Governor Tuting

Delivered at the Necrological Service
Provincial Capitol
January 9, 2011

Yesterday afternoon, Junny Dumalag asked me if I could speak in behalf of the Project Task Force. I hesitated, because I am not the head of the force and eulogies for high government officials are usually reserved for important people. But then I thought it would be an honor to represent such a hard working and dedicated team in saying our final adieu to a sincere and committed leader whom we hold in the highest respect.

My involvement with the Project Task Force begun when I met Governor Tuting, one August Sunday morning after the 11 AM mass at the Cathedral.  He informed me that Junny Dumalag would be calling me one of these days as I was going to be a part of the Force. He specifically mentioned about Livelihood Program. He also said something about helping the poor and the marginalized. That was how casually the Governor worked. That was his style even as Mayor.

I had the opportunity in working with the Governor in a program called YFDP. An acronym for Youth Football Development Program. The YFDP was a joint experiment of the Rotary Club of Dumaguete East and the City of Dumaguete which started as the club’s centerpiece project in 1993 when I was club president. It became the City’s main youth and anti-drug sports activity when Mayor Tuting was in his second term as Mayor.  This was an undertaking where the poorest and naughtiest boys of different barangays participated in a values education program through Football. Thanks to the four years of sacrifice of the Rotarians and the wholehearted support of Mayor Tuting, the program became a pride of Dumaguete when some of the participants eventually received scholarship at San Beda, when eight YFDP boys became stars in the Philippine Under 19 Team, when four of our YFDP boys made it to the Philippine National Team and when the Rotary Club of Bacolod East replicated our program in Occidental Negros.

It has been eighteen years since the time we started the program, and many of those boys have long graduated from college. But I still recall that day when a group of us Rotarians visited the Mayor’s office and submitted our proposal for a joint project. I had thought that the Mayor’s first question would be how much financial counterpart was expected of the City Government.  But I was greatly surprised when he blurted “Will this program benefit the poor children?” I immediately answered “In fact Mayor, it is intended for the poor children since they cannot afford to buy the gears and they do not have a place to play.” “And what do you want from the City Government, I answered “first priority in the use of the Plaza ballfield.” Mayor Tuting looked at me and said “You get it.”

It was only around the third year of the YFDP did I become conscious that Mayor Tuting has had a special heart for the poor children. We were watching the football games when he asked me if the club could expand the project and make a counterpart for the girls. I said the existing YFDP was in itself already a very demanding mission. Then he said something about what about the future of these poor young girls, whose parents are unable to teach proper values. He cited the growing incidence of teenage pregnancies and prostitution. Eventually, I tried in helping organize the YGDP (Young Girls Dev. Program) using volleyball as the conduit for values education, but there were just not enough women volunteers to assist and the program lasted only a few weeks.

I was further convinced about his sincerity when a few years later, at his inaugural speech in June 30, 2001, coming back to City Hall after a three year interlude, he announced that he will use the remaining years that God has given him to alleviate the plight of the poor. True enough, a few days after our St. Paul University Dumaguete BOT meeting, he floated the proposal as to when we could restart the YFDP I knew the difficulty and the details involved in a values formation endeavor, so I said I needed time to reassemble the team.  But six months later, he would remind me again of the YFDP. I said that my organic farming project was taking so much of my time, the next board meeting I had another excuse – that I was newly married and my wife needs me more, then the next board meeting – that the new set up of UTC Trading was very demanding, and so on.  So one day, after the rice crisis of 2008, I told the Mayor that since we have already developed the model on values education through sports, some group could pick up on that. I could help and share our experience with whoever wants to follow up on it.  But I strongly believe that we should focus on food production and organic farming. And that I was at his service.

I had a chance to have a long talk with Governor Tuting as Greg and I were riding with him to attend the funeral of Mr. Miguel Diaz. This was about a month after he took his oath as Governor.  Our conversation centered on infrastructure and problems faced by the provincial government. But in coming home, our focus shifted slightly towards food production, agriculture then the dynamics of food prices and eventually helping the poor. As I was about to come out of his pick up, he parted by saying “Bert, see what we can do about improving our rice situation.” I could sense a bit of urgency in his voice.

I realized that as the Province’s CEO, Governor Tuting had to shift his priorities. The responsibility of taking care of the youth would have to be relegated to the mayors. As governor, the responsibility would have to be centered on setting the direction of the province, economic growth, food security, environmental issues and many other concerns.

When the task force decided to meet, we decided that the main priority was to strengthen mainstream agricultural sector because for too long the farmers had been neglected.  We knew our objective was to establish an agricultural master plan for the province, coordinating the agricultural efforts of each of the municipality, to avoid shortage as well as to avoid a situation of oversupply where a price slump could damage the farmers.  But first we needed to know the
existing conditions of the farmers, and how many of them were already into organic methods. We needed to feel their sentiments and their level of confidence. After all it would be the farmers who would be in the front line in rice, corn, sugarcane, coconut, root crop, vegetables, animal and fish production.  There was only one way to find out. We decided to embark on the First Oriental Negros Farmer’s Congress.

When we briefed the Governor of this plan, he showed some apprehension, but he always gave the group a free hand in implementing our ideas. He would ask a few questions about the plan, but in the endit was always very typical of Tuting Perdices: “Will this help the poor?” It was evident that cancer was taking its toll on the Governor, because the questions were no longer as detailed as he they used to be.  But the cancer failed to shatter the core of his inner convictions : In what way will this project benefit the poor?

The Congress, proceeded after 3 months of planning. What topics do we discuss? What questions do we ask, what workshops do we conduct, how do we get their ideas and opinions, do we have enough facilitators, who will do the documentation, do we have enough diversity in each grouping?  These were all taken into account meticulously by a very hard working and dedicated group. Each one giving his best, knowingthat we were doing this for the common good and especially for the poor.

Three days before the congress started, Junny and I visited the Governor. He lay in bed looking tired but still very attentive.  He asked if everything was going smoothly. We said it was.  We briefed him on the objectives of the congress and on what we hoped to accomplish from it. We emphasized to him that the theme of the Congress was “Enhancing Health and Economic Prosperity thru Organic Agriculture”. That health and economic prosperity is really the main issue here. That Organic Agriculture as a means to achieve this had to be emphasized because the use of pesticides and chemicals has greatly increased the incidence of cancer and destroyed the environment.  He gave me a strange look when I mentioned the word cancer.

But when I said that “with the help of the Almighty we should be able to make a difference in our farm practices that will benefit the poor and eventually restore the dignity of our people”, I noticed a big smile in his face.

We ended the briefing by saying that This is what we hope to leave as a legacy to the next generation. That this is what we hope the Perdices Administration will be remembered for.

We thanked the Governor for supporting our plans even if he initially wanted a different approach to poverty alleviation. He thanked us andapologized that he had to leave the following day for his chemo treatment and that he would be unable to attend the Congress. But I only found out later that he still made a trip to the office an hour after we spoke, and told his staff that we in the task force should be given all the support needed for this endeavor.

We met the governor as a group again in the middle of December after it was announced  that he would hold chairmanship of the RDC. He said very few words that time, but he managed to say that “It is important to have teamwork. Work as a Team”

Governor Tuting, it has been a great privilege working with you and we the members of the task force thank you for the opportunity for allowing us to share our ideas and the chance to work for the improvement of the City and the Province.

We want to thank you for the faith and trust you have given us. It is not hard to work with you knowing that you always had the greater good in mind. You were able to show us that honesty, simplicity, hard work, and the commitment to serve others can still be found in public servants.  Jesus has said that whatever you did unto them the least of my brethren, you have done unto me. You have a special heart for the poor, we will all remember that. God will remember that.