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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.

Congressman-Elect 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 back home.

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 "Filipino Samsonite".

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.

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, Pilipino.

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.

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.

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.

Samarnon 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.

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.

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. The kuratsa is that unique Samarnon-Leyteño dance of honor and courtship.

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 invited.

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.

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 Netherlands.

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 Cesar1185@aol.com.]

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