Philippine Daily Inquirer
An exemplary Filipino
We are living at a time when the behavior of so many of our country’s leaders engenders extreme dismay and anger. They curse and commit blasphemy. They boast of their extramarital affairs. They exhibit no remorse for their plundered wealth. They don’t feel dishonor in changing political parties. They show no shame for their political dynasties.
Our youth are vulnerable to being desensitized to the corruption, immorality and offensive conduct of those in public office. There is a danger that they will grow up thinking these forms of behavior are acceptable traits in our leaders.
It has become very stressful to read and watch the news, because we are bombarded with constant reminders of the miscreant nature of our politicians.
Notwithstanding the distressing characters of our leaders, we have exceptional individuals among our people who we can look up to as role models in various fields. Our prototypes of exemplary Filipinos should not be confined to dead heroes. There are remarkable Filipinos living in our midst who shun fame and fortune, and who are dedicating their lives to the public good.
I have my own list of outstanding Filipinos. I will feature each one of them starting today to highlight positive personalities, and to serve as a break from my usual writings on negative issues. I hope this will start a conversation on model leaders, and to take away the limelight from leaders who deaden us with hopelessness.
First on my list is Rene Saguisag, who I consider to be a remarkable Filipino in the field of politics. His stint as an elected politician ended 25 years ago, but it is precisely the fact that he readily gave up power that makes him worthy of exaltation. I don’t know him personally, but I’ve been observing and admiring him from a distance.
Saguisag possesses all the academic and work credentials that guarantee fame and fortune. He went to San Beda College and Harvard University for his law degrees. He was a bar topnotcher, a prominent human rights lawyer during the Marcos dictatorship, a Cabinet member during the Corazon Aquino administration, and an elected senator from 1987 to 1992.
But these are not the qualifications that earn him a place in my list. After all, the same bona fides are possessed by many of his contemporaries who have wreaked havoc on this country.
What makes Saguisag worthy of praise is that he did not take advantage of his credentials, his close connections to the centers of power, and his national stature to gain fame and fortune. He did not perpetuate himself in power, acquire filthy wealth for his family, and create his own political dynasty. He is so unlike many of his colleagues who cling to power even to this day, and who have misused that power to gain riches for their families.
Saguisag occupied public office and wielded power for the sole purpose of serving his country. And he readily walked away from power without a whimper. In one article he wrote, he said: “It wasn’t hard to give up power, because I told my staff and myself, ‘We’re here only for a short visit.’”
Saguisag continued his involvement in politics as an activist citizen who filed public interest cases against government actions that he deemed antipeople. He was an acerbic gadfly who spoke and wrote stinging rebukes against the powers-that-be.
Shorn of illicit wealth amassed from public office, he faces the same fears being felt by his ordinary countrymen who are in the sunset years of their lives. Saguisag wrote recently: “Now, finally I admit to being scared of one thing—long, lingering, hopeless illness. And if that happens to me, the little that we have would be spent on my care for nothing. So I just hope that the good Lord will continue to take care of me as another lily of the field. That has been the story of my life. I took seriously what I read in the Bible that the odds are worse for a rich man than a camel passing through the eye of a needle.”
Rene Saguisag is a living exemplar of the Filipino race.