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Ramos Claims Victory in Philippine Election : Politics: Snail-paced counting continues. Former defense secretary says he leads race, yet has barely 24% of total vote.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Moving to end growing political uncertainty here, former Defense Secretary Fidel V. Ramos, who once helped extinguish Philippine democracy and later helped restore it, finally claimed victory Saturday in the bitterly fought May 11 presidential election and pledged to “bridge the gaps that divide us.”

Even as Ramos met reporters in a hotel ballroom, congressmen and senators loyal to rival campaigns traded charges of cheating and squabbled over rules as they continued a snail-paced counting and certification of municipal and provincial vote tallies. The bicameral legislature must proclaim the president by June 30, when President Corazon Aquino leaves office, or cause a constitutional crisis.

With nearly 86% of the estimated 24 million votes separately tallied in an authorized but unofficial count, Ramos led his nearest rival, former Judge Miriam Defensor Santiago, by more than 800,000 votes. Since seven candidates ran, however, Ramos’ plurality was barely 24% of the total vote.

Ramos promised to “eventually win the mandate of the majority” after he is inaugurated as the eighth president of America’s only former colony. The 64-year-old ex-general and West Point graduate would be the first career military man and the first Protestant to be elected president in Asia’s only Roman Catholic country.

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Grinning broadly and clutching his trademark unlit cigar in his left hand, Ramos said he was claiming victory “not in triumph but in all humility, awed by the tremendous responsibilities of the presidency and mindful of the hard work and sacrifices that the next six years will demand from every one of us.”

In an interview Friday with The Times, Ramos insisted that “continuity of policy and programs” is crucial for stability as he moves to take the reins of government from Aquino, who provided key support to his campaign. But he repeatedly said he won’t be “a Xerox copy” of Aquino, and offered his first implicit criticism of her coup-ridden, crisis-driven administration.

“How can you repeat the deficiencies, the defects and the shortcomings?” he asked. “You must improve. Mrs. Aquino would want that too.”

Although he has never before held an elected office, Ramos insisted that the cautious, often plodding, management style that gave him the nickname “Steady Eddie” during 40 years in the military is adequate to lead a volatile country racked by poverty, military unrest and political chaos.

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“There are people who act impulsively or shoot from the hip. But I’m not one of those. . . . A good general must gather his forces first . . . while protecting his flanks, and then with one blow, finish (the enemy) off decisively. That is my style. . . . At a higher level, you have to be a little more deliberate in your decisions.”

So far, Ramos has given few details of his plans. Asked his goals for his first 100 days, he repeated a broad five-point program from his campaign that stresses restoring stability and rebuilding the economy but doesn’t say how. One of his few sure commitments is to form a Council of Economic Advisers.

He probably will need them. The economy, stagnant last year, is now reeling from an electric power crisis that has caused daily blackouts, ranging from four to 15 hours, across the main island of Luzon since March. The outages are likely to last at least another year.

Ramos, who said his own gas-powered generator at home conked out from overuse, offered several stopgap solutions but did not appear overly concerned. “The power shortage, while it is felt very keenly here in Manila, is not the problem of Mr. and Mrs. Juan de la Cruz who farm out in rural Pangasinan,” he said, using a John Doe type of name.

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More than half the 64 million Filipinos live in stark poverty. In Manila and other cities, millions of landless and jobless squatters live in squalid shacks with no drinking water or sanitation. Much of central Luzon’s rice bowl remains devastated by last year’s eruption of the Mt. Pinatubo volcano, and the departure this fall of the last U.S. forces from Subic Bay Naval Base will add to double-digit unemployment and widespread rural hardship.

Ramos said that he would seek “an early review of the entire range of relations” with Washington, but he declined to say if he would permit U.S. military forces to regain limited access to the Philippines. The rejection by the Philippine Senate last September of a new lease for the Subic base, he said, “may have given the wrong signal to our friends that we are isolationist. We must continue to keep our doors open.”

The country still fights Asia’s last Communist insurgency, and right-wing rebel military officers, who have launched seven failed mutinies and coups, have vowed to use terrorism if necessary to block Ramos. His own party, the Lakas EDSA-National Union of Christian Democrats, faces additional battles in a fractious Congress dominated by politicians loyal to his six rivals for the presidency. Even his expected vice president, potbellied former film star Joseph Estrada, ran on an opposing ticket.

Ramos’ apparent victory in a relatively peaceful election comes 20 years after he helped destroy Philippine democracy. In 1972, as head of the powerful paramilitary Constabulary, he helped his second cousin, President Ferdinand E. Marcos, launch eight years of martial law. Published excerpts of Marcos’ diary say Ramos “drew up the list of those to be arrested,” including Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr., Marcos’ chief rival and husband of now-President Aquino.

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Ramos stayed loyal to Marcos, even after Sen. Aquino was assassinated in 1983. But the murder triggered a political crisis, and in February, 1986, Ramos suddenly switched sides and joined a military mutiny. That led to the “people power” revolt that toppled Marcos from power. He became one of President Aquino’s most trusted aides and helped her survive seven attempted coups and mutinies.


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