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At Large

The speech we needed to hear

“Why was VP Leni’s presscon like that?” queried a meme that appeared on FB Monday evening. It then went on to enumerate the many ways that the Vice President’s address was unusual: “She didn’t rant, she didn’t curse, she spoke in complete sentences, her thoughts were coherent, the steps she outlined were clear, she started on time.”

In contrast, I suppose, to the weekly report or infrequent public appearances of the President, who not only peppers his speeches with rants and curses (and “the finger”), but also speaks stream-of-consciousness style, rambling and incoherent. His Monday addresses supposedly on the COVID-19 crisis usually begins at midnight or even beyond it, and hardly touches on the country’s health crisis, such that most citizens have learned to tune him off.

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Yes, why indeed did Robredo conduct herself in that way? Just to set a dramatic contrast to Mr. Duterte?

Whatever, at least the VP delivered the speech that the entire country had been waiting for since the pandemic hit our shores. PDuts had squandered all of his opportunities to reassure, sympathize, inform, educate, and inspire our beleaguered populace. But with a single address, the VP made a cogent summary of the problems we contend with — health and economy — what we should as a nation be doing, from the national level to that of the community and family.

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She enumerated 11 steps that need to be made, from addressing the shortfall in health care and supplies, helping our frontline heroes in their daily battles, lifting the economy, assuaging growing hunger, and instilling leadership in government officials, business leaders, and civic groups.

“It is not difficult to understand the sentiments of many,” she said in her speech in Filipino. “There seems to be no one steering, no direction is set, no clear horizon that will tell us when and how the pandemic is to be addressed. It’s like we just need to be given a little hand-out and then it’s up to you to stay locked up at home and live without fear. The blame even falls on us if anybody gets infected or dies — because we are stubborn.”

Then VP Leni issued a challenge: “If no one wants to lead, then we ourselves will make the move, we ourselves will help each other, we ourselves will lead, we shall carry out whatever needs to be done to defeat whatever challenge we face, in the name of our fellow citizens.

“My faith is strong. In the belief, in the commitment, but most of all, in our unity we can overcome this crisis.”

* * *

And on that note, I’d like to inform readers that this will be the last time that “At Large” will be making an appearance on this page. I was informed that the decision to cut short my column’s tenure was made as part of the paper’s “cost-cutting” measures.

This brings to a close about 30 years’ worth of appearances of this column in the Opinion section. If I remember right, it made its debut about a year after I joined the paper as Opinion editor, first coming out once a week, then at various frequencies. For a number of years it was even a daily column, and before my retirement, it was coming out four times a week before the frequency was cut down to once a week.

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Through all those years, it has been a joy, a pleasure, sometimes a chore, many times a hard, plodding effort to put these 700-plus words into pieces that made sense and carried a message, or at the very least entertained you enough to want to get to the last word. I always believed that it wasn’t so much talent that made for a long-lasting columnist as it was stamina. One needed energy and persistence and drive to keep meeting those deadlines, chase after sources, verify facts, and dodge the odd complaint or libel suit.

Thank you to those who made this column possible: former editor Dick Pascual who asked if I wanted to write a column alongside my responsibilities as editor; our founder Eggie Apostol with her then associate publisher Letty Jimenez Magsanoc who transformed “At Large” into a daily column; and the Opinion editors I worked with, namely Jorge Aruta, Chato Garcellano, and now Gibbs Cadiz. Most of all, to all of you dear readers — in print or online — who kept the faith and ran the race. It’s been a wild ride!

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TAGS: At Large, coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus philippines, COVID-19, leni robredo, Rina Jimenez-David
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