OPINION: Bal Sator reminisces (last of two parts)

BLOGISTA
By Cha Monforte

Former Davao del Norte Congressman Baltazar “Bal” Sator was the paper pusher in Congress during the time when the breaking up of mother Davao del Norte was underway. In the brood of four lead gerrymanders of the erstwhile big Davao del Norte, quite visibly it was Sator, a lawyer, who buried his neck into the thick of legislative paperworks than his counterparts in the old Davnor’s districts. Close to the eventful year of 1998, he held the chairmanship of the committee on revision of laws in Congress. He had had on his lap the important issue on re-districting of legislative districts demanded by many legislator-gerrymanders in the country. The cries of cityhood and provincehood across the country would seem to have started in later 90s following the enactment of the New Local Government Code of 1991.
So influential Sator with that post that he said even Senator Nene Pimentel called him up to divide a district in Misamis Oriental. In his fine recollection, both the present Governor Rodolfo del Rosario, a last-termer congressman of the old District 3 at that time, and today’s Comval statesman-provincial elder Prospero Amatong, also a last termer-governor of the old Davnor, separately reminded Sator to ensure the breaking up the mother province as they were already running out of time and- term.

Sator’s other counterpart- former Cong. Roger M. Sarmiento (“RMS”) of the old District 1 of Davnor earlier re-filed his father’s bill on the 7-town Comval (the mainland valley towns of Mawab, Nabunturan, Montevista, Monkayo, Compostela and New Bataan plus the highland Maragusan). The late Don Enchong Sarmiento, erstwhile politico-economic patriarch in the big province similar in various pedigrees of influence of the Don Antonio Floirendo Sr. (who was politically represented by Del Rosario at that time) had first thought of that old Comval composition for a new province but his bill did not saw passage in Congress.

Shortly there was already a running feud between Sator and Amatong over territories. It was then that Sator and a number of Tagum politicians chief among whom was then Mayor Victorio “Baby” Suaybaguio were much going after first and foremost Maco to become a part of the planned Tagum City, and by territorial proximity, the Mabini and Pantukan as part of the smaller Davao del Norte. But Amatong aside from the three coastal towns wanted even more the Laak and New Corella towns to become part of new Comval province since that a new smaller Davnor province could still be created even without the two. It could still comply with the requirements of land area, population and income and at the same time give more equity to the new Comval as Davnor has still the big IGACOS under it.

Sator recalled that his feud with Amatong over territories centered on the issue on whether the coastal towns would really have to be given to Comval. RMS subsequently joined, praying to Sator not to make the new Comval a landlocked province by giving it the towns with a sea. In a seeming compromise, Sator proposed for either to retain New Corella and Maco, or New Corella and Laak to Davnor. But the feud turned a controversy that already involved municipal mayors. Then a stalemate on the issue developed that Del Rosario mediated. The issue was inevitably thrown for a consensus with lesser gerrymanders- the mayors.

In the meeting with mayors called for the purpose, it was then that Sator knew to his dismay that only the New Corella mayor chose to be with Davnor. “I learned later that the rest of the involved mayors were each given earlier by Gov. Amatong a P1 million-worth of provincial government project,” he said.

The sub-plot of the story on gerrymandering was that the planned new Comval was first contemplated to have only one district but Amatong was persistent to Sator to break it into two districts. When the provincehood bill was heard by the Congress committee on local government chaired by Cong. Felix Alfelor, a one-district Comval was approved, moving Sator and his co-authors – prodded by Amatong- to seek for reconsideration before it was put in plenary. “The proposal to have the 2nd District in Comval was really first denied by Alfelor’s committee,” he reminisced.

The rest is history. Eleven years after we are remembering how the mother Davao del Norte was broken up by gerrymanders, and reliving the steps of the few who made a great impact to over a million populace who now live separately in two smaller provinces. This shows Sator as the thinktank-legworker-paper pusher combined, while Amatong was the leading moving spirit behind the division. Asked on whether the breaking up of mother province was such a gerrymandering act, the former congressman admitted in my interview without a second thought. Of course, the issue is moot and academic now. But history must be retold for history’s sake. Journalism, I should say, isn’t only “history in a hurry”, it is as much history coming out late. (For online edition, visit my blog at: https://cha4t.wordpress.com, for comments and reactions, text 09069104553. Watch for my newscast in “Tagum Newsbreak” over WTV 11 channel in Skycable Tagum)

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