Backstage sons and daughters

SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. - The Philippine Star

One theme that saturates current Philippine zeitgeist is that of the father-child dynamic. In politics, the issue has been thrust front and center by statements from Gibo Teodoro and Isko Moreno referencing clashing perspectives of the political dynasty debate. Business has seen the rise of the next generation of leaders, scions of the colossi that built empires and changed our world. Sports also gifts us with its own genre of father tales – presently there are Yuka and Alex as daughters. Entertainment has its showbiz families.

Whether stage, helicopter or tiger to their emergent children, fathers, too, have their stories. Tomorrow is Father’s Day. To me, it is also the 5th anniversary of my own father’s passing. I remember him fondly with these random vignettes from his multi-dimensional life.

Not the accidental servant. With few brief exceptions corresponding to when he was out of office, public service was the only course for Ernesto M. Maceda. He held a record five Cabinet positions, including Executive Secretary. He was elected to the Senate three times. He was the only Nacionalista survivor (with senator Manda Elizalde) of the 1971 Plaza Miranda sympathy landslide for Liberal Party candidates. He won again in 1987 and, in 1992, almost topped the elections, thanks to his outstanding performance. In 1996, he became Senate president. His service spanned six presidents until his last great role as Philippine ambassador to Washington.

I was a young boy during his 1971 Senate stint. The few times I would visit the Senate, the memory that stands out would be the distinct smell and visual of cigarette and cigar smoke (he himself was a non-smoker). I do recall him debating with fellow senators. When I was older, I learned their names: Ambrosio Padilla, Lorenzo Sumulong, Ninoy Aquino, Gerry Roxas, Jose Diokno, Jovito Salonga, Arturo Tolentino, Jose Roy, Gil Puyat, Mamintal Tamano, among others. Also, the handsomely dressed ladies Magnolia Antonino, Helena Benitez, Eva Estrada-Kalaw.

At the 1987 Senate, I was 23 and understood more. From the fire and brimstone of campaign, the senators settled into a more relaxed and dignified timber of debate. I soaked it all up. Through memorizing the soaring stump speeches of 1978 (KBL-Laban), 1984 (Interim Batasang Pambansa), 1986 (Marcos-Cory Snap Elections) and 1987 (senatorial), I found that decorum suited my style more. When I became city councilor of Manila, my vice mayor, the legendary Danilo B. Lacuna, would quip about how I’d reduce opponents’ arguments in session while maintaining a smiling, disaffected mien.

I respected all my father’s Senate colleagues as his equals. But they impacted on me in different ways. There was brilliance in every word and thought that spilled out of the cerebral head of Blas Ople. As a law student, I was in awe of the sharp legal mind of the foremost pillar of political and civil law, Arturo Tolentino. Jovito Salonga oozed the wisdom of Solomon from the dais as the first post Martial Law Senate president – very Yoda. Other former Law deans were Neptali Gonzales and Nene Pimentel. Gonzales argued both lyrical and poetic while Pimentel was gruff and uncompromising. Both were intellectuals. The sharp Juan Ponce Enrile was the arch nemesis of the predominantly anti-Marcos chamber. Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Rene Saguisag were sui generis.

I also became familiar with them behind the scenes, at the several lunches, meetings, parties and phone calls at which I was the fly on the wall. With the topics of conversation, I could fill books if only they weren’t privileged. The range of differing opinions and the richness was humbling. Always, the common  search for efficiency, economy, effectiveness, ethics and equity. It was the best education I ever got.

Moment of truth. One of the more unforgettable Senate experiences was my father’s vote in rejecting the US Bases treaty in 1991. Who can forget the swirling madness of the time as the chamber was to pass judgment not just on the future of US- Philippine relations but also on its 100 year past? Senators were in the raw crucible of pressure: public opinion, US influence, a president who actually marched in the rain to send a message. Senators even had to hear it from their children at the dinner table. They had only 14 days to decide after foreign secretary Raul Manglapus spent 14 months in negotiation.

At the scheduled hour, my father put on a barong instead of the signature suit. He kept cards to his chest until the last minute, his position too guarded that no one included him in their list of probable Yes or No votes. As the entire Nation watched, he delivered arguably the finest speech of his public career, down to the unforgettable capping of his NO vote at exactly 3 p.m. with the ringing Bases death knell: “Consummatum Est.”

That day in September has become known as the vote of the Magnificent 12. I recall proceeding to the Manila Hotel in the aftermath with friends and family. Upon entrance to the lobby, he was welcomed with a spontaneous burst of applause, with many of the hotel patrons in tears.

Barong and chocolate diplomacy. He met with presidents and prime ministers, popes and paupers. Also heroes, notably Nelson Mandela. But as ambassador to Washington, his meeting the US president at the Oval Office, family in tow, ranks high in unforgettable experiences. He was clad in a piña barong. His children were with him, all bringing suits to meet Bill Clinton at the presentation of credentials. But someone suggested Barong Tagalog for all. At the end of that day, the dry cleaner in D.C. had to clean five Barong Tagalogs as the Maceda boys ended up using their Dad’s entire stash. Later, in commenting about the ambassadors he met, President Clinton singled out the one from the Philippines. The word he used was “charming” and he was impressed by the look of the brood in their immaculate national attire. I had to make sure it wasn’t because Bill noticed Manong Ernie pocketing those boxed M&M chocolate candy giveaways with the presidential seal!

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