In the humor-laden and award-winning autobiography, From Barrio to Senado (2008 National Book Awards), by public health leader and two-term Senator (1995-2007) Dr. Juan M. Flavier (b. 1935), one reads:
“Fire in the belly is the first pre-requisite for anyone aspiring for the highest political office in our country. I believe you must absolutely want to be president. You must absolutely have the drive to seize the position.
“Without that fire, without that ambition, the position will be ill-served even by the most noble of intentions.
“Raul Roco had fire in his belly. As does Ping [Lacson]. And Loren Legarda. There are a few more young leaders that, I am happy to say, have that drive, ambition, and clear vision to get to Malacañang.” (Flavier, 394-95)
Senator Flavier realized he did not have fire in the belly even after the following favorable events:
Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo announced on Rizal Day of 2002 that she would not be a presidential candidate in the next election; conscientious persons like Winnie Monsod assured him of support if he wanted to run; Pres. Arroyo explicitly encouraged Flavier, Bobby Barbers, and Jun Magsaysay to “float” their names as presidential aspirants; three “Flavier for President” movements were launched in “Davao, Central Luzon, and Baguio, courtesy of the initiatives of Atty. Raul Lambino” after his name was floated; stickers like “Juan for All and All for Juan” started to appear in Metro-Manila without instruction from Flavier; Ambassador Alfonso Yuchengco of RCBC invited him to a meeting to discuss the matter of campaign funds; surveys started to show he was second to Raul Roco and higher than Ping Lacson.
Despite all these favorable events, Flavier did not start organizing, and his media appearances had “no planning, no budget, no strategy, and no real effort.” He narrates:
“Gene Orejana was the first to interview me live on television…He asked me if I was physically up for the rigors of a national campaign. I responded that I was game, but admitted that health would be a consideration. I told him I had asthma, high blood pressure, and mild diabetes.
“Rudy [chief of staff, Senate office] almost had a heart attack, and the next day he had a welt on his forehead where he had slapped himself.
“When Korina Sanchez guested me on her own television program, Isyu, she gave me a second chance to be more politic in my answer. But afterwards, in a text message to her fellow broadcaster…she, too, expressed perplexity in my being ‘deliberately honest’ about my health. She sensed that my heart was ‘not into this float.’” (Flavier, 390)
Why was there no fire in his belly? Deep down the “barrio doctor” in him remained stronger than the politician. The barrio doctor listens, persuades, and heals individuals and communities. The politician can do the same but he or she should be ready and willing to authorize or command coercion or violence whenever it is necessary to enforce the law for the common good.
Flavier’s book intimates that one has to have some deep unhappiness or restlessness to relish the fierce competition for the highest office of Chief Executive and Commander of necessary violence.
When he looks back at a childhood in which his parents, both grade-school dropouts, struggled to put food on the table for a family of eight, Juan Flavier has enough inner peace and happiness, as he perceives that his descendants have more opportunities: “Knowing that all my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will have a better life than I did is all I need to know to be at peace with the God that Susan and I try to introduce to them” (Flavier, 402).
Juan Flavier, the public health leader, loved to communicate with the poor, shared with them his jokes and humorous parables, and knew himself enough to recognize that he had no fire in his belly for the Presidency.
Source: Flavier, Juan. From Barrio to Senado: An Autobiography. n.p. 2008.