We reached Bayambang, Pangasinan at daybreak and saw a figure towering over what otherwise were the unadorned horizons of the town, sparking curiosity and awe. Its height was difficult to miss. As we moved closer, we learned that the figure was the statue of St. Vincent Ferrer, the patron saint of builders, which, at 50.23 meters, is as tall as a 15-story building, taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York or the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Brazil. It only seemed fitting that the statue was completed this year in time for the 405th founding anniversary of Bayambang and the quadricentennial (400th anniversary) of the town’s St. Vincent Parish.
There was however another reason for the town to celebrate. The statue had vied for the Guinness Record for the World’s Tallest Supported Bamboo Sculpture, an all-new category. On April 5, 2019, Guinness Official Adjudicator Swapnil Dangarikar declared that the statue had complied with all the requirements to be declared the holder of the Guinness Record, ensuring that it is not only a relevant religious attraction but also a significant tourism destination. The declaration was just in time for the 600th death anniversary of St. Vincent de Ferrer who died on the same day in the year 1419.
Not too long ago, nothing stood on the site of the St. Vincent Ferrer statue. It took the term of incumbent Mayor Cezar T. Quiambao to conceptualize and execute the feat in a short span of time without spending any funds of the local government.
The latest project that Mayor Quiambao is conceptualizing is an agricultural economic zone, totaling 67 hectares. The Saint Vincent Ferrer Prayer Park is part of that zone.
LOCAL BOY WHO DID GOOD
Mayor Quiambao is a true son of Bayambang, having been born there in 1948 to small-scale business folk Simplicio Quiambao of Pampanga and Veronica Terrado of Bayambang. Upon finishing high school at Bayambang National High School (BNHS), he went to Manila to take up Business Administration at the University of the East (UE), supporting himself by working as a messenger and a jeepney driver.
He tried his fortune in Indonesia as an overseas Filipino worker and worked hard until he slowly ascended the corporate ladder to become the executive vice president of PT Green Timber Jaya, a leading timber company. Every year, he would come home to reunions with his classmates, who never failed to remind him of the sad state of Bayambang, how the town he left was still virtually the same, as if time had passed it by.
In 1994, he returned to Manila for good and met good fortune engaging in significant projects such as land titling computerization program through his Land Registration Systems, Inc. (LARES). He also ushered the Land Transportation Office’s license system into the digital age through his company Stradcom Corporation. He was at the forefront of building the Metro Manila Skyway Phase 1 and the STAR Tollway. He also had several successful ventures abroad such as the Guam Regional Medical City, the Vivekananda Bridge Tollway in India, and road projects in Vietnam.
He never failed to be thankful for all his blessings. He organized a program with his fellow alumni of BNHS called “Baley Ko, Pawilen Ko, Aroen Ko, tan Tulungan Ko” (My hometown, I will return to you, I will love and help). He undertook to build roads, clean up the public plaza, and establish the College of Information Technology in Pangasinan State University-Bayambang in 2000. Through the Kasama Kita sa Barangay Foundation, the recipient of CSR funds from his many corporations, he provided TESDA-accredited trainings and seminars.
He even put up the Royal Mall, and transferred the address of his corporations from Manila to Bayambang ensuring a boost in local revenue. Having no desire to seek a post in government, he supported the bid of local politicians. Through time however he noticed that those who promised change failed to deliver; worse, they only wanted to preserve their power once elected. This caused frustration on Quiambao’s part.
Wanting to put Bayambang on the world map, Quiambao sponsored a campaign for the Guinness Record title of The Longest Barbecue in 2014. He spent close to Php20 million of his own funds for Kalutan ed Dalan (Barbecue along the Road), complete with the reenactment of the entry of General Emilio Aguinaldo into the town and proclaiming it as the 5th capital of the Revolutionary Philippine Republic. With the people setting up an 8,000-meter long grill, Bayambang wrested the Guinness Record from erstwhile holder Turkey.
The moment was not entirely a happy one for Mayor Quiambao. “Sad to say, the mayor then, who was the chairman of the Kalutan, sold the grill for Php1,500 when I had given it for free. Then on top of that, the people did not receive what they paid for,” Mayor Quiambao recounts, shaking his head. “So after two decades of supporting candidates, I decided to step up. I was 67 years old at the time. I thought, before it’s too late, I should do something.” With Raul Sabangan as running mate, he made a triumphant entry into the political arena in 2016.
THE FIGHT AGAINST POVERTY
When the two assumed office, Bayambang had the second highest number of indigent households in Pangasinan. To address the issue squarely, the town organized an Anti-Poverty Summit in 2018. Municipal Administrator Atty. Rodelynn Rajini A. Sagarino, formerly with the National Anti-Poverty Commission, organized the summit in consultation with stakeholders such as farmers, fisherfolk, informal settlers, cooperatives, non-governmental organizations, and other members of the basic sectors. The output of the summit was the Bayambang Poverty Reduction Plan (BPRP), a ten-year program aimed at cultural and individual transformation to reduce poverty to zero by 2028.
BPRP has five sectoral goals: agricultural modernization; economic and infrastructure development; socio-cultural development and social protection; environmental protection and disaster resiliency; and good governance.
The program views economic poverty as a social evil, especially when occasioned by graft and corruption and mismanagement of resources. Poverty is dehumanizing when people could not afford three square meals a day, leading to malnutrition or disease, or students could not continue schooling and are forced to take on jobs that could not sustain them, thus perpetuating the cycle that Bayambang found itself in. The BPRP remains the only local anti-poverty plan in the country and is the bible by which the town hopes to break that cycle.
BPRP emphasizes agricultural modernization in its poverty reduction efforts since Bayambang is devoted to the cultivation of rice, corn, and onion. To do this, Bayambang realizes that it needs to engage its people, especially the next generation, in agriculture, thus the organization of a Millennial Farmers’ Association. Next year, agricultural subjects will be taught in high school. Further down, the town dreams of setting up an agricultural college.
At present, the town has put up fish cages in its Langiran Lake and released 30,000 tilapia and carp fingerlings with the help of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). This provides an income opportunity to indigents who could harvest fish for a nominal fee and sell a portion of their harvest while keeping some for their sustenance. The town has also built four multi-purpose drying facilities, gave away 17 water pumps, set up 45 nurseries, and distributed hundreds of garden tools—among numerous efforts to boost agricultural production.
8Moving forward, the Korea International Cooperation Agency will assist in the implementation of an irrigation system for 2,000 hectares of farmland. With geo-mapping of agricultural areas, the town aims to connect inaccessible areas by way of farm-to-market roads.
While it is Bayambang’s goal to embrace mechanized farming to resolve inefficiencies of older agricultural practices, the town also espouses organic farming. A modern grain storage with a cold storage facility to prepare the town’s products for export is in the works.
Mayor Quiambao sees cooperatives as the cornerstone of the agricultural initiative. He envisions a time when farmers would surrender themselves as parts of a larger agricultural collective where farming is done on a more efficient scale. It will be the cooperatives that will cultivate the land, plant the seedlings, and market the produce, leaving individual farmers with more time for other livelihood projects.
A MATTER OF PRIDE
With its many projects, Bayambang has reaped countless awards. The town received the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Seal of Good Local Governance for three straight years, from 2016 to 2018. It has also received the seal of Child Friendly Governance, the seal of Retiree-Friendly Community, and the Commendation for Good Financial Housekeeping.
Among all its awards, Bayambang considers the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) Panata ko sa Bayan, Gawad Paglilingkod sa Sambayanan (PANATA GAPAS) Award as the most significant. The award recognized the role of the local government of Bayambang in microenterprise development. Among the initiatives that Mayor Quiambao supported through the Kasama Kita sa Barangay Foundation are goat-raising, rag-making, hat-making, piggery, carabao milking, broiler chicken raising, and setting up of agricultural supplies stores. Mayor Quiambao likewise supported training in food processing, computer systems servicing, basic electronics, security guard services, reflexology, cosmetology, and housekeeping, among others.
Among the projects that Mayor Quiambao takes pride in is the LGU System Integration, which interconnects all essential services of the municipal government in a seamless digital system. This goes a long way in eliminating red tape and corruption.
Mayor Quiambao says this anti-corruption mentality has permeated the local government unit culture. “Ask anyone who has used our ambulances and they will tell you that the drivers and the nurses refuse to accept anything for doing their job,” he says. He is also an anti-dynasty proponent. “No single member of my family members is interested in running for office,” he adds.
Mayor Quiambao says this anti-corruption mentality has permeated the local government unit culture. “Ask anyone who has used our ambulances and they will tell you that the drivers and the nurses refuse to accept anything for doing their job,” he says.
SEVENTY AND SUNNY
The latest project that Mayor Quiambao is conceptualizing is an agricultural economic zone, totaling 67 hectares. The Saint Vincent Ferrer Prayer Park is part of that zone. The zone allots 20 hectares for the new town center, while the rest are devoted to other industries, light electronics manufacturing, an amusement center, and a 5,000-seater sports complex, among other facilities. While this is still in the planning stage, considering how quickly the mayor works from conceptualization to project realization, the zone could be just around the corner.
Mayor Quiambao and Bayambang’s achievements are too numerous considering the short span of time. For a local boy who did good, and at 70 years old, he does not feel that he could rest on his laurels but feels that it is only the beginning.—JAVIER FLORES