Raul Roco’s life: A celebration of youth

Leon Flores Iii
August 5, 2015 is the 10th death anniversary of the late Senator Raul S. Roco

Today, we celebrate the life of a man who lived a full life. To paraphrase 2 Timothy 4:7, he fought a good fight, finished the race and kept the faith. 

Father of the Bangko Sentral. Honorary Woman. Outstanding Student. Outstanding Lawyer. Outstanding Congressman. Outstanding Senator. Outstanding Cabinet Member. He would have made an outstanding President. Nay, in the words of some people, he was the best President this country could have had.  

Raul Roco inarguably defied age. I would not know if only Belo touches his skin but he surely had no limits to his youth. His commitment to excellence prompted his insatiable thirst for learning even until his last few breaths. Nobel Prize winner Rosalyn S. Yalow was indeed correct in saying: “The excitement of learning separates youth from old age. As long as you’re learning, you are not old.”

He espoused the values of work, study and prayer. Sipag, aral at dasal. He was a voracious reader. He believed in the power of constant study and learning. His life was indeed a celebration of youth. 

We in Aksyon Kabataan (his ragtag youth-arm-cum-fans-club) had the privilege of discussing the country’s plight and issues with one of the most brilliant minds in the country. Every step of the way, he would make sure that we, the youth, would have a voice and were consulted. In the build-up months to EDSA 2 in 2001, I recall it was also the last week of October 2000 during our Youth National Conference in Cebu, RSR consulted us, the youth, whether we should support GMA as Erap’s successor.

He was really ahead of his time. Not only because he was the first Filipino senator to have a .com website. But back then, Roco already foresaw the tragedy that would befall this country under a GMA leadership. But we, the youth, were clamoring and egging him on to support then Vice-President GMA. With matching eyeball-rolling, we thought he was just being his normal stubborn self. 

We were wrong. As youth, we were willing to compromise. We were being pragmatic. On the other hand, he remained idealistic. That irony was indeed one for the books. But we, along with other sectors, were able to convince him to throw his support for GMA.

And the rest is history. Look at where we are now. We came to realize that his unparalleled ideals never faded. Roco’s flame of idealism never flickered. His life was indeed a celebration of youth.

His leadership legacy

Here was a man who raged against the whirlwind of money and machinery but was able to keep his integrity intact. Seeking to combine politics with idealism and sheer passion for public service, Roco did not pander to the whims of any self-serving interests.

AFP file photo of Raul Roco (4th from right) by Romeo Gacad

In one of our talks in Bacolod and seeking his advice on how a particular issue should be addressed, I could recall him whispering to me as we were walking in a hotel lobby: “Never lie. Lying never pays. Don’t make your life difficult by lying. When you lie, you have to create different versions of the story to different people. Make your life easier by seeking and telling the truth.” 

Roco’s integrity and character was beyond question. His life was indeed a celebration of youth.

Looking at the background, profile, and projects of the awardees for this year’s Roco Youth Achievement Awards, it is commendable that we have a bevy of environmentally concerned youth groups here in Bicol – a place that is the most ravaged victim and recipient of climate change. I am certain Roco is smiling down on all of you.

In 2004, he was adjudged by environmental groups as the greenest Presidential candidate in the Green Electoral Initiative Survey. In 2007, it was not surprising that his wife, Sonia Roco, was the greenest Senatoriable in a contest of 36 candidates by the same environmental survey. This concern from the Rocos stems from their realization that we are stewards of God’s creations. And all resources now are just borrowed from future generations.

Honorary youth

Roco really cared for the youth. In all the sorties and speaking engagements he went to, he would always ask where the youth are. It must be proximity to young minds that makes him youthful and salivate with energy. He always gave us face time. He was generous with his mentoring. His life was indeed a celebration of youth. 

The humanitarian Samuel Ullman said in his poem:

“Youth is not entirely a time of life; it is a state of mind. It is not wholly a matter of ripe cheeks, red lips or supple knees. It is a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the springs of life. Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years. People grow old only be deserting their ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up interest wrinkles the soul.” 

“You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair. In the central place of your heart, there is a recording chamber; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer and courage, so long are you young. When the wires are all down and your heart is covered with the snow of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then – and then only – are you grown old.”

Roco stood by his undying belief in the greatness of the Filipino. He was guided by the principle that “People are our wealth, they are more important than institutions.” With this in mind, he spent his entire life doggedly pursuing his vision of a “creative people in a self-reliant nation united under God.”

He aptly told the respected journalist Teodoro Benigno, “We may be down now. But one day, the Philippines will rise again. And we shall all be proud that we are Filipinos.”

With the strength of his vision, his life is indeed a celebration of youth.

If this be the benchmark and definition of youth, then by all counts, we could say Roco never grew old. He even got younger with time. Perhaps, Roco would be the subject of Don Juan Ponce de Leon’s ire for having discovered the fountain of youth from within. No one could surpass his youthful energy and how this infected those around him.

Raul Roco died on August 5 and was laid to rest on August 11, 2005, a day before the whole world celebrated International Youth Day. Today, we pay tribute to the greatest youth of them all. A giant of a leader who remained forever young. 

He was called a lot of things in his life. Father of Bangko Sentral, “Honorary Woman,” Outstanding Senator. Pride of Bicolandia. Today, after careful review of his life, it is but appropriate for us to call him “Honorary Youth.” 

In closing, I throw this challenge to all of us, to all of you. It is easy right now, at this phase in your life, to be oozing with idealism, to fight for what is right, to be overflowing with passion and energy. But as you grow older, the tentacles of despair, cynicism and traditional thinking could get the best of you.

So rage, rage, against the dying of the light. And remember to look at the example of this Honorary Youth who lived an honorable life, a life full of youthful idealism, passion, character and energy.

Let the Roco legacy live in you! Dios mabalos! – Rappler.com

Leon Flores III is the immediate former Chairperson of the National Youth Commission, and led the youth movement of Raul Roco as the National President of Aksyon Kabataan (AK). This piece was delivered on October 26, 2009 in Naga City in celebration of Roco Day and the Awarding of the Roco Youth Achievement Awards. The event was graced by Roco’s widow, Sonia Roco, former SSS Administrator Corazon de Leon, then Naga City Mayor, the late Jesse Robredo, and student and youth leaders from Bicol.

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