Former MP gives emotional tribute

It was an emotional day for Papua New Guineans as news of the founding father’s passing reached them.

Many warmly reminisced about the determined and patriotic Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare who never faltered in his vision of a free Papua New Guinea.

Among them was former Lae MP and Treasury and Finance Minister, Bart Philemon, who was unable to restrain himself when Lae media visited him at his Butibam home yesterday (Feb 26).

“My heart is sad,” he said, shakily wiping away tears.

“I feared for being interviewed for such a person because I would get very emotional.”

After regaining a bit of composure, Philemon shared his memory of the ‘60s.

“I was a young boy in ’66 when we started our first group in the university; UPNG, when he (Sir Michael) was beginning his preparation for PNG to gain independence.

“I’ve only come onto the scene when I was starting my university education with (late) Sir Mekere Morauta and Sir Rabbie Namaliu. We were still students and they were starting to get really serious about forming political parties to start off putting pressure on the (colonial) administration for independence.

“He was the head of the gang for gaining independence. There’s no question about it.”

The former MP described the late Grand Chief as a man with nerves of steel. And with the vision of an independent state firmly lodged in his mind, every step he took brought his goal closer.

“You can’t take it away from the fact that he is truly the father of the nation,” said Philemon.

“He never gave up. He kept on going.

“The next generation like myself, Sir Rabbie Namaliu and the late Sir Mekere Morauta, we’ve come in and we’ve learned a lesson from him.

“Certainly, without his leadership, without his political acumen at that time, we would not have gained independence.”

Philemon highlighted that under Sir Michael’s leadership, the biggest goal was to be able to have a peaceful transition.

“Looking at the history of Africa, they had to fight to get there,” continued Philemon.

“I give Somare praise for his leadership among those others like (Late Sir Albert) Maori Kiki, (Late Sir) Reuben Taureka, (Sir) Ebia Olewale and all those people who managed our country so that when independence came, it was a peaceful transition.

“And I remember that day in which I was standing at the Sir Hubert Murray Stadium and the Australian flag – the evening before the 16th of September – was lowered and then handed over to the Governor-General of Australia, with Sir John Guise saying the words: ‘We are proud that the flag is handed to you peacefully and not torn to pieces’.

“And when I remember Somare in those days, I think of the history that was set in peaceful transition between ourselves and the Australians,” Philemon said in a voice heavy with emotion.

With fresh tears rolling down his cheeks, he said it was not until 1992 that he was able to get into politics, where he had to choose between the political parties of Sir Julius Chan, Paias Wingti and Sir Michael.

He did not think twice about joining the late grand chief due to his leadership and experience.

Philemon attributed the unity enjoyed in PNG to citizens’ respect of the late grand chief, who set a strong foundation to unify one of the most diversified nations on earth.

“I’d like to extend my deepest condolences to Lady Veronica and all the families. I wish them all God’s blessing and I’d like to say that Sir Michael could not have been what he was without Lady Veronica and the family.”

Carmella Gware