Monday, June 4, 2012

Remembering Gilbert Teodoro

Yesterday was the first relaxing Sunday I've had in a long time. I woke up late in my pretty fabulous presidential suite in the middle of the city after a much-needed staycation, and then we had brunch serenaded by two excellent singers who sang songs that were kind of sentimental but perfect for a quiet and low-key meal. What bliss.


"Any requests?" They asked us at the end of their second set. Just then, for some reason, I'd been thinking about the fantastic karaoke system in the presidential suite that my friends and I had put to pretty good use the night before. This karaoke system was so wonderfully unusual because it had almost every song I've grown up with or had some memory about, so it was such a nice trip down memory lane.

The karaoke system had both English and Tagalog songs. So many of the English songs somehow reminded me of my truly happy college life at the Ateneo and my equally happy and eventful AIESEC days, so I was smiling all night listening to the songs and remembering things associated with them.


Then I turned to the Tagalog section of the karaoke book last night and one song caught my eye: "Umagang Kay Ganda." I have one memory related to this song and I'll never forget it. It was literally a few weeks before the last Philippine presidential elections and I happened to be sitting next to presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro in the Peninsula Manila and we'd just finished talking about the Philippines and its potential to be a great country privately for about an hour or two.

Then, as we finished, he was shown a video his campaign had put together, of photos of him on his sorties, and the music they'd used to accompany the slide show was "Umagang Kay Ganda."

Gilbert Teodoro may have lost the presidential elections, but this is a moment I'll remember for the rest of my life because of the inspiration it gave me. His campaign wasn't about fighting corruption or destroying people who aren't on the same bandwagon, but about understanding the reality of our hypocriticalimperfect and fractious society and working with this system to get the best out of people and to do what's good for the Philippines and really improve the lives of the marginalized. He was a realist rather than a populist who played on the sentiments of crowds, and perhaps that's also why he didn't win in a country like ours.

However, his campaign was about hope and a whole new dawn, but in a very good and realistic way. As far as I could see, it was about goodness, leadership by example and decency. About focusing on moving forward instead of getting stuck with looking back.

Truly an "umagang kay ganda."

I've worked directly for several presidents (including former president Cory Aquino) and met many heads of state, so I've been in the company of greatness before.

But sitting next to Gilbert Teodoro that fateful day in late April as we watched photos and video clips of him with this song playing in the background really made me feel like giving everything up for public service and helping others.

If he had won the presidential elections, perhaps I would have done so. He certainly inspired me and a lot of others to consider this because of his campaigns based on goodness, hope and decency.

It was one of those moments of greatness that encourages selflessness and makes you think of the Big Picture instead of your own priorities, for some unexplainable reason; and whenever I hear this song, I think about the shining and positive-thinking, and forward-looking country and society the Philippines could have truly been.

So, of course, this was the first song I requested. It made me happy and nostalgic.


Then last night it was back to reality after my "Umagang Kay Ganda" moment. I hosted a dinner at home for two ambassadors and a hotel general manager. It was a Sunday night and I deliberately wanted something informal and relaxed since we all attend too many events as it is that are full of protocol and formality.

Yesterday was a dress-in-what-you-like, sit-around-the-dinner-table kind of evening. No speeches, not much politics, and a pretty casual buffet of Asian food which I set up on a sideboard so everyone could just get what they wanted when they wished to do so.

We all  talked quite candidly about many things, and especially about culture and our respective societies. It wasn't quite a moment of greatness -- those come but several times in a lifetime -- but it certainly was an evening of laughter, cultural sharing, and rare human connection in this fast-paced and busy world.

Just another evening in a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.


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