Under the administration of the late president Fidel Valdez Ramos, the media enjoyed unparalleled freedom although in the provinces some community and radio reporters were assassinated by political and business interests they had crossed.

Many of these journalists reported on illegal activities, such as gambling, prostitution, illegal logging, and drug traffikcing. But those working in the capital region had a lot of leeway.

Ramos was the most accessible leader in the post-EDSA period. He held a weekly news conference, every Wednesday afternoon, at the Heroes Hall of Malacañang Palace, whenever he was in Manila.

He also had press conferences in the provinces and in foreign capitals during his trips abroad. He also generously gave exclusive interviews to all media organizations that made the request.

Journalists never saw Ramos blow his top at reporters even when he was directly asked if a socialite became his mistress. He just smiled and denied it.

If he got angry, Ramos never showed it in public. He even scolded his own security men for preventing reporters from coming close to him during chance interviews, or what is normally known as “ambush” interviews.

He was at ease in the presence of journalists. He laughed at the jokes hurled on him during annual “Gridiron” presentation at the National Press Club, enjoying his impersonation by ABS-CBN’s Tony Velasquez. Tony could copy Ramos’ voice, including his accent and intonation. And Ramos gamely posed during group pictures with journalists.

Ramos’ friendly relations with journalists was genuine. He would write notes when journalists he personally knew achieved milestones, celebrated birthdays and anniversaries, gave birth, or saw a loved one passed on.

He valued the media and he completely understood the role of a free press in vibrant democracy. He had, afterall, restored and defended democracy and long wanted to be remembered as a fighter for democracy.

He actually demonstrated that early in his career when he fought North Korean communists in the trenches in the Korean peninsula in 1950 and later as a non-combatant member of a civic action group in Vietnam in the late 1960s.

His experiences in Vietnam led him to organize an elite military unit to fight unconventional warfare – the Special Forces Regiment (Airborne) – and replicated it in the defunct Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police (PC-INP) with the Special Action Force.

But Ramos’s transformation as a media-savvy official did not happen overnight. He was a stern, no nonsense, and straight-forward general in his 38 years in the military service.

He was impatient and would walk out of a news conference in Camp Aguinaldo if the reporters were too adversarial and questioned his credentials as a soldier.

Pikon din pala si FVR. As a general before EDSA, he was aloof and was seen as a “god” in Camp Aguinaldo. He would wave off journalists rushing to him for an ambush interview when he was the vice chief of staff.

There could be two things that influenced Ramos’ transformation into a media-savvy general: his political ambitions and his training, experience and expertise in psychological operations (psy-ops) warfare.

Ramos knew that the media was a valuable asset and could be used to advance and promote an interest if properly used.

In the four-day EDSA uprising, he recognized the power of the press to influence the outcome of the crisis. The dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, lost his credibility. Even if he was telling the truth, the people no longer believed him.

Ramos knew the forces behind Juan Ponce Enrile were weak in the media. He was projecting a position of strength, announcing defection of military units in the field.

He also prematurely announced the departure of the dictator from the presidential palace with his famous “jump” in Camp Crame to rejoice in the defeat of Marcos. Marcos and his family would not leave Malacañang until 9 p.m. that day.

All throughout the Cory Aquino years when her government faced more than six coup attempts, Ramos knew how to use the media to his advantage by getting the people’s public opinion to the government’s side.

But that was the time when there was still no social media.

Ramos’ skills and expertise would be put to test in debunking false information spreading in Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Tiktok.

As early as 2016, there were rumors and false information that he had died in a London hospital, in an apparent suicide. He was also maligned.

Rodrigo Duterte mastered disinformation under a new information ecosystem, manipulating public opinion by hiring his own keyboard warriors.

Duterte hated the legacy media, which was critical of his government. He relied on his army of social media influencers, vloggers and content creators to defend his administration.

Ramos could not have survived the digital age information wars. He belonged to the old school. He stuck to the traditional and to the old values of accuracy, fairness, and impartial reporting.

He still had his news clippings every morning and until the end, he continued to scribble notes with his red pen on the edges of the news clippings.

Old habits never die. Ramos was truly a friend of the news media until the end. The outpouring of emotions, tributes and sympathies extended to his family when he died on July 31 were a testament to how he had touched lives in his more than 70 years as a public servant.

The Ramos presidency was the golden age of the Philippine press in the post-EDSA period.