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OBITUARY | John O, the Senate’s ‘Lone Ranger’

JUST two days after mourning the death of a former member, the Philippine Senate on Wednesday again lost another outstanding senator, dubbed the “Lone Ranger” for his strong independent streak on raging issues of the day: Sen. John Henry “Sonny” Osmeña.

The former senator, who had been battling cancer, had survived Covid-19 in July last year, but died on Tuesday, February 2, in his condominium unit in Cebu City. His body was immediately cremated while the cause of his death was still being determined. He was 86.

In a fitting tribute, the Senate on Wednesday passed Senate Resolution No.635, in consideration of Senate Resolution No. 636, expressing “the profound sympathy and sincere condolences of the Senate” on the death of Osmeña, who served the chamber from 1971 to 1972, 1987 to 1995, and 1998 to 2004.

All senators present were made coauthors of the resolution.

“The demise of a great legislator and esteemed public servant, who had served as senator both under the 1935 and 1987 Constitution, is a great loss not only to his bereaved family but to the nation as well,” stated the resolution, authored by Sanate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Sen. Manuel “Lito” Lapid.

Osmeña’s death stunned senators, who on Monday had also adjourned early following tradition as they mourned the death of Sen. Victor S. Ziga, who succumbed to heart and mutiple multi-organ failure at the age of 75 last January 31, 2021.

Both Osmeña and Ziga were members of the post-Edsa 8th Congress from 1987 to 1992.

Sotto, in his sponsorship speech, said Osmeña was born to lead, and “even mastered it along the way.”

He added, “As a matter of fact, public service was his calling as he started to be in the government as such a young age and continued to be one until his passing.”

Osmena’s political pedigree was solid: grandson of the late President Sergio Osmeña Sr. and a nephew of former Sen. Sergio Osmeña Jr. He was the cousin of former Senator Sergio Osmeña III and former Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña.

With his lineage, Sotto said, “it could be surmised that a lot of pressure [was] put on him to be able to follow the footsteps of his grandfather, or leave a lasting legacy, like his ancestors did,” he said. “But certainly that was not the case for Sen. Sonny Osmeña. He made a name for himself. He was a great leader in his own right,” Sotto added.

Zubiri described Osmeña as a “dedicated public servant and an advocate of sincere, competent and responsive governance.”

“So Mr President, we asked our dear colleagues and distinguished institution to accept this simple resolution, as well as for the family to accept our sincere condolences for the death of a great Visayan, Zubiri said.

Sen. Richard Gordon, who authored PSR 636, said Osmeña, as a senator was a “fierce debater and stood by his principles.”

“He also showed passion for the advancement of communications, technology and energy, sponsoring a number of development-oriented bills,” Gordon said.

Osmeña served as Senate President Pro-Tempore (1996-2000), and as chairman of the Committees on Finance, Energy, and Government Corporation and Public Enterprises.

Besides being dubbed “Lone Ranger” for his independent-mindedness even against all odds, Osmena was a known graft-buster in the Senate. He founded and organized the “Samahan Laban sa Graft (SALAG)” and spearheaded the Senate investigations of many irregular and anomalous government transactions, including the so-called Petroscam and the Philippine Ports Authority, among others. His exposes led to the resignation of corrupt government officials.

Whatever he set his brilliant mind to, Osmena always came up with sharp analyses, quick to spot gaps in presentations, intentional or not. When then embattled Neda chief Solita C. Monsod was summoned in 1989 for a Senate hearing on the controversy involving the move to set up a redundant coordinating council on foreign assistance — then flooding the Philippines in the afterglow of the 1986 democratic restoration – it was Osmena who quickly raked over the data, demanding to know why additional bureaucratic layers were being set up to trifle with Neda’s mandate, and showed there was no “additionality” in ODA flows as claimed by defenders of the new council. This prompted Monsod to tell an aide who gasped in admiration, “That’s John O. for you–his mind’s like a steel trap. He takes one look at data and spots what’s wrong with it.”

The Department of Energy (DOE) was set up under Republic Act No. 7638, which he authored. Senate Bill was signed into law by President Fidel V. Ramos in 1992.

Osmeña sponsored among others, a number of development-oriented bills like the Municipal Telephone Act (Republic Act 6849) whereby each municipality will a get a telephone system; the Mini-Hydroelectric Program (RA 7156), which will provide non-conventional electricity in the countryside; the Public Telecommunications Act of 1995 (RA 7925), and the creation of the Philippine Postal Corporation (RA 7354). He also authored landmark bills like the Electric Power Crisis Act (RA 7648) and the Electric Power Reform Act of 2001 (RA 9163), among others.

A third generation member of the famous Osmeña political clan of Cebu, Sonny started out as Cebu City Councilor in 1963, became the Vice Mayor of the same city in 1968 and was elected to the House of Representatives representing the 2nd District the year after.

In 1970, he was named as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) of the country for his exemplary performance in Government Service.

In August 21, 1971, Osmena’s both legs were badly injured after two grenades exploded at the Miting De Avance of the Liberal Party on Plaza Miranda, killing 11 and leaving scores of people wounded.

Osmeña was born on January 17, 1935 to Emilio Osmeña and Ma. Louisa Renner, both of Cebu. He was married to Lucy Urgello with one son, John Gregory Jr., former Vice Governor of Cebu.

He earned his mechanical engineering degree from the University of San Carlos and further studies at the University of the Philippines (UP) and the International Social Development Institution in Holland.

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