When President Fidel V. Ramos of the Philippines plays host at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Manila next month, his accomplishments will be in plain view. Construction is booming, the telephone system is being upgraded, and a light-railway system is being built. With the economy bustling along, growth rates could soon reach 8%. An ambitious privatization program has helped Ramos balance the budget, while reforms in areas from education to housing have demonstrated to citizens and foreign investors alike that democracy and development aren't mutually exclusive. Under Ramos' steady hand, the country that was once one of Asia's laggards has been transformed.
It's a welcome change for Filipinos, who endured years of the iron-willed rule of Ferdinand Marcos only to cope with the indecision and political instability of Cory Aquino's presidency. Former General Ramos, some grateful Filipinos believe, should be allowed to govern beyond the six-year term stipulated by the Philippine constitution. Ramos himself is said to be contemplating a second term, which would require a constitutional amendment. The prospect evokes some unpleasant but familiar memories: Marcos repeatedly initiated legislative changes to solidify his dictatorship.
It's true that the economic transformation of the Philippines is incomplete. Corruption and red tape remain problems, infrastructure needs to be shored up, and tax reforms are needed to ensure future fiscal health. Ramos may address some of these issues in the remaining 17 months of his term, but there will doubtless be unfinished business. No matter. Ramos should take the high road and exit office at the end of his constitutionally mandated term.