MANILA, Philippines – In celebration this Sunday, October 26, of the 73rd birth anniversary of former senator Raul Roco – considered by those close to him as “the best president we never had” – it’s worth remembering the man and his words.
Hobbled by his battle with prostate cancer, he placed fourth in the May 2004 elections. Previously described as a “warrior lawyer” who loves debate, Roco passsed away a year later, on August 5, 2005 at the age of 63.
Born in Naga City on October 26, 1941, Roco was first elected to the House of Representatives from 1987 to 1992, providing the legal basis for the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. From the House, he moved to the Senate where he authored important bills such as Senate Bill No. 1742 which lifted the ban on political advertisements and Senate Bill No. 1746, Allowing Overseas Filipino Workers to Vote. Roco also authored the Anti-Sexual Harassment Law or RA 7877.
Appointed education secretary by former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2001, he also founded Aksyon Demokratiko in 1997, which would become a vehicle for his presidential campaigns in 1998 and 2004.
Year later, some of Roco’s best quotes are still relevant and useful in politics and governance. Joy Aceron of the Ateneo School of Government chose these memorable Roco quotes:
On good governance
1. “Transparency is the way to fight graft and corruption. Where there is sunlight, there are few microbes. Where there is darkness, there are more microbes. This is the Sunshine Principle.”
2. “The Greeks tell us that the law should not be like a spider’s web that can catch only flies. Instead the law should be a chain of words strong enough to imprison even the powerful.”
3. “I have developed a healthy suspicion of power. We want dispersal of power, dispersal of participation, and dispersal of development and human resources.”
4. “Leadership today should be like the leadership of an orchestra conductor. The conductor may not know how to play the piano, but with a wave of a hand, he or she can tell the piano player to play pianissimo. The conductor may not know how to play the violin, but with the wave of a hand, he or she can tell the violin player to play fortissimo. The conductor may not know how to play a clarinet, but he or she can bring out the best from the clarinet player. The leader, like the conductor, draws out talent from everybody and creates a symphony out of everybody’s best efforts.”
5. “If I must err, I prefer to err on the side of action and decision, not on the side of inaction and indecision.
6. “If we are good teachers, our students will not need us anymore when they learn to fly away on their wings. Our success as teachers is measured precisely by the independence that our students have learned from us.”
On truth and fighting the enemy
7. “The problem with lies is they do not only quarrel with the truth. They also quarrel among themselves.”
8. “Two brothers lived in a town beset by a capre. The older brother went off to fight the monster, but he never came back. A year later, the younger brother found the monster and killed it. As it lay on the ground, the monster transformed into his older brother. The lesson here is that we must not become the enemy that we fight.”
9. “We cannot criticize the Emperor for having no clothes if we ourselves are naked.”
On knowledge and the self
10. “What is the most precious commodity in the world? It is neither gold nor diamond, but water. Try doing without water for three days. But notice that we can hold water only with an open palm. If we close our hands, water will flow out. The same thing can be said of knowledge. To be of any real value, knowledge must be shared.”
11. “At some point in our lives, we are forced by circumstances to see ourselves as we really are. The Greeks said it best: ‘Know thyself.’ It is only through a confrontation with the self that expiation is possible. We cannot keep running away from ourselves forever.”
12. “Winning comes from self-knowledge.”
On Filipino pride and heroism
13. “Filipinos are undoubtedly one of the most talented people in the whole world. We have the roots in the Madjapahit and Srivijayan empires. We benefited from the cosmopolitan traditions of Spain, the Napoleonic Code and the theories of European law. We inherited the Judeo-Christian tradition and Anglo-Saxon ideas of political freedom. We have benefitted from different sources of civilization. We must harness this intellectual capital so that the Philippines will grow as fast as it can.”
14. “When the spark of greatness leads to an act of self-giving, we cross the threshold of heroism.”
On freedom and light
15. “Consider the candle. When it spreads its light, it does not diminish. Makisindi man tayo sa kandila, hindi mawawala ang ilaw ng pinagsindihan natin. Nakadaragdag ang ilaw. Light is one of the few things we can give away and yet still always have.”
16. “Once, I traveled to Palawan, and I was given a parrot to take home. We put the parrot in a cage. It was supposed to talk after two years. But my children, who were brought up valuing freedom, wanted to release the bird. So one fine morning, we opened the cage door for the parrot to fly free.
On the first day, the parrot refused to leave the cage. On the second day, the parrot approached the open door, but still refused to leave. On the third day, the parrot finally went out, but it soon returned to the safety of the cage again. It was only on the fourth day that the parrot flew away. We never saw the parrot again.
In the same way, when we are encumbered with too much centralized authority and too many rules, we succumb to learned helplessness. Only after trying hard can we learn to fly and to use our wings again.”
On women power and hope
17. “Women are capable of a higher ethical standard than men. While 65% of the Filipino bureaucracy is composed of women, only 20% of graft and corruption cases involve women. Men, who comprise 35% of the bureaucracy, are involved in 80% of graft and corruption cases. The higher ethical standard of women should be a source of societal transformation.”
18. “When Pandora’s box was opened, all the ills of the world were released and all that was left behind was hope. That is what we must offer hope.” – Rappler.com
* All quotes, except quote number 7, are from the booklet entitled, According to Raul Roco published in 1997 by the Roco for President Movement.