Remembering Don Sergio Osmeña Sr.

SHOOTING STRAIGHT - Bobit S. Avila - The Philippine Star

In Cebu, Sept. 9 is a special non-working holiday in honor of the 142nd birth anniversary of the Grand Old Man of Cebu, Don Sergio Osmeña Sr. who was born on Sept. 9, 1878 and died on Oct.19, 1961. If I have written several articles on Don Sergio it is because one of the things my late father Atty. Jesus “Lindong” Avila bequeath to me was the two-volume biography of Don Sergio authored by the late Vicente Albano Pacis, which he bought for P48.00 in Alemars at that time. He wrote that Don Sergio was the greatest Filipino who ever lived since Dr. Jose Rizal, our national hero. Also I write in the hope that our Millennials would know who is Don Sergio Osmeña Sr.

According to his biographer, Don Sergio first appeared in the public eye as a freelance writer sent to Luzon by the Revolutionary Junta in Cebu led by Gen. Juan Climaco to try and contact Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, who was then being pursued by the Americans, in order to get instructions from Aguinaldo about the war situation with the Americans. Don Sergio was able to deliver that message to Gen. Aguinaldo who, a short time later, was captured by the Americans in Palanan, Isabela province. So Don Sergio first appeared at the crossroads of our history at a time when the Philippines was shifting from its Spanish colonizers to our new masters, the American colonizers, at the turn of the century.

Don Sergio’s biographer Pacis wrote on how he was able to understand and communicate with the Americans in English when, in those times, Spanish was still the lingua franca of the Philippines. Pacis wrote: “Could Osmeña read American books? Did he know English? Perhaps fate had something to do with the fact that, save for those very few who studied abroad like Dr. Jose Rizal, Don Sergio Osmeña Sr. was among the very first Filipinos to learn English. He first studied the English language under the tutelage of Josephine Bracken, an Irish by blood and birth, and the widow of the executed Dr. Jose Rizal.”

After Rizal’s execution by the Spanish government, Josephine participated briefly in the revolution against Spain that her husband had largely inspired by his writings. After having detached herself from the Katipunan forces, she was ordered out of the country by the Spanish authorities. She left the Philippines in May 1897 for Hong Kong, where she had lived before coming to the Philippines. There, she met Vicente Abad, a Cebu businessman, who married her and brought her back to the Philippines and to his Cebu home. It was there that for sometime, she gave special lessons in English to Osmeña, although these were mere rumors, but written by the biographer.

The biographer noted that Don Sergio did not learn too much of the English language from Josephine, but it was sufficient to enable him to understand simple English, However, my grandfather Don Jose Avila, who was six years younger than Don Sergio but were good friends, even cousins and we can only reckon that this friendship blossomed because my grandpa (who was allegedly the son of a Spanish friar Fr. Manuel Rubio Fernandez, parish priest of Carcar in 1884) had to be sent to Hong Kong to study in St. Joseph’s College, which is why he spoke English with a British accent. So he must have practiced English with my grandpa.

After school, my grandfather came home to Cebu as one of the first Cebuanos to speak English. In fact, when he opened his newspaper, the Cebu Advertiser, it was the first English/Cebuano language newspaper in Cebu, which ended operations when the building where the printing press once stood was bombed by the Americans during the liberation of Cebu.

Cebuanos always called Don Sergio the Grand Old Man of Cebu, as he was already old when he retired. However, Don Sergio’s greatest feat was when he achieved the role of the youngest Filipino Speaker of the Philippine Assembly in 1907 at the young age of 29, which remains unparalleled to this day. If at all, not many Filipinos, not even Cebuanos, knew or read that on June 19, 1908, Speaker Sergio Osmeña made a historic declaration of independence before the Philippine Assembly, something that history has long forgotten. This eventually led to the declaration of independence given by the Americans on the 4th of July 1946.

Call me lucky that I was able to shake hands with Don Sergio as I was then only eight years old when he came to our house in Mango Ave. when my grandfather died on May 9,1959. Perhaps this was a part of my youth that I can never forget because Don Sergio was seated not far from the coffin of my grandfather, and my father called for me to meet Don Sergio, saying that he was a former president of the Philippines. For an eight-year-old, that really didn’t matter.

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