Thursday, August 3, 2017

Margarito B. Teves: an Incredible Man

It's no secret I despise most politicians. The modern political era seems to have followed a path from the genteel general (Eisenhower) to blunt brutes (Nixon, LBJ) to charismatic rakes (JFK, Gary Hart) and now to bombastic idiots (too many to list).

Once in a while, though, the universe throws my misanthrope self a lifeline. I've just been gobsmacked by a former finance secretary I randomly ran into. I was going to Cebu's local casino--a great joint by the name of Waterfront Casino--when I happened to see a seminar of some sort. I saw the words, "economics" and "federalism," and after asking permission, walked in just in time to catch the final 10 minutes of Margarito Teves' speech.

I couldn't believe my ears. Every single word was practical and made sense. I blinked a few times to make sure I wasn't somehow experiencing the reincarnation of Lee Kwan Yew, but there he continued, making sense. As far as I know, no hashtags, selfies, or filters were mentioned during his speech. When questions were asked, he answered every single one of them directly. Who was this man, and how did he make it in politics?

It turns out he's the former Secretary of Finance of the Philippines. (You might think a man of his stature would automatically be honorable or interesting, but I've listened to Ben Bernanke at MIT and struggled not to fall asleep. The students must have agreed, because a beach ball started getting passed around in the middle of his speech.)

Upon doing more research, it turns out Mr. Teves might have actually saved the Philippines from financial disaster in 2008-2009. His background seems tailor-made for the perfect storm that occurred then: banker, economist, and lawmaker. Somehow, despite reading about economics voraciously since the age of 17, I've never heard of him. Isn't that interesting? The world prefers bombast, but the steady dignity and wisdom of men like Mr. Teves are what make the world go 'round.

During the speech, I went to the mic to ask a question. I obviously looked out of place being the only non-Filipino there. While Teves continued answered the previous question, an emcee named Dan stopped me from asking a question and told me he'd call security if I insisted on asking one. I explained I was a lawyer from California and I wanted to make a comment to Teves about his speech. The topic, after all, was "federalism," not just economics. He again threatened to call security. At this point, I had no idea who Teves was--only that I was amazed to be in the presence of such a practical, well-spoken man. (The only other person who's had such an impact on me was America's Julian Bond.)

I called Dan's bluff and stood at the podium and waited until Teves sat down. I shook Teves' hand, telling him, "I didn't hear your whole speech, but I wanted to thank you for your practicality. I wasn't able to make a public comment, but I'll just tell you we have no one like you in America now. We are falling apart because we lack men like you, who follow the successful Singaporean model of practicality before ideology."

Being a gracious diplomat, Teves told me he had no control over who could ask questions and invited me to talk to him after the event ended. I thanked him again and not wanting to bother anyone at his table, I went over to the emcee who'd prevented me from asking a question, shook his hand, and whispered in his ear, "You're a disgrace to Filipinos." (Filipinos are generally the most gracious and open people on the planet.) The emcee started squeezing my hand as hard as he could, but being half my size and lacking any athleticism, he wasn't able to accomplish whatever purpose he intended, couldn't muster any sort of witty response, and so I slipped away and left.

The world today is filled with too many jackasses like emcee Dan and not enough gentlemen like Teves. It is of course Dan, of all the people at the event, most of whom were kind and open, who was chosen to work the microphone, proving again that until introverts rise up and master public speaking, the world will continue to burn under the weight of bombast and irrational fear. Unless we figure out how to attract and keep more men like Teves, Western politics will continue to devolve, and Asia will continue to rise--as long as it keeps men like Dan away from important matters. 

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