BY RAGIE MAE TAÑO-ARELLANO
OTHER POLITICAL LEADERS ENTERED POLITICS TO IMPLEMENT CHANGES. IRONICALLY, TIAONG, QUEZON VICE MAYOR RODERICK UMALI WAS THE ONE REFORMED DURING HIS TERM.
The vice mayor of Tiaong, Quezon, is not ashamed to admit that he was already serving his first term as mayor when he got hooked on casinos, cockfighting, and womanizing. “People didn’t know because I wasn’t gambling here. I was gambling in Manila, and I never entered cockfighting arenas here; always in Manila,” recalls Umali about the habit that he thinks should never be done by a mayor.
According to him, guilt was consuming him at the time, so he decided to serve out his term and not seek reelection. Umali claims that not even his wife was aware of his gambling and other vices. People were perplexed by his decision because he had no opponent at the time if he decided to run for reelection. “‘Di ko lang masabi sa kanila (I just couldn’t tell them that) I’m tired. Basta I told them lang I have small children and I wanted to be with them during their rearing years, ‘yun lang ang aking palusot (that became my excuse),” he confesses.
Umali was 39 years old when he ran for mayor in 2010 and won. Before vying for the mayoralty, he first served as a councilor for two terms. At the time, he decided to replace his father, Raul Umali, who was serving his final term of office. He believed that he wasn’t deserving of the position because he engaged in vices. He convinced his father to run for another term and assured him that he would take another shot at the mayoralty after his father completed another term. In 2013, his father agreed to run for mayor while he opted for a sabbatical from politics. They then attempted a revival in 2016, but failed even in 2019. “Everything that we had was taken away: power, money. It seems that we were humiliated because everything was taken away; even my business wasn’t doing any good,” says Umali.
HELPING BEYOND POLITICS
Despite their circumstances, the Umalis continued to help their constituents. They were not in power in Tiaong at the time, but they still provided aid to their town and the people, along with some friends and members of their congregation, from their own resources. Umali states that they genuinely extended assistance, and it was not for political purposes. Due to the pandemic, it was never certain that elections would be held during that time.
Umali acknowledged, however, that should there be another election, he would try his luck again. “I told myself if my heart was unready, I would not run. But you know, a month before, I [decided] I was ready to run for mayor,” recalls Umali. Instead of running for mayor, however, he eventually decided to gun for another post. “I know that it was the Lord who directed my path to run for vice mayor,” he states. As he is commonly known, “Vice Mayor Dick” is not new to politics. Since childhood, he has been exposed to the world of politics, particularly when his father was appointed officer in charge (OIC) mayor of his hometown by the late President Corazon Aquino immediately after the EDSA 1 Revolution. Since he was 15 years old, he had witnessed his father’s dedication to service.
According to Umali, his father would spend the majority of his time per week, from five to six days in Tiaong, and would only visit his children for one day in Manila, where they studied. In 1988, his father ran for mayor of the municipality but lost. He had the same fate in the three subsequent elections held in 1992, 1995, and 1998. According to the younger Umali, his father never gave up, even after failing four times. In 2001, on his fifth attempt, he was eventually elected mayor. After that, he won the two succeeding elections, allowing him to serve as mayor of Tiaong for three terms. He believes that his father’s support was crucial to his victory when he ran for mayor after serving two terms as a councilor. Umali has wanted to work in government since he was in elementary school because his father’s work served as an inspiration to him. The mayor shares that his father was a major influence in his life, even beyond public service. He adds that he has the utmost regard for his father, who emphasized to him the importance of never taking advantage of others, particularly the less fortunate.
“Everything that we had was taken away. Power, money. It seems that we were humiliated because everything was taken away; even my business wasn’t doing any good.”
The Tiaong vice mayor no longer intends to seek a higher position. Everything he does, he shares, is meant to make his children inherit a legacy and a name that they’ll be proud of. “I want them to retain the lessons I gave them. Just that. No more political talk,” he explains, although he would never declare conclusively. But because he has been exposed to politics for 30 years, he feels as though he is already in the last phase of his political career. His political aim does not include recognition or renown. He declares that he gives praise to the Lord for every political success because he wants people to recognize God in him. He used to say to people all the time, “If I have helped anyone, I hope you will thank the Lord for it.
Even if you hold a post for 20 years as mayor, 30 years as congressman, or even 40 years as governor, I think all of our positions are temporary.” Umali may have been ready to retire from politics with a sense of accomplishment, believing that his efforts to assist others, even if they occurred decades ago, would remain in his memory, especially since he continued to do so after leaving office. He states that he began a program, which he labels “Magtulungan Tayo (Let’s Help One Another),” more than a decade ago. According to him, the initiative is more like a help desk. By renting a van and transporting 10 patients to government hospitals in Metro Manila, they were facilitating medical assistance, despite their lack of funds, so that they could appeal for assistance from congressmen or friends who held high positions in government hospitals.
The National Kidney Institute, Philippine Children’s Hospital, Philippine Heart Center, Lung Center of the Philippines, and East Avenue Medical Center are among these hospitals. Umali has a soft spot in his heart for people who require medical assistance. He places a higher priority on health issues than food programs because, in the province, there are plenty of resources available, especially for those who live in a barangay where practically everyone is a relative.
“However, if you become ill, you must raise a substantial sum of cash for your treatment; you must sell your home, tricycle, cow, and goats,” he says.
Umali claims that some of the workers and administrators of government hospitals would be shocked to find that he visits the patients he sends there. “That is where the people suffer; their world is spinning,” he says. Umali gives this explanation for why he visits his ailing constituents in hospitals: “[Emotional support] is also what they need at that very moment.” However, he claims that the visit is not his most significant activity. He finds ways for the patient to leave the hospital without having to worry about paying the bill, which might be in the range of half a million to almost a million pesos. “Because even if you just give them money—say, 500 pesos—it makes no difference. But if they leave the hospital without paying anything, their lives will be changed.”
Helping his townspeople comes as second nature to the vice mayor. His wife reveals that he was constantly approached by the people to help them even when he was not holding any government position. Although her husband felt powerless and helpless at that time, since they were also struggling financially then, Umali went and did everything in his power to help. The couple would approach politicians, all the way to the Senate and the House of Representatives, to ask for help. “When you are not in power anymore, you become a nobody, and some [people] would not entertain you,” Mrs. Umali shares. Despite the odds and hardships, they were able to make it work. Umali, his wife shares, even extended help to those from Candelaria, San Antonio, and even Antipolo.
LEAVING A CHRISTIAN LEGACY
Umali reveals that the three elections they lost were the lowest points in their lives because those were the same periods during which their company failed. During this period, he says that they fell flat on their faces and found themselves on their knees. But Umali found hope in the Lord and shares that this renewed sense of faith helped pull him out of his gambling addiction and brought him back to his family, saving his marriage. Umali says that this recovery also led him back to politics, with the realization that everything is fleeting, and focused him on what truly matters. His legacy, he stresses, is not for himself but for his children.
The vice mayor witnessed the grace of the Lord and is continually humbled by the experience of reaching rock bottom. Many believed he would not be able to defeat his wealthy, powerful opponent, but he won. Umali believes this victory was also because of divine intervention.
“My strained relationships with my wife, children, family, and friends were completely restored. Not only that, in a span of less than two years, our construction business did very well during the pandemic and I was able to recover financially. As a bonus, I am again back in government, defying all odds. I can only point to the Heavenly Father for all that has happened. He is indeed merciful and gracious,” Umali ends.