The Patriots: Lorenzana and Del Rosario
Ours is an age of unbridled power grabs, feisty populism and shameless publicity. Or, at least, that is the grim, dreary and gloomy picture some pundits like to paint vis-à-vis our political classes and broader state institutions. And it’s hard to blame them for such excessive lamentations, given the “Game of Thrones”-like politicking we have seen in recent times.
A growing number of citizens have lost trust in our leaders. But, like all generalizations, this cynical prism overlooks the patriotism and competence also present in the mandarins and bureaucrats of the world. They are our unsung heroes, collectively acting as enduring glues that bind our ever-restless nations together, though often away from the glare of media frenzy. It’s they, more than the media-savvy politicians and their coterie of opportunistic attendants, who are the epitome of patriotism.
In the Philippines, I have had the privilege of getting to know a great number of such figures, a cadre of highly competent and dedicated women and men who have brought excellence and honor to our state institutions. They serve as the antidote to the unruly politics that has come to define much of our elected officialdom.
From my personal experience, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario are two of them. Each has been known more in the context of their respective principals—Benigno Aquino III (Del Rosario) and Rodrigo Duterte (Lorenzana). Yet, even a cursory look at their careers attest to their pedigree as exemplars of true public service.
Lorenzana, a fellow Ilocano born in Mindanao, was a former commander of the Light Armored Brigade and member of the Presidential Security Group, where he directly protected the lives of three presidents throughout the decades. Aside from being a highly decorated soldier, Lorenzana was also a defense attaché at the Philippine Embassy in Washington (2002-2004) and later led the Office of Veterans Affairs at the same institution.
Thanks to his tireless efforts, Lorenzana successfully lobbied the American government to allocate $265 million for Filipino veterans of World War II, who fought valiantly alongside their American counterparts against Imperial Japan. It was during those early years of diplomatic service that he forged a strong professional and personal bond with Del Rosario, who served as an ambassador to the United States in the earlier years of the Arroyo administration.
Del Rosario’s career highlights were his principled resignation from a highly prized diplomatic post in response to deteriorating democratic conditions in the Philippines in the mid-2000s and, later, his key role in shepherding the Philippines’ legal warfare (lawfare) against China to secure our rights in the West Philippine Sea.
As foreign secretary, he also oversaw, with utmost professionalism and bereft of self-serving publicity, the safe and sound repatriation of thousands of overseas Filipino workers at the height of the Arab uprisings.
The media has been recently abuzz with supposed differences between the two gentlemen over the West Philippine Sea issue, particularly on the usefulness of the Philippines’ landmark arbitration award at The Hague against China. Yet, what this false narrative of supposed disagreement between the two conceals is that they represent the two sides of the same coin: patriotic defense of the Philippines’ national interest.
Each has brought his own victory for the Philippines. Del Rosario oversaw a successful legal campaign that won the Philippines a crucial bargaining chip vis-à-vis China. Absent the arbitration award, which has riled Beijing and questioned its legitimacy as a regional leader, the Philippines would have been almost completely at the mercy of China’s “goodwill.” It was under Lorenzana, meanwhile, that the Philippines, after decades of delay, fortified its presence on the ground, particularly in Pag-asa and other land features under the country’s control.
So long as we have public servants like Lorenzana and Del Rosario in our midst, we have every reason to hope and fight for our country.
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