26 September 2007

Sol Santos on becoming a Nagueño

NOTE: While the 3rd Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on the controversial NBN project is still going on, I am giving due course to lawyer Sol Santos's reflections on the Mayoral Recognition Award he received last September 19, in the company of several others.

Becoming Nagueño: Reflections on receiving a Naga City Mayoral Recognition Award for 2007

SOLIMAN M. SANTOS, JR.
25 September 2007, Quezon City

As luck would have it, I was one of 11 individuals and five groups given Naga City Mayoral Awards for 2007. These were auspiciously conferred on 19 September 2007, the 109th anniversary of Naga’s (or Nueva Caceres’) liberation from the Spaniards. Coincidentally or not, the 2007 Distinguished Mayoral Awardee, one might say the primus inter pares (first among equals) among us, happened to be named Liberato “Levy” S. Aureus for Literature. That anniversary particularly resonates with me because I once used the pen-name “Eli Angeles” as an activist columnist (“Heart and Mind”) for Vox Bikol, a Naga weekly newspaper, during the last two years of the Marcos dictatorship. Elias Angeles (after whom Naga’s main street is named) was a Tagalog corporal who led the local Guardia Civil mutiny that fateful day in 1898. The perspective of history or the passage of considerable time is also relevant here. Allow me some reflections, with a little help from remarks of some friends.

In general, we can say recognition is important, as an affirmation or positive reinforcement of the recipient and his/her/its work, which redounds likewise to the prestige or glory of the grantor and serves as an example or inspiration for others among the general public, in this case the citizens of the city. An award is only as prestigious as its grantor or its recipients. In the case of the Naga City Mayoral Awards, coming as it does from Mayor Jesse “Jess” M. Robredo, who is himself multi-awarded nationally and internationally, this is self-evident. There is something special about a good local award because it connotes the scrutiny then approbation of one’s peers and it beats the syndrome that “one cannot be a prophet in one’s own place.” My good friend from Tabaco, Albay, Francia “France” C. Clavecillas, a veteran community organizer of COPE Foundation who herself pioneered urban poor organizing in Naga, remarked that this Naga Mayoral Award has a “mas makaging an tanog” (more solid, resonating sound) than an international award.

The recipients too should be a reflection of the prestige of an award. For the Naga Mayoral Awards 2007, we had aside from Levy, for the individual awardees (in no particular order): Rev. Msgr. Luis R. Ayo, for Education; Ricardo A. Regmalos, for Public Service; Jean N. Llorin for NGO Work/Peace Advocacy; Nelson Henry R. Mejia, for Sports; Ben B. Secretario, for Academic Excellence; Julie Lucille H. del Valle, for Academic Excellence; Rev. Nelson B. Tria, for Community Service; Atty. Ricardo A. Diaz, for Public Service; Carlomagno B. Manuel, for Medicine/Community Service; and myself, for Peace Advocacy. The group awardees were: San Isidro Development Cooperative, for Cooperatives; VCA Cecilio Printing Press, for Culture/Print Media; Arejola Foundation for Social Responsibility, for Literature; Naga White Volunteer Fire Rescue, for Civic and Community Service; and Universidad de Sta. Isabel, for Community Service. As Mayor Jess himself characterized this batch, there were “none from the business sector.” The accent was on various forms of public, civic and community service. He emphasized the importance of having heart to serve the people, so apt for a city which is “The Heart of Bikol.”

Aside from the honor of being in this good company, I personally like this Batch of 2007. Levy was a former co-worker of mine at the Ministry/ Department of Labor and Employment while I was a working law student at the University of Nueva Caceres, with Ric Diaz as a fellow law student, in the early 1980s. “Mommy” Jean Llorin is a long-time colleague in peace advocacy, particularly with the Hearts of Peace (HOPE) [Mayoral Awardee for Civic Involvement in 1989], who deserves as much credit for the declaration of the Naga Peace Zone in 1988. I can relate too to the Naga City People’s Council (NCPC), for which its several-term Chairman Fr. Nelson Tria was awarded, because of a book on and a rapid field appraisal of the NCPC I had worked in 1998 and then in 2002, though no longer based here (the “heart and mind” kept returning). I can relate even distantly with Msgr. Luis Ayo, who is the uncle of another good friend Judge Antonio Camillus “Junet” A. Ayo, Jr., because of the 1968 Supreme Court (SC) decision Msgr. Ayo won for the Capalonga (Camarines Norte) Parochial School, upholding the right of parents to choose the school for their children, particularly the choice for a Catholic education.

As we said, the passage of considerable time. That SC decision was nearly four decades ago. Ricardo Regmalos was awarded for his four decades of excellent public service as a barangay official. Dr. Carlomagno Manuel was awarded for being the only one from his class at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Medicine who chose to work in the country after graduation and for pioneering the first private hospital in Catanduanes, both more than four decades ago. The test of time, no less. This can only mean that these awardees kept clean of any derogatory record during several decades, which could have militated against any award. There is a special significance, therefore, about awards after the test of time. They also show that the city does not forget the good which its citizens do, even if it may sometimes take longer than usual to remember. But even for the much younger awardees like the three students Mejia, Secretario and Del Valle, their awards become a challenge maybe not only to keep clean (lest they stain their awards and the city) but also to do even better in the coming years and decades. Indeed, the theme of the 2007 Mayoral Awards was “The Quest for Excellence Never Ends.”

It will never end for Naga because it has a bountiful well-spring of good people, the Nagueños, who are the city’s best natural resource as Mayor Jess puts it, many of whom may still be unrecognized as they do their good work quietly. There are and have been Nagueño giants, like Attys. Ramon R. San Andres, Luis General Jr. and J. Antonio M. Carpio, to name a few whom I have had the privilege of personally knowing, learning from and working with, who are more oragon (great, or translate as you wish) than most of the better-known (because) Manila-based national figures. They are, or should be, truly the orgullo kan Naga (pride of Naga). They, other Nagueños like them, the people, the city and the contributions of Naga, all make one “proud to be a Nagueño” -- as Levy proudly declared in his response to the conferment of his award. Mayor Jess, alluding to the citizenship issue which had been repeatedly raised against him every election time, remarked that there may be doubts about his Filipino citizenship, but there is no doubt about his Nagueño citizenship. In my case, though Manila-born, I have chosen to consider myself a Nagueño, because of my first four years of schooling at the Naga Parochial School and because of living and working here for my best 18 years soon after graduation from UP and getting married to Doods. I guess the Mayoral Award “legitimizes” my claim to Nagueño citizenship. Besides, Naga has long been our domicile (the place one always intends to return to, or keeps returning to), and one can only return to one’s roots.

I wish to give credit to the Awards Committee as well as the Search Committee for my award which recognizes not only “full-hearted advocacy for peace” but also “people empowerment, and the advancement of human rights… and militancy that, among other cause-oriented initiatives…” In this time of anti-terrorism, it is to credit of the courageous leaders of Naga City to recognize something like “advancement of human rights,” “militancy,” and “cause-oriented initiatives.” Alas, there is still a role for this.

The contraposition of “cause-oriented” with “cost-oriented” came to my mind again when Levy commented on how he wished that the Mayoral Award came with a “cash reward,” just like Mayor Jess’ big-time Ramon Magsaysay Award, as if to say “your giving us credit through recognition is good but we need cash.” Levy said in typical levity, but actually at least half-serious, that he would not object if, in the future, the Mayoral Award would come with a cash award that would be made retroactive to 2007. Indeed, it seems unfortunate that genuine public, civic and community service often involves a “vow of poverty” where the best income is the “psychic income.” But the heart is, in real hard life, part of a body and soul that must be kept together. Maybe there is a role here for the business sector.

In ending, allow me a few personal acknowledgements. There are my comrades in various peace, human rights and other cause-oriented groups who were there with me in the work I am being given recognition for, notably Naga for Popular Democracy (NagaPopDem) [later renamed the Red Wine Party of Naga (RWP-Naga)] and HOPE. Elmer S. Casillan, who nominated me, and “Mommy” Jean, who endorsed me, were both with HOPE. Atty. Atty. Henry Gerald P. Ysaac Jr., who also endorsed me, is with NagaPopDem/RWP-Naga. And of course, there is my wife and best friend Doods, herself also a Manila-born Nagueño by choice, who has taught me what recognition is really all about, and that the best kind is the one which one does not chase after because there is no need to. I dedicate my award to Doods and other comrades -- for the love, inspiration, friendship, support, and camaraderie in this Happy Place, An Maogmang Lugar. Maogma man ako. Dios Mabalos saindo gabos -- gabos-gabos, ubos-ubos!

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