Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Biding Time

Vice-Mayor Robert "Jun" Lala is arguably, by what is considered the norm in Lianga politics, an unsettling aberration.  Firstly he is just barely forty years old and therefore unseemly and irresponsibly young for a seasoned politician and senior municipal official in a political culture where the prevalence and dominance of stodgy and grizzled politicos have always been seen as both sacrosanct and inevitable.

He is also considered as exceedingly brash, too impatient, excessively energetic and a tad too eager perhaps to prove himself in a political milieu which frowns upon anyone who rocks the boat too much and too fast, where extreme caution and the search for the broadest consensus (the illusive win-win option) has always been the key to political survival and where new ideas and new ways of doing things have always floundered in the face of the extreme conservatism that has always characterized the nature of governance in this part of the world.

To his credit, he is considered, even by his detractors, as a popular and even charismatic leader.  Ever since he first became a municipal councilor in 2007 and municipal vice-mayor a year later, he has managed to build up a substantial political following among the local electorate drawn to his populist image and rhetoric.  Gifted with an engaging and boisterously affable personality, his appeal is said to reach across socio-economic, political and religious divisions.

His admirers point to his go-get-something-done attitude as his biggest asset.  They say that he has helped rejuvenate, in many ways, the staid and somewhat moribund state of affairs at the LIanga municipal hall and has acquired, in just a span of just a few years, a reputation as one of this province's more visibly aggressive and proactive young leaders.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Revisiting Pugad

Of the more well known beaches in Lianga, Pugad is the one that always evokes in me the most nostalgic of memories.  In this sense, its very name which literally means nest in English is oddly appropriate.  Every time I go there, this stretch of coastline has always been able to conjure for me a veritable nest, a cornucopia if you will, of deeply buried yet unforgotten images and sounds, my recollections of Lianga's not so distant past.

I remember the beach as it was in the days of my childhood in the 1970's.  There was no clear access road then but just a dirt track that led from the highway that ran straight and true for a hundred meters or so and which quickly snaked right and then wandered its way through and in between coconut trees sheltering underneath their leafy fronds a straggly line of native huts, most of them facing, just a stone's throw away, the wide expanse of fine sand and the gently rolling sea..

There was no Pugad Beach then, the whole area was just known as Pugad.  The owners of the many beachfront lots then had still no idea of the tourism and commercial potential of their properties.  Many of them were simple farmers and fishermen eking an honest but hard living out of the bounty of the sea and the land adjacent to it.

My brothers and I would spend hours frolicking in the sea or just lying like beached whales on the pristine, grayish-white sand while the gentle surf would wash over us in wave after wave of white foam and greenish-blue water.  On the entire expanse of the gently curving beach, only sounds that can be heard except for the hiss of the sea were the occasional screeching of faraway birds and the gentle swish of the sea breeze on the foliage of the trees and coconut trees on the far shore.

Monday, November 12, 2012


In the staid, often predictable and conservative world of Lianga politics where the right to run for public office is traditionally reserved for the more senior and often elderly members of the town's established political clans, the one-on-one showdown between Roy Sarmen and Sammy Dollano in next year's local mayoralty elections should be garnering a high degree of local interest and anticipation.  After all, both are relatively young politicians with much of their political careers ahead of them and both are locking horns in an election where, for the first time, a new wave of younger leaders may be finally dominating the local political arena once the exclusive domain of what is clearly a fading and increasingly irrelevant generation of aging town fathers.

That is, however, not the case and why that is so is a question that begs to be answered.

Roy Sarmen is only in his late forties but he is already a veteran politico who belongs to a big political clan in Lianga.  This can be a decisive plus factor in a culture where voting for political candidates on the basis of blood and family relations is commonplace. He is a former barangay captain of the poblacion barangay and a former municipal vice-mayor who in 2008 succeeded the late Vicente Pedrozo as mayor after the latter succumbed to a lingering illness before he could complete his term as mayor of Lianga.  In 2010, he was elected to his first full term as mayor. His father, the late Leonor Sarmen Sr., also served as town mayor for a couple of terms.

Sammy Dollano had been this town's municipal agricultural officer for some years and was formerly a municipal councilor prior to resigning that post to accept appointment to head Lianga's municipal agriculture office.  He also comes from a political family and his father, Meneleo Dollano, used to be active in local politics during his time.  He is also considered to be well connected politically and has familial links, through his wife, to both Rep. Philip Pichay (1st District of Surigao del Sur) and his brother, Prospero "Butch" Pichay who together with the Ty-Pimentel clan is the dominant political force in Surigao del Sur.

If there is something that is damping the enthusiasm of the local electorate for the upcoming contest between these two personalities, it is the widespread perception here that despite the fact that both men have already established careers in the field of public service, both have yet to really convince jaded voters here that either of them has the far-reaching vision, the iron will, the personal integrity and solid commitment to progress and prosperity that Lianga so desperately needs for the future.

Of course, the official campaign period for local candidates is still more than two months away and both contenders still have plenty of time to brainstorm and strategize and then ultimately sell their candidacies to the voting public.  But in the case of these two already experienced politicians whose personalities and public service track records are not exactly unfamiliar  to most of the people here, the noticeable lack of palpable excitement over what should be a landmark contest between two, young and up-and-coming political mavericks should be a cause for concern for them and their supporters.

One thing is crystal clear, though.  Lianga is fast coming up a crucial crossroads in its political history and it behooves us, its citizens, to make sure that the very people who seek our mandate to lead us for at least the next three years are the very best and most qualified people we have among us.  We also have the obligation to encourage the development of of a local political culture that encourages both full and open participation as well as accountability and excellence in public service, where candidates are elected to office because they are actually the best there is and not because, the choices being limited, the only bet possible must be those on who, in the final analysis, are the lesser evil.