[Comments on Gerardo Sicat’s biography of Cesar Virata, originally posted by the University of the Philippines Press.]


As I accumulate years, my consciousness tends increasingly to dwell on the past – finding increasing enjoyment in reading history. One has to of course beware: history is written from many lenses.  One lens is ideology: facts are martialed to serve an interpretation. Another lens is participation:  “having been there” confers a level of authority but commingled with responsibility. Authors may find it hard to disentangle the two whether the episode ends in singular success or disaster. Sometimes, the proclivity is clear; sometimes it can only be inferred from what is left out.

I read the biography Cesar Virata: Life and Times by Dr. Gerardo Sicat as a source of history. It is a hefty volume meant no doubt to match a hefty career. If you want an account of a life of singular and self-less devotion to duty, this book is for you. What I gleaned from Gerry’s account of Virata’s life is the heroism built not so much on the “what” as on the “how” one does what one does. I came to know Cesar later in his life when the enormous programs and powers had passed into other hands.  He was still stellar in the “how”. Cesar never ceased to self-renew in ideas and outlook.

Gerry’s vivid account of the idealism and commitment of the bright boys who followed Cesar into the Marcos cabinet leaves me angry – the same fury I harbored for “Erap” Estrada after he betrayed his own bright boys. For I don’t believe that the subsequent economic disaster was due only to unfortunate external shocks like the Volcker interest rate. The rape of the government banks by behest loans financed unfortunately by foreign debt facilitated by the bright boys, the rape of the judiciary, the armed services and the legacy of rent- extraction and monopolies  all profoundly hamstrung Philippine development decades after Marcos. The existential question subliminally posed in Ishiguro Kazu’s The Remains of the Day about the heroic butler applies here: Should a man’s worth be reckoned on the strength of his own supreme competence or on the folly of the master that he faithfully served? I say, the master be damned!