On Civility and Death
I express my condolences to the Aquino family and the entire Filipino nation on the demise of former President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino, III who died and was buried last week. As I said in the statement I issued to the press, I admired the former President who was a political opponent in 2010 and a coalition partner in 2013. Many people couldn’t grasp this at that time. How could bitter rivals become allies? I guess some cannot understand that differences can be set aside for the greater good.
First of all, I believe in decency and civility. And yes, that includes the arena of politics which many regard as being filled with deceit and lies. When I was still in public service, I always assumed that everyone of my fellow servants in government and politicians have the interest of the nation at heart; that they entered politics and government in order to serve the people. That’s how I viewed Noynoy even as we engaged in a political battle for the presidency. He was a public servant who had a vision for the country. My vision and my strategies differ from his but I do not question his desire to make our country better. Politics is an arena of competing ideas with the people as ultimate judges.
And I also do not believe in burning bridges. I believe in building bridges. I do not see politics as an excuse to pummel a political opponent to the ground. I believe in reaching out and working together with others in order to achieve common goals. I learned this in business and especially when I was Speaker of the House of Representatives leading more than 200 men and women who had their own constituencies.
Second, losing someone you love is a human experience that goes beyond politics. We all experience it and we all expect other people — friend or foe — to give us respect and privacy in order to grieve. I went and visited the wake of his mother, former President Corazon Aquino in 2009 to pay my respect to her as an icon of democracy and a former leader of the land but also to offer some words of comfort to the grieving family. Losing someone is painful and sometimes it is the love and solace provided by the people around you that keep you going.
Cory was no stranger to me. During my first campaign for a seat in the Senate in 2001, she helped me by inviting me to meet with her in churches in the different towns all over Luzon. She was praying the rosary in all of these towns and she wanted me to join her. One of her paintings still hangs on the walls of my house.
When my mother died in January 2016, I appreciated very much President Noynoy’s commiseration and words of comfort. Perhaps because he knew how painful it was to lose a mother. My mother taught me everything about how to become a successful entrepreneur and a decent man. She would always tell me, in the middle of our small shrimps and fish stall in Divisoria, to play fair and work hard. It was painful to lose someone who helped shape what you have become. And it was my family, my friends, and everyone else that made it a bit bearable.
It was also gracious of President Rodrigo Duterte to offer a moment of silence for his predecessor during his speech. But I was particularly moved by his call for Filipinos to set aside their differences to honor Noynoy and his declaration of a 10-day period of national mourning for the late President. These acts of civility are important to our political environment especially now when everyone seems to have attack dogs ready to pounce on political rivals when reasoned debate won’t work anymore.
President Noynoy has done his tour of duty, both as president and as a person. Just like everyone else, and just like everything else in life, there have been triumphs and miscalculations. His legacy as a public servant will be judged by history not by political partisans. His contributions to the country will be assessed by our people not by bots and trolls. His judgment as a human being will come from those who genuinely know him and above all The Almighty who created us all.