[OPINION] A trio of great patriots and leaders: Wash Sycip, Dina Abad, Fr Archie Intengan
All 3 were: patriots of the highest order, who loved this country intensely; committed to combat poverty using all means available; educators or supporters of education, who mentored and supported between them thousands of leaders who were inspired by their own example of servant leadership.
Sycip, Abad, and Intengan changed the country for the better and their work continues through the people and institutions they left behind.
The story of Washington Sycip is well-known. A certified public accountant at 18 years old, he obtained a PhD from Columbia University in New York City. He was founder of SyCip, Gorres, Velayo & Co. (SGV). That itself is a major achievement, as SGV today continues to stand out as a global powerhouse in providing assurance, tax, advisory, transaction advisory, and other services.
But it is his life after retirement from SGV that is more interesting. As quoted in Rappler, Sycip’s profile describes this: “After retiring from SGV in 1996, he continues to be active in business and civic endeavors, and sits on the board of many Philippine and international companies and foundations. His advocacies include the improvement of public education, micro finance and entrepreneurship, and public health. He is relentless in his pursuit to help alleviate poverty. A staunch believer in Filipino talent, SyCip is also an avatar of economic freedom.”
In 2008, when given a PhD honoris causa by the University of the Philippines, Washington Sycip asked hard questions. They signify to me the kind of person this businessman was – he loved this country intensely, spoke truth to power and always frankly, expected both excellence and commitment to give back from everyone by those privileged with wealth and education, and believed in our capacity to be the best in the world. Some of the questions he asked:
- If UP has accurately claimed that during the past 62 years, after we left the US umbrella, UP graduates have occupied the presidential chair for 46 years, then I may ask you, “Why are we in such a mess?"
- Can we blame the religion Spain brought to our shores 5 centuries ago for our limitations or the US for the failure of our democracy? Shouldn’t our decades of freedom be long enough for us to correct any inherited disadvantages?
- With all the talented people we have, why have we not been able to produce a Lee Kwan Yew, who in one generation brought his people in Singapore to income levels of the US or Germany?
- Will UP be able to produce other leaders like (Rafael) Salas and can they succeed on the Philippine political soil?
- We all agree on the need of national unity. Can we point to the politics of fraternities as the root of the excessive time spent on national politics? Or is the lack of unity a basic disadvantage of an island nations?
- Is the sluggish pace of economic development the result of blind acceptance of Western thinking that political freedom or democracy comes ahead of economic freedom?
- Doesn’t democracy assume that there must be the “rule of law” which implies an independent judiciary with well trained and well paid honest lawyers? Where judges may be poorly paid and subject to political pressures is it possible to have an independent judiciary, let alone a working democracy?
Henedina Abad, Representative of Batanes and founding Dean of the Ateneo School of Government, asked similar questions throughout her life as an activist, social development leader, educator, and legislator. Like Washington Sycip, she went beyond asking questions but actually grappled with them, seeking answers on the ground, unafraid of the consequences to her personal safety and well-being.
With her husband Butch, former budget secretary in the Aquino administration, Dina took on the burdens and faced the risks of leadership. In their younger days, they were both arrested by the Marcos dictatorship and confined to the Ateneo de Manila campus. More recently, they have been vilified by their political enemies for imagined crimes when all they are guilty of is the pursuit of governance reforms that this country needs. But fortunately, those of us who know the Abads for decades have not wavered in our faith in Dina and Butch.
Ed Garcia, member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, in a tribute to Dina addressed to Butch last Tuesday describes our experience of the Abad couple:
“As far as I can remember, Dina was always reluctant to engage in partisan politics. It somehow went against her grain. Though she was the founding director the School of Government, there was something in the rough and tumble ways we do politics in our country that felt strange to her. She set the bar high, and compromise was not her cup of tea.
Dina told it the way she saw it – her principles were her northern star, her manner at times professorial, her approach unrelenting. She felt more at home in the classroom or while working to improve the lives of others, rather than engage in endless debates in the halls of Congress.
But there she was, taking it all as part of the territory, a modern-day female version of a gender-sensitive Don Quixote de la Mancha tilting at the windmills of Batasan Hills. It is thus fitting that the last vote she took in the House of Representatives was to say no to the death penalty and in the process, gave up her choice committee chairmanship. She was willing to pay the price, and in a sense her untimely passing was part of her ultimate sacrifice in a life full of giving.
It is one of the heartbreaking and unintended outcomes of the efforts that we are engaged in that oftentimes we are led to travel paths that put premium on service to others at the cost of time spent with family, and our normal quest for personal happiness. If there are occasions when indeed doubts cross my mind it is during periods like this when we mourn the passing away of people we have learned to love, knowing that precious time has been taken away from them which they could have better enjoyed in the embrace of their loved ones. . .
We will miss Dina, more than we can imagine. She was one among the few in our legislature who practiced a 'brave brand of politics'. She was principled, and a woman of courage – allowing us to recall what we once said of another woman who broke ground. “Sometimes, the majority is one woman with courage.”
As for me, I am proud to claim Dina Abad as a friend of 4 decades, a giant in our community of practice of good governance, social justice, and political reforms, a leader who was in part responsible for my returning to the Philippine in 2006, rescuing me from a life of exile. In the 10 years I was at the helm of the Ateneo School of Government, she was supportive, giving counsel, nudging me sometimes on political issues, but always encouraging. In 2014, when the school became big enough to separate our ceremony from the Ateneo Graduate School of Business, I made sure it was Dina, the visionary behind the school that would do the honor to deliver the commencement speech. This passage from that speech lingers on with me as her legacy to our students:
"I’d like to believe that you are here now – that you have completed your courses with passion and excellence – not out of caprice or coincidence but because you want to help create a better Philippines through public service. I trust that all of us here today desire pretty much the same thing: a government that truly works for the benefit of the people. What is before us is an unprecedented opportunity to learn, to inspire, and to lead. My dear graduates, go forth now and be the true public servants, the inspiring leaders that events today have made it possible for you to be.”
Before I went to pay my respects to Dina earlier this week, I decided to drop by the place where I first met her sometime in 1979 – the basement of Eliazo Hall (then a conference/retreat center and now a dormitory) in the Katipunan campus of the Ateneo de Manila University, during a post-immersion seminar. I closed my eyes and saw Dina so young again, so beautiful, newly or about to be married to Butch, already tough though unfailingly kind, definitely a visionary even in those years. Forty years later, we say goodbye to the same yet different person, still a leader and a friend but much wiser.
It's not the same world Dina leaves behind; it's better in some respects among others because of the work that she did as an activist, educator, politician, mother, and wife; in some ways, its worse but that's not because of her, it is so despite all her efforts. We will have to carry on the work for authentic change. She might not be with us physically but I really believe her spirit – and not just her ideas or values – will continue to be with us.
Finally, Fr Romeo Intengan SJ. Fr Archie was a medical doctor, theologian and professor, democratic socialist, revolutionary, former Jesuit provincial, and above all a priest. Fr Danny Huang, also a former Jesuit Provincial, describes their “Manong”: “An utterly sincere, zealous, humble, respectful, kind-hearted man, whose positions I did not always agree with, but whom I always regarded with respect and affection, because of his passion for justice, his acute analytical mind, the sheer goodness of his heart, and his profound faith.”
Fr Danny’s words captures also my experience of Fr Archie whom I first met in 1977 when he gave a retreat to a group that I was part of. I am not sure if that was ACIL or something else. This was also in Eliazo Hall where I also met Dina Abad the first time two years later.
From then on, I was an admirer of and benefited from Fr Archie’s brilliance, courage, discipline, and personal compassion. Like many, I have had political differences with Fr Archie in recent years, in my case particularly on his perspectives on the Left to whom I have been more reconciled. But we kept our friendship.
To the end, I continued to reach out to him for advice on solving difficult issues. He always helped, no questions asked. And in all the 40 years I knew him, there was one constant advice that Fr Archie gave and I have tried to follow – be faithful to the Church as that is what will save all of us.
Dina Abad and Fr Archie Intengan were good friends. In his infinite wisdom and mercy, God must have decided that it would be good for them to travel together to the heavens. They will be witness to each other's lives when St Peter meets them at the pearly gates: their love for the poor and our country; their commitment to young professionals and education; their basic goodness and compassion; their kindness and loyalty to family, friends, comrades, colleagues, the Jesuits; the hope with which they lived in this world; and above all, their faith in the Lord whom they are now about to meet.
Washington Sycip, Dina Abad, and Archie Intengan – a trio of leaders and patriots have left us but their spirit lives on in the people they mentored and institutions they built. Surely those of us who are still here can rise to the occasion, inspired by their examples, to build a country this trio can be proud of from where they sit now. – Rappler.com