The best Prime Minister we ever had

METRO PHILIPPINES
Typography

'General Carlos P. Romulo, whose 113th birth anniversary falls on January 14, had the honorific title of "Mr. United Nations" given him by two UN Secretaries-General.'

IT was Sunday, December 24, 1978. I was about to hole out on the second green of the Villamor Golf Course when a Philippine Air Force sergeant on a motorcycle came and asked: "Are you Consul Arcilla?" I nodded. "You have a call from General Romulo, Sir. You may wish to ride with me to the clubhouse." Again I nodded.

"Goddamit, I'm working my ass off and you're playing golf?! I want you in the office right away!"

"Yes, General," was my stunned reply.

Although I have come to learn and accept that no weekend or holiday was ever sacred to then Minister of Foreign Affairs Carlos P. Romulo (popularly known as CPR but "General" to his close friends and associates), still my immediate reaction to the harangue was one of resentment, dismay and despair combined. After all, it was Christmas Eve and a Sunday at that!

On the way to Padre Faura, all kinds of thoughts crossed my mind. Linggo na, bisperas pa ng Pasko. Sobra na! This time, I told myself, I will insist on a foreign assignment. I had been in Manila for almost four years and the required stint for a Home Office posting was three years. Besides, raising four school-age children on my basic pay alone had become nearly impossible to do. A foreign assignment would certainly help.

Or so I thought.

"Didn't I tell you that whenever you leave the house, you should leave word where you can be reached?" were the angry words that greeted me.

"I did that, General," I replied rather sharply.

"I have been calling you since six this morning!"

"General, I left the house at nine," I said matter-of-factly.

A pause. Then he looked at me with that familiar mischievous grin of his, chuckled, and all was forgotten! We buckled down to work. When we were done, he said: "Come and have lunch with me at home."

Home was 74 McKinley Road, Forbes Park, Makati. It was called Kasiyahan. (How I wish that house was preserved and made a shrine for, in my view, one of the greatest Filipinos ever.)

I spent many hours in that house during the six years that I worked directly under the General. They were years that I shall forever cherish. My education in the field of diplomacy became nearly complete just by absorbing his utterances and watching him in action. I was, and always will be, proud of having been associated with him. He was my mentor and benefactor. He was a veritable taskmaster and martinet. But he never demanded of others what he himself would not do. And he was close to 80 at the time!

A close associate of the General paid me the greatest compliment ever when he said: "You are like a putative son to him." Indeed, he was treating me not just as a subordinate and fellow worker (a favorite phrase when referring to his people in the DFA), but also as someone whom he wanted to be near him whenever and wherever possible. He never said it in so many words but his actions towards me demonstrated it. Maybe it was because I was doing a good job as assistant minister for press and public affairs of seeing to it that what he was doing and trying to do the world knew about. It was tough but I think I measured up to his standards.

Many at the time were wondering why a man of his stature and reputation decided to continue serving President Ferdinand Marcos after the latter declared martial law in September 1972. Many attributed all kinds of motivations to the General ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. But very few ever gave him credit for his true intentions.

President Marcos, who once referred to the General as "the best foreign minister the Republic ever had," was not considered brilliant for nothing. He knew the value to his administration of a General Romulo who was at the time the most renowned and respected Filipino the world over. In retrospect, I think Marcos truly admired and respected CPR. The General was to be the deodorizer of his administration. This, of course, was not lost on the General. He knew! But he agreed to stay on because he believed, at first, that what Marcos did was for the good of the nation. And he was going to help project to the world a better Philippines, in spite of or despite martial law. The primary target, of course, was the good old United States of America without whose blessing, Marcos could not have lasted so long.

And the General succeeded! For years, he neutralized the most severe criticisms from all corners of the globe about the Marcos regime. Through his eloquence, wit and sheer doggedness, he convinced all but a few of the correctness of the path that Marcos took for the country.... until the tragic event of 21 August 1983.

I have seen the General shed tears only on two occasions. The first was when he administered the oath of office to me as Chief of Mission in January 1980. The second was when he came to New York a month after the Aquino assassination to attend the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly. (I was already at the time the deputy ambassador to the UN.) Alone with him in his suite at the Waldorf Towers, he said to me, with tears in his eyes: "Everything that I have tried to do for this administration has been wiped out by a single bullet!"

In 1984, he irrevocably resigned from the Marcos administration. His failing health was the reason given. But heartbroken, he believed there was nothing more he could do to save the regime from ultimate demise.

A year later, about ten days before he joined his Creator on December 15, 1985, I visited him to pay my respects before going to Bangladesh to assume my post as the first Philippine Ambassador to that country. One of the things he told me then was that his entire family and many of his friends were urging him to speak out and join the growing outcry against the Marcos regime. He adamantly refused saying: "I am not a cad and I am not about to rat on someone who, in his own ways, had been kind to me!"

To me, that showed character.

Two days before leaving for Dhaka, I again visited him and this time I accompanied him to the Kidney Center where, throughout his dialysis treatment, we reminisced about the old days. When we returned to his residence, we bade each other what was to be our final goodbye.

When I reached Dhaka on 12 December 1985, the first thing I saw at the hotel lobby after checking in was a Reuters dispatch on the TV monitor saying that he had been rushed to the hospital.

Three days later, he died. I cried.

***

(NOTE: I wrote the above article eleven years ago and was first published in the defunct Newsbreak.)

***

Reminders (for Noynoy's action):

1) Filing of charges against officials of the National Food Administration (NFA) during Arroyo's illegitimate regime. Noynoy himself said on several occasions that there is documentary evidence to prove the venalities in the past in that agency.

Ironically, after two and a half years of inaction on Noynoy's part, his erstwhile appointee as head of the NFA is now under Senate investigation for alleged anomalies during his stewardship of the agency.

2) Investigation of reported anomalies in the GSIS during the watch of Winston Garcia.

Now that there appears to be a falling out between the Aquino administration and the Garcia family of Cebu (its governor is still resisting her suspension from office for six months), it is hoped that an investigation of Winston Garcia, a brother of the suspended governor, would now proceed.

3) Facilitating the investigation of rampant corruption in the military and police establishments.

4) Expeditious action by the AFP on the case of Jonas Burgos.

***

Today is the 247th day of the sixth year of Jonas Burgos' disappearance.

***

From an internet friend:

Choice quotes on politicians:

* What happens if a politician drowns in a river? That is pollution. What happens if all of them drown? That is solution!!! – Aesop

* Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river. – Nikita Khrushchev

* I have come to the conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians. – Charles de Gaulle

* Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks. – Doug Larson

***