Remembering a great Filipino
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-08-02
Honoring false heroes can lead a nation to follow the wrong role models. Today, we are like the lost tribes of Israel — when the Jews were wandering in the desert for 40 years after being led out of Egypt. And like the wandering Jews in the desert, we too are smitten with the tendency to worship the Golden Calf — the symbol of all the wrong values.

Today, I talk about our heroes because today marks the 20th anniversary of the assassination of a great Filipino. Twenty years ago, our country lost a great man — one we could wish we have today.

He fought a guerilla war at a young age, leading the Hunters ROTC in resisting the Japanese during World War II. He organized the original NAMFREL for a crucial election that restored people’s faith in democracy. He served as Undersecretary to the most popular Chief Executive we ever had, President Ramon Magsaysay.

He was one of the best Comelec (Commission on Elections) Chairmen we ever had. When Martial Law was declared, he immediately resigned because he knew that fair, clean and honest elections were not possible in a dictatorship.

Throughout his public service career, not a single scandal tainted his reputation. Cory Aquino looked up to him and valued his counsel. He could have headed any ministry he wanted when Cory became president. Instead, he opted to push for the appointment of good young men and women who he felt the country badly needed.

In the society we live in today, it is indeed hard to believe that there was such a Filipino.

I refer to the late Local Government Secretary Jaime N. Ferrer whose great service to the nation was ended by assassins as he was returning home from attending Sunday Mass at the St. Andrew Church of old town Parañaque.

Ka Jaime, as we fondly call Jimmy Ferrer, was 72 years old when he assumed the Local Government post. The department appointed and dismissed OICs, or Officers in Charge as they were called, who replaced the local government executives during the Marcos dictatorship. The new Cory government needed new local government executives who will champion democratic values and ideals.

Administration coalition parties jockeyed for these OIC posts — making the Local Government Department the most politically-sensitive agency of the Cory Aquino era.

We were then under a revolutionary government and in the process of crafting the 1987 Constitution. Elections could only be conducted after the new Constitution was in place. Between the new president and the people the local government executives constituted good or bad governance.

President Cory will survive the series of coup threats against her new government if the local government executives delivered. It was also the period when the Communists were at their peak and the most effective counter insurgency measure was good local governance. This was the challenge that faced Ka Jaime when he took over the Local Government post.

In less than a year, he stabilized the inter-party intramurals between the administration coalition partners. Ka Jaime had the stature, honesty and integrity and this gave the politicians the reassurance that OIC appointments were made solely on the basis of executive ability to meet governance objectives.

He stabilized the administration and supervision of OICs by clearly defining the objectives for all local government executives which were focused on the following:

1. Transparency and accountability

2. Anti insurgency

3. Empowering local autonomy and capability building, and

4. Promotion of participatory democracy

In less than a year, Ka Jaime provided the important local government presence that broke the back of the Communist insurgency. He formed a special team to target the biggest political fronts of the Communists and in these Communist strongholds projects that addressed the most pressing needs of the communities were poured. These projects epitomized what the new democratic era was all about and restored the people’s faith in their government.

Having been a Comelec Chairman, Ka Jaime knew who the good local government executives were and who could rally the communities to the new government. Having been involved in the 1950s anti-insurgency campaign against the Huks, he understood what it takes to win the war against the Communists.

Ka Jaime’s effectiveness in the department enhanced the popular passage of the 1987 Constitution and the successful holding of the 1987 Congressional and Senate elections where the Cory administration won a landslide victory.

Because he walked his talk, Ka Jaime earned the full support of the press corps who covered his department. They could not believe it when he espoused an anti dynasty position and did not support the candidacy of his own son who ran for Congress in 1987. He even actively campaigned for his son’s opponent who eventually won.

From being the greatest source of the threat to the stability of our new democracy, in less than a year since Jimmy Ferrer took over, the Local Government Department became our greatest bulwark of democracy.

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