Oscar Garin: Cast a giant shadow

By Limuel S. Celebria

I first became aware of Cong. Oscar “Oca” Garin Sr. during a trip to Antique sometime in the late ‘80s. By this time, I have already logged in a few years as a correspondent for Ang Pahayagang Malaya and was writing a column for the region’s pioneering newspaper, the Western Visayas Daily Times.

During that trip, I saw a lot of infrastructure projects going on the moment our vehicle crossed the city border at Oton town all the way down south to San Joaquin. Invariably, I noticed, the projects were announced by huge signboards proclaiming that the projects were “through the efforts of” the district congressman, Oscar Garin, Sr.

I was amused. Isn’t it the job of the congressman, a member of the legislative branch of government, to pass laws? Building roads and bridges, even sidewalks was for the executive department not for congressmen. I said as much in the Daily Times column I wrote soon after my return from Antique.

I don’t know if Cong. Garin ever read my column. But I would like to think that he did because I heard him in a radio interview days later explaining that congressmen have the right to identify which infrastructure projects to implement in their district because they are directly in touch with the people and know what they need or want.

Oscar Garin Sr – his son, “Richard”, is the junior – was an engineer, a contractor before he threw his hat into the political arena. In 1987, he ran for Representative of the First District against tall odds in the person of brilliant lawyer and Batasang Pambansa assemblyman Salvador “Buddy” Britanico.  Garin won by a not-so-comfortable margin. But he has never relinquished his hold on the district from then on.

Over the decades, Boss Oca (as he was fondly called by most) has held a firm grip on the district, warding off every robust challenge – from Britanico,  Gen. Gerardo Flores, and Jaime Torres — to establish a political dynasty that will probably hold sway until the next generation.

Oca was possessed with unerring political intuition – he has cast his lot, for example, with every winning candidate for president from Fidel Ramos to Erap to GMA to Ninoy and, yes, he supported Mayor Digong (though his family didn’t because of their commitment to Mar Roxas).

His only political setback was a bid to become Governor of Iloilo against the late Niel Tupas in 2001. Although his wife (Ninfa) brother (Johnny), his son (Richard) and daughter (Tingting) would hold provincial elective positions at one time or another, Boss Oca would never be elected to a provincial post. At the time, the political kingpins of the province were so afraid that if Oca won as governor “basi indi na kita kabulos” (we may not be able to replace him). This is, in fact, very true insofar as the First District is concerned.

Still, Garin moved on to a higher position. He was appointed Administrator of the Philippine Coconut Authority by PGMA, arguably the pinnacle of his political career – a cabinet-level position.

Mistakenly, I never fancied Boss Oca to be an intellectual in the manner of his contemporary, Gov. Arthur Defensor who delivered memorable speeches and lovely quotes that would adorn our daily news stories. In fact, he would be seemingly envious of Gov. Tura’s favorable press. He would ask us, “Wala gid kamo sing nakita nga bulu-binlod sa kay Tura?”  (Haven’t you seen any blemishes on Arthur?).

Later on, I would realize Garin is a reader, too, a student of history and the classics. In some of his speeches, I would notice him casually throwing a line of poetry or a reference to classical thought. I regret that I did not make any written notes but it affirmed in me the thought Garin was, indeed, a well-rounded person.

The late Niel Tupas had a saying, “Politics is like a game of mahjongg. When one game is over, the tiles are shuffled anew so that another game can begin.” It is a tribute to the old truism – In politics, there are no permanent friends nor enemies, only permanent interests.

Boss Oca had his own version. Never curse your enemy too much and never trust your present ally too much. Your enemy today could become your friend tomorrow and your friend today may betray you later. He walked this talk.

For more than 30 years, Oscar Garin cast a giant political shadow that has touched if not changed the lives of many not just in the first district of Iloilo but also elsewhere in the country. Many of his legacies are cast in stone, found in the many infrastructure projects he put up in the district, especially his beloved Guimbal town. But perhaps his more enduring achievements are in those he has helped, people whose lives were turned for the better by his generosity and kindness.

Likewise, his legacy is well-secured by family members who are following in his footsteps of service to the people, abiding by his personal motto in life: Do not repay kindness, Pass it on!

Oca Garin may have passed away. But his legacy lives on.