The legacy of Letty Ramos-Shahani

By Melandrew T. Velasco

Among the children of former Foreign Affairs Secretary Narciso R. Ramos, his daughter Leticia Ramos-Shahani comes closest to his achievements in the field of Foreign Service and national politics.

Asked about her remembrances of her father Nachong, Senator Shahani shared the following:

“My father was a man of many parts. I remember him typing his articles furiously with two fingers on the typewriter, or looking smart and elegant in his morning coat on his way to an important diplomatic function, or enjoying a round of golf with friends, or patiently writing letters of recommendation for his constituents, long after he had retired from political life. I believe he never lost his sense of values nor his sense of priorities.”

Like her brother Eddie, Letty studied in the same public elementary school in Lingayen, Pangasinan, and began her secondary education at the University of the Philippines High School in 1941.  She later finished her high school in Washington, D.C., in 1947.

Inspired by her Mamang Ilang (Angela Valdez Ramos) who was an English major, Letty pursued her college studies at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature in 1951.

In 1953 she obtained her Master of Arts in Comparative Literature from Columbia University in New York. In 1962, as a scholar of the French government, she obtained her doctorate in Comparative Literature with highest honors at the famous Sorbonne (University of Paris).

Following the footsteps of her father, who pioneered in opening links to the Socialist countries in the late-1960s, Ambassador Letty R. Shahani started her career in the Foreign Service in 1975, serving as Philippine ambassador for three years to the Socialist Republic of Romania. As the first ambassador to open a Philippine Embassy in any socialist/communist country, she was also concurrently accredited as Philippine ambassador to East Germany and Hungary from 1975 to 1978.  She later became Philippine Ambassador to the Commonwealth of Australia from 1978 to 1980.

Shahani also served in the United Nations for many years in various roles, and she was tapped as a consultant for the Mid-term Evaluation of the Global Program of the UNDP Gender-in-Development Program, from November 1999 to February 2000.

Shahani of the Philippine delegation to the UN General Assembly sessions in 1979 and 1980.  She chaired the Social Cultural and Humanitarian Committee of the General Assembly in 1978 and the Commission of the Status of Women in 1984.  She also chaired the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women in 1986 to 1987.

In 1987 upon the call of President Cory Aquino, she left her UN post and returned to the Philippines to become the deputy minister of Foreign Affairs. Incidentally, Cory’s father, Don Jose “Pepe” Cojuangco, was Nachong’s contemporary in the National Assembly in the late-1930s.

As part of Cory Aquino’s Senate team, Shahani handily won a seat in the Philippine Senate and was reelected in 1992.  In her two Senate terms spanning 12 years, she became in the process the Senate President Pro-Tempore on July 26, 1993, the first woman to be elected in the history of the Philippine Senate to the second highest post of that chamber.

Like her father who sponsored a bill called the Foreign Service Act in the mid-1940s, Shahani counts as one of her major accomplishments the passage of Republic Act 708, otherwise known as the Foreign Service Act of 1991.

In the Senate, she also chaired the Committees on Education, Culture and Arts; Foreign Relations; Agriculture and Food; and Women and Family Relations.  She was a member of the powerful Commission on Appointments from 1987 to 1992, and 1995 to 1996.

Shahani was the main proponent and author of the Moral Recovery Program of the Philippines (MRP), a successful nationwide program aimed at integrating ethical values into nation-building and government service.

Following the footsteps of her father as a journalist, Shahani continues to write opinion columns and as feature writer for several national dailies on culture, foreign policy, social development, women’s rights and the Moral Recovery Program.

She has written several books, among them: The Philippines: The Land and People, Philippine Foreign Policy for our Future, The Moral Imperatives of National Renewal (Readings on The Moral Recovery Program) and Towards the Pacific Century.

As a university instructor, she taught English literature, French, Spanish, Comparative Literature, Humanities, Social Psychology, the Religions and Culture of Asia in well-known institutions: University of the Philippines (1954-1957); Queensborough Community College, New York (1961); Brooklyn College, New York (1962); New School for Social Research, New York (1962-1967).

She once hosted a television magazine talk show called The Shahani Perspective.

In 1968 she became a widow with the death of her husband, Ranjee Shahani, a distinguished writer and professor.  Letty went on to raise her three children—Ranjit, Chanda and Lila—with the help of her parents, Narciso and Angela, who were, at that time, about ready to retire from public service.

She pursued her career as a professor, diplomat, woman’s advocate, moral recovery program proponent and Philippine senator, earning her in the process various awards of distinction.

Good-bye, Manang Letty.

Thank you for your love and service to our country, Senator Leticia Ramos- Shahani!