If we want progress, we should not only be ready for change, we should be ready to change.
For Ormoc City Mayor Richard Gomez, the road to public service was a long, rough journey full of twists and turns.
In 2001, he ran under the party list, Mamamayan Ayaw sa Droga (MAD). It earned 1.52 million votes, but it was disqualified by the Supreme Court because it did not belong to or represent the so-called marginalized” sector, the ruling said. In 2007, he ran for senator, but lost. He tried for a seat in the House of Representatives in 2010, but was disqualified due to residency issues. His wife Lucy then ran as his substitute and won. In 2013, he lost the mayoralty race to Edward Codilla by a slim margin of fewer than 3,000 votes. Finally, in the 2016 mayoralty race, he won against Liberal Party candidate Ondo Codilla.
Two things can be gleaned from his story: first, there is a time and place for everything; and second, being a showbiz personality does not preclude one from becoming a qualified public servant.
SHOWBIZ TO POLITICS
Gomez’s foray into public service began in 1998, shortly after he got married to Lucy Torres. “I was appointed by then President Erap Estrada as a member of his Cabinet. Eventually, I created MAD and started this anti-drug campaign. At the same time, I was also a member of the national team, at doon ko nakita na if we don’t do anything, masisira talaga ang buhay ng younger generation with the proliferation of drugs. Under my office, I got to do different sports programs and projects, and I saw the effects. I realized that I can help more people through government resources,” he says.
He admits that there were times when he felt frustrated—like when his partylist won but was not allowed to sit—but that only fired up his desire to do something more. “Sabi ko, even if we didn’t get to sit, I will just continue to do what I know best, which is to fight drugs and promote sports,” he adds.
LEARNING THE ROPES
Looking back on it now, Gomez believes that his past experiences and education have prepared him to become the mayor that Ormoc needs. “When Lucy became the congresswoman, I became her chief of staff. I was always in the district doing work,” he says. He also took three courses at UP National College of Public Administration and Governance (UP-NCPAG), and finished his master’s degree in Business Administration.
He used these as leverage to become a smarter candidate. “In 2013, I lost as mayor, but that did not discourage me. Ganun talaga. ’Pag wala kang pera, ang laki ng chance na matalo, lalo na at political family ang kalaban namin. I tried again in 2016. I did a little maneuvering, seed a little money, and sinuwerte naman. I won.”
The very thing that drives him to continue his public service career is the desire to help Ormoc. “I want to direct Ormoc City towards progress. My thinking is if we will not do something about Ormoc, we will go down the drain, the way it was before I sat as mayor. It was full of corruption. Mali ang laws na ginagawa nila sa Ormoc. They were, in fact, not implementing the law, they were running it like a household. So now that I’m mayor, I’m implementing a lot of changes in Ormoc City.”
Running a city with 220,000 population and 46,430 hectare land area is no easy feat. Thus, it’s important to have a take-charge approach in addressing the city’s needs by holding weekly meetings with the different department heads, the legislative team, as well as with the vice- mayor and councilors, whom he refers to as the Ormoc Development Team. “This is to ensure that they know our thrust and direction for that specific week, they know the ordinances that they need to prepare, and they know what to implement,” says the mayor.
One year into his term as mayor, Gomez thinks the biggest change he has effected in the city is maintaining peace and order. “When I became mayor, nakita ko ang malaking problema namin sa drugs, so that became my priority. To improve the service of the police, we updated their firearms, allotted more funds to buy patrol cars and gasoline, and gave additional allowance to ensure that there are policemen patrolling the city 24/7. Ormoc City is so big—as big as Makati, Pasig, Mandaluyong, and Pasay combined.”
This leads to his second priority, which is improving the city’s tourism program. “Before I became mayor, there was no tourism program in Ormoc, so ngayon lang nagkaroon ng tourism office,” he points out, adding that there are a lot of beautiful places to visit in Ormoc such as Lake Danao National Park; its eight majestic falls; and Alto Peak, the Eastern Visayas’ highest mountain.
In addition to promoting the local sites, Ormoc is also converting the Old City Hall into a museum. “During the war, one of the biggest battles happened in Ormoc, so we’d like to capitalize on that. There are a lot of families who are willing to donate their artifacts for the museum,” he adds.
Stopping corruption is another focus of Gomez’s administration. As of press time, his legislative team has already created over 40 ordinances, many of which are an effort to curb corruption and “red tape.” “I want Ormoc to be a business-friendly city. I always tell our investors, kapag may nangotong sa inyo, you tell me right away, because I am going to relieve that government official from his or her post,” he says.
He considers alleviating poverty as one of the major challenges that his administration has to deal with. Today, he and his team are hard at work getting to the root of the problem by providing employment and affordable housing to the people of Ormoc. “Ormoc has about 10,000 informal settlers, who live mostly along riverbanks and coastal areas,” Gomez points out. “So we’re bringing in investors and coordinating with government agencies to give these people jobs. Our housing project can only provide for about 2,000 people, we still have 8,000 remaining settlers.”
Gomez is also looking at agriculture as one of the prime economy builders of the city, so they’ve started to procure new trucks, tractors, and other farming equipment, and have started supporting cooperatives. He points out that the past administration had several programs that were not implemented, so he will make sure that this will not happen under his leadership.
I want Ormoc to be a business- friendly city. I always tell our investors, kapag may nangotong sa inyo, you tell me right away, because I am going to relieve that government official from his or her post.
The Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, the flash flood in 1991, and the 6.5 magnitude earthquake last July 6 are just three of the most devastating disasters to have hit Ormoc City in recent decades. Gomez shares that they are all well aware of the effects of climate change and are doing all that they can to protect their natural resources, as well as prepare for the next natural disaster. “We’re strictly implementing our waste management program. We’re starting to practice ‘No Plastic Day’. Also, we’re prohibiting the burning of farm and crop wastes,” he says.
EDUCATION AND SPORTS
Adjusting to the demands of the K to 12 program is another problem that their city needs to address. “We have 110 barangays, so we have about 60 schools and all are making the transition to K to 12. So that’s an additional two grades, minimum of three to four classrooms each. Ang laki ng backlog namin sa classrooms, but slowly we’re trying to fill in the gap,” he says.
One of the ordinances that the mayor created is for subdivision developers to donate a classroom for every hectare of subdivision property that they will develop, to help address the shortage.
As for their sports programs, the mayor stresses the benefits of providing their athletes ample support. He proudly reports that their elementary and high school students performed well in the regional games, because they were provided with the right shoes for their sport.
Gomez knows that they still have a long way to go to achieve a better, more progressive Ormoc City. For this to happen, there should be a paradigm shift in Ormocanons’ way of life. “If they want progress, kailangan magsipag din sila. Kailangan magkaroon din sila ng disiplina. It will have to come from the people. Kailangan baguhin natin ang kultura natin. Also, we have to accept that if we want progress, we should not only be ready for change, we should be ready to change.” – LAKAMBINI BAUTISTA
THE POWER OF TWO
Richard and Lucy Gomez are not only partners in life, they are also partners in public service
They may have contrasting leadership styles, but they perfectly complement each other. “Lucy has a very strong leadership, pero mabait ang approach niya. I’m very straightforward. There are some things that I’m very strict about, and that’s how I appear to them. As a mayor, I really need to be strict—ready to scold a department head who’s not effectively doing his or her job.”
The mayor is thankful that he and Lucy are able to work hand-in-hand achieving progress in the city. “Before, when Ormoc was not yet handled by our family, ang daming mga projects ni Lucy ang hindi nagagawa kasi hinaharangan ng old mayor namin. Now that I’m mayor, we’re able to direct the funds to where it should go. I list down the needs of the city—roads and infrastructure and programs coming from the national government, together with other municipalities around Ormoc City. So mas maganda na ang planning namin ngayon, maganda na din ang implementation,” he says. – LAKAMBINI BAUTISTA