The making of a city

    THE CITY of San Fernando is these days agog in celebration of the 17TH anniversary of its being a city.

    Here’s a lookback to the struggle that makes the current celebration all possible. Yeah, cityhood for the capital town was not served on a silver platter. And lest history be re-written, or mis-written, to suit some political or personal agenda, here’s a piece I stake my honor on to its absolute truthfulness. Excerpted from my book About OCA: A Story of Struggle (2005).

    ABORTED BY the threat of lahar after its very conception in 1995, miscarried – induced by the fi nancial crisis – in 1997, and stillborn because of the 1998 elections. That was the wringer the dream of cityhood for Pampanga’s capital town went through.

    “But for the persistence and dogged determination of Congressman Oscar S. Rodriguez, there would have been no birthing to the City of San Fernando,” says Redgie Salas-Szal, a member of the legislative staff that prepared the paperwork for cityhood.

    Soon as the din of the 1995 elections died down, Oca, fresh from electoral victory, took with characteristic boldness the preparatory steps to the realization of his dream by immediately buckling down to work in preparing the bill at the House of Representatives to start the municipality’s campaign for cityhood.

    Disaster came in October that year, with lahar rampages that buried Barrio Cabalantian, Bacolor and hit San Pedro Cutud, Sto. Nino, San Juan and threatened the very center of San Fernando.

    The exigency of San Fernando’s very survival took paramouncy, and the preparations for the cityhood bill had to be shelved, albeit temporarily.

    Battling, if not belittling the scepticism of national government officials – they that cried to “let nature take its course”” and called for the abandonment of the province – Oca maximized his efforts in saving Pampanga and San Fernando from the onslaught of lahar, mobilizing citizen participation in lobbying government for engineering interventions. The FVR Megadike stands today as a solid testament to these efforts.

    Towards the end of 1996, when the province was assured of relative safety from lahar, Oca picked up anew the pursuit of cityhood. Alas, lack of support from the municipal government took the wind out of the cityhood sails.

    Priority was still anti-lahar infrastructure and flood-mitigating measures. The all-important requirements for cityhood took the back seat in the municipal government. Eventually, the cityhood bill gathered dust at the House Committee on Local Government where it was referred after its filing.

    Then in January 1997, intense pressure from a cross-section of the San Fernando community prodded the Sangguniang Bayan to pass Resolution No. 97-001 – sponsored by Councilors Eduardo Quiambao and Ceferino Laus – requesting the Congress of the Philippine through Rep. Oscar S. Rodriguez to convert the municipality of San Fernando into a component city.

    A separate resolution for the Senate was unanimously approved by the SB a month later.

    HB9267, HB1397

    On April 23, 1997, Oca fi led HB9267, “An Act Converting the Municipality of San Fernando into a Component City to be known as the City of San Fernando.”

    But as the cityhood movement gained renewed momentum, the election season came. And as is the way of things in the Philippines, everything stops to give way to politics. Cityhood was lost in the cacophony of the election campaign.

    Still, Oca would not just be denied: of his reelection, and his cityhood dream. He lost no time refiling the cityhood bill as HB1397, this time ensuring that the municipal government met all the prerequisites for cityhood, starting with the town’s barangay councils passing resolutions “strongly” endorsing the transformation of SanFernando into a city.

    In a letter on July 6, 1998, Mayor Rey Aquino urged the SB to pass a resolution endorsing the conversion of the municipality into a city. Two short days after, Resolution No. 98-001, sponsored by Councilor Dennis Dizon, was unanimously approved. The cityhood resolution was endorsed to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan which subsequently made its own endorsement.

    San Fernando had no problem in meeting the other prerequisites to cityhood. It had a minimum population of 193,000 inhabitants at that time as certified by the National Statistics Office and the latest annual registered income of at least P53 million, based on 1998 prices as certified by the Department of Finance.

    Oca very well knew that with cityhood, San Fernando’s annual income would further improve and basic services to the Fernandinos would be greatly enhanced.

    Aside from the additional income and expanded services, Oca saw in the city greater local autonomy and lesser supervision from the national government. And the subsequent, if not consequent, independence from the province as a highly urbanized city and its entitlement to a separate legislative district in Congress.

    For his part, Mayor Aquino formed an adhoc committee with Engr. Mike Quizon as head, and then started a town-wide cityhood information drive.

    And then a new setback: the penny-pinching policy of the new Estrada administration dictated by international financial institutions for the country to cope with the Asian financial crisis.

    Budgetary constraints forced the House of Representatives to suspend all impending conversion of municipalities into cities. Oca’s bill was not spared from the freezer; the city of his dream, on-hold in suspended animation.

    But Oca’s tough-as-nails persistence just would not give up. Drawing from the wellspring of goodwill he cultivated through his years in Congress, and with the evangelical zeal of a Dominican on his first foreign mission, Oca moved his peers to see and share his dream. On third and final reading, March 9, 1999, the House approved HB6766 converting the municipality of San Fernando into a component city.

    Transmitted to the Senate and presented to public hearing by the Senate Majority Floor Leader at the Senate Committee on Local Government, it took all of 13 days for Senate Bill No. 2192 converting the Municipality of San Fernando into a city to be approved.


    On Januray 5, 2001, a historic event took place in Malacanang Palace upon the signing of Republic Act No. 8990 by His Excellency, President Joseph E. Estrada, creating the independent component city of San Fernando.

    But the birthing pains persisted.

    The usually warring local politicians, vested interest groups and cause-oriented militants succeeded in forming a tenuous alliance to mount opposition to San Fernando’s cityhood. Their main arguments of increased taxes, prohibitive social costs and dreary urban blights did not dull the sheen of cosmopolitan appeal of a San Fernando City. Never mind the “No more flooding, Yes to cityhood” inanity of the Mayor Aquino campaign.

    Thus, in what amounted to a perfect preview of the May 2001 elections, the cityhood was ratified in the plebiscite of February 4, 2001 – and its father, Oca is given his just and due recognition.


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