When the Cebu Newspaper Workers Foundation, Inc. invited me to this year’s lecture on Don Sergio Osmeña, my first impulse was to speak of him as a father. Don Sergio, in a very real sense, was my father in war-time Washington, D.C., when I was despondent, penniless and alone. But of this filial relationship I have written and spoken a number of times. After serious reflection, I have, therefore, decided to cover a phase of his life that has escaped public attention and, in the light of the very serious crisis confronting the entire nation, is both timely and relevant. I refer to Don Sergio’s role as the people’s Mentor and Educator in the protean task of nation-building.

Of Don Sergio Osmeña’s qualities that make him an ideal mentor and teacher, I can speak on the basis of personal knowledge and direct contact with the man. He was, as his own children would confirm, serene, patient and understanding, ever solicitous of the people around him. Patrician-looking, he stood erect as a Grecian pillar and evoked not only reverence but also obedience. He was, indeed, an exacting taskmaster because he was a perfectionist, but he was also gentle, as “gentle as the falling tear.” Never in my three years of close association with him did he ever “lose his cool,” even in the most trying circumstances. With his subordinates he did, now and then, manifest unmistakable signs of displeasure but always his manner of address was calm, preceded by the formal word Usted. He was the perfect gentleman.

But personal qualities, however admirable and exemplary, do not make an educator. To qualify as an educator, one must have a philosophy of education that can be acquired only after serious study of the science of human behavior, morals and character. Philosophy, in itself, implies wisdom and the ceaseless pursuit of knowledge which is the preoccupation of the scholar. And Don Sergio Osmeña, by temperament and upbringing, was a genuine scholar.

The implantation of American sovereignty on Philippine soil at the close of the 19th century, we are told, was one of the most traumatic events in Philippine history. With independence almost in our grasp, we had to confront a new adversary who, with superior arms, decimated the finest and bravest of our soldiers, relentlessly pursued the remnants of our ill-equipped army, and captured General Emilio Aguinaldo himself in the mountain fastnesses of Isabela. With our loved ones gone, our lands wasted and our homes in desolate ruins, our cherished dream of independence vanished into thin air. Like the Macedons of old, we felt hopelessly abandoned and betrayed.

It was then that a new leader-teacher rose on the Philippine scene. He was Sergio Osmeña, a youth barely out of college, who, after reassessing the situation with the assiduity and perspicuity of a Confucian scholar, decided to launch the movement of conciliation in order to achieve the self-same goal that force of arms had failed to attain for the people. This new movement he would espouse through the medium of the pen, and so he founded a newspaper fittingly named El Nuevo Día. In the editorial of the paper’s maiden issue, the young Osmeña defined its goal and set a high moral standard of conduct for his people as a means to realize their national aspirations. Thus Don Sergio began to carry out his role as a crusading teacher by becoming a newspaperman. And through continuing reflection and scholarly study, he achieved for himself the honored status of an educator.

From some of the speeches, addresses, and articles of Don Sergio Osmeña, I have culled his educational philosophy, which entitles him to the accolade of Senior Mentor and Educator of the Filipino people. Allow me to briefly summarize the principles and rationale that underlie his educational philosophy, as follows:

1. The proper education of the individual is essential to the stability of our social order. It is a primary function of a modern state, as vital as the maintenance of peace, the protection of public health, and the administration of justice. For this reason, the state has a dominant position in the regulation of our educational system.

2. Under the spirit of our Constitution and in accordance with existing laws, all teachers, whether in the public or private sector, are representatives of the state charged with the duty of carrying out the fundamental purposes of education as enunciated and defined by the Charter. For this reason, our teachers should be carefully screened and adequately trained.

3. In the light of our historico-social patterns, what is important in education is not learning per se but training for good citizenship. What should be emphasized, in the words of Don Sergio, is “the development of the character of our youth and the teaching of the duties of citizenship.” “Honesty, self-restraint, a sense of righteousness and honor, persistence, earnestness, courage, and loyalty to duty are the virtues that must result from the development of moral character in our schools.”

4. A staunch advocate of the rule of law, Don Sergio would, however, maintain order through reason and persuasion and implement a program of social engineering through education, rather than through sheer physical power. With a dash of philosophy, Darwin’s apostle intoned: “The principle of order is a necessary element in every sphere of human activity. In the field of thought, science is ordered knowledge; in the development of social and political institutions, progress has been marked by the evolution and transition from a state of disorder where the law of the jungle rules to one where the law of justice prevails. In this evolution towards a system of law and order, university men have made a great contribution.”

5. A profound believer of democratic precepts, Don Sergio realized sooner than any Filipino of his time that the initial problem was that of uniting the various regions of the country into an indivisible whole. He therefore urged increasing stress on Philippine history, Philippine geography and economics, and the biographies of great Filipinos, to the end that the Filipinos, whatever region or province they come from, may be “conscious of the fact that they have a common country endowed with rich natural resources, inhabited by people who have a common past of sacrifices and endeavors and who are inseparably linked together in a common destiny.”

6. With the establishment of the public school system in the early years of the 20th century, Don Sergio recognized the wisdom of adopting the English language as medium of instruction so that it may serve as “a unifying medium and for the purpose of overcoming the barrier of language” among the people, and to enable them “to gain access to democratic ideology and experience with which Anglo-Saxon literature is so richly endowed.” He, however, believed in the adoption of an indigenous national language that would develop by consensus and evolution.

7. A staunch nationalist who believed that “the aspirations of the people towards independence, liberty, and prosperity can be attained only by people who love their country and are loyal to their country’s ideals, who venerate their heroes and adhere to their sacred traditions,” Don Sergio eschewed narrow and chauvinistic patriotism. In the world community of interdependent states, he said, it is “the inculcation of enlightened nationalism, aside from the development of moral character, that our centers of learning are called upon to render as their most valuable contribution.”

8. Our intelligentsia have not been wanting in the profession of faith and in the articulation of national hopes and objectives, but who will preach them and interpret them to the masses who are expected to discharge their share of the responsibility to transform those principles and goals into living realities?

“The teacher,” Don Sergio replied. And to the teacher, he delivered an encomium that finds few parallels in its candid testimonial to the crucial role of the teacher as the vital link between the government and the governed.

“In the remote barrios,” he said, “it is very often the case that the teacher is among the few government officials with whom the people come in contact. Hence, they obtain their concept of government by what they see of the teacher, his conduct, and his work. Under such conditions, the burden of responsibility placed on the teacher’s shoulders becomes even heavier than it ordinarily is.”

9. The last precept in Don Sergio’s philosophy of education is not specifically mentioned in any of his addresses or articles. The reason for this may be found in his sense of delicadeza. Just the same, you and I know that he was guided all his life by the principle of teaching by example. He never preached articles of faith he did not believe in, nor did he expect a level of performance or standard of excellence he himself could not measure up to. A perfectionist, he taught me to be thorough and precise in my research and in language. As punctual as morning, he inculcated in me the value of punctuality. Not given to arrogance, pedantry or dogmatism, he taught me the virtue of humility, selflessness and tolerance.

At the heart of Don Sergio’s philosophy of education was the moral regeneration of the people to be achieved and realized by teachers who would inculcate in our youth the virtues of honesty, honor and self-respect, the habits of toil, industry, and perseverance, the attributes of loyalty, respect for elders, self-reliance, initiative and imagination, and, not least, a hierarchy of values that would place honor above gold, and country above self.

Executive Order No. 217, which was issued by President Quezon on August 19, 1939, prescribing the civic and ethical principles to be taught in all schools in the Philippines, must have been inspired by Don Sergio who, at the time, was the Secretary of Public Instruction. Indeed, the precepts contained in the Executive Order were adopted by the Moral Code Committee whose membership was drawn from the reunited Nacionalista Party, at least half of whom were known Osmeña men, like Justice Norberto Romualdez, Dean Teodoro M. Kalaw and Dr. Jose P. Laurel.

In a tribute rendered to Don Sergio Osmeña on September 8, 1952, my father (Jose P. Laurel), who called himself a Disciple of the Great Teacher, said:

Don Sergio . . . has always been the thinker, the profound teacher, the untarnished symbol of Filipino integrity, the paladin of freedom and independence, not only in the political sense but also, and more so, in the moral and ethical sense. It was he who established the fine and honorable creed of what is still remembered . . . as delicadeza, which was a combination of the Western phrase “noblesse oblige” and the oriental concept of “face,” with a dash of what the Spaniards mean by “pundonor”.

The moral regeneration of the nation, the fundamental overhauling of our sense of values, the development of moral character, personal discipline and love of country—this was the clarion call which Don Sergio Osmeña sounded decades and decades ago when he launched his novel movement for peace and reconciliation and when he urged his people to make sacrifices and prepare for the responsibilities of independent nationhood. Now, almost forty years after gaining the boon of independence, we find ourselves sadly mired in the quicksand of our foibles and follies, our weaknesses, indiscretions and blunders. Our problems, Hydra-like, have mounted in both number and gravity, bringing us closer each passing day to the brink of disaster. The end, we shudder to think, is not only collapse in poverty but poverty in shame and dishonor.

The need of the hour, some of our countrymen will tell us, is drastic surgery. I do not share the pessimism of modern Cassandras. Like Don Sergio, I believe in the innate capacity of our people to rise to their full stature, to harness their collective talents and resources, and to steel their nerves as never before in order to meet the serious challenge of the times.

Like Don Sergio, we are, most of us, evolutionist. But have we listened to his wise counsel and taken to heart the lessons of history? Have we, in fact, in our schools seriously emphasized the development of moral character and of personal discipline in the youth who now constitute 63% of the entire population? And have we tried to supplement classroom instruction with the more effective method of teaching by example at home, in public places, in government centers and in private offices? Have we endeavored to harmonize, to the fullest measure of our capacity, the reality of the outside world with the values that we seek to impart to our children? These soul-searching queries I address to our leaders and public officials, to our teachers, newspapermen and media people, and to all those who claim to be apostles of Don Sergio Osmeña, senior educator and mentor of the Filipino people.

Human history, we are told, is a race between education and catastrophe. The hour is late, but never too late to begin to teach and educate ourselves and our people. To quote Don Sergio once again, reechoing the immortal truism of Jose Rizal: “The proper education of the individual is essential to the stability of the social order. What the individuals are so the nation will be.”

9 September 1984

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Sotero H. Laurel was born in Tanauan, Batangas, on 27 September 1918, the son of the late President Jose P. Laurel. He finished law at the University of the Philippines (1940) and then took postgraduate studies in law, diplomacy, and international relations at the Harvard Graduate School of Law and the Georgetown School of Foreign Service. He served as private secretary to Jose P. Laurel (1938-41) and Sergio Osmeña in Washington, D.C. (1940-45). In 1971, he was the third-district Batangas delegate to the Constitutional Convention, serving as President pro-tempore of that body. In 1981, he was elected senator and served as Senate President pro-tempore. An author and law professor, Laurel is president of Lyceum of the Philippines.