The recent death of former governor Emilio “Lito” Osmena reminded me of this question I raised years ago: What would the country have looked like had he won the presidency over the popular Joseph Estrada in 1998? That defeat proved how popularity instead of intellect and capacity has become the sole basis for our choice of President and how damaging the current electoral setup is for the country’s continued growth and development.
I don’t personally know Lito O. The only time I met him was in the late eighties when I started my career in journalism in dyLA. I was a nobody when my good friend Joeyboy Holganza, who was then a Provincial Board member, visited me in the newsroom and persuaded me to join the government bureaucracy. I was fresh from my arrest for rebellion and was convinced that a stint in the media was a better alternative to that. But Joeyboy had other plans. He wanted to bring me to Lito O and become my backer for a Capitol job.
Joeyboy had a convincing argument when I told him that traditional politics was not my “cup of tea”: Wherever you go there is politics, even in the private sector, or words to that effect. So I accompanied him days later and met the governor, who only grudgingly acknowledged my presence when I was introduced to him. I had heard many stories about the man by then and was not surprised. He pays his people well during the campaign and does not want them to seek patronage after he wins. He saw no need for me then and that was it.
My parents were from the province before they decided to live in the city. But I refused to cut off the connection and went to their old place, the Camotes group of islands during vacation. The last time I went there before work absorbed me in my younger years, my friends had formed families and some of them sought better lives in Cebu and Manila. My dream was for them to be able to stay in Camotes because the place offers opportunities for a better life.
It was when Lito O was governor that the seed for growth was planted. I used to ask myself what kind of development would fit small islands that are far from both the urban centers of Cebu and Leyte. He consulted Japanese experts and was told about the island’s tourism potential. But first communication and other problems needed to be solved. In a period devoid of cell phones and only one functioning telecom firm, the governor initiated the setting up of public calling centers in municipalities, those in Camotes included. His other project. Small airports in Bantayan and Camotes islands.
Lito O failed to see the full blossoming of his plans for Cebu because he was drawn to a national politics that ended up being dominated by a popular former movie star. Then his wife lost her gubernatorial bid to a human rights lawyer, the late Vicente de la Serna. His final political act was to continue his push for freedom from what he described as “imperial Manila” via the party list system.