Fidel Ramos and the Australian Centre for Democratic Institutions

CANBERRA – On 26 November 1998, Fidel Ramos (former president of the Philippines) was invited to Australia to give the Inaugural Annual Address at the newly created “democracy promoting” organisation – the Australian Centre for Democratic Institutions. So what you may ask? Well, one vital question remains unasked: how did the former acting Chief of Staff for the military under Ferdinand Marcos’s dictatorship become a figurehead for democracy?

To answer this question, it is necessary to go back to the 1980s – when the Marcos regime was finally coming to an end – to examine what Fidel Ramos was up to behind the scenes.

If we look back to just before the fall of the Marcos regime in 1986, Fidel’s democratic credentials do not appear to be too strong. Especially when you consider that General Fidel Ramos a long-time loyalist to Marcos was acting as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). In 1985, Ramos, seeing the futility of supporting a crumbling regime, was joined by General Juan Ponce Enrile in helping organise a military reformers’ revolt, which was crucial in opposing Marcos’s bid to steal the elections.

In the newly elected Aquino administration, Ramos was rewarded for his help in ousting Marcos by being appointed Chief of Staff of the AFP, and later Secretary of Defense. Then in 1992 when Cory Aquino left office, Ramos was elected president, a position he held until 1998. After his presidency, Ramos became a committed “champion for democracy” by taking up a position as the Asia Advisor Board Member for the infamous Carlyle Group, that is, until the board was disbanded in 2004.

Maybe I am being too pessimistic by belittling his commitment to democratic reform. After all, he did help overthrow Marcos by getting the military onside; that is, onside with the elite replacement party headed by Cory Aquino and Salvador “Doy” Laurel (who prior to 1980 was a long-time Marcos loyalist). So if there are no obvious links between democracy and Ramos, what is the link between Ramos and the Australian government funded Centre for Democratic Institutions (CDI)? To start with, both are friends with the US based National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which is currently receiving widespread alternative media notoriety due to its “democracy promotion” work in Venezuela. In 1997, Louisa Coan, Program Officer for Asia NED commenting on the establishment of the CDI, noted that they were “pleased to see the establishment of such a sister institution in Australia.” In fact, on closer inspection the role of the CDI seems to be identical to that of the NED: that is to “promote democracy” or more precisely – as Professor William I. Robinson more fittingly suggests – to promote polyarchy.

Ramos’s involvement with the NED is more cloudy, but it is clear that the NED was heavily involved in “promoting democracy” in the Philippines. For example, the NED funded the initially unpopular and conservative Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) to the sum of almost US$7 million between 1984 and 1991. Professor Robinson suggests that the US government and the NED worked hard to get the AFP to overthrow Marcos, as their revolt served to effectively dissipate the energy of the powerful and militant labour movement, which was planning to protest the stolen elections. The militaries preemptive action circumscribed the need for massive social protests – which were to include economic boycotts and a general strike – and left the Aquino government more in debt to the AFP than the labour movement. This helped to ensure a smooth societal transition from authoritarianism to polyarchy, instead of any semblance to popular democracy. Which brings us full circle, with Ramos giving the Inaugural Annual Address at the Australian CDI. Needless to say, despite the Philippines experiences with the “democracy promoting” activities of the NED, Ramos made no mention of them in his talk.

Furthermore, in Australia not one person has written anything remotely critical about the CDI’s activities. The only CDI related article refers to a protest held in 1999 outside of a conference they organised, which examined the transition to democracy in East Timor. The protest took place because pro-Indonesian militia leader Basilio Araujo (leader of an organisation called Forum Persatuan Demokrasi Dan Keadilan – FPDK – or Forum for Unity) had been invited to participate in the conference. Questions need to be asked, and asked now. It is vital that we understand what these government driven “democracy promoting” activities entail, so we can judge for ourselves whether they are benign, or as in the NED’s case, linked to elite strategic interests.

To get the ball rolling, a number of people (including this author) have placed resources relating to the CDI and NED online at This is a wikipedia site that can be updated and accessed by anyone.

References Coan, Louisa. “Promoting Democracy in Asia.” Congressional Testimony by Federal Document Clearing House, 1997. Peake, Ross. “Demonstrators Protest against “Hitman” at Anu Workshop.” The Canberra Times 28 April, 1999, 1. Robinson, William I. Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, Us Intervention, and Hegemony. Cambridge [England] ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

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