Some heroes are made of these

Harvey S. Keh
In the field of politics and governance where corruption and self-interests still continue to pervade, many of us continue to long for heroes who will show that good governance and leadership with integrity is indeed possible in our country

If there is one country that has always been fascinated with heroes and their heroic stories, it must be the Philippines.

Proof of it can be seen in our Metro Manila Film Festival where majority of Filipinos often troop to our movie houses to make the likes of the legendary Panday, Lastikman and Enteng Kabisote box office hits.

In real life, we also celebrate the successful exploits of Filipinos who have received recognition from the international community such as Efren Peñaflorida, who became CNN Hero of the Year in 2009 for his efforts to provide quality education through his “Kariton Classroom.”

One has to ask, why do we continue to long for heroes? Perhaps the reason can be found in our history of oppression when we were colonized for several centuries and up until now where there is still much injustice that happens.

While we are already a free nation, much of the wealth and power are still controlled by a few families. This has led us to celebrate and feel inspired whenever an ordinary Filipino is able to break the norm and make a big difference.

In the field of politics and governance where corruption and self-interests still continue to pervade, many of us continue to long for heroes who will show that good governance and leadership with integrity is indeed possible in our country.

This is the reason why the untimely passing of Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo was mourned by millions of Filipinos all over the country because they saw him as a rarity in Philippine politics, someone who was an effective and selfless public servant who showed all of us the kind of “tsinelas leadership” that we should demand from all our government leaders.

In this time of epal and political dynasty politics, Robredo reminded all of us about the goodness and the greatness of the Filipino people. Thankfully, we have others who, like him, have silently and without much fanfare, also done their own share in proving that good governance is still possible in small pockets of hope in our country.

Banals and dynasties 

Before he entered politics in the Philippines, current Rep Jorge “Bolet” Banal Jr of the 3rd district of Quezon City was a successful banker in the US. He entered politics in 2004 when his father, Jorge Banal, completed his term as city councilor.

In both the 2004 and 2007 elections, Bolet as he is fondly called by his friends and constituents, emerged as the top councilor in his district and in 2010, he ran for Congress and eventually toppled then incumbent Rep Matias Defensor, a staunch ally of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

In the coming 2013 elections, Bolet will be running for re-election but sometime May this year, his father also informed him and his siblings in one of their regular Sunday lunches that he also had plans of running for Congress — but as a party-list representative for Senior Citizens.

Given that the elder Banal is national president of the Federation of Senior Citizens Association of the Philippines, it wouldn’t be very hard for their party-list group to win at least one slot that would allow him to sit as congressman.

Unlike many political families, which would be enthusiastic with the news of having another one of them in power, the Banal family met the news with much apprehension, saying it wouldn’t be proper for more than one of them to be running for public office.

Knowing this was a long-time dream of his father, Bolet was more than willing to give way to his dad so there would only be one of them who would run in the coming elections. But his dad quickly shot down the idea and said that since Bolet had done well during his first term in office, he should seek another term.

The family discussed the issue for several hours and shared their views, while the elder Banal also took time to discern and pray over this hard decision.

In the end, the elder Banal decided to give up his bid for Congress and instead focus his efforts as a private citizen on developing projects and programs for indigent senior citizens.

Quality healthcare 

Nena Reyes, 61, had been coughing for more than two weeks already, but she couldn’t afford to consult a doctor until the time she had to be rushed to the hospital due to shortness of breath and blood in her phlegm. 

By the time her family was able to bring her to a doctor, it was too late. She eventually passed away due to complications arising from pneumonia, a curable disease that could have been arrested by timely diagnosis and proper medication.

If she had lived in San Isidro, Nueva Ecija where Sonia Lorenzo was mayor for almost 12 years, this might not have happened. It was during her term as local chief executive that more than 95% of her constituents were provided with social health insurance. This allowed indigent constituents to consult doctors and access medical facilities when they were sick.

More importantly, this eventually led to her municipality being able to meet the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals on curbing maternal and infant mortality even before 2015.

Aside from this, Lorenzo was also able to address key problems in health within her community by providing access to potable drinking water to all her barangays. Due to these initiatives, along with her agricultural program (which helped increase the harvest of rice farmers from 60 cavans per hectare to 180 cavans per hectare), San Isidro rose quickly from being a sleepy 5th class municipality to a bustling 2nd class municipality during her years in office.

Sadly, despite all the gains that her municipality achieved under her leadership, she still lost by a very narrow margin in the last 2010 elections due to the massive vote-buying that transpired.

Good governance

This shows that for good governance to happen in our country, drastic changes should also happen among constituents. As the saying goes, “It takes two to tango.” As long as there are Filipinos who will sell their votes, there will be unscrupulous politicians who will be more than willing to buy them.

The road to lasting change and development is long and hard, as our national heroes like Andres Bonifacio, Jose Rizal, and Apolinario Mabini had discovered. They too had to fight insurmountable odds for us to attain the freedom we enjoy today.

It’s a good thing we have modern-day heroes who, despite challenges and failures, continue to try their best to live out what it means to be a true “champion of good governance and leadership with integrity.”

In the coming elections, it is our hope we are able to find more heroes who, through their actions, will restore hope and trust in our political system, and inspire more young Filipinos. –


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Harvey S. Keh is Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government and is also the Lead Convenor of the Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership. 

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