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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

More than Galahad

/ 10:00 PM August 26, 2012

Do you still remember the names of the knights of the Round Table? I can’t either, except for the four that our literature teacher in Grade 5 emphasized as role models. In fact, we were made to memorize not just their names but the significant traits attached to their names like royal titles.

I remember most Lancelot the Brave (who was dearest to the heart of King Arthur), Percival the Pure, Gawain the  Wise, and Galahad the Good. It was Galahad we wanted to emulate and the one who, we were certain, deserved to find the Holy Grail. (Dan Brown and his “Da Vinci Code” were of course decades away from the printing press.)

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Sir Galahad the Good came to my mind as I was watching, with deep sadness, the necrological services honoring a good man, Secretary Jesse Robredo. And I am glad I was too sick with this very bad case of flu to have written this piece earlier; in fact, I would have skipped submitting a column this time because of my headache. But write I must after I reflected on the remark, made in jest, by Budget Secretary Butch Abad, as he recounted how Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima wondered whether or not, when their own time came, they would be accorded the same glorious sendoff by the entire nation. To this Abad said he told Purisima: Have yourself cremated as soon as possible. Abad’s repartee elicited laughter and even the clapping of hands, giving much-needed relief to those attending the very sad and somber occasion.

But underneath the self-deprecating remark and the ensuing laughter, Purisima no doubt expressed a very serious concern. How many among us in government could be like Secretary Robredo?

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Just as we in that Grade 5 class, groping our way through what Blake called the auguries of our innocence, had wondered: “Can we be as good as Sir Galahad?”

Then, out into the world of making a living, making compromises, pleasing superiors, striving to be “good team players”—in short, struggling to survive and striving to climb up the ladder according to set systems and values against which we were helpless, Sir Galahad got lanced through, so thoroughly and mortally, not even his ghost dared haunt us for fear of resurrection.

We all know what happened to Secretary Robredo when he kept the faith, certain that he would find the Holy Grail. The accolades came too late and the pageantry a balm for the conscience-stricken.

And while it may be true that it was the assassination of Ninoy Aquino that inspired and motivated the secretary to heed the call of public service, it is the most loved president, Ramon Magsaysay he came nearest to being.

With Magsaysay, as with Secretary Robredo, the throngs came to wail and weep, the entire nation mourned in grief. All because both of them were good.

One of the speakers at the memorial service described Robredo’s “tsinelas leadership.” In an interview Secretary Robredo described himself as “a servant leader.” Both of which defined Ramon Magsaysay, “the man of the masses.” It was so fitting that Jesse, while he was still alive, was honored with the award named after Magsaysay. But why do the Sir Galahads who very rarely come into our midst have to die in plane crashes in their prime?

And so it was with dismay that I listened to television interviews of some personalities  already issuing statements, obviously meant for the ears of President Aquino about their preferences in the choice of the next interior and local government secretary, even with Jesse not buried yet—statements so contrived that only the severely mentally challenged cannot read between the lines.

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“Kailangan mabait, hindi bayolente, etc., etc.,” in obvious reference, I am sure, to either Vice President Jejomar Binay and Sen. Panfilo Lacson, both contenders for the post.

Well, who doesn’t want a Sir Galahad at this time? The times are severely in need of one. But the question is, are we prepared for him?

Dream all we can about such a one, but in dreaming, let us have a reality check.

The responsibilities and duties of the secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government are, as everyone except the self-deluded know, the most taxing—physically and mentally—among all Cabinet positions and responsibilities. They’re so enormous, they are not for the faint-hearted, however blessed with the heart of a saint the candidates for the post may be. And Secretary Robredo knew this, which is why he succeeded.

The position is of such impact and importance that the entire government machinery and the national security can succeed or fail according to how President Aquino and the interior and local government secretary run this department. It is definitely not a walk in the park for anyone, however “mabait,” however honed in local governance.

The Philippines is not only Luzon or Metro Manila where there are CCTV cameras and the people can shame an abusive motorist, a corrupt politician or even solve a crime just through social media. The government has to deal with armed groups, warlords, criminal syndicates, vice lords, blatantly corrupt nonperforming local politicians, political dynasties and guns, guns, guns.

To even hope to succeed in confronting these bad elements, the interior and local government secretary must be one who has the proven support and respect of the entire nation, one who has proven this by winning national elections.

And it is certainly not for women, the gentle nurturer, even if they became president, real or fake.

Thank you and go in peace, Jesse Robredo. Philippine politics was never meant for one as beautiful as you.

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