Saturday, September 19, 2009

Senator Sotero H. Laurel: from the People Who Knew Him

by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

I would like to share this very nice and moving piece written by Eugene Reyes on Senator Sotero H. Laurel. Eugene Reyes and I served under Senator Laurel in the 8th Congress. He went on to become the Philippine Trade Representative to Singapore and New York. Eugene now stays full time in New York teaching at Baruch College and helping new under-served immigrants gain access to government programs.

My Fond Memories of Ka Teroy

by Eugene Reyes

Writing for Ka Teroy was a wanderlust adventure in the deep corners of his brilliant mind and personal ethos. A gentleman of the old school, he values relationships established in the course of his life, at work, in school, in the Senate, on the campaign trail. He would always emphasize to me to find that one word, that one-liner that would connect the reader of his letter to him in a very personal way. In writing memos, he would tell me to err on the side of caution, using “For” instead of “To”, the word “For” denoting more respect and equality in the position even when he was already a Senate President Pro-tempore. For him, “To” sounds presumptuous, even haughty.

I recall a time when he showed me various letters written by his father, Jose, as a senator-statesman, as president, and as Supreme Court justice. He told me to read them, and emulate the writing style and language. And as I go through each of the letters, I yearn of a gentle time when eloquence was the rule and elegance was the standard, and when politeness among men and civility in society was the way of life. He wanted for me to ensure that in writing for him, the work should capture the essence of his person and the core of his integrity.

Once he asked me to write the opening prayer that he will deliver on the senate floor. It might as well have been a policy speech addressed to the heavens, for in it, he added the phrase “and save us from the certain destruction of a nuclear holocaust”. At that time, it was the Cold War and the debate on the future of the military bases rages, he was fearful that keeping them would invite an unwarranted retaliatory ICBM attack from the old Soviet Union in the event of an all-out Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) scenario between the superpowers. He was a pacifist.

In writing a speech on poverty, it was from Ka Teroy that I learned of poverty as a form of “structured violence”. He explained that the long-term effect of poverty is to society as domestic violence is to a home. To him, poverty leads to malnutrition, and the latter inhibits the mind from developing to its fullest. A society beset by such condition will have difficulty in producing wise and scholarly people in its fold. He was compassionate.

On a personal note and recall, the year 1988 was coming to an end. I had a bout of illness while my father’s health was also deteriorating. I asked the Senator if I could take leave from work, to address my personal issues. He told me to take as much time as I need, and, upon my return, he wanted me to organize his office library. “Please”, he said… “Take care of my precious books. But take care of your father first, he needs you more.” I never was able to do that for him, taking care of his books, because as soon as I took my leave, my father passed away, and everything went on a spin. To my surprise on one of the nights of my father’s wake, Ka Teroy dispatched his daughter-in-law to come to the interment service. She informed me that the Senator has sent her to represent the family and convey their condolence. I was floored. I was just a staffer, a ghost-writer for him, and he reached out on my hour of grief, even involving his family member. I will always remember the Senator for that. He is a true gentleman.

Ka Teroy, may your name and legacy endures. May the things you value continue to be held in high esteem. May that era of gentleness and chivalry you represent live forever among men of courage and uprightness.

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