The news had apparently been buzzing around in Lianga since early morning yesterday but I got wind of it just as I was sitting down at the lunch table. The mayor of Lianga, Vicente "Belos" Pedrozo, had passed away that early morning after a prolonged bout with illness. He had been undergoing intensive medical treatment in Davao City for some time now and had been reported several times to be in critical condition.
Pedrozo, if my memory serves me right, is the first mayor in Lianga's long history to die while in office and his untimely demise comes as a shock and a disappointment for many here in Lianga who, despite his rather pugnacious nature and checkered political career, had hoped that his brand of tough, no nonsense leadership would provide the impetus for positive change in this town which has been trying to revive a faltering and declining economy, and achieve some degree of sustainable progress and development.
His departure from office does pave the way for an orderly succession of power at the municipal hall which has been in a state of inertia ever since the mayor had been laid low by illness and had to file a leave of absence. Vice-Mayor Roy Sarmen will have to take hold of the reins of power and Robert Lala, Jr., who is the highest ranking municipal councillor, will have to take charge of the municipal council and assume office as the new vice-mayor.
In many ways, the exit of Mayor Pedrozo, as far as Lianga is concerned, signifies a passing of the old guard. Belos Pedrozo was, in many ways, typical of the old generation of crafty, rough and ready politicians who have long dominated the political life of the town. Sarmen and Lala, on the other hand, are of a different, younger generation and there are those in Lianga who have high hopes that the rise to power of this new breed of young politicians will be like a breath of fresh air for Lianga and will usher in a new era of activist politics in contrast to the rather staid, conformist and reactionary style of their predecessors.
They point out to the the fact of the presence of a number of new faces in the municipal council as proof that there is an slowly emerging consensus on the need for positive change in Lianga and that the new blood being infused into the political leadership of the town will in the end be a welcome and necessary change that will mean well for its future.
But there are also those who are not so optimistic of the future of this town in the hands of the new leadership at the municipal hall. They argue that despite the relative youth of the new officials, most if not all have not demonstrated the capacity, capability or even the inclination and courage to break free from the traditional, corrupt and old fashioned politics of the past. They see the new leadership as merely younger versions of their predecessors and just as willing, in most cases, to play the kind of dirty, corrupt and amoral politics that so dominates the political landscape in the Philippines nowadays.
How will Lianga fare under the "new management"?
The proof of the pudding they say is in the eating. When Belos Pedrozo assumed the mayorship of Lianga last year after the May 2007 national and local polls, he voiced the dream he had of leading an activist political administration for Lianga that would pave the way for the social, political and economic progress and development of the town. He, unfortunately, will no longer be able to achieve what he had set out to do.
It will be up to those he has left behind to pick up where he has left off. It will be, by all standards, a long, difficult and almost insurmountable task. And it remains to be seen if his youthful successors at the municipal hall, despite the misgivings of many, can prove themselves worthy of the dream and equal to the task of making it a reality.