Former President Fidel V. Ramos (left) talks to the local media at the Philippine Center in Manhattan on Oct. 5 as Prof. W. Scott Thompson, author of Ramos’ latest book, looks on.  (Filipino Reporter photo)

Alarmed by the rising tension between the United States and China over the disputed Spratly Islands, with the Philippines and Vietnam in the middle of it, former President Fidel V. Ramos said the Philippines must avoid adding fuel to the situation and instead work harder to diminish the tensions and prevent any arms conflict between the two superpowers.

At Wednesday’s news conference at the Philippine Center on Fifth Avenue for the Big Apple launch of his biography “Trustee of the Nation,” the 83-year-old statesman said all countries involved in the Spratlys issue must instead direct their forces and resources for fighting international terrorism.

“They are very mobile, very sophisticated and they are still well-financed,” Ramos said of the extremists, calling them the real threats to world peace and security.

Although Ramos does not dismiss the rift at Spratlys — citing three recorded intrusions committed by China in the territorial claims of the Philippines in February, March and April — he said the issue can be settled by “peaceful diplomatic means.”

He said a covenant among the leaders of the Asia-Pacific region can lead to peaceful resolutions binding on all stakeholders, who can jointly explore, develop and exploit any resources in the disputed islands.

In his speech earlier that day at Seton Hall University in West Orange, N.J., Ramos, nonetheless, said he expects the South China Sea tension to continue because of China’s desire to break out from under the global dominance of the U.S.

But Ramos, who was a former military general and secretary of national defense before serving as president from 1992 to 1998, said further arms buildup is the last thing the U.S. and China need at this time.

He said those superpowers won’t be needing multiple nuclear weapons in a showdown, saying one strike alone can cause an unimaginable paralysis to an entire region — including all commerce and trade activities — and destroy lives, properties and infrastructure in an apocalyptic setting.

Ramos said although the Philippines lacks the military capability in major arms conflict, it can make a significant contribution that is productive to all, particularly when it comes to intelligence.

He noted that during his presidency, Philippine authorities busted in 1995 the terrorist cell of Osama bin Laden in Manila led by Ramzi Yousef, and foiled the framework of their plan (known as Oplan Bojinka) to hijack 12 airliners plying the Asia-Pacific-U.S. route and use them as weapons of mass destruction.

One plane was even intended to crash land into the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters in Langley, Virginia, he said.

Ramos, however, lamented that U.S. authorities “failed to connect the dots” and simply disregarded the wealth of intelligence the Philippines had provided that could have prevented 9/11 six years later.

“We have neutralized every terrorism effort of al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia and those extremists who were in the Philippines were all arrested,” Ramos said.

“That’s a very well-written piece of Philippine history that somehow was not appreciated by the Americans.”

“We even aborted the assassination of the Pope (John Paul II) and other important people, including Bill Clinton during his Manila visit,” he added.

Following the news conference, Ramos was met by the Filipino-American community at the Kalayaan Hall of the Philippine Center for the launching of his bio authored by Dr. W. Scott Thompson, professor emeritus at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, who accompanied the former president.

Both Ramos and Thompson, as well as Consul General Mario de Leon, Jr., addressed the crowd before the book signing.

Thompson called Ramos “the greatest president the Philippines ever had” for putting the Philippines in the map of economic world under his administration, and turned the Philippines into an investment haven.

Ramos, for his part, joked that the event felt like a eulogy for him, eliciting laughter from over 100 people in the hall.

“I learned many things about me in the book that I never knew before,” he said.

The world-renowned Philippine Madrigal Singers regaled the crowd.

The choir is in town for its Oct. 8 concert at Merkin Concert Hall in Manhattan at 8 p.m.

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