THE evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” Shakespeare’s line has been quoted time and again, and his wisdom proved sterling since first they were spoken in his tragedy ”Julius Caesar.”
This is the case of the late Jose Avelino, then Senate president during the presidency of Elpidio Quirino in 1948-1953. Quirino himself could not shake down the Filipinos’ memory about his infamous golden “arinola” (bedpan).
Quirino brought upon himself the infamy, but scholars and writers have risen to the defense of Avelino to whom has been attributed the line “What are we in power for?”
US-based writer Quintin Doroquez and former senator Francisco “Kit” Tatad say that the statement was originally in Spanish, heard and noted by an inexperienced reporter, and then anglicized for the Manila Chronicle, the only newspaper represented at the Liberal Party caucus on Jan. 15, 1949.
So here was this Celso Cabrera, a young reporter “who knew very little Spanish,” listening to Avelino “who spoke mainly in Spanish, the language he was most comfortable with in his generation.” The result? Lost in translation. Those who attended the caucus recounted that in addressing Quirino, Avelino stressed the need to discipline party members who used their position or influence in government for self-aggrandizement.
At the end of his talk, Avelino reportedly said, “Para que esa el nuestro mandato del pueblo?” (What for is our mandate from the people?)
Rather, Avelino’s statement was misquoted as “Para que estamos en el poder?” (What are we in power for?)
Was the mistake accidental or deliberate, especially because the charismatic Avelino was a shoo-in for the presidency after Quirino.
To this day, however, the disgraceful “What are we in power for?” (sometimes sarcastically rephrased into “What are we in werpa for?”) continues to be attributed to Avelino.
To this day. It’s a line people utter with a sneer when government officials shamelessly wield their power and authority.
It’s a line for House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez who’s pushing for the bill on dissolution of marriages, supposedly because annulment proceedings are costly and time-consuming.
Why’s he huffing and puffing? Because his girlfriend’s in a hurry, and/or because 2019 is just a year shy of election time and he’s not sure about reelection, especially because his wife will contest his congressional seat?
It’s a line for Alvarez (again!) who, when informed about lawyers planning a disbarment suit for his extramarital affairs, laughed and challenged, “Sino ba sa atin ang walang girlfiend?.. Go ahead; there will be no lawyers left.”
It’s a line associated with the release of the P30-million assistance to the call center employees of fire-gutted New City Commercial Center (NCCC) Mall in Davao City. Not that we begrudge the assistance, but why the government funds for a private company?
Is it just a mere coincidence that the NCCC building owner is reportedly a close friend of President Rodrigo Duterte?