Saturday, June 21, 2014

Politics in Cotabato Province; Celeste New NIA Head in Region 11


In a baptismal last Sunday (June 14) at the St. Therese Catholic Church in M’lang , Cotabato Province  where I was one of the godfathers I bumped into former mayor , the Spanish descent, Lugie Cuerpo. We have some chats about the latest in politics of Pangasinan and North Cotabato.

Region 11 National Irrigation Administration's Manager John Celeste 
(Right) and Ramon Abogacia, regional chief of administration and
finance, posed with the author (Center) when he dropped
by recently at their office in Bolton St, Davao City.

 I asked Cuerpo who will be the probable candidate for hizzoner of my town since my friend Mayor Lito Pinol is on his last term.
“It could be Bobong Pinol (Lito’s younger brother)”.
 He said Lito will be challenging the province’s 3rd District congressman Ping-Ping Tejada while older brother Manny Pinol runs for either the governorship or vice governorship.
 “It’s 2016 presidential election and the party in Manila needs somebody to represent the presidential bet in the boondocks,” said by the former mayor in our vernacular Ilonggo of course and not in Shakespeare's language which he is known to be not so proficient.
 Earlier grapevine said that lawyer Vice Mayor Russel Abonodo is being groomed by supporters to run for the highest post of the local government of the town which derived its name from the Maguindanaoan word Tamlang or Bamboo.
So where’s the multi-millionaire former mayoral candidate Litoy Mercado in the radar screen of the town for 2016?
A source closed to the Mercados (his wife the beauteous Grace Arana still call me ‘pakas (cousin) as the town folks already know” whenever we meet) said that Litoy has no plan for the 2016 polls.
“Let’s leave to the prospective candidates the politics of the town where they could earn their living.  The Mercados have been discouraged anymore to run as a lot of folks have been shot, ambushed, mauled, and suffer physical pain because of partisanship in the last election where millions of pesos have circulated for the hoi-polloi. The Mercados are  enjoying their businesses and foreign trips abroad”.
I just heard that the Mercados, who owned hundreds of dump trucks and other equipments in their construction firm, have been given by the government with “Triple A” license – a prestigious badge among big time private contractors even here in Luzon.
When I was at Davao City last June 17, I dropped by at the office of Regional Director Mariano Alquiza of the Department of Public Works & Highway –Region 11 in Uyanguren Street of the city.
“Sir, mas maganda at malaki itong office ninyo kaysa sa San Fernando City (La Union),” I posed to Alquiza who is known for his meticulousness on details.
“Siempri malaki ito kasi Davao ito,” a priest, who was a caller like me in his office, quipped.
I asked Alquiza to compare DPWH Region 1, where he spent more than two years as top honcho, and his present post in Davao “sino sir ang mas mataas ang appropriation sa budget?” I posed.

He said DPWH regional office in La Union has a huge budget too because of lots of projects being implemented by the power-that-be there during his stint.
Alquiza, an Ilocano born Davaoeno, used to be the regional director of his present post when he was whisked to Region 1 by then President Gloria M. Arroyo through DPWH Secretary Jun Ebdane at the expense of DPWH Region 1 Director Fidel Ginez who got the goat of La Presidenta.
The reason for the sacking of the media darling Ginez, La Presidenta Gloria hits the roof after being repeatedly jolted by the rough and tumble pavement of the national highway in Urdaneta  City and Sison town in Pangasinan that was under Ginez’s jurisdiction.
“Na yog-yog ata ang bagong injected na breast implant ni President,” some media men, who were privy about the livid phone call made by the president to Ebdane to fire Ginez when the La Gloria arrived for a dinner at her favorite Matutina Restaurant & Sea Foods in Dagupan City, told me.
“God is good to me,” this was what Region 11 National Irrigation Administration’s Manager John Celeste told me when I dropped by too at his swanky office in Bolton Street, Dagupan City.
Celeste, as everybody knows, is a Pangasinense who was the manager of NIA Region 1 based in Urdaneta City, Pangasinan.
But before the start of the acrimonious May 2013 local election, politicians who have an ax to grind against his relatives Congressman Jesus “Boying” Celeste and former Congressman and now Alaminos City Mayor Arthur Celeste (both in the 1st District, Pangasinan) unceremoniously ousted him from the helm of the irrigation bureau that oversees the four provinces.
He said they even created a Project Management Office deemed as holdover area (euphemism for those condemned in the floating status) for him and other three regional managers who hailed from different parts of the country.
 Source said he (Celeste) went to Civil Service Chairman Francisco Pinggoy” Duque III, a province mate, who empathized with his plight.
“The law says a director who is reshuffled from his original managerial post should be returned to his post if nothing incriminatory was found against him one year upon his relief,” my source stressed.
Celeste said even though he was not returned to his original post in Northern Luzon, his Davao City post is a good alternative as it is a major post of NIA in the country that controls four huge provinces like Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental, and Compostela Valley.
“Buti pa kayo sir, sa tagal ko na sa Mindanao, itong Davao Oriental at Compostela Valley o ComVal ay hindi ko pa napupuntahan,” I told Celeste in a mixed Pangasinense and Tagalog.
“Look at all those managers who preceded me, they came from the Visaya and other parts of Mindanao. Some of them even became deputy administrator of NIA,” the soft spoken NIA top honcho told me as he proudly toured me in the different sections of his wide office.
“Kaya pala sir sabi ni (Region 1 NIA Manager)Vic Vicmudo, Masaya na kayo dito sa Davao”.
I bumped into the new Region 1 NIA manager, whom I thought was a hunk and the groovy Provincial Irrigation Management Officer, Engr. Renato Millan when they accompanied  two weeks ago Senator Cynthia Villar, former Congressman Mark Cojuangco, and Abono Party-list Chairman Rosendo So at the famous Matutina Restaurant and Sea Food in Urdaneta City.
Since I dropped by at Celeste’s office at 5 Pm and my airline flight was 9:55 Pm (that was delayed by another hour as it bogged down because of a flat tire, tee-heh, on the mid air 27,000 feet somewhere in Cebu) he and Ramon Abogacia, regional chief of administration and finance, and friends of the Pacolors in M’lang, Cotabato Province, asked me to join them for dinner at Celeste’s five rooms’ staff house.
“Sir, dahil they sold at P85 ang kakapiranggot na isang order  ng tuna na kinilaw sa food court sa SM-Ecoland, pagawan niyo ako sa cook niyo ng  tuna na kinilaw – kahit iyon na lang ulam ko, favorite ko kasi iyon”.
Son a gun, the two honchos treated me with a yummy bowl of tuna mixed with cucumber and others that  Abogacia just bought from the nearby General Santos City and variety of big roasted lapu-lapu, maya-maya, matambaka,  and Whatchamacallit for me to indulge.
“These are all big roasted quality fishes. Bakit sir wala bang ganito sa inyo sa (aqua rich) Bolinao (Pangasinan)?” I posed .
Celeste deplored the scarcity of aqua products in the sea of his home town compared to the fishes in Davao Gulf.
“Masyadong malakas ang competition with Chinese fishermen and poachers,” he cited.

(You can read my selected columns at and articles at Pangasinan News Aro. You can send comments too

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