A patriot to the last, veteran lawmaker and former Philippine Navy captain Roilo Golez spent the early hours of Monday, June 11, defending the country he had served for so long and so well.
He was, yet again, on radio, offering his sage advice and his undimmed passion, urging the Duterte administration to be transparent with the Filipino people in its transactions with China.
But he had to decline another scheduled radio interview because he felt unwell; some time later, he died, according to House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, “due to heart attack.” He was 71.
“We lost a true patriot. He was an indefatigable defender of the West Philippine Sea,” Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio said.
It was a tribute that would have been personally significant to Golez, since Carpio is one of the leading defenders of the country’s sovereign rights to the West Philippine Sea.
The spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Col. Edgard Arevalo, praised Golez as “a sailor, a patriot, and a public servant whose contributions to the Filipino nation and its people extended throughout his lifetime.”
It was a full and remarkable life. Perhaps more people knew of him as the long-time representative from Parañaque City; he won six three-year terms, serving from 1992 to 2001 and then from 2004 to 2013. From 2001 to 2004, he served as national security adviser to President Gloria Arroyo.
But he didn’t serve only in high office; he served in the trenches, too — or, rather, on deck and at sea, as an officer of the Philippine Navy.
In addition to his 21 years as elected official and Cabinet appointee, he also served for 14 years in the Armed Forces, retiring as a naval captain (the equivalent of a colonel in the Army). He had graduated, with multiple distinctions, from the US Naval Academy in Annapolis.
What many Filipinos don’t probably know is that Golez was one of the key Marcos government officials who “defected” and joined the People Power movement.
He was the renowned postmaster general then, who had in a very brief time transformed the national postal service from a moribund agency to an example of government efficiency.
His withdrawal of support had a real impact precisely because of his reputation as a sailor-turned-professional-manager.
He served in many organizations, including the Philippine Red Cross (where he was a member of the Board of Governors for 20 years), the St. Luke’s Medical Center, the Philippine Tuberculosis Society, the Philippine Cancer Society, and the Management Association of the Philippines, among others.
In his later years, however, he created a new kind of fame by taking to Twitter with gusto and discipline. (He was active in many advocacies.)
In this social media space, he reached out to younger generations, impressing upon them both a love for country (he ran an occasional series called “PHILIPPINES, MY PHILIPPINES. BEAUTIFUL PHILIPPINES”) and the need to defend it — lest we lose the very rights we take for granted.
He was proud of his public school background. He sometimes fondly recalled the little things he used to do in school.
Once, responding to a journalist’s memories, he replied: “Yes, we did too in Quirino High School, a public school in Project 3, QC. We even had to bring our own cleaning materials like floor wax, bunot, basahan and walis.”
And on May 28 this year, he responded to a tweet about Pag-asa Island in the Spratlys with a little story:
“I went snorkeling there 1970-1971 when I was part of several secret Navy missions to transport troops, equipment and supplies to our islands there (then called Freedomland). I could approach the groupers close enough to touch them a little.”
That was the secret to the power of his sustained defense of the West Philippine Sea. He had been there, had staked his life to supply Freedomland. He could not, would not, imagine all that sacrifice going for naught.
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