Random Thoughts

Farewell, Mayor Al

By Leonardo Micua

AS a budding journalist in the in the 70s, who at that time was still finding his way in the city, I first met Mayor Al when he was yet running for councilor in 1971 under the Liberal Party whose candidates for mayor was ex-Mayor Liberato Reyna Sr. and the candidate for vice mayor was Felipe Cuison.

Reyna and Cuison were routed by then incumbent Mayor Opring Manaois and Armando Fernandez who ran for mayor and vice mayor, respectively, under the Nacionalista Party. Manding resigned his diplomatic post.

Al Fernandez, fresh from college at Don Bosco Technical School, topped the council race along with teammates Yoyong Mejia, Fred Sta Maria, Reggie Ravanzo, Jimmy Arzadon and Gaudencio Siapno, all of the LP, and Peddy Torio, Joe Calimlim and Conrad Guadiz, all of the NP.

Al outlasted his former colleagues, except perhaps for Arzadon who migrated to the U.S. with his family. He was the only one in that era who succeeded to become mayor.

When Manding decided to go back to his old post in the foreign service, Al became the vice mayor but that was perhaps only a ceremonial position as the decree promulgated by Marcos to put the mayors (Opring Manaois in case of Dagupan) as presiding officer of the Sangguniang Panlungsod.

Later we learned from Fred Sta. Maria, our cumpadre, that Al joined then Congressman Joe de Venecia in the Middle East where they became successful businessmen and pride to their fellow Dagupenos.

When Cory seized power via People Power in 1986, Al Fernandez ran for vice mayor in tandem with Acting Mayor Libring Reyna, who was opposed by Manding Fernandez, Reggie Ravanzo and Conrad Guadiz.

In the next election, Al ran for Mayor and won handily against Ope Reyna and in his bid for a second term of office, he scored a landslide victory against Fred Quinto.

He was unopposed in his last final term as city mayor in 1998.

As Mayor, Al was so close to the masa who considered him their idol. He was the only city official who ate, drank and smoked with them, whether in their homes or on side street, even up to the dead of the night with practically no sign of weariness in him.

One friend said that if someone had a problem, one can get help from the Mayor Al, see him anywhere, unlike someone who ruled the city who would tell his constituents to bring problems to his office at City Hall.

I am glad he imparted his style of governance to his ward, Mayor Belen Fernandez, who at first was reluctant to throw her hat into the political ring, but Al encouraged her to give the call to public service a chance, and succeeded.

As coined by his son former Vice Mayor Alvin, when he was the city administrator, his father is (was) “AListo sa serbisyo”.

Goodbye, and maraming salamat, Idol Al. You did a lot for us all.

*                *                *                *

A day after the Sangguniang Panlalawigan deferred its hearings on its inquiry in aid of legislation on the operations and mechanics of Small Town Lottery in Pangasinan indefinitely, I received a press release from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office quoting General Manager Alexander Balutan saying that STL across the country registered a whooping P12.3 billion revenue for the first quarter of 2018.

According to GM Balutan, figures don’t lie, adding that this is a testament of PCSO’s success in implementing STL across the country and the government’s fight against all forms of illegal numbers game.

In addition, STL, according to retired Marine General Balutan, has also hit a record high employment with 79 Authorized Agent Corporations (AACs) operating the STL nationwide.

The 79 AACs of course include the Speed Gaming Inc., operator of the STL in Pangasinan, whose executives had repeatedly snubbed past invitations of the SP to attend its Question Hour.

For this, the Speed Gaming execs earned the ire of board members, particularly Raul Sison, chair of the committee on Games and Amusement, who admitted he knows the mechanics of the numbers game too well to know that Speed Gaming could be earning more than what it reports on paper to PCSO.

The SP inquiry, according to Raul, focuses on three issues: 1) the five percent share being given to collectors, instead of 10 percent as stipulated in the Internal Rules and Regulation (IRR) on Republic Act 1169 that created the STL; 2) the STL in Pangasinan is being played by number combinations from one to 40 which lessens the chances of bettors to win; and 3) the adoption of “saklit”, “kalag”, and “derecha”, which are features of the old illegal numbers game “jueteng”.

On the three issues, Editha Romero, PCSO manager in Pangasinan, who attended most of the hearings of the SP, may already have explained in previous hearings of the SP when she said the one to 40 number combinations as well as the infusion of additional features in the STL, including the share of collectors, were the calls of the AAC.

In the press release emailed to us by PCSO, the agency said that as of June 2018, the STL provided 311,436 jobs to a workforce which comprises those “who could not pass the nitty-gritties of job fairs because of their lack of education, old age, or they are physically disabled.”

General Balutan took pride in saying:”These cobradores are earning more than P7,000 up to P8,000 a month, good enough to feed their families.” 

He said the employment of this big workforce, expected to increase to 600,000 next year, saved people from vices (e.g. drugs) and from being exploited by criminals, adding that “we are giving our countrymen the opportunity to have a clean and decent job, and it’s not coming from illegal.”

This, more or less, belies the claim of BM Raul that the collectors of Speed Gaming are underpaid and therefore have no reason to whine. Or, are they?

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