When your country is helplessly trapped in the vicious downward spiral wrought by corruption and poverty, the least it needs to hear is news about the passing away of yet another of its already dwindling number of better leaders.
Raul S. Roco's demise last August 5 bore down on the nation like additional weight on a sinking ship. It is certainly not the time to lose our few remaining great Filipino icons, not when the term 'leadership' itself had become synonymous with 'impeachment', 'fraud' and 'nausea'. So why are all the good people going away and why are we left to live out the nightmare of the presidency of Gloria M. Arroyo?
Discerning voters knew it then during the election of 2004 that Raul Roco was the most qualified and best prepared candidate to lead the country in the wake of the two preceding disastrous presidencies of Joseph Estrada and Gloria M. Arroyo. But voters in impaired democracies usually fail in making intelligent and informed choices of their leaders. Many voters thought actor Fernando Poe Jr.'s pluck and daring on the cinema screen would also translate to a good ending in political leadership. Others allowed themselves to be locked in a situation where they must only choose between the 'lesser of two evils'. Forcing people to limit their choice to two undesirables had been a ploy to shut out the real threat to mediocrity and ineptness. This ploy was meant specifically to eliminate the threat of Raul Roco.
Other than Malacanang's failed attempt to smear Raul Roco for 'misuse of public funds' and 'extravagant spending' when he was Education Secretary, Roco's political career had never been tainted. Today, media's accolade for Raul Roco comes too late. It is regrettable that they revere him now for the good they had largely ignored or bypassed in the past, all because these did not qualify as sensational media bytes. Roco fell victim to the ruthless dynamics of a leadership bent on preserving itself at all costs and a media most vulnerable to reporting scandals, confirmed or otherwise.
With dirty tricks and deceitful machinations becoming the trademark of the regime of Gloria M. Arroyo, the injustice done to Raul Roco comes as no surprise. A regime that finds extreme difficulty in projecting a clean image can only resort to besmirching the reputation of anyone and anything that poses a challenge to its perpetuity in power. Inasmuch as the regime cannot appear clean because of the endless trail of scandals that hounds the president and her closest kin, it finds recourse in making its rivals appear 'dirtier'.
I wince each time I hear Gloria M. Arroyo wailing about being a 'victim of black propaganda, dirty tricks and trial by publicity'. It is as absurd as Hitler claiming to be a victim of racism and Idi Amin, of a most wicked cruelty. If it is any consolation, we at least know that the nation has wised up to her ways and is giving her rotten grades in a wide variety of credibility and approval ratings. Abe Lincoln best said it: “You can't fool all the people all the time.”
But truth indeed prevails and the divine Maker has decided that Raul Roco's lifework is done. Raul joins the peace of his Maker, now safely out of reach from his detractors and evildoers who even have the gall and the temerity to publicly acclaim their recognition of Raul's virtue and goodness. That Raul is now hailed as the best president we never had is the ultimate tribute to his achievements and capabilities. It is also tacit condemnation of the present regime. Just as promised by the Almighty - in the end good triumphs over evil, the target of unjust slander is exalted while the serpent of doublespeak and perpetrator of lies is doubly condemned.
I am proud of having supported Raul Roco's dream of leading our country. I am proud to have stayed with him, through thick and thin, regardless of what the ratings say and in defiance of the fool's logic calling for a vote for the candidate that symbolized the lesser evil. Midway into the campaign, we knew the cause was lost and that money will again dictate its evil designs on an unwitting electorate.
I am honored to have earned Raul Roco's trust to be one of his campaign advisers. Working with Raul and his staff up close and personal was a most inspiring experience. His idealism made its mark in every one of his staff. After over 20 years either as a political watcher or as a direct participant in political events, I have developed the smarts for detecting shysters in politics. Raul Roco was the real thing. Not one to conceal his aversion to ineptitude and corruption, Raul's quick temper invariably hit their mark among the wrongdoers and their deeds. Raul's unmistakable honesty and straightforward character make his superior intellect and integrity most evident. All told, Raul had his high points and his low points but in the final analysis, they all served to magnify his human-ness, his magnanimity of spirit and his drive to serve.
In the initial 14 months that Raul Roco had been leading in the presidential race surveys, power players and brokers had sent him feelers - offering support. Such is the way of Philippine politics. Politics here is so tied-up with major economic interests that it has become a matter of business survival to be on the winning side of a presidential election. Raul knew very well that his campaign funds were no match against those of his opponents, let alone those held by the transient occupant by the Pasig River. But Raul chose not to compromise principles for exigency, believing and trusting to the very last in the wisdom of the Filipino people.
During the time when he held on to number 1, Raul Roco could very well have cemented his lead by taking the pragmatic approach. Power brokers and king makers had what it takes to make him win by expanding his war chest beyond his wildest dreams. I do not know of any other politician in this country today who would have passed off that opportunity. Raul Roco did. One of my favorite quotations goes: “Great is the man who can win a crown but greater is the one who can refuse it.” Raul Roco virtually did that when he refused to accept the funding from interest groups that could have ensured his victory.
Raul's closest lieutenant, Ernie Pangan, who is also one of the prime movers of the Focolare Movement in the country, confided to me that Raul always emphasized to his staff that they are not to strike any deal that will compromise his presidency. Raul understood the sinister workings of patronage politics and its Frankenstein, the traditional politician. Raul's dream was to be the president of the people, not of selfish and moneyed interest groups.
He could have won. He had what it takes and he was number one in the initial part of the campaign. It would have been easy to sustain the momentum had he acquired the wherewithal to run victorious all the way up to the finish line. But he believed that good moral character, integrity and leadership capability had the power and force to win the battle against poverty, against the lack of education and economic opportunity of his people. He knew that if he allowed himself to be beholden to selfish interests, he would be betraying his own people and his own vision of a Filipino nation that has reached the 'Promised Land'. If he did that, he will not be true to himself and that to Raul Roco was the biggest sin of all. He offered himself and he offered real hope but alas, people were trapped in the game played by the demons of Philippine politics. They were concerned only in making a choice between lesser evils.
Yes, I am deeply saddened by Raul Roco's passing. With his passing, he takes with him a priceless asset of honest, moral and capable leadership. He has won - his integrity and sense of service remained intact to his last breath. The real losers are truly the Filipino people who suffer but remain blind to genuine sources of hope.
I am sadder for the upper and middle class members of our society who found refuge in the lesser evil. I can understand how much more difficult it would be for the masses to discern what is good for them. I can understand their attraction to showbiz types who comfort, humor and entertain them in the misery of their daily existence. But the supposedly more educated, more informed upper and middle class members of society who we expect to have better sense and propriety - there is no reason at all for them to select the lesser evil.
Because of them, the lesser evil has made our country a virtual hell.
You may email William M. Esposo at: firstname.lastname@example.org