SAN JOSE, Dinagat Islands (MindaNews/03 July)—Former Akbayan Rep. Arlene “Kaka” J. Bag-ao was sworn in Wednesday morning as Dinagat Islands representative in the bailiwick of her political nemesis here.
Bag-ao, dubbed the “dragon slayer” for defeating a member of the politically well-entrenched Ecleo family, took her oath before Annie Morales, village chair of Barangay Sta. Cruz in Loreto town.
She was sworn in before a large crowd of supporters at Barangay Aurelio in San Jose, the capital town of Dinagat Islands.
Joining Bag-ao during the oath taking were her father, 70-year old Francisco Bag-ao Sr., her siblings, relatives, friends and invited guests.
Baga-o, who also celebrated her 44th birthday Wednesday, said “it was not impossible to defeat a dragon if you are on the right path in the quest for change and hope.”
She defeated Gwendolyn Ecleo, former mayor of Dinagat town, in the race for the lone congressional district of Dinagat Islands last elections.
“I ran on the platform of change and hope: “Bag-ong Dinagat, Bag-aong Kaugma-on.” We did not only run under the platform of change and hope. We strove to bring what is change and hope within the period of six months,” she told the crowd.
Months before the May 13 elections, Bag-ao was appointed the caretaker of the province’s lone congressional district after its elected congressman, Ruben Ecleo Jr., was delisted in the roll of the House of Representatives in 2012 because of absences.
Ecleo Jr. was convicted in a graft case, which he appealed before the Sandiganbayan but was denied with finality. He was also convicted for killing his wife by a court in Cebu City in 2012.
“Nine months ago, when I was still struggling whether to run as representative of Dinagat Islands, I spent sleepless nights weighing the pros and cons, the pluses and the minuses in running, hindi po talaga madali magdesisyon bumangga sa isang matigas na pader (it’s not easy deciding to go against a very tough opponent),” she said.
“Impossible daw ako manalo dahil unang-una po, mali ang apilyedo ko at mali ang pinanggalingan kong munisipyo. Dahil siguro po mahilig akong pumasok sa mahirap na labanan at impossibleng labanan, na-engganyo po akong tumakbo (Many thought it was impossible for me to win because my surname is wrong (not an Ecleo) and I’m not a town resident. But because I love facing difficult and impossible obstacles, I decided to run),” Bag-ao narrated.
She said that her stint as caretaker of the lone district of Dinagat Islands gave her the stage “to show that government can work for the people and that the resources of government can change the lives of the poor and the marginalized sector.”
Upon her assumption as Dinagat caretaker, Bag-ao implemented projects and programs in the province, which include P120 million worth of infrastructure projects, P8 million worth of scholarship for the youth and P3 million worth of free medical assistance.
She also distributed 77 brand new multicabs and 33 pump boats to the different barangays in the province.
‘Making the impossible possible’
Bag-ao claimed she did not buy votes to win the elections.
“We launched a showcase of how things can be different here in Dinagat. We made our message clear and simple such that even little children can understand,” she said.
“We made our actions and our message [clear] such that even the cynics believed that change is not only possible but can be a reality,” Bag-ao added.
“Sabi nga nila (They said that) it would take a miracle for us to win in the last elections, and that miracle happened. The miracle was not me, the miracle that made the impossible a reality was because of all of you,” Bag-ao said.
Bag-ao, who run under the ruling Liberal Party, thanked the people who worked hard for her during the campaign period.
Her running mate, former vice-governor Geraldine Ecleo lost against her mother, Glenda B. Ecleo, in the gubernatorial race by a slim margin of 625 votes.
San Jose Mayor Allan II Ecleo graced Bag-ao’s oath taking. Allan II defeated his sister, Genevieve Ecleo, who is an ally of Bag-ao.
Risa Hontiveros, chairperson of Akbayan Citizen Action Party, said she is happy and proud that her friend and long-time workmate is now the lawmaker of the province.
“Marami pang pagbabago na gustong maabot ni Kaka dito sa Dinagat Islands (There are many changes that Kaka would like to achieve for Dinagat Islands),” she said.
Rep. Bolet Banal of the third district of Quezon City described Bag-ao as “down-to-earth, simple and helpful” to the less privileged and marginalized, citing her involvement with the farmers in Sumilao, Bukidnon, who marched from their place all the way to Manila to fight for their lands.
“Siya po ang klase ng tao na dapat manilbihan sa ating lipunan (She’s the kind of person that should serve in our society). I am happy that she won the last elections not because of her interest but because she thinks of the welfare of the people of Dinagat,” he said.
CIBAC partylist Rep. Sherwin Tugna congratulated the people of Dinagat “because they made the right choice.”
Tugna also relayed the words of House Speaker Sonny Belmonte congratulating Bag-ao and the people of Dinagat.
Rep. Nancy Catamco of the second district of North Cotabato, said she got inspired by how Bag-ao worked in Congress.
“That’s why I want to join her partylist because she is sincere and honest,” she said.
Several undersecretaries and personnel of government line agencies, non-government organizations and municipal and barangay officials from the different parts of the province graced Bag-ao’s oath taking ceremony. (Roel Catoto/MindaNews)