Supercitizens of Pampanga
Controversial during his lifetime, Luis M. Taruc was declared a hero by the National Historical Commission a few weeks ago and a dozen years after his death.
Peasant hero. Pooh-poohing the polemic besieging him, the Inquirer editorialized (6/28/17): “Patriots are real people who lead complicated lives.” This was affirmed by my fellow columnist John Nery (7/4/17): “… [O]ur understanding of heroism is various; it takes all kinds of heroes, to make a nation.”
A hero to some, a heel to others, and checkered Taruc’s life may have been, but to me he was a distant, self-appointed counselor.
Though I never met him personally, he wrote me occasionally in the late 1950s when I was president of the Far Eastern University Central Student Organization (FEUCSO) and of the National Union of Students (NUS). While hailing my scrambles as a student leader, he urged me, as a former newsboy and bootblack, to lead the peasants in their struggle for liberation.
Though he joined the Socialist Party of Pedro Abad Santos, he was more awed by another “cabalen,” Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos, who was martyred by the Japanese invaders during World War II for refusing to collaborate.
Huk supremo. Known as the “supremo” of the Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon (People’s Army Against the Japanese) or “Hukbalahap” during World War II, Taruc recalled fond memories of my father, who like him was born and reared in Pampanga. I could not double-check his avowal of comradeship because my father had passed to the Great Beyond when he wrote me.
Taruc’s letters led me to admire the single-mindedness of Jose Maria Sison and Satur Ocampo, my contemporaries who carried their student activism in the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) to the National Democratic Front.
I might have joined them had it not been for the more persuasive influence of Alejandro Roces, then a towering figure at FEU (who later became an outstanding secretary of education under President Diosdado Macapagal, another supercitizen of Pampanga) and of Fr. Michael Nolan, the FEU chaplain, both of whom encouraged me to organize and head the NUS which opposed the KM.
Taruc’s son, Romeo, a medical student and a member of the FEUCSO, was my avid ally when I was president, and later my compadre in adult life.
Celebrated icon. Another compelling Pampangueño is Amando M. Tetangco Jr., who just retired as an internationally acclaimed governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). While Taruc was unabashedly controversial, Tetangco is universally celebrated, and while the former was a firebrand rebel, the latter is a soft-spoken establishment icon.
Much has been said about Tetangco’s ingenuity and integrity. But what, in my humble view, sets him apart is his objectivity and uncanny ability to be nonpartisan in navigating monetary and economic imponderables amid sometimes very political environments, despite the BSP’s lack of constitutionally-guaranteed independence. (The BSP was created by a mere statute, not by the Constitution.)
The best testimony of this fact is his appointment to his first 6-year term by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and his reappointment to an unprecedented second 6-year term by President Benigno Aquino III, who loathed the politics of his predecessor. And had he agreed to continue serving, I think Congress would have amended the law to allow President Duterte (who had no love for his predecessor either) to name him to a third 6-year term.
He was succeeded by his protégé, the equally competent and genteel Nestor A. Espenilla Jr. (another junior!) who, as deputy governor, wielded the big stick on private banks. If the judiciary learns a lesson or two from the way the BSP firmly disciplines erring banks, it may yet solve the perennial complaint of delayed justice by strictly enforcing the constitutional limits on the period for resolving cases.
As a further tribute to the laissez faire given by President Duterte to his economic team led by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Espenilla is joined by two talented bankers, Peter Favila and Antonio Abacan Jr. (a junior also!), who were recently inducted to the Monetary Board, the equivalent of the Supreme Court in the banking community.
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