Mayor Dong listens to this woman's heartaches ... what can he do?
He busies himself on the cell phone, and gets results -- on lucky days.
By ALFREDO P HERNANDEZ
IT IS HARD to imagine the office of Dong Padilla, the first-term mayor of Jose Panganiban, CamNorte, without seeing a vendor or two hanging around like lizards just next to his desk.
And it is difficult to imagine the mayor baby-sitting said vendor without buying a piece or two of his ware – a “meryenda” of “turon” or “pan de monay” laced with some “palaman”, or whatever it is that could be found in his carrier-basket, something from which he could earn some few pesos.
Likewise, it is difficult to imagine him buying some without offering the stuff to the people seated across his desk – mostly mothers and young women -- who patiently would wait for him finish his job on the cell phone before expecting him to ask - in his usual sweet voice: “Ano po ang atin, nanay? Ano po ang atin, ate?”
Urging them to partake of the snacks he bought from the vendor, who comfortably sat on the sofa with his foodstuff either on his lap or sitting of the floor, Mayor Dong would assure them: “sige na po … marami pa ho ‘yan… (please, have some, we got enough for everybody …)
For the vendor who sat next to me on the sofa, the mayor’s offering is like a cash machine banging and ringing with P50 bills and P10 coins.
The mayor discusses his push for mercury-free gold mining in his municipality, if not in the entire Philippines.
Well, in most mayor offices that I had seen as a journalist in my youth in search of a story, this vendor – I’m certain – won’t get past the second door after he entered the first on the first floor of the municipal building.
Most likely, this vendor would have to do his business just right there – on the first floor with the rest of people on errands.
But on most afternoons just before Mayor Dong would wind up his mayoring business, this vendor would pop at the scene and settle him self straight on the sofa. Lucky guy.
In my five or six days of hanging around Mayor Dong’s office while chasing stories that I felt were important for your news tunnel – MWBuzz – to carry on the next edition (of course, for the benefit of my Mambulaoan readers), I also had benefited from the mayor’s merienda-bonanza.
I did not want to. But as they usually say, if you cannot lick them, just join them and enjoy a happy life unfolding right before you.
So, I snacked with the callers – the snacks courtesy of Mayor Dong, who also had snacked with us, gleefully.
This mayor has never known me from Adam, never seen me in his lifetime before.
Except that he knows “Alfredo P Hernandez”, which happened to be my name, but had not matched it with a face – the face of a 64-year-old bum.
One early afternoon, he got wind that “Hernandez” was bumming around the office adjacent to his – the one that separates his office from that of Vice-Mayor Ariel Non’s -- making all sort of inquiries about a lot of things Mambulao, for possible stories to run in MWBuzz.
In a fleeting glance, I saw him huddled with his trusted staff, threw a missile-like glance targeting me. Seconds, later, the staff was pacing the floor of the all-in-sundries office towards me.
“Sir Freddie … kung pwede daw pong mag-join kayo kay Mayor Dong …” was what he said to me in low-keyed voice.
He assumed that I was “Hernandez”, having seen that I was the only stranger sticking out from my head that moment.
From the swivel chair where he sat, the mayor had immediately isolated me from the rest of those moving around this office – he’s familiar with them like the back of his smooth, whitish palm and I, standing here, stood out. He could not be mistaken.
Tipong hindi taga-Mambulao, pero mukhang taga-rito in some ways or the other.
So, I followed the staff until I was face to face with “Idol”.
“Kuya Freddie … I’m glad dinalaw po ninyo ako…” he said, grabbing my right hand with his two – firm and warm. I felt the warm hands of a “politico”. But then, it was not so … he was welcoming me as a new friend.
“Kuya Freddie, you don’t look your age, as you have claimed in some of your stories …”
“Meyor …” I preambled as we shook hands, “naghahanap lang po ako ng istorya (Mayor, I’m looking for stories).
He knew what I meant. Or I supposed he knew why I was in his office, aware that I was writing for Mambulaoans Worldwide Buzz, or MWBuzz, for short.
“Marami po tayong magagandang balita para sa ating mga kababayan … at palagay ko alam mo rin kung ano iyon … di ba Kuya Freddie …?”
“Right, Mayor Dong …” I told him. “In fact, may pasalubong po ako sa inyo …”
Hearing the word “pasalubong”, he became curious.
Without belaboring on it, I fished from my breast pocket a small piece of paper – a sales invoice from the local store -- Pure Gold Hardware.
I told him: That’s 23 bags of cement for your baranggay road cementing project … I’m a supporter, Sir, along with my mom, Mrs Elvira P Hernandez, of (baranggay) Parang.”
“Konti lang yan, Sir, seguro mga dalawang dipang haba ng kalsada … pero (it’s coming) from the heart,” I said.
He was surprised if not flattered. For it was not expected from someone snooping around for news stuff.
“Napakalaking tulong po para sa ating proyektong pagsesemento ng ating mga kalsada … maraming salamat po, Kuya Freddie …”
I would like to guess those bags of cement that I presented the mayor immediately “cemented” our bonding as fellow Mambulaoans.
So, during the next six days that followed while I was vacationing in Parang (and in time for the 65th general alumni homecoming o JPHS), I became an instant, after-lunch fixture at the Mayor’s Office.
Funny is that, Mayor Dong had urged me, almost every time, to join him in entertaining his many callers, whose streaming into his office had never seemed to cease, heaping on his desk problems – from bus fare to Manila or to Bicol to medical assistance, from job referrals to baranggay affair’s funding contribution to funeral money, from scholarship recommendation to simply just to have an opportunity to meet him in person.
This is the same stuff every day – a staple in the mayor’s daily governance of more than 50,000 from 27 baranggays across the municipality.
But instead of joining him to discuss the issues with his visiting constituents, I begged of, telling him that I would rather just be an observer.
First and foremost, I am a journalist and would like to see everything from my totem pole. This way, I would be able to see objectively and report with fairness -- well, as much as possible.
But then, in most times, I couldn’t prevail upon the mayor’s wish whenever he had asked me to pitch in on matters that would interest MWBuzz readers.
So, I just did, and in so doing, gave me a first-hand knowledge about what was happening in the municipality, especially on projects that are dear to almost Mambulaoans, such the baranggay road cementing project, the farm-to-market road project, the waste disposal program involving the so-called MRF or “material recovery facility” to be set up in Larap, the finances of his government, the Parang beach cleanup, the recent tailings pond disaster at the mining camp of Johson Gold Mining Corporation, the Pag-asa resort development project, the ultra-sound program for women, the municipal scholarship program through TESDA, and so on and so forth.
One day, the mayor tickled me to the bone.
When he spoke as the inspirational guest speaker at the JPHS general alumni homecoming on that sweltering day of April 28, 2012, Mayor Dong made reference to our long discussion the night before on how to bring the goodies effectively to Mambulaoans -- through good governance.
In this inspiring speech, he mentioned my name, alongside my buddy Samuel Tatom’s – not in vain and in positive tone at that – about three or four times. I surmised that it was an indication how he valued my input to our discussion as well as that of Sam’s.
Above the door to the Mayor’s Office is a happy signboard: Tuloy Po Kayo.
Maybe, for many Mambulaoans, especially the less-privileged, the ordinary ones, the martginalized and the hand-to-mouths, that’s the key that has opened the door to Mayor Dong’s office.
And of course, to his heart.
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