Despite the lack of conclusive and official judgment, it is already common knowledge that the late actor and Filipino cultural icon Fernando Poe, Jr. was cheated during the 2004 presidential, legislative, and local elections. Having lost faith in democratic politics, that was the last time I exercised my right to suffrage. Turning apolitical, I swore to myself never to participate in elections ever again.
Incidentally, it was on the same day when I relocated my family from BF Homes Parañaque to Barrio San Vicente in San Pedro, La Laguna. A female cousin of mine who was married to a native San Pedrense (from the well-known Igonia clan) helped us in finding an apartment unit. Having lived most of my life in urban Parañaque City, I was somehow elated with the idea that me and my family will become provincianos and enjoy a rural lifestyle. I’ve been an urban kid for years. That’s why rural life always revs up the sentient patterns of my behavior toward society. Summer vacations in my father’s rustic hometown during my childhood made the thought even more nostalgic. But I was disappointed with what I saw.
As an aficionado of nature and culture, I was expecting farmlands, tranquility, more of nature, more rustic imagery, and more bahay na bató houses in San Pedro. But upon entering it from Muntinlupà City, what greeted me was a vandalized bridge and welcome arch, a garbage-filled estero, pro-promiscuity Sogo Hotel, smoke fumes from numerous tricycles, boorish traffic on potholed and littered roads, and a motley assemblage of unaesthetic establishments reminiscent of dirty Quiapò, Manila in the 80s and 90s. Simply put, the then Municipality of San Pedro was an exuberance of poor municipal planning. I promptly blamed the current town leader, Felicísimo Vierneza. My reason: command responsibility, if not inept leadership. It was but unfortunate, in my opinion, that he won during the said elections.
In 2007, businessman Calixto Catáquiz —half Tayabeño, half San Pedrense— again entered the scene as San Pedro’s chief executive. I said “again” because he has already managed San Pedro before, starting in 1986, when he was first appointed by the late President Corazón Aquino as Officer-In-Charge, all the way to 1998. 2007 was the year that I truly noticed CHANGE in San Pedro.
I’ve been hearing about Mayor Calex since I was a kid because he is actually a family friend; his father and my father are both from Unisan, Tayabas Province. In fact, one of my uncles is a very close associate of his. And whenever I spend my summer vacations in Unisan as a young boy, I do remember seeing him in the Rural Bank of Unisan (now Entrepreneur Bank) which was owned by his family (he used to manage the bank). It was just pure coincidence that I transferred my family to San Pedro that has been the home of a fellow Tayabeño.
But that is all I know. I never knew Mayor Calex on a personal level until 2008. During that time, my friend and fellow history buff Arnaldo and I were pondering on how we could make it to the publishing scene. We maintain blogs that deal with Philippine History and Filipino Identity. But we believed that the only way we could make it into the big league (or for our body of work to be seriously noticed) is to get published. Publish or perish, as noted authors will always say. But really, we have no idea how to start.
And then it hit me: why not write a history book for San Pedro? That could be a good start. After all, my nose for history compelled me to read everything that I could regarding my family’s adoptive hometown since 2004. I was confident that me and Arnold could write one. But we needed support. I thought of using my connection to be able to reach out to Mayor Calex. And so one day, I contacted my uncle, and he setup a meeting between us (me and Arnaldo) and the Mayor at the old municipal office (fronting the town plaza and the historic Church of San Pedro Apóstol). But like everyone else, we had to wait for our queue (there were many people who had wanted seek an audience with him that day, and he was also officiating a civil marriage for about ten couples or so). Then came our turn to speak to him. We were led to his desk by his stern but polite staff. The mayor turned out to be a nice guy after all, very accommodating, hearing us out well, and not menacingly intimidating (because of my activist background, I then had reservations of dealing with politicians). And despite his tall stature, Mayor Calex was a soft-spoken man, even showing qualities of timidity that I think is unusual for a politician. I immediately liked him.
We never talked about our Unisan connections. We immediately told him our plans: a history book for San Pedro. But much to our dismay, he revealed that there were already two books published about San Pedro’s history. The most recent was made during the incumbency of his predecessor entitled San Pedro, Laguna: Noon at Ngayon (San Pedro, La Laguna: San Pedro Historical Committee, 2007) by Amalia Cullarín and Sonny Ordoña. Prior to that is the now rare Kasaysayan ng Bayan ng San Pedro Tunasán (Manila: Liberty Press, Co., 1963) by Anastacio Olivárez. However, Mayor Calex did not immediately dismiss us. Little did we know that he was actually planning to have his own biography. He was inspired to have one after having read the best-selling biography of his good friend, the late Comedy King Dolphy (Hindi Ko Ito Narating Mag-isa by Bibeth Orteza, Quezon City: Kaizz Ventures, Inc., 2008). He and Dolphy made a movie together, Home Along da Riber, in 2002. Mayor Calex was then the General Manager of the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA), and he conceptualized the said movie to promote environmental efforts for Laguna de Bay, the Philippines’s largest lake.
A book is a book. An opportunity is an opportunity. So we grabbed the chance. And that is how my close association with Mayor Calex started. And I got to know him better.
From municipality to cityhood
While doing research for his biography, we found out that during his first two years as OIC of San Pedro, Mayor Calex was able to accomplish a staggering 110 major projects! It must be noted that the number of projects that Mayor Calex was able to accomplish was already outstanding for a first-time “accidental” politician. Accidental, because he never even planned of becoming Mayor despite his parents’ ties with the late strongman President Ferdinand Marcos. Another remarkable feat: in less than a decade, from his OIC years up to 1995, he was able to raise the coffers of the municipal treasury from ₱6.41 million to a staggering amount of ₱70 million! In 1992, he was able to make San Pedro a 1st class municipality. He could have done more. But in 1998, Vierneza replaced him. And this new leader took hold of San Pedro’s mayoralty seat up to 2007. It was during these years that San Pedro retrogressed into the disappointing municipality that I found it to be in 2004.
In retrospect, how was Mayor Calex able to do such accomplishments even without any formal training in political leadership? He was not from a political family. They were more into business (the Catáquiz family is, in fact, one of the wealthiest —if not the wealthiest— in all of San Pedro). And so with this, he invented a formula: his “50-50″ scheme which means that he had to be a 50% politician and 50% administrator. Using the ”banker” side of his character, or his being a 50% administrator, he turned San Pedro’s financial woes into financial gains.
So fast forward to today. For the past few years, Mayor Calex has been working extremely hard for the cityhood of San Pedro. His hardwork finally paid off when, on 27 March 2013, Republic Act 10420 was signed, effectively converting San Pedro into La Laguna province’s newest city.
The failed municipality of San Vicente
Thankfully, this act was signed in due time. Because if not, San Pedro would have fallen into a downward spiral.
In a blogpost that I published last month, I wrote about the selfish plans of Mayor Calex’s political rival, Vice Mayor Norvic Solidum. It turned out that Solidum and his partner/protégé Allan Mark Villena were petitioning the provincial government to split San Pedro into two by having Barrio San Vicente converted into a new municipality. If that ever happened, San Pedro’s income class would have gone down to 3rd class, thus making impossible San Pedro’s bid for cityhood. And as main petitioners, either Solidum or Villena would have been the mayor of this failed municipality of San Vicente.
Such schemes are a pet peeve of mine, for I do not believe in the splitting of towns/cities. Why? Because I always subscribe to this Nick Joaquín dictum, which is logical and highly principled:
Philippine society, as though fearing bigness, ever tends to revert the condition of the barangay of the small enclosed society. We don’t grow like a seed, we split like an amoeba. The moment a town grows big it becomes two towns. The moment a province becomes populous it disintegrates into two or three smaller provinces. The excuse offered for divisions is always the alleged difficulty of administering so huge an entity. But Philippines provinces are microscopic compared to an American state like, say, Texas, where the local government isn’t heard complaining it can’t efficiently handle so vast an area. We, on the other hand, make a confession of character whenever we split up a town or province to avoid having of cope, admitting that, on that scale, we can’t be efficient; we are capable only of the small. The decentralization and barrio-autonomy movement expresses our craving to return to the one unit of society we feel adequate to: the barangay, with its 30 to a hundred families. Anything larger intimidates. We would deliberately limit ourselves to the small performance. This attitude, an immemorial one, explains why we’re finding it so hard to become a nation, and why our pagan forefathers could not even imagine the task. Not E pluribus unum is the impulse in our culture but “Out of many, fragments”. Foreigners had to come and unite our land for us; the labor was far beyond our powers. Great was the King of Sugbú, but he couldn’t even control the tiny isle across his bay. Federation is still not even an idea for the tribes of the North; and the Moro sultanates behave like our political parties: they keep splitting off into particles.
Setting aside his selfish ambitions, it is safe to conclude that, based on the above, Solidum fears bigness and thinks like an amoeba, therefore not fit for public service. Anything large intimidates him.
And because he’s intimidated, he sought to play dirty.
¿Daáng Matuwíd ñga bá talagá?
During the fiesta of Barrio San Vicente last month, a strange document started circulating in various Facebook accounts, pages, and groups concerning San Pedro. The document, dated 5 April 2013, is purportedly from the Office of the President of the Philippines, ordering Mayor Calixto Catáquiz “to vacate his office immediately”:
The strange thing is that these papers first appeared on the internet, that is why it was considered dubious at best. And for many days since the papers first appeared on the web, Mayor Calex still had to receive the hard copies. News of this also reached the major dailies and some radio stations. So upon hearing the news, thousands upon thousands of supporters, many of whom were native San Pedrenses, trooped to the new municipal hall and to the town plaza to show their support for the mayor.
Why these documents first appeared on the web still remains a puzzle. But it is already clear that it is a form of black propaganda to discredit the mayor. It should be noted that Mayor Calex belongs to the Nacionalista Party whereas Solidum is being carried by President Noynoy Aquino’s powerful Liberal Party. Noynoy is known to hate everyone who used to be allied with former President Gloria Macapagal de Arroyo (just ask Renato Corona). And Mayor Calex was an appointee of the former president.
The ghost of LLDA: the real score
The order to vacate the mayoralty seat stems from Mayor Calex’s case with the LLDA. In 2001, ex-president Arroyo appointed him as LLDA General Manager (prior to this, he was already a member of its Board of Directors from 1992 to 1998). One of his well-known achievements as its administrator was securing for Laguna de Bay the “Living Lake” honor from the prestigious Living Lake network, winning the distinction over Brazil’s Pantanal, the world’s largest wetlands, and Poland’s Milicz Pond.
Nothing is too small or too big for Catáquiz as the GM of LLDA. During his administration, he made studies about the feasibility of tapping Laguna de Bay as a source of potable water for Metro Manila, citing that having this as an option would greatly reduce water utility costs. His vision was reinforced by his observance of the Singapore model in which part of used water is recycled. Before leaving LLDA, he had already made this recommendation to the Office of the President.
He was also bent on changing the office culture into a more productive environment the moment he stepped in as its GM. But when he found out about employees playing computer games during office hours, he issued an intra-office memo banning and removing all computer-based games within office premises, much to the dismay of some lazy employees.
This very trivial matter was actually the start of his troubles with the LLDA employees. He was a strict boss, but fair in all his dealings. Corruption? An impossibility. He was already a millionaire even on the day he was born because of his parents banks and other profitable businesses. To put it more bluntly, he never needed the GM job nor any political seat just to enrich himself, as is the practice of many politicians who are not as financially fortunate as him.
Sadly, his strictness was not received well by these employees. Later on, these same employees would join the clamor made by a militant fishing group (whose members lost their illegal fishing fences within the lake courtesy of GM Catáquiz) to replace the GM. Perhaps they were looking for a leader who could tolerate their laziness and other unfair dealings?
GM Catáquiz reasoned out that he always had the employees’ welfare in mind. But he was unwilling to tolerate unprofessional deeds. He was fully expecting that everyone would subscribe to the idea that they would have to abide by the law and that they should have the focused willingness to serve the poor people.
Due to graft charges unfairly hurled against him by some LLDA employees who had personal grudges to bear, Catáquiz parted ways with the organization on a sad note.
His enemies inside the LLDA prevailed. In 2003, Catáquiz was dismissed as GM “on the grounds of corrupt and unprofessional behavior and management incompetence”. But this is the real score: he was NEVER CONVICTED in a court of law. Instead, he was found guilty of administrative misconduct by a tribunal by the Office of the Solicitor General. Two years later, a resolution from the Office of the President that was based on the findings of the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission imposed the penalties of “disqualification from reemployment in the government service and forfeiture of retirement benefits” on Catáquiz. But he never pursued that anymore because it was already moot and academic.
In simple words, the Supreme Court merely acknowledged that an administrative case was filed against Catáquiz, that it was uncontested, and so that the penalties attached to the case were applied. That was all to it. There was no conviction at all. After this setback, Catáquiz simply went back to private life and just supported his wife Lourdes “Baby” Catáquiz’s political career who was then serving as the town’s Vice Mayor. Eventually, he returned as mayor of San Pedro in 2007.
Simply put, his troubles with the LLDA had NOTHING to do with his being mayor of San Pedro. Therefore, the recent order from Malacañang, signed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Jr., is ILLEGAL.
The problem now is that during Solidum’s campaign sorties, his group continuously trumpet that Catáquiz was convicted by the Supreme Court when the truth is that the high court took no action at all with the mayor’s past (and questionable) troubles with the LLDA.
Cracks in the Solidum-Almoro tandem?
But in a twist of fate, as mentioned earlier, thousand of angry residents of San Pedro trooped to the city hall to show their support for Mayor Calex, something that Solidum’s camp never anticipated. And it happened for several days last month. Could this overwhelming (and probably unexpected) show of support one reason why the dubious Malacañang order for Mayor Calex to vacate his position never materialized?
And could this also be the reason why Solidum’s camp was rattled? According to a very reliable source, Solidum’s running mate, Sheriliz “Niña” Almoro, already broke away with him. Not only her but two others who are running for councilors under the Solidum bandwagon:
The three, however, have kept mum on the issue.
Nothing happened with the questionable Ochoa papers. So out of desperation, and realizing that Mayor Calex was still popular inspite of the smear campaign against him, the enemy camp made one final blow.
With just a few days left before May 13, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) suddenly decided to disqualify Mayor Calex from seeking reelection:
In a resolution dated May 7, the COMELEC first division granted the petition filed by Catáquiz’s rival, San Pedro Vice Mayor Norvic Solidum, and two others to disqualify the local chief executive, who was also recently ordered by Malacañang to step down.
The COMELEC ruling, signed by Commissioners Lucenito Tagle, Elias Yusoph, and Christian Robert Lim, cited Section 40 of the Local Government Code, which bars “from running for any elective local position … those removed from office as a result of an administrative case.”
Catáquiz, a member of the Nacionalista Party, said he has yet to receive a copy of the COMELEC order but vowed to seek “legal remedies” from a higher body to stop his disqualification.
“With three more days to go (before the elections), this is just a strategy of my opponents to discredit me,” he said in a phone interview Thursday.
But COMELEC decisions are highly unreliable these days. It will be remembered that just a few days ago, they implemented COMELEC Resolution No. 9688 which prohibits the “withdrawal of cash, encashment of checks and conversion of any monetary instrument into cash from May 8 to 13, exceeding P100,000 or its equivalent in any foreign currency, per day in banks, finance companies, quasi-banks, pawnshops, remittance companies and institutions performing similar functions.” But the Supreme Court put a stop to it, declaring it unconstitutional. So how can one rely on COMELEC’s wisdom?
Norvic then made a mad scramble and trumpeted the news. Last Friday, an old yellow model pick-up truck (take note: the plate number was covered) was driving all over the municipality declaring, with its megaphone blurting out that Mayor Calex was already disqualified, and that all who would vote for him will no longer be counted.
But Norvic, party’s not over when it’s really over.
Enter Baby Catáquiz
Just when Solidum et al. thought that they had won (especially since another mayoralty bet, Berlene Alberto, is not really well-known), Cataquiz’s wife Lourdes filed her certificate of candidacy last Friday at the COMELEC office (almost at the same time that Mayor Calex received his copy of the COMELEC resolution that disqualified him from the mayoralty race). The move is legal.
Let it be known that under COMELEC rules:
“The substitute for a candidate who died or is disqualified by final judgment, may file his COC up to mid-day of election day, provided that the substitute and the substituted have the same surnames.” (see COMELEC Resolution No. 9518).
So to all registered San Pedrense voters, please be informed that all votes for Mayor Calex will still be counted. And all of them will be automatically accounted for his legal substitute: Mrs. Lourdes “Baby” Catáquiz.
In less than 24 hours, it’s election time! Let it be known that this blog is not supposed to be a political blog. However, I now feel concerned with the elections in my adoptive hometown, San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna especially since this has been our home for the past nine years. Despite my rather apolitical stance (I’m not a registered voter), I feel I had to do this because it is a civic duty, and not out of political friendship or bias. And I feel the need to endorse and support Mrs. Baby Catáquiz not out of political ties (they never instructed me nor paid me to write this blogpost, believe it or not). Because I know that it is the RIGHT and JUST thing to do.
Yes, Mayor Calex is a friend of mine. And to my observation, I honestly do find Mr. Solidum as an inept and unfit and uncouth public servant (many witnessed how Solidum made a slit-throat gesture yesterday when his motorcade met Mrs. Catáquiz’s). But I never thought of putting myself in the midst of their rivalry by writing a blogpost in support of Mayor Calex (who am I to do that in the first place? I’m just another blogger).
Nothing really personal with Mr. Solidum. But had he not attempted to divide San Pedro, then this blogpost wouldn’t have existed. During the last elections, in 2010, I never wrote any article/blogpost in support of Mayor Calex. Nor did I attack his challenger (Vierneza) back then.
So to my fellow San Pedrenses, you now know where you stand.
And what of Mayor Calex? His story has not yet ended.
His biography is still in progress.