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Why loyalty is a virtue of great leaders

April 24, 2010

BULL MARKET, BULL SHEET By Wilson Lee Flores (The Philippine Star) Updated April 19, 2010 12:00 AM

The scholar does not consider gold and jade to be precious treasures, but loyalty and good faith. — Confucius

A faithful friend is a strong defense: and he that hath found such a one hath found a treasure. — The Bible, Ecclesiasticus 6:14

One of the saddest aspects of our brand of politics in the Philippines today is the almost utter lack of loyalty by people who are supposed to be our best and brightest leaders, and thus ideally role models for the rest of us.

Why the frequent and so-easy changing of political parties based purely on self-interest and convenience, similar to changing clothes or shoes? It doesn’t matter if a guy is with Brother Eddie, Gordon, Gibo, Erap, Manny Villar or Noynoy Aquino — I believe loyalty is ultimately a reflection of a person’s true character, that it is a virtue as rare as a diamond.

Treachery, betrayal and no word of honor seem to be more prevalent among our political leaders than loyalty — this is tragic. Among businesspeople and professionals, lack of loyalty and trustworthiness could be fatal to our careers.

Whatever the temporary vagaries of people’s emotions or of fortunes in business, our professions or family lives, personal loyalty is a virtue that we should try to cultivate always.

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A veteran writer once recounted to me that after the 1953 election, he was interviewing then President Elpidio Quirino, who was defeated by his Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay. Even Quirino’s son-in-law had already defected to the winner’s camp. While the writer was interviewing the deserted loser, a visitor came bringing food as gifts — it was none other than Manila’s legendary “Mami King,” restaurant entrepreneur Ma Mon Luk. The visibly touched President Quirino described the self-made Ma as his “true friend.”

Zheng Chenggong, the military warrior well known to Europeans as “Koxinga,” was one of the most outstanding heroes revered in East Asia for his genius, courage and loyalty. When the Manchu minority of northeast China proclaimed their own Qing Dynasty after winning over the Ming Dynasty, Zheng still remained a Ming loyalist. In fact, from his base in Fujian province, he renamed modern-day Xiamen City “Ximing” or “Remember the Ming.” Today, a giant statue of Zheng Chenggong can be seen at scenic Gulangyu isle across bustling Xiamen City in Fujian province, the ancestral homeland of most ethnic Chinese in the Philippines.

In 1662, Zheng Chenggong led a military force that defeated and drove the Dutch colonizers out of Taiwan province. When he died at age 37, even his foes — the various succeeding emperors of the Qing Dynasty — respected his unwavering loyalty to his emperor of the fallen Ming Dynasty, and they encouraged people to honor him as a hero.

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For dog lovers worldwide and for Japanese people, the Akita dog is admired for its loyalty. A famous Akita dog named Hachiko is well loved in Japan because even after the sudden death of his owner, University of Tokyo Professor Hidesabur Ueno, due to heart attack, the dog Hachiko kept escaping his new owners in order to look for his master.

Every day for nine years, the dog would go to the train station to wait for his owner to come home from work as he had done before. Hachiko only stopped going to the station to wait when he himself died on March 8, 1935. A bronze statue of the dog was erected at that very Shibuya train station for this remarkable dog.

Books, other statues and even movies have been made honoring the loyal dog Hachiko. One of these movies was released last year in the US entitled Hachi: A Dog’s Story, starring actor Richard Gere and directed by Lasse Hallström. The movie about Hachiko was filmed in Rhode Island, USA.

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For all his shortcomings, today’s birthday celebrant, ex-President Joseph “Erap” Estrada, and his late best friend Fernando Poe Jr., the “King of Philippine Movies,” were loyal people. For example, both Erap and FPJ remained loyal to the late President Ferdinand Marcos even after he fell from power in 1986. Among the businesspeople who were friends of Marcos, the most loyal was his ally and compadre, San Miguel Corporation chairman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. When Erap himself fell from power in early 2001, among the people loyal to him was then Manila Mayor Lito Atienza.

During martial law, when Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino was jailed, even some of wife Cory Cojuangco Aquino’s own kin and friends reportedly distanced themselves from him. One of the few loyal friends who stuck by Ninoy was his boyhood friend in Concepcion, Tarlac, Ambassador Domingo Lee, he who would become president of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce after EDSA 1986. Lee and his wife used to visit Ninoy in jail.

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Throughout Philippine history, how many of the traditional power-elite families have exemplified turncoat-ism and opportunism, shifting from the Spanish colonial regime to the American invaders at the start of the 20th century, collaborating with the Japanese invaders whose war caused a million Filipino deaths out of a prewar population of 17 million people?

In stark contrast to the Japanese collaborators, heroes like Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos, West Point-educated General Vicente Lim, University of the Philippines student leader Wenceslao Vinzons and others personified loyalty to the Philippines by sacrificing their lives rather than collaborate with the Japanese invaders.

Vinzons’ saga is inspiring. He was the youngest governor of Camarines Norte and youngest delegate to the 1935 Constitutional Convention. After a fellow guerrilla betrayed him, the Japanese military captured him and his father in 1942. Vinzons refused to pledge allegiance to the Japanese and it was in a garrison in Daet on July 15, 1942 that he was bayoneted to death after refusing one final entreaty to cooperate with the invaders. He died at age 31. Afterwards, his father, wife, sister and two children were also executed by the Japanese military.

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In the Chinese language, the word or character for loyalty is zhong in Mandarin, made up of two characters — zhong, meaning “center,” and xin, meaning “heart.” This character is also used in South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and other societies. US President Woodrow Wilson once also said: “Loyalty means nothing unless it has at its heart the absolute principle of self-sacrifice.”

We should be loyal not because the person or institution we’re loyal to deserve it, but more so because I believe loyalty reflects our personal nature and character. Being loyal — like doing good or being benevolent — is already its own reward.

I strongly believe that although the virtue of loyalty seems archaic, old-fashioned and even rare nowadays in our increasingly pragmatic world, it is still one source of moral strength, long-term goodwill and also of divine blessings. Be loyal!

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