5 lessons from the best president we never had

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AS EASY AS ABC By Atty. Alex B. Cabrera (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 27, 2017 – 12:00am

At an age when we were barely stepping out of high school life, he lived a life of a zealous journalist. At 17, he rather insisted and did cover the Philippine troops in the Korean War for the Manila Times. At a time when we were beginning to enjoy the first paychecks of our young adult lives, he was a mayor of a town in Tarlac at 22. When many of us were learning how to run a young family, he was running the province as governor at the age of 29.

When we were merely tasting some successes in our careers, he was giving the early conjugal dictatorship a taste of his oratorical venom as the young outstanding senator at 35. He exposed looming militarization and the ostentatious lifestyle of the first couple (especially the first lady) despite a life of abject poverty for many.

When for most men, life begins at 40, for Ninoy, life in incarceration, in solitary confinement at that, began at that age. While men in mid-life would be enjoying striking golf balls in luscious green fairways, Ninoy went on hunger strike in prison to the brink of death. After more than seven years in prison, he was miraculously given heavenly reprieve with his family in Boston, until after just three years, he decided he is prepared to suffer all that life in prison again and risk everything. His most brilliant brain would be blasted when he returned, but his heart lived on in many until the dictatorship was toppled a few years after his death.

These are the lessons from the last Philippine hero that are easily timeless and timely today even, 34 years after his cold murder.

1. Honor the majority, but respect the minority

In a clean and honest election, if the president has been duly elected by the majority, we should rally behind him. Because we believe in the ballot, all should respect the mandate of the majority.

He placed one important qualification: that the minority rights should not be trampled. He did not believe in divide-and-rule or that all who did not vote for the incumbent were enemies of the latter. He believed that every voice and every idea should be freely spoken and heard without fear of persecution.

2. Despite suffering, there is a God. If there is no God, we should invent God.

In solitary confinement, Ninoy was reminded through his readings to count his blessings. He said that if one lists all his heartaches and all his daily gifts (of family, food, and so on), there will be so much to be thankful for that we ignore.

It is actually scary to accept what Ninoy said that because he basked in the glory of being a senator, it was just right for him to suffer the way he did in solitary confinement. He said suffering made him able to testify that there is a God, because without God, no one will reward him for his suffering and all will be for nothing. If there is no God, his consolation, he said, is that he will invent God because it is the only way he can survive. He said the purpose of suffering is so that we will remember Him, because when we are in glory, we forget Him.

3. A wrong cannot be corrected by another wrong.

He believed that the only way to fight violence is through nonviolence so that in the bar of public opinion and before God, the perpetrator of the violence is the only sinner. He mentioned the practical side that in the battle of the guns, the one with more guns and ammunition cannot be defeated and nothing prevails but foolishness.

He said that a government that uses violence makes the president the terrorist. Despite threats of violence, he said it is everyone’s duty to stand up and be a leader, to enlighten the president, and tell him that he is wrong. He believed that the president is not a monster but a human being that can be reached in his conscience.

4. Government can ease poverty by spending to eradicate it.

He believed that not all people are created equal in their talents but all, regardless of their status in life, should have the opportunity to quality education. In order to address poverty, he believed in less spending on national defense, but more on education, health and wellness, social welfare, and agrarian reform.

He believed foreign investments that provide employment, bring in technology, and support the economy should all be encouraged and those which are exploitative should be regulated.

5. It’s a choice between a useless life and a useful death.

It was heaven with family in Boston, and it is easy to become soft in the US. Because of the almost-certain incarceration again, and high risk that his life will be taken, it is foolish to go back. But he needed to show the example, he said, as both cowardice and courage can be infectious.

If he stayed in the US, we would consider that sensible, but he would consider himself a coward who would be imitated. But if he returned and suffered, he believed he might touch the dictator’s conscience. And if he died, he thought he would infect others to carry on the torch. In the end, he weighed between a cowardly and useless life (in his terms) versus a purposeful death.

So it came to pass, 34 years after the death of our last hero, the best president we never had, the one who said that after weighing all the faults and what is good in the Filipino, that the Filipino is worth dying for – did we live up to the billing? Or do we need to personally suffer, in the desolation of solitary confinement, to feel the need for selflessness? Must the victim be a member of our own family for us to express our outrage? Can we summon the bravery to forego a comfortable life to achieve a meaningful death? Not everyone can be a hero, but so long as our heart still beats, we have a chance to be one.

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Alexander B. Cabrera is the chairman and senior partner of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines. He also chairs the Tax Committee of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP). Email your comments and questions to aseasyasABC@ph.pwc.com. This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

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