Like most Filipinos, I did not have the privilege of knowing President Noynoy Aquino “up, close and personal.”  I only listened to his speeches and watched him in action from newspapers and television.  The only opportunity I had to meet him was when he conferred Mr. Washington SyCip the Order of Lakandula.  He bowed his head as I shook his hand and acknowledged my greetings with a smile.

But I am one of the thousands of Filipinos who mourn his death and feel the pain of his loss.  By his work, we were able to know him.  He brought financial stability to government and lifted the poor from poverty through his Cash Transfer Program.  For one brief shining moment, there was no corruption in Public Works.  He steered the passage of difficult reforms such as the reproductive rights of women and the increase in cigarette tax rates.  Most of all, he regained our respect as well that of the world’s.  He led   a government that respects our rights and values the dignity of every citizen.  Following his example, many of his cabinet members like Secretary Jesse Robredo, was kind, respectful, gentle, and humble.

We are in search of heroes now.   Someone who is selfless, truthful, fair, and genuinely cares for our welfare.  Someone like Mr. Washington SyCip whose centenary or 100th birth anniversary we celebrate on June 30.   He had a mission from heaven to help the poor by helping them to become literate.  He believed that the gift of providing them with basic education will enable them to have more comfortable lives and elect better leaders.

Years ago, I was so surprised to see him queuing up to register for the launch of Synergeia.  When a staff member asked for his name, he simply said “Wash.”  He refused to give a speech.  The most revered business leader in the Philippines came to listen and to learn!  The man whose advice is sought by leaders all over the world was an ardent listener.  He did not choose his audience.  He gave everyone his undivided attention.  His listening sessions were only punctuated by a stream of questions, not for cross examination, but for him to discover and better understand.

I never heard Mr. SyCip speak about his accomplishments.  He was stingy with stories about himself and how he built SGV into a great company.  He never spoke about the honors given him by governments all over the world.  But he would glow with pride when he spoke about being schooled in Burgos Elementary School and Mapa High School.  He regaled us with stories about men he admired like the former Executive Secretary Rafael Salas, the former Prime Minister Cesar Virata, and former Ambassador   Ramon del Rosario, Sr.  He embarrassed me by generously introducing me to his friends and giving me a seat beside him.  When he was asked to give a toast in a dinner hosted by PBED, he offered the toast in my name.  I wanted to hide under the table.  Mr. SyCip embodied perfect humility.  He did not think less of himself, but he thought of himself less.  He built our confidence, gave us strength and made us believe that we were special.

Mr. SyCip was so self- effacing and was uncomfortable if anybody paid him special attention.  He did not want anybody to wait for him or accompany him to his car.  He had no assistants or bodyguards to carry his luggage and personal effects.  I was totally dumbfounded when I saw him walking down the airport ramp at General Santos pulling his luggage.  On the last Synergeia Summit which  he attended, he felt totally mesmerized when people crowded around him asking to have their photographs taken with him.  He never knew, never acted, and never felt he was a Superstar!  For him, he was just a face in the crowd and had no claims for entitlement.

Humility must be the road to greatness.  This is the legacy of great men like Mr. SyCip and President Aquino.  They lived to serve and help others.  As Bishop Soc Villegas advised, the greatest tribute we can give them is to safeguard, honor, and follow their examples.

We have found the men that demonstrated the virtues that we hold dear.  Our search for heroes must continue using the examples and memories they have left.

Source: Manila Bulletin (