I HAVEN'T written much about former president Sergio Osmeña Sr., the Cebuano statesman--okay, the country’s foremost statesman of all time. This is because I wasn’t born yet when he roamed national politics under American colonial rule until his defeat to Manuel Roxas in the 1946 presidential elections, the first after we were granted “independence” by our colonial master. He lived long, but even the period of his retirement I wasn’t familiar with.

But he is being given tribute one day every year, or every Sept. 9, his birthday, which is today. People gather at his old house along the street that now bears his name, the same house that is not far from the park that also carries the Osmeña name, to recall what he was as a public servant.

In the early days it was good because some of those who paid tribute to him personally knew him when he was one of these nation’s foremost leaders. The recollection was firsthand. But as the decades passed, even those who spoke about Cebu’s “Grand Old Man’s” life and times did so using second-hand information. We’re like in a ship that has left the harbor. We have reached a distance when what we could make out of the island we left behind is its shape. The Osmeña memory has receded farther from the present.

Yesterday, I read the late Arturo Tolentino’s detailed tribute to Osmeña posted in the government website malacañang,gov.ph. The former senator was actually not only talking about the great Cebuano leader but also was painting the milieu that he was in. The politicians during Osmeña’s time were mostly the same in character as those we are seeing now. Thus, Osmeña would still have stood out had he practiced his politics today.

Much has been said already about how the next generation of Osmeña’s have jettisoned the “old man’s” legacy. Consider: Cebu City is being led for the nth time by Tomas Osmeña, Don Sergio’s grandson. But listen to the description of the “Grand Old Man” leadership traits today and try reconciling it with that of the grandson. There’s this saying about the fruit not falling far from the tree. I don’t think that applies on this one.

This just shows that Don Sergio was really a tough act to follow. Nobody sees the forest for the trees anymore--sacrificing oneself for the good of the country. He played second fiddle to rival Manuel Quezon because he felt it served the country’s interest. These days, which politician wants to be no. 2? And who wants to be soft-spoken now? Most politicians acts with a swagger, especially when they get elected to higher and more powerful positions.

It is in days like this that we place in contrast the old from the new. Frankly I yearn for those calmer times as opposed to the current rollicking one. I like that innocent period when our politicians were still learning the ropes as opposed to the current one when politicians already know every trick of the trade--or when intellect was ascendant over mere brawn.

On July 4, 1955, in celebration of the ninth anniversary of Philippine “independence,” Osmeña spoke about democracy and how it should be practiced. It is good to take it from one whose entire lifetime was spent pursuing freedom for our people:

“I wish to commend upon the Filipino people that old and trite but, nevertheless, still true saying, ‘Vigilance is the price of liberty.’ We must cultivate a vigorous public opinion... Only through discussion and debate, through dissent and concurrence, can the wisdom of a race be churned from the depths of its genius and character ...Let us not only talk of democracy but also practice it courageously and responsibly.”

(khanwens@gmail.com/ twitter: @khanwens)