THE SACRIFICES OF OVERSEAS FILIPINOS FOR THEIR HOMELAND: THE STORY OF SAMAR CONGRESSMAN-ELECT DOLOY COQUILLA
By CESAR TORRES
May 28, 2007
Filipinos are a very caring people.
We show our concern for our families,
friends, and causes in the homeland in countless ways. Some of us
have high school and college scholars. We send money to elementary
schools and for the education of our kins and even non-kins if they
are in great need. We send medicines and multivitamins for our
family members and friends. We are implored to finance birthday
celebrations, weddings, fiestas, and other religious and social
activities. We send money for hospital bills and for burial
expenses. We contribute whatever we can during the frequent
calamities afflicting our homeland.
Doloy Coquilla, left, with a visitor from California, Mr. Arturo
Balmes, a leader of the Samarnons from Taft, Eastern Samar.
Picture taken at the resort of Doloy Coquilla in Oras, a popular
destination of tourists especially from Europe.
We send those "Balikbayan" boxes which
are packed with plastic spoons, knives, and forks, even letter
envelopes, staplers, scotch tapes, chocolate which melt along the
way and which are then scooped with plastic spoons from their
plastic containers when they are received there. We send books,
National Geographic and other magazines, California and San
Francisco calendars, dried fruits, Pistachio nuts, toys, used
clothing, baseball caps, sun visors, smoked salmon, Beef Jerky, and
our favorite, Carne Norte or corned beef. We also send computers
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For Filipinos going on vacation to the
homeland who are departing from the San Francisco International
Airport, I sometimes see their Balikbayan boxes being pushed and
pulled and packed and repacked and weighed and reweighed when
preparing to check in. Sometimes they are kicked by tired and
irritated passengers especially when husband and wife are fighting
because of those boxes. If you see a Balikbayan box in an
international airport, a Filipino is around. They are almost
inseparable. I once overheard an amused Caucasian in the San
Francisco International Airport calling those Balikbayan boxes as
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For the more socially-conscious and
who have more money, some contribute to a fund to build classrooms.
Still others contribute a minimum $1,500 – it used to be just $1,200
– to build a house for a family who might be residing in their
quaint and picturesque houses made of card board, making babies in
their pushcarts, sleeping with the dead in some graveyards, going
home to their mansions under the bridges. The house building is
under the sponsorship of Gawad Kalinga. Others donate the ABS-CBN
Educational TV System to elementary schools.
The more profit-oriented, try to
convince corporations, investors, and the wealthy with lots of money
to invest in some economic enterprises in the Philippines.
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While others who are close to the
politicians in America join the special trips and the delegations
when their politico friends are given awards and recognition in
Manila. Some Filipinos in San Francisco are well-known for this.
This one is a fairly recent innovation
conceived by the tourism managers and the foreign service officers.
Filipinos abroad are invited to join package tours to the
Philippines with our diplomats as tourist guides. The tours
culminate in an audience with the President in Malacañang Palace,
the Presidential residence.
We also have the “Extreme Patriots”.
They don't only send their hard-earned dollars, Euros, yens, and
other currencies and Balikbayan boxes. Some are prepared to offer
their lives for their homeland, even if they do not speak a single
Filipino dialect, not even the Philippine national language,
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Many may not belong to this latter
category of “Extreme Patriots” or to the other types of Filipinos
sacrificing for the homeland. But they are still very
nationalistic, but are more practical. For one, they are not quite
convinced that they should offer their lives and become martyrs for
the 90 million Filipinos, and that the Filipinos are worth dying
for. But they sacrifice so much also. They sell their houses, their
businesses, their apartments, their restaurants in America; get
equity from the homes that are still unsold, and offer themselves to
our people back there as an alternative to the incompetent and
corrupt political and governmental leaders in the Philippines. To
this category would belong Teodulo Coquilla. "Doloy" to us or Teddy
James "Doloy" Coquilla when he was still hobnobbing with us
Samarnons in the San Francisco Bay Area. Doloy is the
Congressman-Elect of the Province of Eastern Samar.
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We are writing about Doloy because
somehow he personifies the thousands of Filipinos, especially those
in America and other parts of the world, who are dreaming of going
back to their homeland and serving our people in whatever capacity.
But for one reason or another, they have not made the leap.
But the Hamlet-like indecisiveness of
many well-meaning Filipino expatriates seems to be changing. In the
last election, two of our friends, U.P. alumni both, who are Dual
American and Filipino Citizens – Theodore Makabulos "Kuya Ted"
Aquino and a Doctor of Medicine, Dr. Anacleto "Toto" Millendez –
declared their candidacies for the Philippine Congress. Ted Aquino's
candidacy for Senator was twisted like a pretzel by the Philippine
Commission on Elections. In the case of Dr. Toto Millendez, who
filed his candidacy in Davao for Congressman against the almost
unshakeable political fortress of Prospero Nograles, Doctor Toto as
we fondly call him, our starry-eyed political reformer, conceded
defeat before the canvassing of votes was over.
But the case of Doloy is unlike the
two starry-eyed U.P. alumni. Doloy had cast his lot with his people
before the two had made up their minds. He gave up his American
citizenship. Even if he was starry-eyed, he was also very practical
and more importantly, financially well-prepared. Despite initial
setbacks when the system yanked him out as Mayor of Oras in Eastern
Samar, he bounced back. This time as a Congressman. Due to a
confluence of events, Doloy bested the wife of Congressman Marcelino
Libanan, Elda, who was a member of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's
ruling clique in the government and whose resources were whispered
to be beyond calculation.
Doloy won by 7,107 votes, a number which providentially is the same
as the number of islands constituting the Phililppine Archipelago.
There were some dramatic incidents during the canvassing. Religious
Samarnons with lighted candles, held a procession, prayed the
rosary, sang "Ave Maria" and prayed "Our Father", invoking the wrath
of God should their hope for a better Eastern Samar, Doloy Coquilla,
is cheated of his votes by "Garcification". They stopped at the
provincial capitol building where the canvassing was being held.
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There were some political betrayals
also when he made known his plan to run for Congress against the
Libanans. True to their innate nature of political opportunism and
lack of principles, which they might have equated with "political
pragmatism", prominent Samarnon politicians from Northern and
Eastern Samar who initially pledged their support to Doloy changed
their minds when they learned that Doloy may not have the
intellectual capability, the political insight, the legal training,
the bureaucratic expertise, the elegant writing ability, the
erudition, the voucher-signing and the magical qualities to
influence the honest and upright providers of goods and merchandise
through public bidding.
They were probably dismayed when Doloy
proudly proclaimed that it took him 9 years to finish high school.
And that he did not go to Ateneo, San Beda, U.P., Harvard or even
the diploma mill schools in Samar, Tacloban or Manila; and that his
Bachelors and Masters degrees were earned in the U.S. Navy. He was
conferred his Ph.D. honoris causa, while slicing onions, tomatoes,
ginger, Jalapeño, carrots, vegetables, potatoes, pork, chicharon,
pounding garlic, preparing kilawen, etc. when he and his lovely
nurse-wife, Dayday, were managing a restaurant in Vallejo, in the
San Francisco Bay Area, in California. They could not associate with
someone like Doloy who believes in the dignity of labor, in personal
integrity, in honesty, and self-respect; in someone who is
incorruptible and who really wants to serve the people.
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Congressman-elect Teodulo "Doloy" Coquilla, extreme right,
standing, back row with Samarnon leaders in San Francisco. Taken
during the induction of the San Francisco-based "Samarenos of
California". Fifth from left, seated, is Atty. Raul Picardo, the
President. To his right is the late Mrs. Naty Villarin Silva Padul,
a prominent Samarnon from Catbalogan who was responsible for
bringing Samarnons together in San Francisco, in California, and
all over America.
When he remembers the betrayals of
people whom he considered his friends, I could imagine him white-hot
with anger. So we had to remind him that he is Congressman not only
of those who supported him and voted for him and guarded the ballot
boxes in historic Homonhon against a possible Garcification. He is
the representative in Congress of even those who hate him. We
reminded him to extend the hand of peace and reconciliation to those
whom he hated as a true leader to his people.
How did he triumph in Eastern Samar?
For one, it seems that his political opponents had overstayed their
welcome and may have been out of touch with the Samarnons already.
They have been “Honorable” and powerful for 9 years. But despite
this, the roads in Eastern Samar, among other deficiencies, were
labeled as "The Roads with a Thousand Lakes". (Similarly, in Western
Samar, the roads are referred to as "The Hell Roads of Samar".) In
contrast, Doloy was different. He campaigned in practically all the
600 barangays in the entire province. He must have been supported
also by the true revolutionaries. But he is mum about this. The
voters probably took pity on him also because he was being looked
down as not worthy of being a Trapo. He was not allowed to campaign
in the town plazas.
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It might have helped a lot also that
he sacrificed so much of his comfortable life in America to serve
his people. In the one year and four months that he was Mayor of his
home town, he did not receive his salary. He is well-off, anyway.
His children are all in America and are self-sufficient. So he could
devote his time and resources to Oras. He constructed many artesian
wells. He donated a school bus that could accommodate 55 students
from Oras and in the surrounding areas so that they could attend
classes in Borongan some 87 kilometers away. The ride was free. He
also provided a motorboat for the students who were residing along
the Oras river banks. Again, rides were free. He built 26 classrooms
in four barangays. With his own money, he donated 20 computers to
the schools. He built the biggest public market, renovated Oras'
municipal building, provided running water, and a kitchen. The rooms
of the heads of offices, were air-conditioned. A police station was
constructed and the gymnasium was finished. After seven years, the
Oras bridge was opened to vehicular and foot traffic. Aware of the
environmental impact of utilizing the power of the sun, he donated
20 solar lights in 20 barangays with 20 chargers. He widened and
concreted the streets and canals of Oras.
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He would volunteer to be hermano – a
patron or sponsor – of town fiestas in Eastern Samar, responsible
for the orchestra and the place of celebration if there were no
fiesta sponsors to attend to this. The only condition was that he
would get the "gala", this is the monetary donations of the people
to kuratsa dancers to show their appreciation. The donations are
dropped on the dance floor or flung to the air with a flourish. The
more the money, the more popular and more graceful the dancers are.
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So the Samarnons voted for him. They
must have been thinking that with all the lawyers, professionals,
scions of prominent families, and other members of the “ilustrado”
class in Eastern Samar, the people in the province were sinking
deeper and deeper into poverty, hopelessness, and retrogression. So
they must have thought: “Let us try Doloy as our leader. He is not a
college graduate, much less a lawyer, who are mostly corrupt,
elitist, and incompetent, anyway. He succeeded in America. Respected
and honored by his fellow Samarnons and Filipinos there. He gave up
a comfortable life there. Now he is asking us to give him the
opportunity to see what we can all do if he becomes our
representative in that snake pit of the Philippine Congress. Let us
support and vote for Doloy.”
I have known Doloy for a long time in
California. Every time we had beer and kinilaw, especially during
those innumerable fiestas of the Samarnons, he would never fail to
tell us that one day, he was going back to his hometown of Oras to
serve his people. When he was still in California, he was always at
the forefront in celebrating the fiesta of Oras. We looked forward
to it because it was celebrated in October, the last fiesta
celebration for the year among us Samarnons to which we would be
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Inasmuch as there were very few
Orasnons in Northern California, he formed an organization to help
him celebrate the fiesta – "Orasnons and Friends". One time because
he was in a hurry to take the flight so that he won't miss the
fiesta celebration in Oras in Samar, he left without cleaning the
garbage at the St. Anne of the Sunset Church were the Orasnon fiesta
in San Francisco was held. I had to organize a "Garbage Brigade"
because the priests in the church were not very happy with us. They
were going to complain about us to the Patron Saint of the Orasnons,
San Pedro de Alcantara. I was one of the "Friends", after all, and
he was a pillar of our San Francisco-based "Samareños of
California", which I headed. One for all, all for one.
I must confess that it is with great
anxiety, trepidation, and a wildly-beating heart, that we are
awaiting the congressional and legislative performance of "The
Honorable Congressman from the Lone District of Eastern Samar,
Teodulo Coquilla". Obviously, we have no other thought that he will
be exemplary. After all, he is the vanguard of the 10 million
Filipinos in Diaspora and the three million Filipinos in America. If
he succeeded in America despite numerous limitations, there is no
reason why he cannot succeed in Samar in serving our people.
It is with great humility and
graciousness that Doloy has reached out to us, even before his
election. We did not have any money of course to contribute to his
campaign. We could only provide moral support and introduce him to
our friends in the Philippines. But after his election, we have
proffered our advice and he has gladly accepted us. Of course we are
honored. We all realize too that if somehow he is associated with
the destruction of the rainforest in Eastern Samar, the consequences
will be comprehensive and wide-ranging. It will affect the entire
island and the endangered living things. Unscrupulous mining in
Eastern Samar which could enrich some people from Manila and other
countries can destroy the environment not only in Eastern Samar but
in the entire island as well. This is what happened in Bagacay when
the Taft River became lifeless.
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Poverty in his congressional district
in Eastern Samar is poverty in Samar and in the Philippines.
Congressman-elect Doloy Coquilla
The fighting between the National
Democratic Front and NPA guerillas on one hand and the Government
soldiers on the other hand in Eastern Samar are not confined to the
artificial political boundaries of the Trapos. The guerillas roam
all over the island, the entire Philippines, including the
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We are all in this together, in our
solidarity with Teddy James “Doloy” Coquilla, especially us Global
Filipinos, we the Filipinos in Diaspora, who are crying for our
homeland. His triumph is our triumph.
We are fervently praying though that,
God forbid, his failures will not also be our failures. But to me, a
failure is unthinkable. Doloy can do no less, but succeed in serving
his people to the best of his ability, without the slightest stain
of corruption and opportunism. It is Doloy’s destiny. And he saw
this written on the stars, when he was sailing the Seven Seas as a
lowly and humble crew member of the warships of the most powerful
country on earth, America, while dreaming of that day when he could
be working with his people in his homeland in Samar, and in
Pilipinas Nating Mahal.
[Published in the June 2007 issue of
The Filipino Insider, a monthly supplement
of the San Francisco Chronicle. The author was a former faculty
member of the University of the Philippines Department of Political
Science. He can be reached at