OLONGAPO CITY—As the red-shirted man who wants to be the next president took center stage at a campaign rally in his home city of Olongapo, Jesse Cao could not help but remember how this same man, now a senator and Bagumbayan party's standard bearer, inspired him to do volunteer work at a time when the city seemed to be dying.
When Mt. Pinatubo erupted in June 1991, not only did it devastate Olongapo City, but it forced all US forces and their dependents to evacuate from the adjacent Subic naval base. Three months later, the Philippine Senate voted not to ratify a US-RP treaty that would have allowed the continued stay of US bases in the country—thus making the US bases pullout final.
Cao, 40, said Olongapeños nearly lost hope at that point. But Sen. Richard Gordon, who was then city mayor, approached his constituents and mobilized them to volunteer instead of being disheartened.
"Binigyan niya ng kakayahaan para gumawa ng paraan kung papano mapapakinabanngan ang bawat isa (He enabled us to find ways to benefit from each other)," he said.
Cao said he volunteered for six months by looking after the abandoned facility and ensuring that it would not deteriorate like what happened to another US base in Sangley Point, Cavite province when it was turned over to the Philippine government in 1971.
“Wala kaming mga sweldo no’n. Tulong-tulong lang, kasi nakikita naming siya nagta-trabaho din (We did not get salaries then. We just helped each other, since we saw that he was also working like us)," he said.
'He ordered the markets to remain open'
Cao was not alone in his 1991 remembrances. A few seats away from him, also attending Gordon's rally, was 62-year-old Prudy Baylon, who narrated how she was inspired to remain in Olongapo even after the 1991 Pinatubo eruption damaged property, livelihood and morale among city residents.
She and her neighbors were scrambling to leave their homes and start anew in some other city, she recalled, when Gordon told his constituents: "Wag kayong umalis, wag kayong umalis. Nandito pa ako, kasama niyo ako."
"Nagpadala siya ng mga truck, bulldozer, at pinabuksan niya yung mga palengke. Sabi niya (He sent in trucks, bulldozers, and ordered the markets to remain open. He said), do business as usual. Make everything normal," Baylon remembered the senator as saying.
Cao and Baylon were among the rally-goers, estimated at less than a thousand, that showed up to support the Bagumbayan standard bearer and his running mate Bayani Fernando during their first campaign sortie in Gordon’s bailiwick.
Gordon thanked his constituents for their support and their role in developing Olongapo—now considered a model city in Central Luzon.
“Lumabas ang galing ng Pilipinong taga-Olongapo [at] tayo ay nagtagumpay laban sa Pinatubo (We showed them the greatness of Filipinos from Olongapo, and we won against Pinatubo)," he said, eliciting cheers from the crowd.
Before becoming a senator, Gordon served as Olongapo mayor for 13 years. He claims having changed the city—then widely perceived as a “sin city" dependent on the US base—to a “model city" worthy of emulation, and in transforming the base into Subic Freeport that he said generated more than 100,000 jobs.
As of 2007, Olongapo has a population of 227,270, and registered voters of about 99,412 by September 2009.
No huge crowds
The Bagumbayan rally, held at the city’s Rizal Multipurpose Hall, was noticeably lacking in crowd power. The number of people attending the rally filled up less than half of the venue, which police officials say could accommodate 15,000.
In a separate interview with GMANews.TV, Gordon said he was unbothered by the crowd turnout, explaining that his visit to his home city was unexpected and that he did not even plan to hold a rally.
“Biglaan lang yung rally kahapon eh (The rally yesterday was impromptu). We are not supposed to hold a rally. We are just supposed to march eh ginawa nilang rally kaya okay lang (but they turned it into a rally, so it’s fine)," he said.
Baylon, for her part, explained that residents of Olongapo are also busy at work, and that was the reason they failed to attend the event. She added that the advisory about Gordon’s visit was given on short notice.
The Bagumbayan standard bearer, meanwhile, asked his constituents to support him in the May elections as they did in the past. “Panahon na para taga-Olongapo naman ang mamuno (It’s high time that someone from Olongapo is given his turn to lead)," he said, adding that none of the other presidential candidates could match his track record.— AIE BALAGTAS SEE, GMANews.TV
Vice mayor and reelectionist Cynthia Cajudo introduces Bagumbayan standard bearer Richard Gordon and his running mate Bayani Fernando before a throng of supporters during their campaign rally in Olongapo, a city with a very distinctive history and considered as Gordon's bailiwick. Aie B. See
Labels: 2010 election, Olongapo City, Sen. Richard Gordon