Since the onslaught of the deadly COVID-19, our wife Gina and we have been staying in our Dagupan City home, which is a short walking distance from the Lingayen Gulf, where General Douglas MacArthur and, earlier, General Masaharu Homma landed on Jan. 9, 1945 and Dec. 22, 1941, respectively.
To this day, we vividly remember General MacArthur, in his sunglasses, smiling and waving at the crowd from the Home Economics building of our wartime school in Dagupan, the now West Central Elementary School, which served as his brief headquarters. We were then nine years old.
As a five-year-old boy, we also recall the Japanese forces commandeered our father’s black Lincoln car when they landed ashore in Dagupan. We never saw the car again.
Perhaps the convergence of time, circumstance and geography made us an innocent eyewitness to people and events that shaped the history of our country, and indeed the world.
Years later, we are honored and privileged to have taken part our self in some epochal events in our country’s history. We initiated a few things that have become game-changers and landmarks in our national life. We also contributed in a modest way in advancing the causes of peace, security and development in Asia and the international community through the regional and global organizations that we founded and/or lead.
We were elected congressman for the first time in 1969, at the age of 32, but we were not able to finish our term as President Marcos declared Martial Law on Sept. 21, 1972 and padlocked both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Our first political campaign, however, was when we were 22, not as a candidate but as a campaign leader of Dr. Francisco Duque when he ran for governor of Pangasinan. He later served as Health Secretary in the President Diosdado Macapagal administration.
That election taught us the timeless truth in politics: That a campaign is the sum total of many factors, such as a strong political organization, a dedicated campaign staff, and making sure to bring voters to their precincts on election day and ensure that the votes are counted correctly. Successful political campaigns are not just about ideas. It is also about competent organization.
We later served as a campaign spokesman of then Vice President Diosdado Macapagal when he ran and won as president in 1961 against incumbent President Carlos P. Garcia.
At 26, we became chief political adviser to Liberal Party Congressman Cornelio Villareal of Capiz, who seized the House Speakership from Nacionalista Congressman Daniel Romualdez of Leyte.
We learned early on that the art of coalition-building is at the heart of governance. Coalitions are needed not just to win elections but to pass vital legislation. Coalitions make government effective.
When Philippine democracy was restored in Feb. 25, 1986 and congressional elections were held the year after, we decided to run again and won, representingthe fourth district of Pangasinan from 1987 to 1992. We also served as acting chairman of the House foreign affairs committee.
With our people behind us, we were subsequently elected in the succeeding legislative elections and thus served from 1992-1995, 1995-1998, 2001-2004, 2004-2007, and 2007-2010.
We served in the House of Representatives for seven terms (a total of 23 years), where we were privileged to be elected five times as Speaker of the House.
Much earlier, we pioneered from late 1970s until the early 1980s in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Iraq, Jordan, and Libya in North Africa as a risk-taker then in oil exploration, and as prime contractor, operating the Port of Jeddah on the Red Sea, and Jubail in the Persian Gulf.
We also built large-scale pioneering electrification network around the Riyadh central region of Saudi Arabia, highways in Iraq, oil drilling in the Emirate of Ajman, the United Arab Emirates and hit commercial oil there much to our joy, until the price of oil plunged in only a few months, and we had to abandon the well after much tears and wailing, and brought our oil rig and Filipino workforce home.
We also lost our hard-earned wealth with our sudden pull-out from the Middle East triggered by the Iraq-Iran war, and our forced abandonment of our some $40-million in infrastructure equipment in the war zone, and our tragic expensive repatriation of thousands of our workers back to the Philippines.
We remember with pride that our direct employment of tens of thousands of Filipinos in the Arab world, beginning with our initial small foray in Iran and our large-scale operation on the Arab side of the Persian Gulf, dramatically enriched the Philippine Central Bank’s dollar reserves, enabled us to regain our seat in Congress after Martial Law, was elected Speaker of the House five times, made a bid for the presidency but came out second to the popular movie actor Joseph Estrada in a highly competitive field of 10, where our party then, Lakas-NUCD-UMDP, now Lakas-CMD, had four strong unyielding rebel candidates, and several others while our friend Erap, alone in his party, sailed home victorious.
We used to tease him that he should have not run at all and left the presidential field to us instead of being confined later, until we moved for his pardon and later, he was elected two times as mayor of Manila.
We are forever grateful to God and the Filipino people, especially our constituents in the fourth district of Pangasinan, for the honor and privilege of serving our country.