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‘Higher calling’ for grandpa Onoy

Despite the absence of a political machinery, logistics to run a decent campaign and money to support him

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Credible elections bring out the electorates’ true will as in the case of Rodrigo “Onoy” Rivera who trounced a prominent politician to win as Dolores Mayor in Eastern Samar. | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF FRANCIS ALGIE RIVERA

DOLORES, Eastern Samar — Fate sometimes plays a heart-warming jest on people.

There was no air of arrogance or authority, instead he exuded the aura of a lolo as he visits from one office to another at the municipal building shaking hands with employees like a rock star to mobbing fans with a small entourage of security details following him on a Thursday afternoon.

Rodrigo “Onoy” Rivera, the 62-year-old vegetable and fish vendor who beat a prominent doctor in the mayoral race of this town, is taking his newfound prominence on his own pace.

“It’s a bit overwhelming. I have never been to this kind of spotlight,” he said as he relates on the numerous interviews that he has granted with national and international media who found his unusual victory in the 9 May election as a counter act to the reportedly widespread vote buying in all levels.

“Yes, my victory proved that you don’t have to spend millions to win in the election. All you need is the heart to serve the people, especially the poorest, and get your message across to them in the language that they understand,” he said in the Waray dialect.

Rivera said his decision to enter politics is his answer to a higher calling. “Many people were urging me to run. They pledged to help me in the campaign as a long as I decide to run. They were hoping for a change to happen and they see me as a viable option to the present administration,” he said.

Cinch to win

Despite the absence of a political machinery, logistics to run a decent campaign and money to support him, Rivera said that throughout the campaign he never doubted his chances of winning the election.

“There were people who were donating rice, canned sardines, vegetables and dried fish for our meals when we campaign in the barangays. Some gave us money for our gasoline, and the biggest donation that we received was P500,” he said.

He said his campaign convoy consisted of one tri-bike that is used to haul sand and gravel and eight tricycles that they used to cover the 46 villages except the island barangays. He said there were originally 10 motorcycles joining then but two drivers backed out after receiving threats.

Rivera may have lived a low-key life in Dolores town but he is well known for being friendly, helpful and compassionate. He served as a barangay captain for 16 years — three consecutive terms — in the farming community of Barangay Gap-Ang from 1996 to 2010.

Aside from his stint in the barangay, Rivera admitted that his only other government service was being a bodyguard of two previous municipal mayors where he earned a salary of P3,000 a month.

Grandfatherhood still a priority

“We have gone a long way. I have personally witnessed how he helped other people by giving them food or money even when he is also in needs,” says Bula Francisco, owner of the vegetable stall next to Rivera at the market, who also served as a bodyguard to former mayors together with Rivera.

Francisco says Rivera’s advantage over his political opponent was that he had the support of the people. “Everybody was encouraging him to run. Many of us who have stalls here in the market pledged to contribute just to encourage him to run,” he said.

Lahat ng negosyante dito naawa sa kanya kaya nag-ambagan para sa pagkain, gasolina. Kaya hayon kahit paano ay naipagpatuloy ang kampanya,” Francisco said.

Noel Caballero, barangay captain of Dampigan village and a high school classmate of Rivera, said he never thought before that his childhood friend will eventually become a town mayor someday.

“Out economic status were very much the same. We only had two pair of pants about three shirts then. But when Onoy has money he never failed to treat us with banana cue. He was generous to us,” he said.

He said that all through the years Rivera has maintained a close friendship with all his childhood friends and get to visit each other during special occasions.

Rivera said that while waiting for his formal assumption to office as the municipal mayor, he is already making a close watch with the happenings at the municipal offices. He said he is particularly monitoring the liquidations of the present town officials as he received reports that the municipal treasury is already almost empty.

He said he is also forming a team that will help him in the transition. He said he will focus his governance to the problems in the communities

“If we have funds when i take office, among my first projects are hospital, water, irrigation, school, drainage system, farm to market roads, drier for the farmers, street lights and tourism improvement,” he said.

But while he is waiting for his assumption to office, Rivera said he will make himself busy by attending to his three grandchildren. “They are my inspiration. I want to create an environment that will make a bright future for the children.”

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