SEPTEMBER 9 is a holiday in Cebu for we celebrate the 143rd birth anniversary of Sergio Osmeña Sr., the first Bisaya to become the President of the Philippines. Aside from the fact that he is an alumnus of Seminario-Colegio de San Carlos, which is the forerunner of the University of San Carlos, I want to highlight another fact of his life which I find more relevant these days.
In the 1946 Presidential elections, the incumbent from Cebu was pitted against Manuel Roxas. The supporters of Osmeña believed that he was lagging behind the main opposition candidate. They urged him to campaign more vigorously. He refused to do so, at least not during office hours. The online encyclopedia Wikipedia tells us that the reason was that he believed his record would speak for itself. This may well be true.
But according to some biographical accounts (perhaps the most authoritative biography is written by Vicente Albano Pacis), Osmeña’s refusal to campaign was his conviction that as the incumbent, he was paid by Filipino taxpayers to function as their president. The Philippines then was still trying to recover from the ravages of World War II and this demanded the full attention of the Chief Executive.
This speaks mightily of his personal integrity. As a seasoned politician, he must have realized that the pinnacle of political power was slipping from his grasp. It must have been a crisis moment for him. There must have been a tension between his desire to win and the demands of his moral convictions.
It is said that a crisis moment does not make a character. Rather, it reveals one’s character. In the case of Osmeña, his personal crisis unveiled a man of impeccable integrity.
Several decades later, the nation itself is undergoing a crisis in this still evolving Covid-19 pandemic and the current occupant of the Presidential Palace also happens to have Cebuano roots. But the similarities end there.
Despite the pandemic, he is gearing for a political battle. The conferences which are intended to update the citizens on the fight against the virus, are instead used to attack critics. Tens of thousands have succumbed to the virus, millions have lost their jobs, medical frontliners complain against non-payment of what is due them. Yet, he is extra busy with the coming elections. Worse, some of the president’s men are accused of making money out of the pandemic. Instead of ordering an investigation to placate a skeptical public, he engages in ad hominem attacks against the investigators.
Again, a crisis moment manifests one’s character. And what is revealed these days is a character that is unspeakably calloused.