OF TREES AND FOREST
Why do people run for public office? What motivates people to devote themselves to 60 or 90 days of grueling campaign, cruel and unfair attacks on one’s character, loss of financial resources, and, in some instances, put their lives on the line? I found myself revisiting these questions as I watched many candidates on the news filing their Certificates of Candidacy (COC) with the Commission on Elections (Comelec). I use the word “revisit” because I also grappled with these questions before. But more on that later.
Some of them are veterans of politics but some are neophytes, trying their luck for the first time. And as news reports indicate, some are still on the fence, undecided whether they would throw their hat in the proverbial political ring. I do not blame them. It is a difficult decision to make, not to be taken lightly. Entering politics is a vocation. It is not just a job rather it is a type of work that will demand from you all your time, energy and talent.
It was the same life-changing decision that I made three decades ago.
I remember in 1991 discussions were already taking place about forming a ticket for the elections the following year. The ticket would include reelectionist Mayor Rosalino Riguera with my brother-in-law Nene Aguilar as running mate. My father-in-law, Dr. Filemon Aguilar would run for the Congressional seat he occupied at that time. Congressman Aguilar was a legend in Las Piñas politics. He was fondly called “Lolo Cong” by his constituents in Las Piñas and Muntinlupa. He entered politics in the 1960’s, serving as Las Piñas Mayor from 1964 to 1986, then becoming the congressman of Las Piñas and Muntinlupa until 1992.
Unfortunately, he got really sick that year and was unable to pursue reelection. He would eventually join our Lord in 1995 at the age of 80. So quite naturally the discussion centered on who would replace him on the ticket. I was surprised to find out that my name was included in those discussions as an ideal candidate for the Congressional post. When the idea was broached to me, I immediately rejected it. They were very persistent so they came back and tried to convince me. I refused.
I thought politics was interesting but I had no interest in being in politics. I considered myself as an entrepreneur. Business was my world. So I wanted to get away from all the political talk and I asked my wife, Cynthia, to join me on a trip to Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, we discussed the suggestion for me to run for Congress. Away from the noises and commotion, she told me, “why don’t you consider running for Congress?” She said she believed that my business sense would be a great asset as a legislator and that my life story is something that can inspire other people. That was when I began to rethink the offer to run for public office.
I was exposed to entrepreneurship at an early age helping my mother sell shrimps and fish in the market. I thought that was my path — run a business, build a decent, comfortable life for my family. When I entered UP and met young students who dreamed about changing the world, I began to see my world beyond my family. I understood at that time that business is not just about profits and loss; that it can make positive contributions to nation-building.
And so I ran for Congress for the first time in 1992 and the rest is, as they say, history. I wish all the candidates good luck. Amidst all the mudslinging and the public scrutiny and cynicism, I hope you never forget why you decided to run in the first place — because you have something to offer to our people. It will change your life but I hope you work hard so you can change other people’s lives too.