Sterling icons of democracy

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony Katigbak - The Philippine Star

It was not difficult to think of a topic for my column this week as I’m sure many others were likewise moved to write about the recent loss of one of the greatest leaders of our time, South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela, affectionately called ‘Madiba’ (his Xhosa clan name) by his countrymen and by his many friends and admirers all over the world.

Mandela lived a full and storied life, passing away at the age of 95. He encountered so many trials and tribulations, bloodshed, sacrifices, and deaths in his fight against apartheid rule, that it is amazing how he always maintained such a bright and positive outlook. His battle against racism and segregation began early, entering the struggle against anti-colonial politics in his twenties by first joining the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League. From then on, he continued to bravely fight, sometimes against overwhelming odds for the freedom of his people.

Much like Dr. Martin Luther King in the United States, Mandela fervently believed in the sanctity of the human being, and that all men and women are created equal despite their color, race, and religion and that they should be treated as such.

I followed Mandela’s lonely and often heartrending crusade against apartheid throughout the years and have watched many of his difficult and triumphant times. I remember him being imprisoned for a horrific 27 years by South Africa’s white authorities, and watched his youth pass him by behind bars. I also recall watching him dance overjoyed with his people after finally being set free.

Indeed that was a sight to remember when we watched Mandela on television with his former jailor and tormentor F.W. de Klerk raising their hands together in triumph when the former was inaugurated South Africa’s first black president in the first ever free and democratic election. And who can also forget when they hugged years later having won the Nobel Peace Prize in Stockholm for their joint efforts to establish peace and abolish segregation. It was a splendid gesture of brotherhood, one that was not without it’s difficulties I’m sure, but one that was necessary to help South Africa finally join the community of freedom-loving nations in the world.

There is so much to admire in Nelson Mandela — his strength, his resolve, his positive outlook despite the overwhelming odds — but what I have to say I admire above all is his humility and his deep love for his country and people. Such a deep love that it gave him the strength to keep on fighting even when all seemed lost. This love is what gave him the ability to see beyond the bitterness and continue his good work when he was finally released from prison after 27 long years.

Indeed, love for your country and your countrymen can inspire a person to do great things. I still remember when I was in New Delhi, India long ago how the Indians deeply revered, admired, and respected their Mahatma Gandhi who led people out of the shackles of the British rule until the nation gained its independence. And in almost every nation or in every race there is someone like this — leading the people to freedom and equality.

Here in the Philippines, a country that Madiba visited twice, I find similarities in democratic icon Cory Aquino who freed the country from the chains of a harsh dictatorship and renewed our freedoms. And of course similarities with revolutionary Filipinos like Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio who freed our people from Spanish and American rule over 100 years ago.

Again, also like the struggle of Dr. Martin Luther King who spent his life fighting for equal rights for African Americans in the United States, he also had a predecessor in one of the United States’ greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln, who fought during the civil war to free the slaves and give them a decent chance at a better life.

It certainly does seem that the world has evolved so much over the years. It is ludicrous to think that in some parts of the world, citizens still don’t have equal rights. The fight continues, but if we have sterling examples of those who believe, like Mandela, in the right to an equal life and a democratic society, then there is still hope. Let us never forget that.

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It’s no secret that I have always been a fan of our Pambansang Kamao Manny Pacquiao. Ever since he dropped by The Philippine STAR office about 15 years ago I had a feeling we were going to see great things from him. Back then he was just a young beanpole of a fighter, hungry, waiting to find his place among the greats. Since then, he has risen to worldwide fame in the ring and garnered championship after championship as we all watched and cheered. What made it even better was that he never forgot where he came from and always made it a point to let the world know he was fighting for his country.

Manny has indeed done great things for boxing and for the nation and while I admire him as a boxer unabashedly, I have to admit that I can’t back him in his current squabble with BIR Commissioner Kim Henares about his tax problems. Henares is trying to best do her job, despite increasing unrest with the BIR and taxes in general, and she is trying to be as honest and transparent as possible. Unfortunately I see no reason why Pacquiao should be exempt from paying his taxes. Especially since all of us regular citizens, who don’t make anywhere near what this global fighter makes, have to struggle with paying our taxes regularly.

As much as I admire our nation’s elite boxer, I have to draw the line at this despite the hysterics of his Mommy Dionisia. I am saddened by the fighter’s tax struggles, but that is no reason to sweep it under the rug. I wish he had surrounded himself with a better team to handle his finances so that he could have avoided this problem, but the truth is that he didn’t and in the end, he will have to do what is right and pay his taxes like every other law-abiding citizen. In fact, as a politician he should be even more willing to do it so that he can set the example for the people. And if this has taught him anything I hope it’s that he needs to be more involved in his finances and his career. Don’t always rely on your advisers, like Top Rank’s Bob Arum. It’s important that Manny realize that it is all business to them. Many people around him are just there to make a fortune and not truly look out for what is best for him.











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