de la Rosa
Bro. Andrew Gonzalez
Atty. Oscar Samson Rodriguez
President, League of Cities of the Philippines
Champion of the Poor
Outstanding Congressman and
Award-winning City Mayor
By Alejandro S. Camiling, CPA
When United States General Douglas MacArthur accepted the unconditional surrender of Japan on board the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945, the event officially ended the Second World War. Just like other countries affected by the war, the Philippines started to recover from the ravages of a cruel world war. World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history resulting to the loss of more than sixty million lives and destruction of properties costing trillions in US dollars.
Although the Allies led by the United States of America and the Soviet Union were victorious against the Axis led by Germany and Japan, about 85% of the casualties were from the side of the Allies while the remaining 15% casualties were on the side of the Axis. As prescribed by the Philippine Autonomy Act or Jones Law approved by the United States Congress and signed by President Woodrow Wilson on August 29, 1916, the United States of America finally gave the Philippines its independence on July 4, 1946 thus making the Philippines a sovereign nation again.
President Manuel Roxas and Vice President Elpidio Quirino were the winners for their respective positions in the first post-war national election in the Philippines. The people of Pampanga elected Pablo Angeles David as governor while in the capital town of San Fernando, Mayor Rodolfo P. Hizon and Vice Mayor Abel L. David prevailed in the local election.
In the midst of that post-war economic recovery period, restoration of peace and order and rebuilding of destroyed infrastructure, Oscar Samson Rodriguez was born in a small sleepy village – Barrio San Pablo, Municipality of Sta. Ana, Province of Pampanga, a few miles west of the legendary Mt. Arayat.
The promising son of undistinguished but noble citizens, Oscar or Oca as he is now popularly known had to struggle for a minimum standard of living and to acquire basic education when he was growing up. Destined to be a champion of the masses and the downtrodden, his life is a historical journey and every step of his journey has a memorable story of its own.
Oca’s loving parents, Urbano Rodriguez Sr. and Rufina Samson thrived mostly on what they produced in a small farm – rice, vegetables, fruits, poultry and swine. When the hostilities between the Huks and the government military forces escalated, Urbano feared suspicion of collaboration with the anti-government dissidents. To avoid possible detention, torture and execution, he hastily moved his family to the town proper and the family resided temporarily in a small house made of cogon grass and bamboos, which he built with his own hands in the backyard of a family friend.
When an unofficial arrangement to co-exist between the dissident group and the government military forces was agreed upon, the Rodriguez family returned to their farm in Barrio San Pablo only to find out that their house was destroyed and their properties stolen. The family was forced to seek shelter in one of Oca’s maternal relatives but his dad sensed their insensitivity to their economic needs and predicament.
He immediately transferred his family to an unfinished nipa hut he started to construct within the premises of their old farmhouse. The family had to experience the hard life of a typical Filipino farmer. By force of necessity, farmers are taken advantage by landlords by charging them usurious interest for loans for farm seeds, fertilizers and family subsistence while waiting for the next harvest season. This routine of farmer-landlord relationship is the cause of peace and order disturbances in the countryside. Sta. Ana and the neighboring towns of Arayat, San Luis, Candaba, Magalang and Mexico became the hotbeds of social unrest in the province of Pampanga.
Oca’s personal exposure to the difficulties in making a living in the barrio molded his thinking to beat all odds and instilled in his young mind, that poverty is not an obstacle to pursue a professional career and to succeed in any undertakings. He knew that the poor and the downtrodden are taken advantage and they need honest leaders and courageous individuals to fight for their rights.
A brilliant student, Oca was a consistent honor student in the primary grades and completed his elementary education as valedictorian. He had to walk to school, which was miles away from home and helped his father in the farm and assisted his mother in doing household chores before he read his books and did his daily school homework.
In high school, as a barrio boy, he had to adjust to his new urban environment when he attended the prestigious Pampanga High School in the capital town of Pampanga. His parents had to sell their two home-grown hogs to pay his initial secondary school tuition fees and made a deal with his dad’s cousins in San Fernando to allow Oca lodge in their house in a squatters’ area and in return Oca’s parents had to pay them with sacks of rice every harvest time. Oca had to work also as a dishwasher in a coffee shop owned by a cousin before and after he went to school in the morning and in the afternoon. By the dim light of a kerosene lamp, he studied religiously and maintained the top position in his section’s honors list.
Financing college education was another ordeal for Oca to overcome. To equip himself with the necessary tools to qualify for an entry-level clerical job, he took up a scheduled six-month course in typing and stenography at Toledano Colleges (now a multi-discipline higher institution known as East Central Colleges), which he finished in three months. Impressed by his intelligence and diligence, the college president, Mr. Ciriaco Toledano employed him as an instructor for the vocational courses he just completed and he was allowed to take college classes in the evening for free plus a nominal allowance in lieu of salary.
Through the recommendation of Mr. Gerry Rodriguez, a wealthy sugar planter/landowner, banker and general manager of Pampanga Sugar Development Co., Inc., Oca was able to secure a job at the Sugar Quota Administration in Metro Manila but he quit his job upon learning that he did not have sufficient tasks to do every day. As a matter of personal pride and honesty on his part, it is not fair to the taxpayers if someone receives regular compensation if he or she is not fully occupied with work all day long every working day.
He then found another job as a stenographer at the Manongdo and Manongdo Law Offices in Escolta, Manila followed by his employment at the Del Rosario Law Office in Angeles City and at the Provincial Fiscal’s Office in San Fernando.
Oca was employed later as a stenographer at the Provincial Health Office and enrolled in the evening at Harvardian Colleges in San Fernando taking up Liberal Arts with emphasis in Political Science where he excelled not only in academics but also in extra-curricular activities. He was the Editor-in-Chief of the college organ and president of the Student Council that entitled him membership in the Board of Trustees and graduated Cum Laude in 1969. He matriculated again at Harvardian Colleges to pursue a law degree while working at the Court of First Instance in Angeles City. In his third year of law school, he transferred to Far Eastern University and followed his former mentor, Judge Ceferino Gaddi at the Caloocan City Court of First Instance where he was also hired as a researcher.
While studying at Harvardian Colleges, Oca met and dated a beautiful pharmacist and faculty member named Dolores Pabustan, daughter of a prominent San Fernando family who owned Liberty Department Store. After a whirlwind courtship and engagement, Oca and Dolores tied the matrimonial knot.
Oca continued also his political activism and joined the rallies protesting the martial law declaration of President Ferdinand Marcos. He was known as Ka Jasmin in the movement to dismantle martial law and he was detained, tortured, interrogated and released by government forces through the intervention of his high school classmate, Ramsey Ocampo, a military intelligence officer who became later a military/police general and through the help of Atty. Zoilo Andin, a confidant of President Fedinand Marcos and husband of Oca’s high school teacher, Mrs. Esther Lugue Andin. They vouched for Oca’s good citizenship and loyalty to democratic principles. At his exit interview, the chief of the Judge Advocate General’s Office, Col. Casaclang told Oca that he would have a bright future and he should not waste it.
Oca went back to work at the Caloocan City Court of First Instance and was provided a place to stay while reviewing for the bar examination and access to volumes of law books and court decisions. He took and passed the bar but his caring father, Urbano Rodriguez Sr. who requested his family to keep his illness a secret to Oca while reviewing for the bar examination, crossed the Great Beyond on March 17, 1975 without even seeing his eldest son become a full-pledge lawyer. Indeed, the year 1975 was both a year of jubilation and sadness for Oca.
Oca became a well-known human rights lawyer defending the poor and majority of them like him were victims of martial law. Together with the Young Turks of the legal profession in the 1970s such as Ed Pamintuan, Manoling Santiago, Atlee Viray, Jesse Caguiat, Carlos Medina, Fred Mangiliman, Jimmy Estrabillo, Diosdado Roncal, Marvin Goingco, Ram Cura, and Zeny Nunag they organized the Movement for the Advancement of Young Advocates of Pampanga (MAYAP) with Oca as its founding president. With MAYAP as a model he established Manananggol Para sa Karapatang Pantao-Gitnang Luzon (MAKATAO-GL) and he co-founded Bulacan Lawyers on Human Rights. He linked and coordinated with other famous human rights defenders such as Senator Joker Arroyo, Senator Rene Saguisag and Atty. Arno Sanidad.
When President Ferdinand Marcos was ousted from the presidency by the EDSA Revolution 1 (One) and fled the country with his family in 1986, Cory Aquino succeeded him as president and she appointed Oca as Provincial Administrator of Pampanga under the administration of the newly appointed Governor Bren Z. Guiao, a strong ally of the late Senator Ninoy Aquino. It is noted that Atty. Oscar S. Rodriguez was one of the key people who were instrumental in persuading Vice Governor Cicero J. Punsalan to let Bren Guiao occupy the governor’s office. Via the constitutional process of succession based on the old Philippine Constitution, Punsalan took over the governorship in an acting capacity when Governor and Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza vacated the office resulting from the newly-installed revolutionary form of government under the presidency of Cory Aquino.
As an effective provincial administrator, Oca streamlined the bureaucratic process in the Provincial Capitol and enhanced the efficiency of the Office of the Governor. He was chosen as the Most Outstanding Kapampangan for Government Service during the December 11 Pampanga Day in that year. After a year of excellent service as Provincial Administrator, with limited financial resources, he won a seat in Congress under the new 1987 Philippine Constitution. He defeated political giants in Pampanga including his closest political opponent former Governor and Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza by more than 22,000 votes.
Despite of his sterling performance as the congressional representative of the 3rd District of Pampanga, he lost in his re-election bid in 1992 to then Deputy Director of the Bureau of Immigration, Andrea Dizon-Domingo who was supported by Governor Bren Guiao. He returned to law practice and as a law professor. He also devoted a lot of time to the Save San Fernando Movement Foundation and Save Pampanga Movement as co-founder and honorary chairman joining prominent business and civic leaders such as Jess Lazatin, Gerry Rodriguez, Tom Dizon, Levy Laus, Fr. Resty Lumanlan, Architect Tirso D. Dayrit and many other socio-civic-political leaders. For him, it was not only a move to save Pampanga from being erased from the geographical map by the continuous flow of lahar during the rainy seasons but also a protection of Pampanga’s rich cultural heritage, the preservation and perpetuity of the Kapampangan race itself.
Through the persistence of Pampanga leaders, the Philippine House of Representatives, the Philippine Senate and President Fidel Ramos billions of pesos were appropriated for the construction of the Fidel Valdez Ramos (FVR) Megadike and for repairs and/or construction of roads and other infrastructure in Pampanga. This was a complete reversal of the plan of some national political leaders to let nature take its course in Pampanga and create New Pampanga in the islands of Palawan and Mindanao.
Oca regained his congressional seat in the election of 1995 in a rematch with incumbent Congresswoman Andrea Dizon-Domingo. He was re-elected to the same position in the 1998 and 2001 elections. He authored and/or co-authored a realistic land reform program, laws benefitting laborers and farmers, human rights laws, free secondary education, solution to flood control problems, construction of barangay roads, school and hospital buildings, protection of the environment, social justice for all citizens, and the dual citizenship law. He was the lead prosecuting attorney (congressman) when President Joseph Estrada was impeached which made Oca a national political figure. He again played a major role in EDSA II, which forced President Joseph Estrada leave Malacanang Palace. Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was then inducted to the presidency of the Philippines on January 20, 2001 by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Honorable Hilario Davide. Oca was considered for a presidential appointment as Secretary of Agrarian Relations but he chose to run again for congressman in the 3rd District of Pampanga.
In his fourth and last congressional term, one of Oca’s important bills he authored was Republic Act 8990 converting the Municipality of San Fernando into a component city and signed into law by President Joseph Estrada on January 5, 2001 and ratified in the plebiscite on February 4, 2001. He also sponsored the law renaming his high school Alma Mater as Pampanga High School (original name when founded in 1908) – the school that produced thousands of great Filipinos such as President Diosdado P. Macapagal. Oca served with distinction as Honorary Overall Chairman of the Pampanga High School Centennial Celebrations on February 11-15, 2008, which was attended by thousands of alumni. In recognition of his great accomplishments and continuing support to PHS to recover from the major structural damages caused by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubu, the PHS Centennial Awards Selection Committee had bestowed on him the centennial award for PHS Outstanding Alumnus for Government Service.
A prolific congressman during Oca’s four terms in Congress, he was selected twice as one of the most outstanding congressmen in his region, a record that no other legislator from Pampanga ever attained. In 2000, he received also the Award of Excellence of the College of Law of Far Eastern University in Manila.
When Oca’s term in Congress expired in 2004, he ran for city mayor and won the election by an overwhelming majority. A year after as city mayor proving his competency as a city executive, he was ranked number four among sixty-five finalists around the world as World Mayor in 2005. In 2007, the grateful people of San Fernando City re-elected him as city mayor defeating a field of worthy candidates including Dr. Rey Aquino, former congressman and three-term mayor of San Fernando. Under Oca’s watch as city mayor, San Fernando was transformed into a progressive and great city to settle in and a safe and profitable place to invest. As a tenacious problem-solver, he was able to balance the annual city budget and greatly improved public services. With the support of his vice mayor, Edwin Santiago, the City Council and the city administrative and operational departments, San Fernando City became a regional business and industrial center, a venue of several banking institutions and national government agencies. As a strong advocate in the preservation and development of Kapampangan language and culture, he approved a city resolution sponsored by Councilor Jimmy Lazatin modifying the academic curriculum in the primary grades by making the Kapampangan language as the language of instruction from kindergarten to fourth grade and offering of courses in Pampangan history, arts and culture.
With Oca’s numerous notable accomplishments and unblemished record as a public servant, many Filipinos are now saying that he is now way ahead of other political leaders for higher positions in the government either as governor, cabinet member, senator, vice president or even as president of the Philippines. Paraphrasing his son, Dr. Orson P. Rodriguez, “he is a living legend to his constituents, role model for the youth, hope for the challenged and an enduring source of inspiration to his family.”
Behind Oca’s tremendous and unparalleled success as a courageous student activist, as a five-star legal counsel, as a compassionate professor of law, as a top-notch provincial administrator, as an outstanding congressman and lately as an inspiring and world-renowned award-winning city mayor, there is a great woman supporting him working behind the scene – his loving and faithful wife, Mrs. Dolores Pabustan-Rodriguez. As Oca always say he owes his success to his charming and very supportive wife and to their five children namely Raissa Romina, who followed his footsteps in the legal profession who graduated from the Ateneo College of Law, Oscar Jr., a Business Administration degree holder from the University of Santo Tomas, Orson, a medical doctor who took postgraduate studies in medicine in Oklahoma, USA, Lualhati, who earned her degree in Accountancy from Miriam College and works now for the Central Bank of the Philippines and Omar who has a degree in Political Science.
In the last May 2010 election, Oca was re-elected for a third term as city mayor of San Fernando City. Subsequently, he was elected as President of the League of Cities of the Philippines.
The First Family of San Fernando City, Pampanga, Philippines
References: Interviews with Mayor Oscar S. Rodriguez and his wife, Mrs. Dolores Pabustan-Rodriguez and the book “About Oca – A Story of Struggle” written by Bong Z. Lacson and Sonia P. Soto.
([email protected] – 06/06/2008)