Tabula Rasa

That’s my wife and kids – the reason why I bother to immerse myself in the insane world of politics.

I have not written in a while – the business of life sometimes leaves little room for blogging. Anyway, I’m still contemplating whether or not I will push through with a project I’ve been thinking about, which is to write an autobiography. Well, whether or not I push through with it, let my share the first page of what i’ve started so far. I think this short prologue has some insights that might be useful anyway –


One of my core beliefs, which is a source of strength as well as perhaps my greatest weakness, is that a person’s life is essentially a blank slate. According to Nelson Mandela, “nurture, rather than nature, is the primary molder of personality.” I think that Mandela’s stand, though sound, is incomplete because while environmental factors play a very important role in shaping who we become, there is something that plays an even more critical role in human development than our genes or even our environment. What shapes one’s personality, more than genetics or environment, is the power of choice. It is this freedom of choice – the divine gift of free will – that ultimately makes us who we are. Our character and our destiny – whether we become presidents, paupers, professional basketball players, prostitutes, or policemen – are determined by the choices that we make and each day we are confronted by that freedom to become something of our choosing.

This core belief constitutes a painful and uncompromising vision of what each person is responsible for. It takes out the very human need to blame everything and everyone but ourselves for our lot in life. Particularly for those of us living in the Philippines, where our society is challenged perpetually by wide-scale corruption, enduring poverty, and social inequity, it is very easy to blame others for the status quo. However, until Filipinos gather the courage to say that I too am responsible for this situation, then we will never have the ability to make the hard choices necessary to solve our nation’s socio-political and economic problems.

On the negative column, my emphasis on free will might be a worldview that will doom some to tragedy and failure. For those without the gift for honest self-assessment it can deceive some to believe that they can do things beyond their own limitations and capabilities. But I prefer this belief to any other that claims to explain human destiny because if it were not for those brave few who dared to believe beyond their limitations, then humankind would still be living in caves, only birds could fly, and Neil Armstrong would never have set foot on the moon. Give this central belief the name it deserves: audacity. Man was created by God to be audacious. That is why he created us in his own image and with it gifted us with the creative spark. A fragment of his – and now ours – own divine nature.

This audacity, though some might call it foolishness, has become a hallmark of my life – reaching for things, seeking achievement, believing in myself well beyond what many said I could do. I was the first ethnic Filipino-Muslim (the word used in the Philippines, which was formerly a pejorative to describe the main Muslim tribes in the Philippines, the Maranaw, Tausug, and Maguindanao, is “Moro”) to graduate from Harvard Law School and the youngest University President of the University of the City of Manila, the Philippines’ premier local university, at 36.

But I’m getting ahead of myself and their would be no point in your reading this autobiography if I told you at the onset every major event in my life. Consider the Harvard and University of the City of Manila references as a teaser – a theatrical trailer highlighting the explosions and the main scenes of my movie. My point in starting with my basic core belief is to provide the predicate for the things that have happened in my life and the choices that I have made.

My life is – and has been – a life of choices. Many unconventional, lots of them invariably wrong, but for the greater part, when viewed in the long-term, I believe my choices were the right ones. But this book is not about making the right or wrong choices because often life is too unpredictable and the range of human knowledge too finite to be able to say, with full certainty, that a choice is the correct one. What this book is about is the power to MAKE a choice and having the courage to choose.

Simply stated, the goal of this book is not historical. I don’t believe that my life has impacted our society in such a scale that historical documentation is necessary. Anyway, they say the best fiction is autobiography so that in itself would negate the historical justification for this book. The goal is more audacious than that: it is inspirational. Specifically, I hope to inspire ethnic Filipino-Muslims, Moros, to realize that they can choose to achieve whatever they want to achieve in Philippine society – despite the discrimination and bias against Muslims – and to encourage young Filipinos to believe that they can, despite their youth, make significant contributions to our nation.



  1. am said,

    October 7, 2008 at 9:21 am

    I think that an autobiography is a great idea if the purpose is to uplift and inspire others. The difference between a good autobiography and an ineffective one is the emotional investment the author shares in his writing. You’d have to go aaaaall the way there. If it’s all positive, filled with superlatives, and superficial in detail, then a great opportunity will be missed. The depths are just as important as the heights.

  2. Axel said,

    October 7, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    People can also relate to a persons self story and can uplift them in a certain way that an anecdote cannot. They see their self in that persons shoes and realized that their are other persons with the same experience or life story.

  3. liling magtolis briones said,

    October 7, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    Dear Adel,

    How delightful to see the picture of your wife and kids!

    As to writing an autobiography, hmm. I am not sure if now is the right time. You still have a long, long, way to go. You will do many more things. When you are sixty, you will have written a series of autobiographies! Perhaps a book of essays on your core beliefs–education, politics, governance, religion, philosophy?

    Prof. Liling

  4. phoenix said,

    October 9, 2008 at 12:17 am

    Dear Adel and Opposite of Apathy staff,

    I am very surprised that you have chosen to delete my comment yesterday. I was such a fan of Adel and the site, and read your blog daily. Just because I wrote that the appointment was a political thank you? That’s too much already? Is that so bad? I expected much more from you.

  5. am said,

    October 9, 2008 at 12:22 am

    Why was Phoenix’s comment yesterday deleted? There wasn’t anything wrong with it. It was well-written and I liked it. Are the only comments you’ll take here the shallow, grammatically error-filled ones that pervade this site?

  6. mich said,

    October 23, 2008 at 12:08 am

    hello sir 🙂 awww..soooo nice… it would be so interesting 🙂

  7. shaba said,

    October 23, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    Mich, what is so nice and would be so interesting? Is this an indecent proposal? Oh, the autobiography. Yes, I’d like to read it.

  8. liling magtolis briones said,

    October 27, 2008 at 3:47 pm


    I still believe it is to early for you to write an autobiography.If the objective is to inspire the young people, you can write a book about people–whether old or young conquering prejudice, discrimination, poverty, etc.etc. Suggest you take a look at John F. Kennedy’s book “Profiles in Courage” which I suspect he wrote when he was around your age or even much younger. It was a defining book which brought him to the attention of the world.

    He did not talk about himself or his accomplishments but more on people who by their courage conquered and inspired. In the process, he indirectly gave insights into what kind of a person he was and gained many admirers.

    Prof. Liling

  9. phoenix said,

    October 28, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    It’s common knowledge that “Profiles in Courage” was not penned by JFK at a young age or at any age for that matter, but by a ghostwriter. The only reason it became a best-seller was because Joe Kennedy manipulated it to be so.

    Adel, Prof. Liling hopes to caution you that while you have achieved great things, it is possible that an autobiography at your age may make you come across as presumptuous or a braggart. She is very protective of you and that is a blessing.

  10. liling magtolis briones said,

    October 29, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    dear phoenix,

    I am not sure if I know you personally but the first sentence of your second paragraph captures precisely the message I am trying to convey in a gentle, roundabout way. Thank you for stating bluntly what I could not!

    When I have more time, I would like to engage you in an exchange on “political” appointments. It is a very important governance issue. I probably need to devote an entire column to it. Right now I am immersed in the budget process, alternative budgets, and budget reforms.

    Warm regards, whoever you are!

    Prof. Liling

  11. phoenix said,

    October 29, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    Dear Prof. Liling,

    I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting you, but I can tell from your writing voice that you are gentle and kind, so I consider you a kindred spirit. It’s only natural to speak or write to someone in a “gentle, roundabout way” when you care for him and don’t want to deflate or hurt him in any way. I do know him a little bit, and I don’t think that you have to walk around him as gingerly as you may think. I feel so headstrong blogging anonymously that I sometimes forget that I’m not just flinging my comments out into the wild, blue yonder, but that there’s actually a flesh and blood recipient whom I seek in no way to offend.

    Prof. Liling, here’s a fun exercise for you to try. The next time you want to give advice or express your thoughts on this blog, don’t edit yourself (not too much anyway). Simply think up a fictitious name and do it anonymously. You’ll find yourself emboldened and I dare say you’ll quite enjoy it. I do think that I’d still recognize your voice though. And yes, I look forward to the column you’ll write regarding an important governance issue.

    Warm regards to you, too.

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