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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

'Not Ramos the Second'

A roundabout chat with Renato de Villa


DEFENSE SECRETARY RENATO DE Villa insists he is not campaigning. Nonetheless, on regular trips to help train villagers to prepare for natural disasters, he presses a lot of flesh and invariably is referred to as "the next president." Last week, de Villa embarked on a one-day sortie to northern Luzon provinces (using government resources and vehicles). On the return flight to Manila, over the din of the helicopter's rotor, he discussed his political future with Senior Correspondent Antonio Lopez. Excerpts from the hour-long chat:

Why are you running?

Essentially [because] there is a challenge of the times. [It] must be responded to [with] a leadership that is along non-traditional political lines and meets the need for continuity of the present programs of the government and the need to respond to a number of other problems besetting the country -- peace and order, drugs, crime, the Mindanao [separatist] problem, graft and corruption, and efficiency in the delivery of services. Compared with the others, I feel I'm qualified to aspire for national leadership.

Will President Ramos anoint you?

The president has not indicated the person he would prefer to succeed him. It is a question of self-confidence. You ask [House] Speaker [Jose] de Venecia; he will tell you he is very confident that he will become the standard-bearer of the party. I go further by saying that as a matter of gut feel, I have an edge over the others. But don't ask me why.

Would you become Ramos the Second?

I don't think that is a correct description. Aside from our military careers, we really come from different backgrounds and we have had different experiences. But certainly we have similar thinking on a number of issues, and it is really for this reason that through different crises in the recent past we were always together. But that doesn't mean that in everything else we are the same. It can't be that the next administration under me, if I am gifted with such a responsibility, will be a Ramos II administration. There are many programs in the Ramos administration that must be maintained and sustained.

Which ones will you not pursue?

Maybe it's not a question of not pursuing but a question of modifying. But I should not be specific at this time. It may be too presumptuous when I have not even gone through the primary.

Will you win?

I am confident that I can win the respect and confidence of the majority of our people, given that I will be a candidate of the [ruling] party. As the official candidate, I will have much greater opportunity. This is also relative to who is the opposition. In any contest, you always consider the opponent.

Who is your toughest opponent?

I really do not know if the popularity of frontrunners in the popularity surveys is convertible automatically into votes. Offhand, if you are using only popularity surveys as basis, then obviously it's the vice president [Joseph Estrada] and Sen. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. As for the others, I reserve my comment.

Why is Big Business for you?

I do not know very much about that. I cannot count among them a dozen as my close personal friends. But it is perhaps because they have been observing the government, and they have knowledgeable people who must have given them the equivalent perhaps of a personality profile. On that basis, they made a conclusion on who to like and who to dislike for the position of president.

Have you appeal among the masses?

I really don't know. There are those who say I should now concentrate my exposure effort on the masses. Those people down there do not normally relate to my function as secretary of defense. There are, however, those who relate to my function as chairman of the National Disaster Coordinating Council. Among calamity victims, I have a high rating. Let's face it, there are only a few regions that have always been [hit] by a calamity or something.

Is the bureaucracy being militarized?

They [critics] don't understand the meaning of militarized. They want to equate militarized with assigning ex-military men to government. We should only appoint people who we think are best suited for the job.

Some say there are more ex-soliders in government now than under Marcos.

That's the prerogative of the president. If that is what he wants, does it follow that I will do the same?

Will you?

Watch me.

But they say having so many ex-military men is part of the scheme to perpetuate Ramos in power.

That's bull. It has no basis at all. Those [ex-military] guys are not robots.

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