By Milwida M. Guevara
Upon seeing me in his birthday celebration, President FVR shouted, “Old Maid”! Surprisingly, I did not feel embarrassed. I knew it was his fond way of teasing me. For so many years, he unselfishly served our country as a soldier, a President, and a statesman. On his 90th year, he has every right to be playful.
On second thought, I had seen a playful President in several occasions. When the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program was being signed into law, he stopped and asked, “Where is Nene Guevara? That girl shed many tears in defense of this program.” He stopped the ceremonies and asked me to come forward. Seeing that all the seats were taken by senators and congressmen, he asked me to sit on his lap.
On another occasion, he asked Secretary Roy Navarro to bring all his Undersecretaries and boxing gloves because “Usec. Guevara is equivalent to 5!” But the tease came after a strong admonition for our heated debate in a LEDAC meeting over the tax incentive issue.
Many times, I wonder how our lives would have changed if PFVR were given another term. We were described as the newest tiger in Asia in 1996. We had migration in reverse and many Filipinos came back because life in the country was good. The economy was steadily growing. Interest rates were low and so was inflation. I remembered that the President encouraged households to hang Christmas lanterns in their windows to celebrate the turnaround in our lives. We were no longer the sick man of Asia! I beamed with pride as I walked alongside the President in an international conference in Hong Kong. It was an SRO crowd who paid hundreds of dollars to listen to the President speak. I felt so grateful that President FVR restored our confidence and pride in being a Filipino.
President FVR has so many notable accomplishments, but I think his greatest one is proving to the world that democracy is compatible with economic growth. Cynics say that growth is hastened if government has more powers and freedom is restrained. But FVR proved that progress and empowerment can go together.
The process of empowerment is costly, slow, difficult and time consuming. I used to resent his call for so many summits. There were varied views that had to be listened to and so many dissenting opinions that had to be considered. He asked us to explain government’s positions in so many fora, radio and TV interviews. There were a hundred and one news items that we were required to correct and clarify. But on hindsight, he was correct. People have greater ownership of policies if they participated in their formulation. Programs are more relevant if they are needs-based. We become wiser and more practical when we learn from others, especially from the poor. Our solutions are not textbook-based but are products of wisdom and experience. Most of all, we give dignity to every person by giving him an equal right to be part of the decision making process. He gains confidence in articulating his views. We build his capacity to engage in debates, discern and reflect so that he can help choose the best alternative.
President FVR loved the local governments especially the barangays. He considered them his best ally in promoting community empowerment. He was in his best element while talking to them. He was like a child throwing T-shirts and baseball caps to the crowd after his speech. And time was not of the essence as he patiently waited for all the members of a barangay contingent to be part of the picture taking. If selfies were in vogue then, picture taking with him would have taken forever.
And oh, how he loved us, the “aliping saguiguilid” (slaves) as well. I went home at 1:00 a.m. to prepare answers for the questions raised during committee hearings and floor deliberations in both Houses of Congress. Then, I had to leave home at 4.30 a.m. in time for the LEDAC meetings and a host of task forces which the President convened. He knew of no holidays. I remember spending Christmas in the Palace not for celebration but brainstorming on how to address the looming deficit. I learned how to ride on choppers where the wind blew off my well coiffed hair. I sat on planes without seats beside the Palace dogs to join meetings in the countryside.
And this why I am an Old Maid Mr. President. But there is no resentment but pride in being a part of your team.