Congressman Deogracias Victor Barbers Savellano of the First District of Ilocos Sur is no stranger to politics and public service. His dream of a better town and province started to take root in 1981 when he was elected vice mayor of his hometown of Cabugao at the young age of 22. He served as vice mayor until 1987 and was dubbed the “rising star” of Ilocos Sur politics. And this he proved as he slowly rose to become provincial board member, vice governor, governor, and now a member of the House of Representatives.

The Ilocos Sur solon shares that it was his late father, Atty. Victorino Ancheta Savellano, who inspired him to enter politics and serve the people. The elder Sevillano served as mayor of Cabugao, Ilocos Sur from 1959 to 1968. “I grew up seeing people with smiles on their faces as they leave our house with satisfied hearts because they got the service they wanted,” he recalls.

When he won as vice mayor, Savellano’s father had not yet warmed his seat as a commissioner of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC). The latter was appointed to the post in 1980, only a few months before the 1981 elections. Three years later, he was promoted by President Ferdinand Marcos to head the COMELEC. The young Savellano, however, made it clear that his father never influenced his election to various posts, winning them on his own merits and qualifications.

Even today at 59, and married to actress and businesswoman Dina Bonnevie, Congressman Savellano is seeking reelection banking on his own achievements and projects as a lawmaker and nothing else. But he does not fail to acknowledge his political mentor, former Ilocos Sur congressman and governor Luis “Chavit” Singson.

House Bill 4995 seeks to create the Northern Luzon Growth Quadrangle Development Authority whose primary objective is to enhance and synchronize socio-economic development of three regions—Ilocos Region, the Cordilleras, and Cagayan Valley.

LEADERSHIP AND LEGISLATION
As a legislator, Congressman Savellano has authored, co-authored, sponsored, and co-sponsored many bills and resolutions. One of his favorites is House Bill 4995, which envisions a strong and economically robust Northern Philippines. The bill seeks to create the Northern Luzon Growth Quadrangle Development Authority whose primary objective is to enhance and synchronize socio-economic development of three regions—Ilocos Region, the Cordilleras, and Cagayan Valley. Alongside this is the bill seeking conversion of the historic Salomague Bay in Cabugao, which has a port and is near an airport, as a special economic zone.

Savellano says the three regions need a coordinating agency such as the proposed authority if they are to be developed together under a common framework of integrated and sustainable development and effectively mobilize people in improving local industries. “By increasing trade, tourism and investments, encouraging private enterprise, generating jobs, developing infrastructure, and advancing efforts toward peace and expansion, the region will bloom faster,” he explains.

Savellano points out that the House Special Committee on North Luzon Growth Quadrangle has been discussing the economic integration of the three regions—CAR, Region I, and Region II. “If developed together under the framework of integrated and sustainable development, North Luzon could avail of economies of scale and a viable network that will enhance synergistic and complementary development,” he adds.

“Without a government body yet to oversee such integrated development, I ensure that the Committee on North Luzon Growth Quadrangle serves as a venue where all the NL legislators practice/enforce oversight function in our respective districts in terms of program and project implementation by all line agencies,” he says. “My committee holds weekly meetings/hearings whenever possible to address concerns involving the various line agencies. To ensure prompt remedies and resolutions, department secretaries or at least the undersecretaries are usually invited to the said meetings.”

In fact, the House Special Committee on North Luzon Growth Quadrangle chaired by Rep. Maximo Dalog (Lone District, Mountain Province) and Committee on Government Enterprises and Privatization chaired by Rep. Mark Go (Lone District, Baguio City) have jointly approved the proposal to create the Northern Luzon Growth Quadrangle Development Authority but the bill, due to time constraints, has not yet hurdled the plenary as a whole.

The delay in the approval of the bill has not discouraged Savellano. In fact, he looks at it as a chance to improve the measure which he will pursue again in the next Congress. This is one of his battlecries for his reelection campaign.

PROGRESS THROUGH CULTURAL PRESERVATION
While he speaks about development of a bigger region with lots of potentials, Savellano has made the needs of his home province of Ilocos Sur and its people his top priority.

While awaiting for his dream of a North Luzon Growth Quadrangle to be realized, the congressman has pursued with the national government, through the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the construction of roads and other infrastructure in Ilocos Sur. “The DPWH has already started the construction of the coastal road that will connect the Salomague Port to Vigan Airport,” he informs LEAGUE. “This will facilitate an easier travel for the tourists and entice investors to bring in businesses to the province. The Cabugao, Ilocos Sur-Nueva Era, Ilocos Norte road project, connecting the province of Abra, will also bring in economic activities that will benefit the municipalities along the project.”

To further boost tourism, Savellano also helped negotiate for more cruise ships to include Ilocos Sur in their itineraries. The province is famous for its many tourist and cultural heritage sites such as Vigan City, Baluarte Resort and Mini Zoo, as well as beaches and surfing sites comparable to those of Siargao, Baler, and La Union. Several cruise ships have docked at the Salomague Port in Cabugao town, which was once a famous international mariners, seafarers, and trading post for rice, tobacco, and other products. The port also served as the jumping-off point for ships, which carried over 100 Filipino pioneers in the sugar plantations in Hawaii.

Savellano admits that they are faced with the challenge of balancing modernization with the preservation of the province’s rich heritage and culture. To address this, he created the “Kannawidan Ylocos Festival” in 2008, in time for the celebration of Ilocos Sur’s independence as a province.

Savellano admits that they are faced with the challenge of balancing modernization with the preservation of the province’s rich heritage and culture. To address this, he created the “Kannawidan Ylocos Festival” in 2008, in time for the celebration of Ilocos Sur’s independence as a province. “Kannawidan” aims to preserve and promote culture, traditions, practices, and beliefs that have become part of the lives of the Ilocanos. It also showcases the preservation of traditional arts, crafts, and cuisine as well as the preservation of native animals and plants that are on the brink of extinction. “In so doing, I am confident that these practices shall be carried on for the ensuing generations to appreciate and put into practice,” Savellano declares.

OTHER PRIORITY CONCERNS
According to Savellano, his utmost priority
in the district has always been the efficient delivery of basic services to his constituents, as provided for by the constitution. “While the piece of legislation has longer gestation period to fully implement, my other functions as legislator come into fore to address some gaps in the delivery of services for the people in the 1st District of Ilocos Sur,” he says.

Savellano has also been at the forefront in helping the farmers, particularly tobacco, garlic, and onion growers and fisherfolk of Ilocos Sur. “Fully aware of the challenges besetting our garlic and onion industry, I have been in constant communication with the Department of Agriculture (DA) and its attached agencies since the start of my term as congressman.

In mid 2017, I came up with a proposal for DA to consider the project titled ‘Adoption of Enhanced Garlic Production System Through Cooperative-based Farm Clustering in the Province of Ilocos Sur’,” he recalls. “Moreover, I have been advocating the collective effort of DA attached agencies such as the Bureau of Agricultural Research, DA High Value Crops and Rural Credit with Agricultural Credit Policy Council (ACPC) to revive the local garlic industry. The Nueva Segovia Consortium of Cooperatives (NSCC), an umbrella organization of 156 primary cooperatives based in Ilocos Sur as the implementing partner, shall be a recipient of experts’ advice in terms of appropriate Package of Technology (POT) on garlic production.”

Tobacco is almost synonymous to Ilocos Sur and so Savellano has been helping in channeling government assistance to the tobacco farmers. And he is glad to report that based on data from the National Tobacco Administration (NTA) for calendar year (CY) 2018, there were about 43 million kilos of tobacco produced in the province, which is one million kilos higher than for CY 2017. “Exports increased but deliveries to local cigarette manufacturers decreased by about 30% from 2012 figures,” he points out.

“Of the total number of tobacco farmers (32,000), NTA is providing partial production assistance to about 4,000 while 28,000 are being directly financed by tobacco companies. In spite of the billions of pesos in excise tax share derived from RA 7171 for Virginia tobacco, including those for burley and native tobacco, little is extended in terms of production assistance. Most are focused on infrastructure projects. The challenge for me is to refocus our efforts in helping the tobacco industry increase its production as it fights for survival,” he admits.

In the agricultural sector, he admits that although much has been done, there’s still more to do to achieve food sufficiency. “Free Irrigation has already been passed, and along with it, I was able to carry out projects like the construction of irrigation canals, distribution of irrigation pumps and other agricultural equipment, fish landing and fish ports along the coastal towns, and [provision of] fishing paraphernalia, etc.,” he notes.

On health services, Savellano recalls that upon his assumption to office as congressman, he outlined his development agenda for a HEALTHY District. “This embraces priority concerns on Health and social services; Education and environment; Agriculture and aqua programs; Livelihood opportunities; Tourism and trade; Heritage, culture and arts; and Youth and sports development. Initially, in order to put the agenda to work, I had to establish my strong relations with the different government agencies, and the private sector, for the much-needed funding support for the programs and projects and other material needs that will benefit the people,” he claims. He also joined hands with the Ilocos Sur Medical Society, the Department of Health, the Philippine Red Cross, the Provincial Government of Ilocos Sur, and other service providers who readily gave their support for the implementation of the KISS Project or “Kabsat Idanonmi Serbisyo Salun-at.” This project aims to improve and enhance the delivery of healthcare services to the people especially in rural communities.

“My office is open for whoever is in need of assistance, whether it be educational, hospitalization, burial, and other forms of social service assistance that we can provide to ease the predicament of the people. I established a link with the Department of Health to channel funds under the Medical Assistance Program (MAP) to the different government hospitals so that we can readily help those who are hospitalized. Likewise, with the aid of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, we can also accommodate the needy people in terms of financial requirements,” he adds.

Having started as a youth leader, the youth is Congressman Savellano’s main concern. He sought funds for the construction of school buildings benefitting the towns and barangays. He also supported the approval of free college education now being enjoyed by students in state colleges and universities nationwide. “We also have around 800 CHED scholars and thousands of TESDA scholars because I always believe that education will help everyone to succeed in life,” he avers.

“I want to continue these big projects that I have started until the end of my allowable term,” Congress Savellano says, explaining why he is running for reelection.

In spite of the billions of pesos in excise tax share derived from RA 7171 for Virginia tobacco, including those for burley and native tobacco, little is extended in terms of production assistance… The challenge for me is to refocus our efforts in helping the tobacco industry increase its production as it fights for survival.

He acknowledges that the projects would not be realized without the support of the people. “I would not be what I am now if not for my constituents who gave their trust and support to me. I owe them my position and I am most grateful and proud because of that kind of love that I need to reciprocate. I give them my number personally (not through my staff) and keep my line open 24/7 so they could reach me whenever necessary,” he says.

For someone who has made good as a public servant for more than two decades now, Congressman Savellano looks forward to at least three more years in the House of Representatives to pursue his big dreams for Ilocos Sur, Northern Philippines and the country. —ALFREDO G. GABOT

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