Delivered by Darwin Mariano on 7 August 2005
Santa Maria dela Strada Church, Quezon City
I first heard Raul Roco (RSR to his staff and the rest of Aksyon) speak sometime in 1993 when I was a high school student at San Beda, and it was there when I noticed how much he loved to tell stories. I barely knew the man — except that he was a new senator from Bicol who was also a Bedan — but after the speech I instantly became an admirer. And therefore in keeping with Aksyon tradition, let me share with you the story of how we met.
It was 1996 and newspaper reports were saying Roco was throwing his hat into the presidential ring. A couple of days after, I saw a Senate advertorial that included RSR’s e-mail address. I immediately sent him an e-mail telling him I was a huge fan and that if he was serious about running for president, he should start putting together a youth organization to help him with his bid. I volunteered to help start the group. I completely forgot about the email — I sent it not expecting a reply anyway. But a few days after, while on my way to watch the movie “Independence Day” that had just opened, I received a message on my beeper saying “Good morning Darwin. This is Senator Raul Roco. Please call me at …” When we got to the mall, I went to the nearest pay phone and gave him a call. I was shaking and stuttering during the conversation. He thanked me for offering to help and told me to “begin with ten and we will have ten thousand.”
This was almost nine years ago and that group which started through e-mail is now thousands strong. I am no longer a kid but I am still every inch a Roco fan, probably more now than ever. And I still find it amazing how many of us have stayed together and continued to believe.
Looking back in an attempt to understand why so many of those we first recruited in Aksyon Kabataan have remained loyal, I realize it’s because of what RSR has come to symbolize for a great number of young Filipinos: a visionary leader with a clear sense of what is right and just despite a great deal of national influence, an unconventional politician with a reputation that has never been tainted with corruption, and most importantly, a former student leader without any political pedigree who, by sheer idealism and hardwork, has managed to become an accomplished lawyer, a brilliant legislator, an exceptional cabinet member and the best President this country never had.
RSR had a unique and interesting way of saying things. I remember last year — after the Ibon presidential survey results were published showing him in the lead — when he told me over the phone that Aksyon Kabataan must learn “the guile of the serpent” while maintaining “the purity of the dove.” He always talked like that — which is probably why some have called him uncoventional — implying that ignorance, stupidity, unpreparedness, greed and dishonesty were the norms in politics. But even if they’re probably right, shouldn’t it be the other way around?
Many young leaders start out idealistic and become worse than the trapos they fought growing up. In the face of rampant corruption and a collective sense of learned helplessness, idealism is usually the first thing we throw out the window when it should be the last thing we ever let go of. I remember one evening at Wendy’s Quezon Avenue a few weeks before the 1998 elections when I jokingly told RSR that I’d be one of the first to leave the country if Erap became president. He replied: “Darwin, if Erap does become president, shouldn’t that be all the more reason for you to stay here and fight?”
He kept reminding us in Aksyon Kabataan not to turn into the ogres we fight. After we lost the first time, he told us that the only reason why we managed to do so well despite having lost was because we played by a different set of rules.
In 2004, it was a much harder battle. We were running against a very popular movie star and an incumbent president who was waging a well-financed campaign that played on people’s fears of another actor assuming the presidency. To make matters worse, RSR had to leave during the final stretch of the campaign to seek medical treatment abroad. Even with his absence, we fought on because “we needed to give the Filipino people a choice.”
RSR is no longer with us and is in a better place. But like last year when his abrupt departure did not stop us from carrying on, neither should his death stop us from drawing inspiration from his life. The campaign for change must continue. The campaign for hope must continue. RSR would not have wanted it any other way.