Malilong: Never trust anyone, Sonny said

Frank Malilong
·3 min read

THREE weeks ago, I wrote about the joke that Sonny Osmeña cracked after he was discharged from confinement in a local hospital for Covid-19. It was difficult to kill him because he was bad grass, Sonny said in typical self-deprecation.

The end of his journey came Tuesday, Feb. 2. He was 86. Cebu lost another leader who, during his prime, cast a giant shadow in local — and national — politics.

Sonny Osmeña was already a congressman when he and Fr. Francisco Silva appeared in a forum of student activists that I attended in the early seventies. Before that, he was a Cebu City councilor in 1963 and vice mayor in 1965. In 1971, he was elected to his first term as senator. Counting the brief intervals following election losses (I can remember only two), Sonny’s political career spanned almost 58 years.

He would still have been a public official at the time of his death. He was unbeatable in Toledo City where he transferred residence probably because he found Cebu City too small for him and his cousin Tommy with whom he was at odds over policy, he would tell us during an interview on “Frankahay Ta!” in 2017, not personal matters.

Sonny has had public quarrels with other Cebuano political leaders, including his own brother, Lito with whom he eventually reconciled, and Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and her siblings.

It was his trouble with the Garcias that had him sidelined from public office since 2019. The irony of it all was that he and Gwen had mended fences and were supposed to run under the same ticket in the elections that year, Sonny as Toledo City mayor, Gwen as governor and her brother Pablo John as third district congressman.

The unity ticket broke up, however, reportedly because Sonny was miffed that the Garcias campaigned in Toledo without coordinating with him. Sonny withdrew his bid for mayor and challenged Pablo John instead. He lost badly.

He was widely believed to be eyeing a return to the Toledo City Hall in 2022, putting him in a potential collision course with the incumbent, whom he had handpicked from among his political allies to run in his stead in 2019 but who had reportedly sought an alliance with the governor.

Sonny moaned that his allies betrayed him in 2019, specially mentioning a former mayor to whom he reportedly gave P5 million but whose town gave him only a little more than 500 votes. But he was not bitter.

When we interviewed him in 2017, Sonny said he already had a title for his autobiography, if he decided to have one. “The Mistakes I Made,” he said, “but no, I am not writing a book because I would end up hurting those who are close to me.”

Did he learn a lesson from those mistakes? Yes, he said. “Never trust anyone.” He would have had that engraved on his gravestone “but there will be no gravestone. There will be no wake, no elaborate ceremony when I die.”

He did not say there will be no articles written about him.