The COVID-19 has been preventing this 83-year-old columnist from personally paying our last respects to friends and former colleagues who had passed on during the past three months, namely, former Senators Sonny Alvarez; Tessie Aquino-Oreta, our colleague in the House of Representatives from 1987 to 1998; Ramon Revilla Sr., who was part of our senatorial ticket when we ran for president in 1998; former Congressmen Amadeo Perez Jr., our provincemate in Pangasinan, and Antonio Cuenco of Cebu, who succumbed to the Coronavirus several days ago.
Tony Cuenco came from a distinguished family of public servants. His father was Cebu Governor Manuel Cuenco, while Senate President Mariano Jesus Cuenco and Cebu Congressman Miguel Cuenco were his grandfather and granduncle, respectively.
Tony was first elected congressman in 1965 at the age of 29 and was voted speaker pro tempore, the second highest official in the House of Representatives, during the 8th Congress, 1987 to 1992. He chaired the committees on dangerous drugs and on foreign relations in the subsequent congresses.
We were colleagues in the 8th, 9th, 10th, 12th, 13th, and 14th Congresses, for some 20 years, where he was our close ally in shepherding the passage of socio-economic and political reform laws in the country, including the landmark Bases Conversion Law, which converted the former US military bases into economic zones and satellite cities, among which were the Fort Bonifacio into the now Bonifacio Global City (BGC) and the Nichols Air Base into Resorts World; the Build Operate Transfer (BOT) Law, which was later adopted by several developing countries and which became the basis of the now Public-Private Partnerships (PPP); and the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, which Tony Cuenco authored. He was an unwavering anti-illegal drugs advocate.
He was also our steadfast associate in our forays in parliamentary and political party diplomacy, travelling great distances with us, to help advance the causes of peace and reconciliation, solidarity and cooperation, as well as security and development in Asia and the international community.
A skilled and devoted parliamentarian, he served as congressman for 26 years and as secretary general of the Jakarta-based ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) from 2010 to 2013. The AIPA serves as the “center of communication and information” among ASEAN member-parliaments.
The AIPA was born in 2006 in Cebu, the province Tony so dearly loved and served, when our country hosted the 27th General Assembly of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Organization (AIPO). Tony and we helped initiate the conversion of the AIPO into the now AIPA in hopes to create the beginnings of the ASEAN Parliament, which, unfortunately, has not yet come to pass.
We will always remember the political and legislative battles which Tony and we fought together, including the speakership fights, in which we were elected five times with Tony as our close and fervent ally.