‘General, what is happening to our country?’
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - October 10, 2019 - 12:00am

Emmanuel Pelaez, then minister of state for foreign affairs, uttered these words in 1982 to Brig. Gen. Tomas Karingal, the police chief of Quezon City at the time.

The year was 1982 and on the evening of July 2, unidentified gunmen riddled Pelaez’s limousine with bullets – four bullets went into his back and neck and more to his driver, who slumped dead behind the wheel.

Pelaez crawled out of the car and called out to neighbors who carried him to the hospital for an emergency surgery.

“Moments before he was wheeled inside the operating room, Pelaez told Brig. Gen. Karingal, “General, what’s happening to our country? I have no known enemies,” according to a news article on UPI.

Emmanuel Pelaez

This is the story of one Emmanuel Pelaez, a former vice president, minister, assemblyman and above all, a statesman.

I learned about his story when I researched about his life after readers told me to add his name to the list of statesmen I put out in my column last Monday.

His words struck me and I believe the question is still valid in this day and age.

What indeed is happening to our country?

Everyday, there is always something that leaves us dumbfounded – a lawmaker’s silly proposal, a presidential spokesperson’s take on the mass transport crisis, and the MMDA’s resident beauty queen’s insensitive remarks.

The traffic mess, indeed, is of crisis proportions. As for the economy, it has been slowing down the past three years.

The air is so dirty and children are falling sick like flies. I should know. In a span of one week, I had to rush a family member to the emergency room twice; the ERs are bursting at the seams with sick kids.

Our seas are so polluted and potable water is scarce and expensive. There’s a lot of garbage around us.

Indeed, we need government to act more on these problems. Yes, our departments our doing what they can, but they simply need to do more.

More importantly, we need statesmen to help legislate against the country’s decline.

Claro M. Recto

I am continuing my list of statesmen in the hope that our present crop of lawmakers will find inspiration, and hopefully, continue the legacy of the good and noble men before them.

May they realize that Congress is not a place for crooks and clowns, but for statesmen who will help build this nation.

Aside from Pelaez, Claro M. Recto is also one such statesman to be emulated.

Touted as one of the foremost statesmen of his generation, he is most remembered for his nationalism, eloquence and brilliance.

In 1957 on the eve of the presidential election, he gave a memorable speech, as published in the book of Renato Constantino. He implored on the youth to be like our national hero Jose Rizal.

“The first task of our young men and women is to develop within themselves the nationalistic spirit of our revolutionary heroes, rejecting pernicious foreign influences. The second task is to participate seriously in the economic development of our country by pursuing those professions for which there is a great need during an era of rapid industrialization. Only a nationalistic administration can inspire a new idealism in our youth, and with its valid economic program make our youth respond to the challenging jobs and tasks demanding full use of their talents and energies. Only with the active support of a nationalistic people can a nationalist administration effect the changes which our present problems demand.”

Benigno Aquino

Any list of statesmen will include the late Senator Ninoy Aquino whose assassination triggered the nation’s uprising against the 20-year dictatorship. Many have already been said about Ninoy, both good and bad. But the lessons he imparted to us should always be remembered.

One such lesson from Ninoy is this: “We should not depend on one man; we should depend on all of us. All of us are expandable in the cause for freedom, and therefore, I say stand up now and be a leader and when all of us are leaders, we will expedite the cause of freedom.”

There are more statesmen who also deserve to be on this list, but space constraints make it impossible for me to write them all.

The point of this piece is that once upon a time, statesmen, they who had the best of intentions for our country, and some who gave up their lives for this nation, have walked this way to make this republic a better place.

Our present day lawmakers owe it to them – and to all of us – to do just as good, if not even better. They are at the Senate and at the House of Representatives to legislate against this country’s decline.

I fervently hope they can all rise to the occasion.

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

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