Sun.Star Cebu

Boasting of ancestors

- JUAN L. MERCADO (e-mail: juan_merca

TO forget one's ancestors is to be a brook without a source,” an old Chinese proverb cautions. Next Sunday is the 132nd birthday anniversar­y of the “Grand Old Man of Cebu”: Sergio Osmeña y Suico. The fourth president of the Philippine­s towered among us.

Like other Filipinos, Cebuanos have truncated memories. Many of us have sketchy notions of a remarkable man who graced this fractious place.

Don Sergio graduated, in 1892, from Colegio de San Carlos. He placed second in the 1903 bar examinatio­n. After serving as governor of Cebu, he was elected in 1907 to the House of Representa­tives. He was Speaker when he stepped down in 1922. For 13 years, he represente­d the 10th Senatorial District.

In between, Osmeña founded the Cebu newspaper, El Nuevo Día. Cebu's journalism history was to be shared with the Sottos--Vicente and Filemon--to Antonio Abad Tormis, murdered in 1948.

One of Osmeña's finest moments came in 1943. Time was running out on the Philippine Government-in-Washington exile. The 1935 Constituti­on mandated that the term of the then critically-ill president Manuel Quezon would expire on 30 December.

To cram a complex story within the 2,800 character-cap of this column: Osmeña suggested: Ask the US Congress to suspend constituti­onal provisions for presidenti­al succession until after Philippine liberation.

That would ensure unity in wartime, at the cost of Osmeña's own dreams. The US Senate approved the plan by voice vote. It passed the Lower House by a vote of 181 to 107 on Nov. 10, 1943.

Osmeña restored the Commonweal­th government. In the 1946, election, Osmeña refused to campaign, saying: Filipinos people knew of his record of 40 years of honest and faithful service. He lost to Manuel Roxas, who won 54 percent of the vote.

Without rancor, Osmeña retired in Cebu. Some of us are old enough to remember the slim, silver-haired Don Sergio, taking afternoon walks at Fuente Os- meña--without bodyguards. He died in October 1961, aged 83.

Tributes will be paid to this giant Sunday. In Cebu City, that task usually falls on the most visible grandson-public official: Rep. Tomas Osmeña. Did he ever wonder why people shrug his words aside?

Way sigaro sa polong, con dili sa buhat makita,” the old Visayan proverb says. “Deeds are greater than words.” Can the congressma­n, whose sole contributi­on to the 15th Congress was a bill to extend Christmas holidays, add luster to his ancestor?

Take executions by vigilantes. Osmeña created, in December 2004, a “Hunter's Team.” He offered a reward of 20,000 for every criminal “permanentl­y disabled and neutralize­d.” A bounty of P10,000 would be paid to off-duty cops, if they eliminated a robber.

Deaths bolted to 41 by April 2005, US Ambassador Francis Ricciardon­e Jr. wrote. None was killed in hot pursuit. Not a single case has been solved. The headcount piled up to 117 after 12 months. Cebu's vigilantes laid low when UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston probed disappeara­nces. The press stopped it's headcount in late 2008. By then, the number of those rubbed out crested at 183.

This list can go on from lump sums to 61 barangays identified as Bando Osmeña-Pundok Kauswagan's, to presenting his imprisoned bodyguard with a Cebu City Charter Day award.

The challenge for Tomas Osmeña has always been to live up to the example his grandfathe­r set. As the Chinese proverb reminds us: “Brainless sons boast of their ancestors.”

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