I made a mental note sometime after my first “serious” blog entry to write at most once a week. And after having written something about Gloria (at last, something of importance apart from my sordid life!), I did not plan on writing anything here anytime soon. Until news came that Raul Roco died of cancer.
It was sad news, and not only because I’m Bicolano and my mother and sisters, I suppose, voted for him (I did not vote during last elections; registered in Bicol but had to cover the blasted Namfrel joke-of-a-quickcount). Not even because I briefly covered his campaign, until he withdrew from the race, that is. I was saddened because he was one of the few remaining true liberals of our time.
Sure, he had some reactionary positions, like supporting GATT in the past and introducing bad policies in the Education Department during his stint as secretary. But he was a liberal in the pure sense. He championed women’s issues. He fought globalization policies. He stood against VFA, the Iraq war, and pissed off the administration he served along the way because he thought Gloria was getting too ambitious. He was a nationalist, he supported the arts, he was close to the youth.
I liked the way he talked softly albeit with conviction. Of course, he was a politician, and was capable of some degree of bullshit. But most of the time, when I heard him talk he sounded sincere. When he made snide remarks, it was mostly because he was provoked.
I remember during the debates on the VFA in the Senate, Biazon was trying to defend US intervention in the country in the session floor. Roco was interpellating him. After a series of questions which Biazon was unable to answer coherently, Roco commented that Biazon as a former soldier cannot be faulted for his bravery in the floor, even if he was “puro tapang lang,” implying that the former general uses his brawns too much and his brain too little. Watching the sessions on television, I laughed hysterically.
The VFA, as we know, was passed overwhelmingly. There were only, like, five of them who voted against VFA. But I believe it was Roco’s greatest moment in his career, when he stood up for something decent and right amidst incredible odds. For that brief moment, Roco was my hero. There were, of course, other battles that the Senator would engage in. He was the force of reason during the Estrada impeachment trial. During the May 04 campaign, he mounted a decent, if modest, campaign, knowing fully well the odds against him. And upon learning of his medical condition, he decided to stop campaigning. He was ambitious, yes. But he was not that ambitious.
I remember a funny incident concerning his wife, Sonia Roco, during the campaign. It was the miting de avance of Gabriela Women’s Party, and many national candidates were present to pitch to the Gabriela crowd. Among those invited were senatorial candidates, and wives of presidentiables FPJ and Roco. Of course, Susan Roces was a hit among the “nanays.” And when Sonia Roco’s turn to be introduced onstage came, the emcee made a horrendous mistake of introducing her to the crowd as “Ginang Susan Roco.” Sonia did not look offended, and went on discussing her husband’s platform for women.
If that funny incident means anything to me now, it is that I saw Roco as that quintessential liberal politician who had ambition but also knew the what stakes were in the political game. He wanted to be president, but was sensible and decent enough to criticize GMA when it mattered, much to the detriment of his political career.
Like FPJ, I believe the May 04 killed Raul Roco. It killed his career when he ran against GMA, formed his own obscure party and chose his own obscure candidates. But it did not kill, but rather enhanced, his place in history as one of the country’s last true liberals.