Malilong: Godspeed, Bagets

Frank Malilong
·3 min read

CEBU CITY Rep. Raul del Mar was all that everybody said he was in the SunStar Cebu story on the Cebuano community’s reaction to his death last Monday: a great Cebuano, trusted warrior, an institution, iconic and stalwart.

To that, I would like to add, a good friend.

They say that power doesn’t change people; it only reveals who they really are. This has never been truer than with Raul; he didn’t let power affect him. Up to his death, he remained the same Bagets I knew and campaigned with when he first ran (as an independent) in the early ‘80s.

I met Raul when we both joined the Rotary Club of Cebu East as charter members. He was easy to get along with because he had no airs about him. So when he decided to throw his hat into the political ring, we rallied behind him (not as a club because Rotary is apolitical), joining him in campaign, mostly handshaking, sorties.

With a ragtag campaign team with very little, if at all, political experience supporting him, Raul lost unsurprisingly but that turned out to be the only defeat that he suffered in an election. After winning in the first post-Marcos election in 1987, he dominated the Cebu north district for 33 years, winning all the 11 congressional elections during that period, including those where his son, Raoul and daughter, Cutie ran instead of him because he had served the constitutional limit of three consecutive terms.

It was as much a tribute to his political skills as it was a credit to his character that Raul repelled all challenges to his dominance in his district. He got along well with former Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña unlike many others who had fallen out of the BOPK head’s favors.

Perhaps, it helped that he did not harbor any political ambition beyond his district’s borders. He had consistently rejected suggestions that he run for mayor, saying that he was satisfied with serving the city in Congress.

Indeed, City Hall was farthest from his mind even if occasionally he joked about it with friends he was certain would not misunderstand him. One such occasion was the last get-together he had with media friends before the pandemic and he was asked to comment on gossip that City South District Rep. Rodrigo Abellanosa was planning on running for mayor in 2022 and was eyeing him for vice mayor. “Ako na lang,” he blurted. Said without hesitation but in jest.

Unlike many other politicians who promise so many things and forget about them just as easily, Raul kept his word. When he tells you he will do something about an issue that interests you, you can bet your last centavo that he will do it. And he will get back to you without your asking for it and whether he has good or bad news for you.

It has been 36 years since Raul and I started addressing each other Bagets. He walked in the corridors of power during that period but it did not change him, only showed who he always was: a likeable man who kept his word even if he did not always bring good news.

Godspeed, my friend.