CEBU CITY Councilor and former congressman Antonio Cuenco died the other day, succumbing to the deadly virus that has caused the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic. While Cuenco was already in his twilight years, who would have thought he would exit life this way, and in such suddenness? According to a statement released by his son James, the older Cuenco even had plans of running again for Congress, presumably in 2022.
The last time I talked with Cuenco was several weeks ago, when he asked me to join his staff, which already included my good friend Sam Costanilla. It was a tempting offer. He talked about sponsoring a resolution in the City Council so I could be one of his consultants. But before that, our topics meandered around the happenings in the city. As I listened to him, I thought he really was overqualified as city councilor.
I knew the man from afar for years. Who wouldn’t? And when one is a public official, one’s character is exposed, warts and all, especially during the campaign period of every election one participates in. Cuenco’s record as a public servant is also well known, but it was his long-time stint in the House of Representatives that made a mark in him as a politician. Then there was his participation in the struggle against the dictatorship of the late Ferdinand Marcos.
Cuenco was formerly allied politically with Marcos, joining the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan slate in the elections for the Interim Batasang Pambansa in 1978, together with Lito Osmeña and Eduardo Gullas. Cuenco later joined the anti-Marcos struggle that paved the way for Marcos’ ouster in 1986. Cuenco was the more visible Cebuano leader then to the point of forging a friendship with the Aquinos—former Benigno or Ninoy, who was assassinated in 1983, and Corazon or Cory, who would later succeed Marcos.
Cuenco’s most audacious act was in helping protect Cory, who was in Cebu at the height of the 1986 Edsa people power uprising, from Marcos’ minions. While there were those who would see Cuenco as a mere political opportunist, some liberal democratic values seemed to have stuck with him as shown by his refusal to kowtow to some of the policies of President Duterte, whose values are opposed to most of those espoused by the Aquinos and the Edsa uprising.
Being with the City Council was supposed to be a momentary detour like being city mayor was but a respite for another House of Representatives veteran, Eduardo Gullas. I could sense that in my talk with Cuenco, who related to me some of the issues he wanted the City Council to tackle. After our talk, I watched him and his aides exit like they must have done so many times before--following VIP security protocol. He is still living the life of a congressman, I thought.
Cuenco and many of his contemporaries in Cebu made possible what we might refer to as the “golden years” of Cebu politics when many Cebu leaders caught the attention of the national audience for their daring and intellect notably in battling a dictatorship. Tinimbang sila at hindi nagkulang.