorary wives only! (laughs)

How are you and the late President Ferdinand Marcos related and what went wrong with his regime?

We are second cousins. We both trace our ancestral roots to Batac, Ilocos Norte, that is also where great heroes like Philippine Independent Church founder Gregorio Aglipay and revolutionary General Artemio Ricarte came from. I acknowledge our kinship and family ties. True, Marcos also did well as a leader, especially in his first term. You know what was his real sickness? Itís called Imelditis (laughs).

Tell us more about the Ramos Peace and Development Foundation Inc.

All our numerous projects in support of Philippine development can be summarized into three words in our motto Ė caring, sharing and daring.

Any advice to the nation in these times of daunting challenges for the Philippine economy?

Do not put new holes in the ship of the Philippines, just help plug all the holes. This is our one and only ship. Whether you like it or not, PGMA is the captain of our ship. We sink or survive together, so let us support her. Be more positive!

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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