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Leadership (Inquirer)

General Vo Nguyen Giap in 2008.

General Vo Nguyen Giap in 2008.

Last month marked the centennial of the birth of one of the greatest military strategists of the 20th century. With no formal military education, General Vo Nguyen Giap led Vietnamese forces in victories over two Western powers: France and the United States.

In his memoirs, “Dien Bien Phu: Rendezvous With History,” Giap recounts how in 55 days of fighting (between March and May 1954) his troops “killed or captured more than 16,200 enemy soldiers, including the entrenched camp’s entire command with one general, 16 senior officers, and 1,749 commissioned and noncommissioned officers. We had annihilated 17 crack infantry battalions (including seven parachute battalions), three artillery battalions, nearly one engineering battalion, for a total of 21 battalions.” (Dien Bien Phu was a village in northwestern Vietnam near the Laotian border, where the French established a garrison in an attempt to draw Viet units into a major confrontation. Instead the French stronghold was surrounded and eventually forced to surrender.)

The French Air Force suffered heavy losses. The total fighter and transport planes shot down over Dien Bien Phu came to 62. (Bernard Fall, in his book “Hell in a Very Small Place,” divided the 62 French planes lost at Dien Bien Phu into 48 shot down over the French camp and 12 destroyed on the ground.)

The defeat of French forces at Dien Bien Phu signaled the end of French colonial rule in Indochina after decades of continuous struggle by the Vietnamese people.

Giap was also the principal architect of the 1968 Tet Offensive in South Vietnam. One of the goals of this offensive was to drive a wedge between the Americans and the South Vietnamese forces. The attack on the US Embassy was designed to expose the vulnerability of the United States in spite of its tremendous power and resources.

Seven years later, one of the most famous photographs to come out of the Vietnam War was the sight of a US helicopter lifting off from a helipad on the roof of the US Embassy with people still trying to get on board. At about the same time, North Vietnamese tanks were crashing through the gates of the presidential palace in Saigon, marking the end of the South Vietnamese regime established by the United States.

In the history of our own struggle for independence—the revolt against Spain and the ensuing Philippine-American War—perhaps what we lacked were leaders in the mold of Giap: tenacious, resolute, willing to sacrifice and endure hardships in the face of tremendous difficulties not just for years but for decades. We had leaders. Some were ilustrados: well-educated gentlemen schooled in the finest traditions of European society. Unfortunately they lacked the stomach for the long and arduous struggles required to secure a nation’s freedom. With the arrival of the Americans, a good number simply moved over to the side of the newcomers, thus preserving their dominant influence in society under the new dispensation.

For the Philippines, it has always been a question of leadership.

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Abraham Henschel, a noted theologian and religious leader wrote: “A test of a people is how it behaves toward the old. It is easy to love children. Even tyrants and dictators make a point of being fond of children. But the affection and care for the old, the incurable, the helpless are the true gold mines of a culture.”

One of the more significant private sector endeavors for senior citizens is a program initiated by the United Laboratories Foundation (ULF) called “Bayanihang SAGAD.” It means “all-out” support to enable senior citizens to harness their own contribution to society. The program is in partnership with local government units, the provincial social welfare and development offices, the Office of Senior Citizen Affairs (OSCA), and other like-minded organizations.

Last July, the foundation led by its executive director Rhodora Fresnedi and Lamberto Lara convened its first pilot project in the province of Rizal. The summit meeting, held at the Meralco Management and Development Training Center in Antipolo City, was attended by some 80 senior citizens of the province.

Among the subjects tackled by the gathering were:

full implementation of the Expanded Senior Citizens Act and the need to refocus programs to empower communities rather than individuals

understanding the issues and implications that an aging population brings to society

preparation of the population for an aging process that is both satisfying and productive for the individual

delivery of social and human services needed by the growing number of elderly

What role do these summits play in the life of the nation? More than anything else, these activities create a greater awareness of the rights and privileges of senior citizens. It educates the elderly, and society in general, on the problems of aging by promoting an active and productive lifestyle. It develops a network of senior citizen volunteers at the grassroots level. All these are in line with Unilab’s commitment to help transform senior citizens from passive beneficiaries to active participants in the task of nation-building.

We cannot leave everything to government. ULF is to be commended for its Christian spirit in looking after the welfare of a vital sector of our society.

* * *

According to reliable sources, senior citizens of Quezon City enjoy free parking at Gateway Mall in the Araneta Center any time, any day. Hopefully parking facilities in other shopping malls and in five-star hotels will follow this lead and honor senior citizens with free parking.

* * *

AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Oban will be marking his 56th birthday sometime in December. He was appointed to his present position last March. It would be a pity to see him leave after less than a year in office. His quiet leadership qualities and reputation for integrity have contributed much towards regaining the trust and confidence of our people in the men and women in uniform.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin should seriously consider the option of recommending to President Aquino the extension of Oban’s services for a few more months, even a year, before the Army once again takes over leadership of the Armed Forces. For reforms to take root, we need a certain amount of stability in the leadership of any organization. The recent passage in the Senate of a bill providing for a fixed term of office for the AFP chief of staff is an indication that our political leaders believe in this basic principle of command. Many of the problems of the recent past can be traced to a revolving door mentality that served the interests of a few.


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Freelance writer



  1. Pingback: Helipad marking | Grillmangrill - September 4, 2011

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Thủy tinh vỡ: Freelance writer
Age: Bính Thìn
Location: Hồ Chí Minh


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