Nov. 5, 1999

Sylvia was surprised. She read the announcement in the papers again. Yep, that's what it said -- Fidel Ramos was coming to Green Bay , Wisconsin .

Sylvia had heard about Fidel Ramos. He was responsible for ousting the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines in 1986. Relying on a defiant and massive outpouring of "people power" in the streets of Manila , Ramos had forced President Marcos and his wife Imelda (of shoe-fetish fame) to relinquish their control of the country.

Democracy came to the Philippines fitfully. President Corazon Aquino's tenure was marked by instability and the occasional coup attempt, but she survived. In the 1992 elections, Ramos was elected President, and by the time he left office in 1998, handing over the reins of the government to President Estrada, a former movie star, democratic rule had been firmly established in the Philippines .

Was it always necessary for a democracy, thought Sylvia wryly, to test its mettle by entrusting its leadership to a movie star?

But why would Ramos, the former President of the Philippines , come to Green Bay , Wisconsin ? Sylvia decided to attend Ramos's public lecture at St. Norbert College on Nov. 4.

The college, Sylvia learned, had developed a program in Philippine Studies. Aimed primarily at Filipino-Americans students, the program entails faculty and student exchanges with the highly-regarded University of the Philippines . And Ramos had been invited to the college to kick things off.

In his lecture on Democracy in the Philippines , Ramos expounded with clarity and wit on various facets of Philippine life - its history, development, language, politics and national security.

Sylvia noted that Ramos placed a great deal of emphasis on economic growth. In the pursuit of economic well-being, he argued, both free markets and democratic institutions were indispensable, and furthermore, far from being antithetical to each other, they went hand in hand. Oligarchies and the days of crony capitalism were doomed. The strategy of protecting domestic industries from foreign competition was an abject failure.

Globalization, he asserted forcefully, was here to stay and it was pervasive. Developing countries that resisted integration into the world economy would only succeed in impoverishing themselves. Developed countries risked loss of leadership stature and political influence by giving short shrift to international affairs. Ramos's implied criticism of the isolationist policy propounded in this country by the likes of Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot was not lost on Sylvia.

But globalization was not all to the good, noted Ramos. Any tendency of free markets to exacerbate the gap between the rich and poor should be checked, he warned. Ramos decried not only the growing income inequality within countries, but also the yawning chasm between developed and developing countries. Social safety nets, he argued, were indispensable to protect the living standards of the least well-off in society; and developed countries needed to adopt an approach of more "caring, sharing and daring" in order to ameliorate the conditions of their less fortunate counterparts.

Ramos' talk was sprinkled with Tagalog phrases, much to the delight of the large number of Filipino-Americans in the audience. But his English was impeccable, and he remarked that Filipinos constituted the third-largest population of English speakers in the world (after the Indians and Americans). "We understand English perfectly," said Ramos, "with the possible exception of that spoken in Texas and Brooklyn."

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