RISING FROM THE DIRT
Occidental Mindoro’s chief rises to the challenge. “Kung kaya sa Sablayan, kaya sa buong lalawigan,” he says.
BY HELEN HERNANE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY IVAN LLANETA
Occidental Mindoro Governor Eduardo Gadiano isn’t shy about his humble roots. “Farmer lang ako. Lumaki sa hirap, ang term ko ‘sinuga sa bukid ng magulang’ (I’m just a farmer. I grew up poor, my term for it is ‘trapped in the farm because of my parents’),” he shares.
It was just a play on words, of course. Because it was through farming that Gadiano’s parents were able to send him to school. He managed to study in Manila at the De La Salle Araneta University (formerly known as Gregorio Araneta University Foundation) and at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM). During his stay in Manila, he served at the Quezon City Hall from 1987 to 1992 under the leadership of Mayor Brigido “Jun” Simon Jr. This exposed him to the workings of politics and gave him an idea of how the local government can function more effectively, as he worked alongside people like Martin Diño, current Undersecretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
Unlike others who opt to search for greener pastures somewhere else, Gadiano decided to return to his hometown so he can help his kababayan. Upon his return, the plight of farmers caught his attention and this triggered his desire to serve the local government.
“Ang problema ng farmer nun, ‘yung palay nila parang bagoong na nilalako nila sa mga traders. Mababa ang presyo (The problem of the farmers then was that they would sell their unhusked rice to traders. The prices were low),” Gadiano laments.
“If we can do itin Sablayan, we can do it For the whole Province.”
"THE PEOPLE CAN TELL WHAT CHANGE IS GOOD FOR THEM. BECAUSE THEY ARE THE ONES WHO ARE SUFFERING. THEY VOTED FOR US BECAUSE WE HAVE PROJECTS AND IDEALS THAT THE PEOPLE CAN BENEFIT FROM.”
Considering the cost of production and labor costs and other additional expenses, the farmers would end up bankrupt after harvest.
In 1992, he ran for mayor of Sablayan with the hopes of addressing the problems of farmers in their municipality. But since he was relatively unknown, mostly due to his 10-year absence, Gadiano lost the elections. He confessed that he somehow predicted the outcome, but he ran anyway because he wanted to use the campaign as a platform to speak to the people about the problems in their city’s politics, economy, and agriculture.
After losing in the 1992 elections, he returned to being a farmer, hanging out with his buddies after toiling in the field. He was quite content that way, but this was not what the people wanted for him. In 1994, the elders in their community approached Gadiano to run as their barangay chairperson. He was unconvinced, but asked them to campaign for him as he reluctantly ran. As history would have it, he won the barangay elections.
When he became barangay chairperson, his main priority was to address the lack of water supply in their area. Their entire barangay had six artesian wells, but during summer, only one well would produce water.
At that time, they were not able to ask for money from their municipality and province. “Anong ginawa namin? Bayanihan (What did we do? Collective community effort)” Gadiano recalls. The people in their barangay would work for free and each house would contribute Php100. Gadiano encouraged everyone to participate and showed them the breakdown of expenses to justify their contribution. The six zones of Brgy. Pag-asa worked in rotation until each house had access to water through their faucets.
It was also through teamwork and cooperation that their barangay managed to build a high school building on their town. Before, the children needed to travel for about an hour to attend high school since they only had an elementary school in their barangay.
RISING TO THE CHALLENGE
Because of these successful projects, the people of Sablayan began to take notice of Gadiano. He served as barangay chairperson for three years before running for municipal councilor in 1998, where hetopped the race. As councilor, he pushed for a solid waste management ordinance and a municipal fishery code. He also authored the revised Comprehensive Land Use Plan, or the town’s master plan, which is the first in the province. After serving one term as councilor, he served as vice mayor from 2001 until 2010. During his years as second-in-command, Gadiano shared that he fixed the ordinance qualifications.
In 2010, Gadiano won the mayorship of Sablayan. For nine years, he transformed the municipality into an eco-conscious tourist location that generates millions in annual income. One of the most famous spots in Sablayan is Apo Reef Natural Park, the second largest contiguous coral reef in the world and the largest in the country. In 2017, tourism for Apo Reef generated Php7.79 million in income, with over 64,000 visitors that year.
Anyone could argue that the breathtaking diving spot can easily bring in more income for the municipality. But Gadiano prioritized conservation and protection, knowing it is more important in the long run. “In Apo Reef alone, we already implemented a carrying capacity way before. We don’t want to reach the point where we’ll suffer the same fate as Boracay,” Gadiano said in an interview with Philippine News Agency (PNA). Apo Reef National Park has a maximum carrying capacity of around 100 people per day.
But he also recognized the economic gains that the recognition brought to the idyllic municipality. As tourists came in droves, so did investors. Local businesses also flourished. Among those that set up shop in their town is the famous fastfood chain Jollibee.
One of his proudest achievements during his first 100 days as mayor was the establishment of a satellite campus of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), the first and only state university in the province. The governor laments the fact that the children of Sablayan needed to travel to San Jose to have access to affordable college education since most cannot afford the private education available in Sablayan. Merely 94 days after being sworn in as mayor, Gadiano established the Sablayan North and Sablayan South Municipal Hall Extension Offices to bring services closer to the people, and institutionalized the Municipal Community Driven Development Projects (the localized version of the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Kalahi-CIDSS program). He was also the first local chief executive to sit as the indigenous people’s mandatory representative to the sangguniang bayan.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS During his tenure as mayor for three consecutive terms, Sablayan won multiple awards such as the Seal of Good Local Governance (SGLG) and the Gawad Pamana ng Lahi Award. Both are awarded annually by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
Gadiano admits that the people expect much from him and the pressure to do well is high. But he insists these awards help them governance-wise. “Nakakatulong [‘yung awards] kasi may naise-set siyang standard. Kailangan n’yo i-maintain at ipagpatuloy at mas pagandahin pa (The awards help because they set a standard for us to maintain, continue, and improve on),” he explains.
Now that he has taken over the entire province of Occidental Mindoro as their governor, the people are hopeful for change. And he has taken this challenge to heart. After all, his campaign slogan for governor was “Kung kaya sa Sablayan, kaya sa buong lalawigan. (If we can do it in Sablayan, we can do it for the whole province.)”
When League sat down with the governor, right off the bat he elaborated on his development plan for the province, summed up in the acronym “I HEARTS”: Indigenous People, Infrastructure; Health, Housing; Economic Development, Environmental Protection and Conservation, Education; Agricultural Development, Access to Local Services; Reduction of Poverty, Reforms and Good Governance; Tourism, Transportation Development; Security, Sports, Spiritual Development, and Social Services.
As the governor elaborated on his plans and hopes for the people and province of Occidental Mindoro, it increasingly became clear that his top priority is the health of the people. In his first 100 days as governor, he set up AKAP HUB (Aking Kalusugan, Ating Pangalagaan. Health Unified Body).
“Marami pa ring mahihirap sa laylayan na namamatay nang hindi nakakakita ng ospital, hindi nakakapagpadoktor kasi mahirap (There are still a lot of poor people in society that die without even seeing the insides of a hospital or a doctor because they are poor),” Gadiano observes.
Their new healthcare hub helps indigents, members of the 4Ps (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program), People with Disabilities (PWDs), senior citizens, and indigenous people. When they are confined at any of the seven district hospitals in the province, they receive services and medicines for free. Gadiano added that for indigenous people in particular, their family members who take care of them during their confinement are given free meals and transport allowance when they are discharged from the hospital.
“So papaano namin nagawa ‘yun na libre? (How did we manage to make it all free?) Convergence.” Gadiano explains his strategy of uniting all government agencies that have something to do with healthcare—PhilHealth, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), Department of Social Welfare and
Development (DSWD), Provincial Social Welfare and Development (PSWD), and Managing Health Improvement Project (MAHIP) of the Department of Health (DOH).
All of these agencies can be found in the AKAP HUB office situated within the district hospitals, making it easy for people to request the financial help they need. Gadiano also shares that they are entering into PPP (Private-Public Partnership) to add necessary hospital equipment.
To encourage more investors to enter their province, Gadiano shares that they are working on providing more stable electricity for the entire province. “Hindi renewable energy [sa ngayon ang energy source] kaya mahal ang kuryente namin dito. Hindi pa reliable, hindi pa stable (Our current energy source is not renewable. That’s why it’s expensive. It’s still neither reliable nor stable),” Gadiano explains.
As for access to local services, the provincial government also set up extensions of the kapitolyo in other places such as San Jose, Sablayan, and the island of Lubang. But the governor is also focusing on fixing their internal system within the local government. They are working on their structure in all departments in order to provide smoother service to their people, removing unnecessary positions in order to transfer the funds to more important sectors.
Another noteworthy priority of the governor is sports development. In February of next year, the MIMAROPA Regional Athletics Association (MRAA) Meet will be held in Sablayan. In May 2020, the Palarong Pambansa will also be held in Occidental Mindoro.
“Malalaking events ‘yan na pinaghahandaan namin sa kabila ng konti lang ang resources. Maliit na probinsiya tayo, medyo malaking challenge pero kakayanin (These are big events that we are preparing for despite our meager resources. We’re a small province, it’s a big challenge but we can handle it),” Gadiano assures with a smile.
ALL ABOUT SERVICE
It’s only been 100+ days since the former mayor rose to the challenge of the governorship, and he confesses that there is much to be done. He is now in charge of not only 1 but 11 towns, each with its own leader. Therein lies the challenge, he says: to unite the province to achieve the progress they deserve, despite political differences.
In his speech delivered on the 111th Anniversary of the Civil Service in 2011 in Sablayan, Gadiano said “Ngayon ang panahon ng serbisyo, hindi pamumulitika. Dapat tayong maglingkod sa mamamayan batay sa ating katungkulan at kakayanan. Ang taong bayan ang apektado ng pamumulitika sa serbisyo (Now is
the time for service, not politicking. We should serve the people based on our authority and capacity. The people are the ones affected when politicking taints service).”
He also believes that the people of Occidental Mindoro are clamoring for change. “Ang tao marunong din tumingin ng pagbabago. Kasi sila, naranasan nila ‘yung hirap. [Binoto nila kami kasi] may pinapakita tayo na maganda’t pinapakinabangan ng mga tao (The people can tell what change is good for them. Because they are the ones who are suffering. They voted for us because we have projects and ideals that the people can benefit from),” he says. The governor hopes to bring about this sought-after change. “Isang term lang. Kung ‘di ko magawa ‘yung mga sabi ko na gagawin ko, ‘wag niyo na akong iboto (Just one term. If I can’t accomplish my promises, then don’t vote for me anymore next time),” Gadiano says as he smiles calmly, certain that the people will continue to choose good.