THE death of former senator John “Sonny” Osmeña means we are fast moving away from the period in the country’s bourgeois politics when Cebuanos dotted the landscape. Cebuano traditional politicians were weighed during the dark years of military rule and they were not found wanting.
My maturation coincided with the time when Cebu traditional politicians caught the fancy of the nation. I could still remember the campaign for representatives of the Interim Batasang Pambansa when a Natalio “Talyux” Bacalso-led Pusyon Bisaya defeated the star-driven Kilusang Bagong Lipunan or KBL team that had the big names from such political clans as the Osmeñas and the Duranos. Pusyon produced Hilario Davide Jr., who would later become chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Many Cebuano traditional politicians would later become national personalities because of their timely shift to the growing anti-Marcos movement. Those who possessed innate leadership qualities like Emilio “Lito” Osmeña rose to national prominence. His brother Sonny, who already joined national politics but whose rise was rudely interrupted by the declaration by Ferdinand Marcos of military rule, reclaimed his rightful seat in national politics.
While many Cebuano politicians were able to ride the crest of the anti-Marcos movement, doing so was not assurance enough that they would be able to stay on top or would rise even further. They needed to have the intellect and charisma to become big names nationally. After Davide, for example, Marcelo Fernan also became chief justice and Sonny O. would be accompanied in the Senate by Ernesto Herrera. The House of Representatives became the turf of Antonio Cuenco, Raul del Mar, Clavel Asas-Martinez and her husband Celestino, the Duranos, starting from Ramonito down to his sons, Pablo Garcia and several others.
I would consider that period as the “golden years” of Cebuano politics and we almost ended up having a Cebuano president in personalities like Lito O and Fernan. But that period was followed by the “lean years” when the next generation of Cebuano politicians were weighed and found wanting. Cebu’s political clans failed to produce young politicians that could approximate or even surpass the intellect and political savvy of their elders.
Those who succeeded Noy Pabling, Cuenco and Clavel and the one who will succeed Raul de Mar have big shoes to fill. And we have yet to produce Sonny O, Fernan and Herrera successors in the Senate. We look at the current traditional political landscape and only see a dearth of Cebuano politicians there.
I say this will all depend on the capacity of voters to discover diamonds in the rough, which is difficult considering how clannish traditional politics is.So we will have to make do with the politicians we have now, some of whom are frankly devoid of the sharpest minds, political savvy and charisma needed to make it big. But if these politicians are serving us well, who are we to complain? Making it big nationally may just be icing on the cake, after all.