Patriots and revolutionaries

“Let me say, at the risk of seeming ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” This famous quotation by Che Guevara, leader of the Cuban Revolution, captures best the lives of two men that are this column’s subject: Horacio “Boy” Morales, development leader, who died last week and will be buried today, and Raul Rodrigo, writer, who passed away last January. Although of different generations – Boy was 68 years old and Raul was only 46 – both are bound to have a lasting impact on our country.

A University of the Philippines alumnus, Boy Morales was a brilliant technocrat in the Marcos government. In 1977, after being chosen for the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines (TOYM) award, Morales announced that he was going underground and joining the National Democratic Front to fight the dictatorship. Later, he was arrested, tortured and detained by the military. Freed by President Cory Aquino after the 1986 EDSA revolution, Morales became president of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM). In 1998, President Joseph Estrada appointed him Agrarian Reform Secretary. More recently, Morales founded the La Liga Policy Institute, which works on governance and sustainable development issues.

Many poor communities became empowered and prosperous because of Morales. He also built many of our government institutions and citizen organizations. But above all, Morales lives on, as his mentor Rafael Salas does, through the many collaborators he mentored and inspired with his example.

Not having the gift of years Morales had, Raul Rodrigo’s contribution to our national life is more limited. But such impact could be just as lasting. Rodrigo’s kingdom, to borrow a phrase from Paul Ricoeur, was the Word. His body of work will not be easily forgotten. After short but meaningful teaching and government stints, Rodrigo settled on becoming a writer – of poetry, columns, and biographies. His books on the Lopez family and corporations are classic, giving an insight into how our country was built. They are not your typical public relations manuscripts but have as its theme the challenges of nation building. From the books, Rodrigo’s vision for a great, both democratic and prosperous, nation emerges.

Although I cannot claim a close friendship to Morales and Rodrigo, I knew them enough for me to observe that they are described well by another Che Guevara saying: “One has to grow hard but without ever losing tenderness.” Yes, indeed, they were tender men who loved their families and this country with great passion.

I met Morales many times through the years because of mutual interest in environment and development issues. Once, we had a long conversation during a flight from Manila to Buenos Aires, Argentina where we both attended a biodiversity conference.  One never leaves a conversation with Boy Morales unchanged, with his breath of knowledge, practical wisdom and compassion.

No one also leaves a conversation with Raul Rodrigo unchanged. I first met him in 1983; he was the most brilliant and intense of my students in the first Ateneo de Manila Philosophy of Man class I taught. He sat in the back alone in a class full of biology majors and a few humanities students, and asked the hardest questions. As a teacher, I wanted to please Raul, a philosophy major, but never was sure if I have lived up to his high standards. And so in this Facebook age, I beamed with pride whenever Raul liked any of my posts.

When Raul Rodrigo was taken from us, at a far too young an age, I immediately wanted to write a tribute to honor a well-lived life. Unfortunately, mundane topics like impeachment kept getting in the way. But with Boy Morales passing to eternal life last week, I knew it was time. A final Guevara quote about what we owe Filipinos like Boy and Raul explains why: “Much more definitive and much more lasting than all the gold that one can accumulate is the gratitude of a people”.

Thank you Boy and Raul, and thank you to your families, for sharing your lives with us. A grateful nation will always remember how two patriots and revolutionaries walked this land and made it better.

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