Zamboanga City—Ahmed “Amin” Hataman, 20, was feeling glum on June 25 — the Thursday when former President Benigno Aquino III passed away. The 2015 Sustainable Environment and Energy awardee opted to pen his thoughts.
“I only found myself crying into my pillow an entire day after hearing of your passing. It had taken essentially an entire 24 hours before the shock subsided, and I had processed the information for long enough that my emotions could take hold of me. I thought that it was only natural that I shed tears for a great man I so admired; the product of a noble heritage and family that shaped Philippine history and are the unfailing hallmarks of democracy. My sadness was to be expected,” he began.
Hataman is one of 35 young leaders from Asia chosen to be part of the first cohort of the Ramon Magsaysay Transformative Leadership Institute’s NextGen Leadership Program.
Amin is the son of House Deputy Speaker Mujiv Hataman, a good friend of the late President Aquino, and Isabela City Mayor Sitti Djalia Turabin.
He first became known six years ago as the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor’s son who, at 15, invented biodegradable bags made from coconut by-product.
Amin, now on his third year at the Ateneo de Manila University taking AB Economics, is the youngest in the first Forbes 30 under 30 Asia list, and the only Mindanawon on the list since 2015.
The young Hataman wrote about his having been “a child that adored you, you being the first President that he had grown up having, the first Philippine Head of State that he’d seen campaign, witnessed winning the election, and addressing the people.
“A child who’d seen entire rooms and atriums become silent before you had even entered. A child who was ecstatic at the opportunity to visit and speak with you, only to be silent in awe and nervousness for the majority of the conversation that you and his father shared, right in front of him.”
“In the years intervening the last time I spoke with you, I had learned that infallibility is an adjective that is never, ever to be applied to a person, that I should be wary of those in power, and that idolatry is unspeakably damaging to democracy,” he wrote.
“I didn’t know you, not truly. I can’t say with confidence that it was truly you that stood behind those podiums, that said the words, that looked on at the crowds and smiled. I couldn’t imagine, for the life of me, what went on inside your head as you made decisions that would impact millions, and whether or not you attached faces to them.
“In truth, you were a complete stranger to me, and it seems the tragedy is that that is what you will remain. I wish I could’ve spoken with you – really spoken with you, just once,” he said.
In his grief, Hataman said he ripped his yellow sweatshirt to tie the strips on the branches of a tree where he would read books.
“For all I know, in reality you may have only used your parents and your last name to gain power, to work for the benefit of your family and to bask in the glory of being the most powerful individual in the republic. You may have relished duping so many hopefuls with your shallow words, taking action only to increase your fame and renown. You may have very well taken advantage of all of us.”
“If this is true, then let my letter end here. I will pay my respects for the dead, and move on without second thought or glance.”
“Democracy is better off.”
“But, if by chance – if by the smallest chance you actually cared, that you had real ambition for us Filipinos and the direction we were headed, and you understood the sheer gravity of each and every singular yellow ribbon that has ever been tied by a person who was willing to bet on you; if you had tried your darndest to answer millions of hopes with nothing but your utmost effort to bring honor to these islands;
“If you had meant every single word you said to the child that sat in front of your desk, after mustering the courage to ask you a question in the middle of your conversation with his father, then I have only one answer to all of your efforts:
“Thank you, so, very much, from the bottom of my heart. You gave it everything you had, despite all the difficulty, all the pressure. Because of you, I can raise my head higher as a Filipino. I am now more determined than I have ever been.
“Please, rest easy. There are so many who will continue your work,” he ended.