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Politics is like mahjong

I was privileged to have served the late Governor Niel Tupas, Sr. as Provincial Administrator during his nine years at the Capitol. Every day was a learning session for me about politics. Talking with the man was like getting a one-on-one tutoring on the arts of politics, leadership and governance. Those nine years, I believe, make up the most exciting and memorable phase of my 59 years.Niel-Tupas

And there was one lesson that really sank into my consciousness about politics. It’s that politics should be devoid of hatred and bitterness. Politics is a vehicle for public service, and never as a means to pursue power for its own sake, and especially not to amass wealth. Politics is about being with the people, looking after their welfare, and using one’s power and influence to achieve that end.

Gov. Niel put it this way: “Politics is like mahjong. After an election, everything goes back to square one. The cards are shuffled (“ginabalasa”) and everybody gets a fresh start.” For him, acrimony has no place in his heart, which is perhaps the reason why Gov. Niel was so well-loved by his constituents and respected even by his foes. In the nine years I worked for him, I never heard him raise his voice in anger. It’s not that he never got angry; when he got mad, he would just frown and mutter a few words expressing displeasure. But then, he was always able to recover and get back in a good mood after a minute.

I will never forget what former 1st District Congressman, and now Guimbal municipal mayor Oscar Garin Sr. said two months after their 2004 gubernatorial battle. The two met at the Jaro Cathedral for the oath-taking of newly elected local officials. Then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was the guest of honor. I was with Gov. Niel aboard his Nissan Patrol vehicle. Mayor Garin saw him and approached with a wide smile, extending his hand in reconciliation and friendship. Garin quipped: “Pati na gid man ako nga pirdi ang kwarta sa pikpik sa abaga (Now I believe that money can be beaten by just a pat on the shoulder).”

The elections had started as a close race between Gov. Niel and Mayor Oca. The latter had the edge in terms of money and logistics. But when the results came out, Gov. Niel had won by over 180,000 votes against Garin, who had never before experienced defeat in an election. Garin had the money; Gov. Niel had the love of the people.

With the national and local elections just a year away, I think it would be good for potential adversaries to ponder upon the wisdom of Gov. Niel in the field of politics. He never spoke ill of anybody. He was the type who would turn the other cheek if insults are hurled his way and get hit. He was always kind and helpful, never spiteful and arrogant.

Indeed, if politicians are looking for a role model, the late Gov. Niel would be the perfect leader to copy. He was the epitome of a genuine public servant and leader. He was Mr. Public Service.

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