Ancestor’s Shadow

by Juan L. Mercado


Is he just an image line-etched on the P50 peso bill?  Or is the 4th Philippine President relevant as ever?

The 132nd birthday anniversary of  President Sergio Osmena falls on September 9 . Who recalls this exemplary public servant?  He led this country from World War II  ruins into a new republic.

Is national amnesia inevitable?  “People will not look forward to posterity who never look back to their ancestors,” Edmund Burke wrote.

Don Sergio graduated, in 1892, from Colegio de San Carlos. After topping the bar, he was elected  governor of Cebu.  He  founded the newspaper, El Nuevo Día. From 1907 to 1922, he served in  the Philippine National Assembly where he rose to become Speaker.  For 13 years,  he represented the 10th Senatorial District — and played key roles in major  issues  like the Tydings-McDuffie Act on  independence.

One of his finest moments came during  World War II’s government-in- Washington exile. The 1935 Constitution mandated  the ailing President Quezon’s term would lapse on 30 December 1943.  Quezon  dug in over this constitutional crossroad. US President Franklin Roosevelt stayed aloof from this “local issue.” Quezon presided over an inconclusive cabinet meeting.

Don Sergio who offered a way out:  Ask US Congress to suspend presidential succession, until after Japanese occupiers were ousted. Congress agreed on 1O November. He  gave up his own ambitions to ensure unity. 

After restoring the Commonwealth,  Don Sergio refused to campaign in 1946. Filipinos knew  his record of 40 years of honest service. Like Winston Churchill  after the war, he misread our fickleness. Manuel Roxas  won 54 percent of the vote.

Without rancor, Osmena retired  in Cebu. Some of us remember the silvered haired  statesman  taking afternoon walks —  without bodyguards . He died October 1961, aged 83. Whose Sunday tributes will  resonate because their lives reflect Don  Sergio’s  dedication?  “From  our ancestors come our names,” Bertrand Russel wrote. “But from our virtues come our honors.”

Our personal take is the 69  year old  Senator Sergio Osmeña III.  He falls  short of his grandfather’s achievements, but  “Serge” public career is  positive. He may lack a university degree, Osmena III nonetheless ably filled executive positions in private industry.

“Serge’s political stance against the Marcos’ dictatorship led to martial law arrest in 1972. He went on a hunger strike , in November 1974, along with  cellmate  ABS-CBN’s Eugenio “Geny” Lopez, Jr. They protested unjust detention.

His backers claim this protest compelled Marcos to  release of 1,022 political prisoners in December 1972. That  lacks  validation.  Along  with  publisher Joaquin Roces, Free Press Teodoro Locsin and other journalists, we were released from detention that December. But it was due to pressure from Press Foundation of Asia, New York Times and other international press groups.

Amply  documented, however, is  how, Serge  and Lopez burrowed a tunnel to escape  from their  Fort  Bonifacio  maximum security prison in 1997.  A waiting car hustled them to Dagupan airport where a small private plane flew them to Hong Kong — and  on to US exile.  Serge  served   with distinction in  Movement for a Free Philippines and JAJA (Justice for Aquino Justice for All)  Movement.

After People Power One, Serge returned to private business — and three terms as a senator.  His legislative concerns  range from victims of toxic wastes  at  former U.S. bases to graft  exposes, e.g.Tiwi-Makban, Marconi and Casecnan contracts.

In 2001, Osmeña was one of those who voted to open  the “second envelope”  in  Joseph  Estrada’s aborted impeachment  trial.  He voted to impeach Chief Justice Renato Corona.  However, he’s flayed  for muting criticism when issues involve  Lopez interests. e.g. MERALCO, Maynilad Water Services, etc.

Serge’s  record stands in stark contrast with that etched by his younger brother: Rep  Tomas Osmena of Cebu’s  second district.  “The congressman sole contribution to the 15th Congress, is a bill to extend Christmas holidays,” Sun Star noted. “Can he add luster to his ancestor?”

Summary executions by faceless vigilantes in Cebu  bolted to 41 by April 2005, US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone Jr. wrote.  Osmena created, in December 2004, a “Hunter’s Team ”.  For every criminal  they  ‘permanently disabled” Osmena offered a reward of 20,000.  A bounty of P10,000 would be paid if they eliminated a robber.

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.  Not a single case has been solved.

Now, Tomas stews in a controversy  over  two donated  Dodge Charger 2009 vehicles that  were dolled up as city police cars for his private security. The cars bear the seal of the City Government. They’re topped  by “wang-wangs” or  sirens but are registered in names of Tomas relatives.
“What a very expensive gift,” Mayor Mike Rama snapped.  Perhaps, the Ombudsman can determine whether it violated the Anti Graft Law (RA 6713) prohibits public officials from soliciting or accepting gifts.

“There is always a police officer inside when the cars are used,” Osmena  fumed. “Got a problem with that?” Yes, his  ancestor’s fine ethical sense would have a problem.  A  German proverb says: “Mules are always  boasting their ancestors were horses.”


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