From disc jockeying to lawmaking

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Sunday, February 9, 2014


JANUARY 18, 2014 was a red-letter day for Davao City Councilor Leonardo "Leo" R. Avila III. On that day, Leo, more popularly known as "Happy L.A." to thousands of his radio listeners in more than two decades as disc jockey, newscaster and broadcast executive, celebrated his 26th year in politics, mostly as city councilor.

Impressive performance

Leo holds the honor of being a local politician who has never lost a single election, as he won all seven city council derbies he had participated in so far, a distinction topped only by Rodrigo R. Duterte (who has an unsurpassed record of winning 8 elections–seven for city mayor and one for congressman, so far).

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Avila has distinguished himself in local lawmaking and policy advocacies, uncommon among those who got elected to the city council partly because of their exposure to media work, particularly broadcasting.

He is either major author, sponsor or co-author of several landmark ordinances like the Child Welfare Code, Women Welfare and Development Code, the Aids Ordinance, Marine Protected Areas Ordinance, Fisheries Ordinance, Watershed Management Ordinance, Bicycle Ordinance, Rainwater Ordinance, Solid Waste Management Ordinance, Older Persons Welfare Ordinance, and Organic Agriculture Ordinance, among others.

Articulate and always prepared to speak on his advocacies, Avila is one of the favorite resource persons of civic groups and media forums. Leo was decidedly Davao's No. 1 DJ, topping radio listernership surveys in the mid 70s and 80s, when he decided to plunge into politics.

"I was already 30 years old, married with two sons then,” he bared, adding “now, I already have three grandchildren.’”

January 18, 1988 was the first local election after Edsa 1. It was also the first time that the law dividing the city into three legislative districts took effect. Each district was represented by eight councilors as it is now.

Leading the city's winners of that first democratic local elections after 16 years of the Marcos Dictatorship were Duterte as mayor and the late Dominador "Boy" B. Zuno Jr. as vice mayor.

In that first post-Martial Law council derby, the winners were: 1st District: Luis C. Bonguyan, topnotcher, Bonifacio E. Militar, Alexis C. Almendras, Avila, Nilo G. Abellera, Aristeo V. R. Albay, Antonio H. Vergara and Gerardo C. Nograles.

2nd District: Valentino C. Banzon (deceased), topnotcher, Diosdado Angelo A. Mahipus Sr., Tomas “Tommy” Monteverde Jr. (deceased), Liborio V. Lumain (deceased), Antonio S. Castillo (deceased), Danilo C. Dayanghirang, Jaime Q. Rodriguez and Senforiano B. Alterado.

3rd District: Corazon N. Malanyaon, topnotcher, Cesar G. Robillo (deceased), Renato S. Bangoy, Agosto P. Fuentes (deceased), Victorio S. Advincula Sr., Teofilo M. Venus, Guillermo G. Saldana and Shane L. Dolor.

"I never entertained the thought of becoming a politician," he said. "I was very contended with my radio work, as I was earning well, and enjoyed the perks of popularity.”

Avila, however, said that the murder of Ninoy Aquino (in 1983) weighed heavily on him, saying: “I couldn’t believe someone would do a thing like that just to perpetuate himself in power."

Idea from cigarette vendor

"Now I remember, the very first person to inject the idea of my entering politics was a woman cigarette vendor," Councilor Leo recalled. "She was listening to my conversation with a friend while sitting on the steps of a building waiting for the rain to stop."

The vendor said, "Dong, kung modagan ka og konsehal, moboto gyud ko nimo (Sir, if you’ll run for councilor, I’ll really vote for you),” Avila recalled. That was before the EDSA People Power 1 that ousted strongman President Ferdinand Marcos then, thus ending Martial Law. He never saw that vendor again.

In 1987, a year before he ran for councilor, Leo supported the candidacy for congressman of Jesus Dureza, who was making a name then as chairman of the defunct Konsumo Dabaw, as a young practicing lawyer editing the Mindanao Times and writing for the Bulletin Today.

RMN support

"The tipping point for my decision to run was the support of my employer, RMN (Radio Mindanao Network), which assured me I could continue working for the company, win or lose," Leo said. "They did not require me to resign, just go on leave with pay."

Leo was also profuse in thanking novelty singer Max Surban for recording his campaign jingle for free.

However many people, including grizzled traditional politicians, ridiculed Avila for his quixotic decision to run for councilor as an independent.

Although a college graduate, they also belittled his ability to be a city lawmaker. “Anong gagawin ni Happy L.A. sa konseho, magpa-disco? (What will Happy L.A. do in the city council, organize disco dances?),” one heckler said.

Avila said he is the first disc jockey to run for a political office.

Advocacy for children

Avila's advocacy for children's welfare in the halls of the City Council is one of his strengths as lawmaker and public servant.

He said "children have always been the center of my political agenda" from Day One of his being city councilor.

The record of Avila as councilor must have impressed then Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio that she appointed him officer-in-charge of the City Agriculturist Office, despite his totally unrelated experience and academic training.

Leo is a graduate of Bachelor of Science in Management from the University of Mindanao, a college diploma he earned by being a work scholar, as disc jockey of DXUM of the UM Broadcasting Network.

How does Councilor Avila see himself upon retirement from politics? His passion for agriculture will be given full vent. Right now, he is in agri-trading business.

In addition to an MBA in Public Administration from the Ateneo de Davao University, Leo is currently finishing his MBA in Agri-Business in the University of Southern Philippines.

"I see myself in some active engagement in this area (agri trading) for some time,” he said, adding: “I also see myself returning to media work one way or another."

Councilor Leo also thinks of traveling "while I'm capable, and maybe establish a foundation to continue my advocacies."

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on February 10, 2014.

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