It occurred to me that we just experienced the second death in the month of August of an on-the-job Local Government Secretary when I started to write this column last Tuesday amidst the gloom our country felt over the demise of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo.
It was on August 2, 1987 when then Local Government Secretary Ka Jaime Ferrer was assassinated a few meters away from his Paranaque home, just as he was returning from attending afternoon Sunday Mass. I was then Assistant Secretary to Ka Jaime and he was the best mentor one could have in Philippine politics. Like Jesse Robredo, Ka Jaime had the reputation for good governance and probity. Like Jesse Robredo, Ka Jaime considered it an important task to inculcate the values that will make our nation strong and progressive. Like Jesse Robredo, Ka Jaime was excited by the emergence of the NGOs (Non-Government Organizations).
During his brief stint in Local Government, Ka Jaime institutionalized Citizen Participation in local government units (LGU). It was his way of keeping the local government executive honest while augmenting the capability of lagging LGUs. During that period, the Interior was not yet assigned to the Local Government Department. LG executives were being appointed and fired for cause and it was under this climate and conditions that Ka Jaime felt was the best time to enforce citizen participation.
Ka Jaime knew that local warlords and political kingpins, the types that exploit the local economy to enrich their clan, would resist breeding watchdogs in the LGU. People with dark intentions do not want to be watched. Opposite them are the more progressive LG executives, those who have come to realize that the enormity of the challenge cannot be done sans citizen participation.
Ka Jaime also proved key to breaking the back of the communist insurgency of the CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front). A local insurgency is a local government fight. The army can only contain the insurgents in certain areas to prevent them from expanding — but brute force alone cannot win the insurgency war. It is good local governance — emanating from an enlightened national leadership — that can win the hearts and minds of rebels. Ka Jaime formed the unarmed citizens force that struck deep into the political fronts of the communists. The battle was in information and propaganda, not in bullets and mortars. The idea was to win hearts and minds, not shoot rebels through the heart or brain. By the time Ka Jaime was assassinated, the back of the insurgency was already broken.
Ka Jaime’s assassination was made to look like one of the Sparrow murders of the communists, which was rampant then. However, it eventually emerged that the mastermind was anything but communist. The leader of the assassination team was caught, tried and jailed but he wasn’t talking. Maybe he feared the mastermind. Maybe he was never told who the real mastermind is.
I was bothered by what a right wing supporter who admired Ka Jaime whispered to me during his wake. This right wing supporter, then a member of media, even ran for senator later on. He said to me: “Secretary Esposo, this is not a communist hit. Focus on a right wing move preparatory to a big coup.” Ka Jaime was assassinated on August 2, 1987. The big August 28 coup followed — the coup where Noynoy Aquino was almost killed. Up to August 1987, the August 28 coup was the biggest ever mounted against the Cory Aquino government.
It’s believed that the earlier murder of Leftist labor leader Ka Lando Olalia was intended by the Black Hand stirring the tempest pot to agitate the Leftist elements of society. The murder of Ka Jaime Ferrer was believed intended to stir the moderates and the right. A black hand stirring the tempest pot had to factor the immense value of a war veteran and political organizer like Ka Jaime sitting as head of Local Government. Ka Jaime can neutralize a coup by mobilizing his local government units, even forming militias if needed.
My friend Raffy Alunan, who also served in the Cory government, is a student of history, among other things. Last Tuesday, Raffy posted this on Facebook: “The significance of August in our history: 1896 Philippine Revolution is launched; Liberal Party bombing in 1971; murder of Ninoy Aquino in 1983; the Luneta hostage tragedy in 2010; now the fatal plane crash that killed Jesse Robredo and two pilots.” Equally significant, if I may add are the Ka Jaime Ferrer assassination of 1987, the near fatal wounding of Noynoy Aquino during the 1987 coup and the August 2009 death of Cory.
The incidence of historically significant events during the month of August doesn’t only happen here. It’s a global event. It’s not surprising that many big historical events happen in the month of August, especially in Europe. In Europe, nations want to fight wars in the summer, which means July and August. We can’t blame them for this thinking, especially after Napoleon Bonaparte lost his 500,000-men Grande Armee to Russian winter — with 380,000 French soldiers dead while 100,000 were captured.
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Shakespeare: “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”