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Column of former Undersecretary and Chairman of Mindanao Economic Develpment Council (MEDco) Chairman Virgilio L. Leyretana, Sr. with former US President George W. Bush.

Today, I am taking a moment to express my sincerest thanks to President George W. Bush, the 43rd President of the United States of America for having granted me an audience on July 9, 2022, at his residence in the Walker’s Point – Bush Estate, Kennebunkport, Maine. I am also extending my grateful appreciation for the warm reception of the First Lady, Laura Lane Welch Bush, whose demure composure and modesty speaks louder than all that has been written about her as a teacher, librarian, memoirist and author. And, most of all my utmost gratitude to God for enabling me to meet the First Couple of the most powerful nation on earth – a rare opportunity that is not ordinarily available for everybody.

In all levity and candor, at first, I was enveloped in trepidation. I thought it was just a mirage – I can’t believe my eyes upon seeing the President already waiting at the circular driveway in front of the family’s residence at exactly 1100 hours – our estimated time of arrival. While dismounting from the vehicle, I was astonished looking at the President approaching to meet me sans protocol and security. As we shook hands and I greeted him “Mr. President, finally, I meet my Idol. Happy 76th Birthday!”, I felt the warmth of his sincerity.

Honestly, I was surprised beyond expectation by the President’s cordial and warm gestures sans protocol and security. It never crossed my imagination that a person who, as described in his narratives, have everything – wealth, power and fame has the humility to meet me. Indeed, I was overwhelmed by his unequivocal reception, so much so I can’t find words in the lexicon of language that can best capture how I felt upon meeting “Dubya”.

Indeed, I was in awe as the President lead the way for me and my daughter, Mahalia – a nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital and my “personal driver”. I really felt dwarfed when he opened the main entrance door and ushered us inside the receiving room where we started “tete-a-tete”. Subsequently, the formalities yielded to conviviality soon as, when the President took a glimpse at my head, I instinctively bantered “ Mr. President, if my shining top is impairing your line of sight, my apologies –

“When God created the world, He gave only very few perfect heads. The rest, He covered with hairs.”

Since then, after he chuckled at my self-effacing humour, our conversation evolved into an “entente cordiale” punctuated by photo ops for posterity. Metaphorically, I have worked beneath the wings of past five presidents of our country. I’ve held various elected and appointed positions with local, national and international areas of responsibilities which enabled me travel far and wide. In the course of time, I met high and mighty personalities of all sizes, shapes, colors and ideologies in the penumbra of power.

Without intending to make comparison and much less expecting anyone to concur with my standard and opinion, with all due respect, I can’t resist describing “Dubya” as a marvelous host, and consummate diplomat. From our arrival until departure, the President’s composure was an epitome of an authentic gentleman. I must admit, I really felt blown away with the President’s contagious buoyancy and effervescence, rapport and camaraderie wrapped in simplicity devoid of hypocrisy and grandeur. What you see is what you get, a down-to-earth people- oriented leader par excellence.

It’s no wonder why George W. Bush was elected Governor of Texas for four consecutive terms from 1994-2001 and became President of the United States off America from 2001-2009. Frankly, in all the years of my life, it never crossed my mind and neither have I ever conjured that, today, I am in rendezvous and having interlude with the 43rd President of the United States of America, the world’s most powerful nation – the Philippines lifelong friend, mentor of democracy, ,a strategic ally and liberator.

My audience with #43 took place six days after the President’s birthday on July 6th, and two days after July 4th – the Independence Day of America, thus it was replete with historical nostalgia. It in retrospect, it evokes memories of how our two nations celebrated independence simultaneously on the same day 76 years ago, for 18 years since July 3, 1946 to May 12, 1964.

However, with the enactment of Republic Act No, 416, then President Diosdado Macapagal changed the Independence Day from July 4 to June 12, and renamed as Philippine Republic Day, (also known as Philippine-American Friendship Day) to commemorate Emilio Aguinaldo’s original proclamation of Philippine Independence from Spain on the same date in 1898.

The aforecited episode in our history became the bend in the river of our journey to nationhood. It arouses curiosity as to what we could have been, had we remained an autonomous commonwealth of America as we had been since 1935? This question triggers a litany of unending questions which fuels my passion to continue writing and seeking for answers.


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