Remembering Lolo Ambo

Remembering Lolo Ambo

Hi, Daddy ko . . . I wish you were here right beside me now. There has never been anyone like you in all my life. No one has ever loved me as much as you have.

— Actress Sharon Cuneta, daughter of the venerable mayor of Pasay City Pablo Cuneta

ACCORDING to Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud, who founded the clinical method of psychoanalysis, education and politics are the world’s “impossible professions.”

Freud claimed that education is impossible because “it is impossible to give (a child) liberty to carry out all his impulses without restriction so consequently education must inhibit, forbid and suppress.

And in a famous essay of 1937 (Analysis Terminable and Interminable), Freud asserted that government, education, and analysis constitute three impossible professions, the results of which are doomed to ‘failure’.

Freud’s German contemporary Max Weber further built on the Austrian’s idea by delivering two famous lectures in Munich during the final days of the First World War. Weber explained that quality education and true scholarship have been compromised due to a “precarious quasi-proletarian existence,” while “there are a lot of mediocrities in leading university positions.”

The German said that if anything, education itself demanded a rare kind of passionate commitment, which is “mocked by all who do not share it,” and is ultimately a lonely profession where “success is by no means guaranteed.”

And as for statesmanship, both free thinkers said this was another thankless vocation, where there is a constant struggle to “make an impression” on donors and the general public without compromising one’s convictions and political calling. Weber warned that even the best of statesmen could succumb to vanity, which he described as “the deadly enemy of any commitment to one’s goals.”

The German philosopher was speaking at a time when the future of his country was at peril, precisely because of the ossification of its educational and state institutions, which are the bedrock of any vibrant society. Not long after Weber’s passing, the well-meaning yet feeble Weimar Republic collapsed under the pressure of polarized and increasingly authoritarian politics, leading to the rise of Nazism.


I WOULD say that my grandfather is one of the most successful politicians in the country because he became mayor for more than four decades, or 41 years to be exact.

My grandfather, Pablo Pablo Cuneta (a.k.a. Lolo Ambo), served as mayor of Pasay City for three terms between 1951 and 1998, making him the longest-serving local chief executive in our country’s political history.

My being his grandson has a picturesque background and I will be explaining this in another edition of this column. But suffice it to say that my family’s name has been deeply rooted in Pasay as one of the city’s well-known families, along with the Cunetas, Calados, Ignacios, Tolentinos, and several others.

Yet despite having been at the helm for Pasay for more than 40 years, my Lolo Ambo was never ever able to groom anyone from his children to succeed him as mayor, and any of his sons who were ever elected numbered very few, like Tito Gener (a.k.a. Boy Liit) who became a councilman and president of the Pasay’s Liga ng mga Barangay.

I am writing now about my Lolo Ambo because I miss him. He had been very good to me and I remember the times he entertained me about his tales of his adventures (or misadventures) during the Japanese Occupation of Manila, when he said he shot a Japanese soldier. Those times I asked him to narrate those stories because it often got him off from being angry whenever something he didn’t like happened or he heard the news that aren’t nice to his ears.

And I also recall when it was December and he would hand to me a thick stack of one hundred peso bills which I would give away piece by piece to whoever while we left city hall for our lunch break. Lolo Ambo was truly an open-handed person who showed his generosity to everyone—even to his political rivals (He once heard Dr. Jovito Claudio had fallen ill and he sent money to help on his medical bills the only person who beat him in an election).

One time, a Journal colleague asked my help because it was his daughter’s birthday and when we visited the mayor’s office, Lolo Ambo gave him several thousand (of pesos) for my friend to buy a whole lechon for his child’s birthday celebration.

Siyempre, binigyan din ako para pangpananghalian ko raw . . .

That’s my Lolo Ambo. But I miss him not because he was generous but because he made me see the truth about what politics is all about. He once told me: “Apo, when you’re a politician or running for office, you need three important things to win—money, cash and moolah, which he said in the vernacular as “salapi, pera at kuwarta.”

That’s well said I suppose as these things are what we are seeing today. (ai/mtvn)

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