‘When I withdrew support for the government in February 1986, I did not wear a uniform and I did not carry government-issued firearms’
The death of former President Fidel V. Ramos on Sunday has brought a flood of remembrance to people whose lives he touched during his more than half a century of service to the country.
When three “Vicks” won over three stars
It was in February 1982 when then Lt. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, Chief of Constabulary, flew with his party from Manila to Loakan Airport in Baguio City and possibly farther northward and deeper into the Cordilleras in Natonin, Mountain Province, where the Constabulary’s most elevated detachment was at 3,957 feet above sea level.
Upon hearing that the Chief, PC, was in the area, the local officials and the residents flocked to the detachment to catch a glimpse of Ramos.
Ramos asked why, and was told that low lying clouds had enveloped the mountain and it was dangerous to fly, to which he retorted: “In Vietnam, I flew in thicker soup (clouds) than that.”
Prompting the Air Force captain to retort, “Sir, in Vietnam you had a lot of fuel, we only have enough to fly to Baguio.”
So Ramos meekly told his group composed of senior Constabulary officers and defense reporters: “Okay guys, let’s stay here for the night.”
Thus, an officer with three “Vicks” – slang for the junior officer’s shoulder buttons – won an argument with somebody wearing three stars (lieutenant general).”
Note: The rank insignia of lieutenants and captains in the military is a triangle with an “H” in the middle, thus the troops fondly call it “Vicks” after the triangle-shaped sore throat relievers.
When ‘Vicks’ became replacement for ice
In a trip to Samar, Ramos flew to a detachment, again based on top of a hill.
Upon reaching the detachment, Ramos was pleased to note that the commander, a grizzly sarge, was wearing stiffly starched fatigues and his accouterments and combat boots were shined.
As sarge was briefing the visiting officers led by Ramos on the peace and order situation in his AOR, or area of responsibility, a soldier served nilagang kamoteng kahoy with niyog.
After the visitors had their fill, the soldier returned and served water and Vicks candies.
As the visitors looked askance, sarge said: Dito po sa bundok walang yelo. Pero kung may Vicks ka sa bibig paginom ng tubig, malamig na rin ang dating.
You should have seen Ramos’ look of amusement.
‘Mushrooms’ at headquarters
In a visit to a regional command as the command conference was winding up, Ramos told the members of his general staff to announce their activities regarding the region.
After the chiefs of personnel, intelligence, operations and logistics have delivered their pieces, the chief of plans prefaced his announcement, saying: “Sir, I observed that units in the field are not sending reports on time, and – suddenly and in a loud voice menacingly turned to the deputy regional commander who was his PMA classmate — said, ‘What do you think of us at headquarters? Mushrooms? You keep us in the dark, you feed at sh—t and you want us to grow’?”
Ramos quickly defused the situation by saying, “Okay, mushrooms from Manila let’s have our lunch.”
One time, a group of brash young officers went to Ramos’s office and told him: Sir, we are withdrawing our support for the government.”
Ramos told them in a voice more like a father scolding a wayward son: “What did you say? You are withdrawing support for the government? Look at yourselves, you are wearing government-issued uniforms, you are carrying government-issued firearms and are eating government-issued rations.
“When I withdrew support for the government in February 1986, I did not wear a uniform and I did not carry government-issued firearms.”
The young officers left Ramos’s office with downcast eyes.
(Nonnie Pelayo covered the military and defense beats during the most tumultuous period in the history of the armed services. He covered FVR as chief, PC/DG, INP; CSAFP and SND from the early 1980s to the early 1990s.)