Remembering in August
“Think back,” presidential aspirant Raul Roco, seemingly lost in a fog of memories, mused in 2004. “Think back on all the tales that you remember of Camelot.”
The words from the 1960s Lerner-Loewe musical cascaded from his lips as he thought back on how King Arthur sang “that once there was a fleeting wisp of glory, called Camelot.”
“We were the Camelot boys,” Roco, then 62, recalled as he scooped out buko from a freshly cracked coconut shell.
In 2004 I was assigned to do a cover story on a presidential candidate for the Sunday Inquirer Magazine. So where else to meet Roco if not in his family’s Antipolo hillside retreat named “An Maogmang Lugar” (Bicolano for “the happy place”), where bloomed countless hibiscus varieties that became the signature design of his campaign getup?
I was recalling all these as I went through the recently launched biography of the former congressman, senator, education secretary and presidential aspirant who suddenly dropped out in the midst of the 2004 election campaign because of ill health. Roco passed away on Aug. 5, 2005. His admirers still speak of him as “the best president this country never had.”
The launch of “Honorary Woman: The Life of Raul S. Roco” by Conrado de Quiros was in time for Roco’s 10th death anniversary; quite timely, too, as politicians, presidential wannabes and the electorate go through confusing scenarios in order to arrive at decisions that could spell good or bad. There is a lot that presidential hopefuls can learn from the political style of Roco, who was a brilliant public speaker.
August also marks the third death anniversary of Jesse Robredo, former mayor of Naga City, recipient of a Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, and interior secretary when he died in a plane crash on Aug. 18, 2012. Robredo’s
sudden death was mourned by so many because of his “tsinelas” style of public service—selfless, focused, action- and people-oriented. Now many people talk of him also as “the best president this country never had.”
That makes two of them—Roco and Robredo—who both hail from Naga City in Camarines Sur. And if their alma mater should matter, one is from San Beda, the other from De La Salle, which are among the country’s best but whose graduates have yet to make it to the highest post of the land.
I did write sometime back that there is something about August. Many of us who are August-born have not failed to notice that many earth-shaking events in this country’s historical timeline happened in August. It is a month when we remember guns, bombs, blood, fire and water, even an earthquake, tearing through our nation’s life. The Plaza Miranda bombing, the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, the death of former president Cory Aquino, etc.
August is also the birth month of, to name some, fiery Filipino leaders, like the wartime president Manuel L. Quezon who pushed for a national language. His birthday was marked yesterday; this week is Linggo ng Wika; and August is Tuberculosis Awareness Month because Quezon died of TB while he was president. (I still have August anti-TB postage stamps in my collection.) Also August-born was Sen. Lorenzo Tañada, against whom the present crop of pygmy lawmakers should be compared and found wanting.
Last Monday, Edsa People Power hero Agapito “Butz” Aquino passed away at the age of 76. The occasional actor, former senator and brother of Ninoy Aquino led antidictatorship protests after Ninoy’s assassination in 1983. He was a strong voice in the Senate and in civil society. He deserves our gratitude.
So life-changing were these August events that when we look back through the veil of mist we can’t help but be overcome by the memories.
Now my remembering goes overseas. August was when India became an independent nation, whose people were, for centuries, subjugated by the British Raj. I have some kind of bond with India because I did some Christian-Hindu spiritual explorations there.
First Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s immortal words, spoken on Aug. 15, 1947: “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, then an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.” Listen to the sound of it.
From “the best presidents this country never had,” here are some words worth remembering.
Roco: “Transparency is the way to fight graft and corruption. Where there is sunlight, there are few microbes. Where there is darkness, there are more microbes. This is the Sunshine Principle.”
“Work without spirituality is meaningless. Spirituality without work is fruitless.”
“There are three forces of change that will be critical in the next century—knowledge, women’s empowerment, and youth participation.”
Robredo (as mayor): “Leadership must be bold and inspiring. It must be energizing, enabling and ennobling, making the bureaucracy and constituency collectively confident in their capacities. Our message was: Your government not only works, it always does things better. Everyone was given the opportunity to prove his worth, but it also became clear to everyone that a no-nonsense leadership was at the helm.”
“Leadership must not only be empowering, it must be inclusive. The Empowerment Ordinance of Naga City is a landmark and revolutionary legislation that has forged a partnership between the city government and people. The Naga City People’s Council was the result of this ordinance which enabled people’s representatives to participate, vote and even propose legislation.”
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