Notes from the sidelines

There is a sequence of images I keep remembering about Sir, in what I believe to be his transformation from one of the 24 Senators, into a world leader. The first was when he stood alone behind his desk at the Senate plenary, as he looked on at other Senators interviewed by reporters. The second was him now being swarmed by reporters, hanging on to his every word as he talked about national issues when he ran for president.

The succeeding images were of his back or sides as I staffed for him when he delivered speeches, met with business and civil society leaders, and spoke with other world leaders. And from where I stood or sat, I saw the consistency of a leader who had the people’s best interest at heart. “Kayo and boss ko,” was not only a slogan, but the very principle of his public service.

And that was why he always had close at hand, a copy of the Constitution, maps, and the latest facts and figures, because he wanted to be sure that his decisions can maximize the benefits to the people.

I remember one time in the Senate, during the campaign, he met us and laid out his governance principles. He discussed how good governance can eliminate corruption, re-channel the funds to our ailing education system, and give our children a better future.

And then in meetings about the national budget, it takes hours, subjecting Secretaries into what they call a “thesis defense.” But in those meetings, the President had a notepad and calculator in hand; correcting figures, revisiting assumptions, and even questioning projects— always with the goal of ensuring that public funds are spent properly, and that it will promote the welfare and well-being of the Filipino people.

There are, of course, light moments when I had to google the lyrics of a song he wanted to sing after a long day’s work. Or when I wanted to advise him to tour around in Rome, instead of locking himself in his hotel room reading his favorite book. There were also times when, he would “interview” a staff about their love lives.

It’s been my job to sit in the sidelines, taking notes, and providing staff support. It gave me an opportunity to learn not just about governance, but also the qualities of a good leader. The P., as we called him, is one of the greatest leaders in our generation, and I was fortunate enough to serve under him.