May 15, 2019
BEFORE social media reordered reality and blurred the lines between reel and real, awe and admiration were the two reactions after the mention of the name Heherson T. Alvarez. One of the youngest delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1971-1972, Alvarez made a name as that body’s youngest dissident. He was one of the less than a dozen delegates who voted “No” to that Constitution, the sham legal vehicle used by Marcos to stay in power.
With a shoot-to-kill order from Marcos, Sonny Alvarez slipped into a Hong Kong-bound container vessel from the Manila South Harbor and was in that ship’s cargo hold till it docked at the then Crown Colony. From Hong Kong, he proceeded to the US as a political refugee. Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, the famed theater pioneer who was the main driving force behind the group PETA, soon followed. That two of the young Filipinos considered part of the “best and brightest” of their generation would spend their lives in exile — all because of one man’s overweening lust for power — was tough on both Sonny and Cecile. But that just toughened their resolve to continue fighting for the hoped-for democratic restoration.
Because the thugs of martial law could not reach Sonny Alvarez in the US, they instead murdered Marsman Alvarez, his younger brother.
After the ouster of Marcos, Sonny and Cecile and their kids—whose names were drawn from the word “exile”— returned to the country. Sonny was part of the 24-member body elected as senators of the 8th Congress in 1987 and whose inspired lawmaking work wrote the foundations of post-martial law legislation and policy.
He served for six years, won a second Senate term that lasted three years, then served one term in Congress representing a district of his home province of Isabela.
From there, he served as environment secretary and head of the Climate Change Commission.
I thought he retired from politics for good. During the candidacy filing season, I received a jumbled, garbled SMS from Cecile — who is legally blind — with the message that Sonny Alvarez would seek the congressional seat of Isabela’s 4th district.
Given his track record and his contributions to the country, I thought that a congressional seat would not be a struggle for the former senator. How wrong was that sense of confidence. Several hours before the precincts opened, Sonny Alvarez withdrew from the race, citing the massive vote-buying taking place in his district.
What pushed a man with a long record of confronting despots and authoritarianism and tested in the arena of battle to give up and be drained of the will to fight? In a district fight against petty tyrants at that? Whatever happened to that seemingly unbreakable spirit?
Of course, in his very low moments, you cannot ask Sonny Alvarez those material and relevant questions.
The sad turn of events in the political life of Sonny Alvarez, the flameout of an authentic anti-dictatorship figure, turns into a tragic national narrative, as those who play-acted heroes, those make-believe Pandays and Leon Guerreros, are all set to claim their star turn in politics. Actors Lito Lapid and Bong Revilla, reel heroes, are in the winning 12 of the recently concluded May 13 polls. Jinggoy Estrada, another reel hero, without a half-brother also contending, would have been a big winner.
Those who were forged in the crucible of real political struggles, those who really lived perilous lives during those times of living dangerously like Sonny Alvarez, are being written off as history, while those who play-acted heroes are the ones vested by the ballots with authenticity and approval.
To dismiss the blurred lines as stemming from the predisposition of the “bobotante” to gullibility is too simplistic. Maybe the explanation is the overall political environment, which has been generally hostile to those who fought in the trenches during the martial law regime. The May 13 senatorial votes support this thesis. Look at the legacy names in the long fight to oust Marcos.
Bam Aquino never left the Magic 15. The problem is there are only 12 winners. A near-win is the equivalent loss Mar Roxas and Serge Osmeña had moments of hope, soon dashed by the avalanche of voters from the Duterte team.
Chel Diokno is not even in the top 15. Erin Tañada is too far behind.
Imee Marcos, the late dictator’s daughter, barring a miracle for the opposition, will surely land one of the 12 contested Senate seats. This is probably the greatest historical revanchism of 2019, delivered, ironically, by popular votes.
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