Memories of three outstanding public servants

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Teresa S. Abesamis-125

Grassroots & Governance

The news yesterday about the passing of Mon Jimenez was such a shock; I guess because he was so much younger than me. He had invited me to lunch at Rockwell last year when he heard that I was on a visit to Manila. Aside from being from the same (advertising) industry, his Dad and my Dad both came from Tacloban, so we had some shared memories. On a visit to his Department of Tourism office a few years ago when he was Secretary, I had only asked for a 30-minute interview; but he spent two hours chatting and reminiscing with me. He also shared some of his ideas for enhancing a tourism “culture” among our people in the communities.

Mon was the strategist behind the “It’s more fun in the Philippines” campaign which was executed by the ad agency of David Guerrero. It was so successful that the slogan has been used to this day. Mon Jimenez also spurred the involvement of local governments in promoting the tourism culture and developing local tourism attractions in their own communities. Mon Jimenez was a rare public servant who divested his personal assets to serve his country. An honest man, he really sold his highly successful ad agency when he accepted his appointment as Tourism Secretary. He did not just transfer his assets to members of his family.

He is also known among his friends as a real family man who shared leadership with his wife Abby who was his joint CEO of their ad agency. I am told that he never really recovered from the death of his wife four years ago to a rare debilitating illness. I am also told that as a leader, he was much loved by his people in the ad agency and in the tourism department.

Mon Jimenez was a rare bird. A highly creative communications professional, he was also a sharp strategist, competent manager, and inspiring leader.

Another shock was the earlier death of another old friend and dedicated public servant, Fulgencio “Jun” Factoran. Jun was one of the sharpest minds I have ever encountered; but he had a relaxed, informal and unpretentious manner, even when he was in the Cabinet. I met Jun among the “Salas Boys” through an old college friend, Menchu Rodriguez, who had married their mentor Rafael Salas.

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Later I encountered him at Martial Law era court hearings for my old friend, activist Horacio “Boy” Morales and we became fast friends. Jun Factoran was then very active as chair of MABINI, the activist human rights lawyers’ group which included Joker Arroyo, Rene Saguisag, and Bobbit Sanchez. I don’t know how they made their living as lawyers, but the MABINI activists were lawyering pro bono for anti-martial law activists including outstanding journalists whom I later came to know: Marites Vitug, Sheilah Coronel, et al.

One day in late 1986, Jun asked me to come to Malacañang right away for a meeting at the “Guest House.” It turned out to be on the subject of the new Constitution which President Cory Aquino wanted drafted and ratified as soon as possible because she no longer wanted to keep signing decrees as a revolutionary president since she was a staunch advocate of institutionalized democracy. Jun asked me to be his (pro bono of course) point person for the media support for the “Yes to the Constitution” campaign. The campaign was to be preceded by a Constitutional Commission which was to be put together by Jun Factoran to draft a new constitution. All of this was to be completed in a few weeks, because President Cory wanted the new Constitution ratified by February of 1987. There was no money. And Jun and his boss Joker were preoccupied with a brewing coup attempt. I was overwhelmed by Jun’s complete trust in me and I had no choice but to produce a miracle advertising campaign with no money. Not even for my gasoline expenses and meals for radio talents which I ended up paying for. It’s a long story. But yes, the Cory Constitution was drafted and it was ratified on Feb. 7, 1987 by a majority vote and a high voter turnout. Jun Factoran managed to produce miracles by inspiring and motivating his people.

Jun Factoran told me he came from humble origins in Bataan; but he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree cum laude and as Valedictorian from the College of Law at the University of the Philippines. Then his boss Executive Secretary Rafael Salas got him a Ford Foundation scholarship to Harvard where he got his Master of Laws degree. The last time I saw Jun Factoran was in January this year. He wore a smart suit and looked healthy. I was really touched when he walked across and greeted me by whispering “It’s good to see you, Tess.” We had been text and e-mail correspondents for years because I would consult his brilliant legal mind whenever I thought my column might get me into a legal mess.

Because of my work on the “Yes to the Constitution” campaign; Paul Aquino asked me to head the media bureau for the Senate campaign that had to be run in three months from the date the new Cory Constitution was ratified. President Cory wanted the legislature as provided in the Constitution in place right away. One of our 24 candidates was martial law activist Heherson “Sonny” Alvarez.

Sonny Alvarez had quite a reputation as a champion debater. A little bird tells me that UP President Carlos P. Romulo then referred to him as “the best debater in the history of UP.” He headed a debating team that won all of its encounters with students of universities in various countries in the United States and Europe, including Ivy League schools.

During the early part of the 1987 senate campaign, Sonny Alvarez was doing poorly with his highbrow intellectual UP debater’s style of speaking. Once, at a campaign rally in Catarman, Northern Samar, our campaign manager, Paul Aquino whispered to him to “cut out the BS” and talk about his personal experiences during Martial Law. Sonny then decided to talk about the death of his kid brother at the hands of the Marcos military; the reason he and his wife Cecile decided to flee the country. His emotional story brought tears to his audiences. And he got elected! This confirmed our belief that the Filipino voter is less interested in what you think; but more in who you are.

During Martial Law, Sonny and Cecile ended up in the United States where Sonny continued his activism, organizing and leading the NAM (Ninoy Aquino Movement) there. He often had to do blue collar odd jobs to make ends meet while campaigning against the Marcos government. A New York-based friend once told me champion debater Sonny did not stop his activism even while he struggled to survive.

After his two Senate terms, where he consistently stayed true to his principles, including his nationalism, voting against the ratification of the US bases agreement, Sonny Alvarez continued his public service, joining the Cabinet as Agrarian Reform, and later Environment and Natural Resources Secretary.

I feel privileged and proud to have encountered these three outstanding public servants in my life. They are so much classier than many characters sitting in high office today.

 

Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and Fellow of the Development Academy of the Philippines.

tsabesamis0114@yahoo.com

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