‘Gay power’ in Lubao

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Monday, August 25, 2014


LUBAO -- Bienvenido “Benny” Ochoa of Barangay Sto. Tomas, here, is a cut above the rest of the 505 village chiefs of Pampanga.

Ochoa, the three-term barangay captain of one of Lubao’s most progressive villages, admitted he is a gay.

“I am a gay since birth. I am not shy about it. It was never an issue in Sto. Tomas, especially in our politics,” said Ochoa in an interview at his office on August 24.

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“The issue is performance. Look at our village now and compare it before I came in seven years ago,” he added.

Poor family

Ochoa was born in Sto. Tomas and his parents are both from Lubao. He said they were among the poorest of poor families then.

What made life more difficult for Ochoa was that he and the five siblings lost their father when he was only three years old.

Ochoa stopped schooling for 10 years due to poverty and the need to support his mother and other family members. He worked as a house help and tailor to make both ends meet for the people he was supporting.

“I never wanted to be a burden to anyone or to my relatives. I stopped schooling to earn,” said the 63-year-old village chief.

Luckily, Ochoa found a considerate and kind family and he was allowed to return to school while working. He enrolled at the Emilio Aguinaldo High School in Manila.

At age 30, Ochoa graduated from the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila with a degree in business administration (major in Economics).

Ochoa landed a job in Marikina after graduating and earned well in marketing and selling shoes made from the Shoe Capital of the Philippines.

He was travelling back and forth from Marikina to Lubao on weekends or when his schedules permit to visit his mother, brothers and sister.

Love for Sto. Tomas

Ochoa felt dismayed going home to Sto. Tomas. It was not because he was tired of helping his mother and other members of the Mallari-Ochoa family.

Ochoa said was that there was no progress in Sto. Tomas then and his beloved village was “very” neglected.

Ochoa decided to seek the highest post in Sto. Tomas and help his constituents “achieve genuine progress and experience a working barangay captain.”

Ochoa disclosed than he was discouraged by the members of his family to enter public service.

“I was already earning well as a salesman. I had then a good salary and P2 of share for each pair of shoes I bring to huge malls in Metro Manila,” he said.

In 2002, Ochoa tried but failed to win in the barangay chiefs’ race. He lost by more than 100 votes to the eventual winner.

In 2007, Ochoa tried anew and won via landslide in the election. As they say, the rest is history and Ochoa was re-elected twice and scored convincing victories.

From nothing to progress

“If there is a good leader, there will be real progress,” said Ochoa.

“I also govern with no corruption at all. That’s why I can say what I want when I am angry. When they have nothing against you, you can rule and decide better,” he added.

Barangay Councilor Christine Joy Sagad said “there was nothing in our village until Ochoa came.”

Sagad, former Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) chairperson of Sto. Tomas, added, “We can say now under Ochoa that all the people need are here.”

Sagad said that Ochoa is aggressive when it comes to asking projects for Sto. Tomas.

Ochoa envisioned Sto. Tomas “to be not just progressive but complete with all the amenities needed by the public.”

He worked for the purchase of a 1,888-square meter property near the Sto. Tomas Barangay Hall and the area is a few meters away from the Jose Abad Santos Avenue.

Today, a covered court, rural health unit, day care center and a multi-purpose hall proudly exist in the area.

Multi-million funds were used to purchase the land and to establish the offices and amenities needed by Sto. Tomas and the 6,500 total residents. It was achieved in less than seven years and “what’s amazing” was that the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) is “only” P3 million for 2014, said Sagad.

Ochoa refused to credit himself for the “new and progressive Sto. Tomas.” He stressed that he could not have done it without the all-out support of the people, fellow officials and the Pineda family led by Pampanga Governor Lilia Pineda.

“They gave all I asked for the village,” said Ochoa, referring to Governor Pineda and her children: former Lubao mayor and now Vice Governor Dennis “Delta” Pineda and Lubao Mayor Mylyn Pineda-Cayabyab.

Ochoa said that businessman Rodolfo “Bong” Pineda, husband of the two-term governor, helped them in purchasing the property for the four offices and amenities of Sto. Tomas.

He also thanked then Philippine President and now Second District Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for helping complete most of their road works and projects.

Trust is important

“Public officials and prominent people will not hesitate to help and give when they see that the projects funded earlier are existing,” said Ochoa. “It’s all about trust and reputation.”

Barangay Secretary Rosalina Campo said Ochoa is “one of the trusted barangay chiefs of Pineda-Cayabyab.”

Ochoa was entrusted with funds intended for distribution to 43 other barangay captains of Lubao.

“Our barangay captain has a clean reputation when it comes to money. He doesn’t intervene in the work of our treasurer,” she added.

Sagad said Ochoa would not ask for cash from businessmen wanting to sell products in their village. Instead, she added, “he will ask for a transformer, sound system and other equipment needed by our constituents and office.”

“The principle of Ochoa is that the equipment will be used for the people and he can leave it to the village when he is no longer our leader,” she said.

Ochoa received numerous citations and awards as leader of Sto. Tomas known for its Santacruzan or Flores de Mayo festival, which paraded celebrities such as Ritz Azul, Marianne dela Riva, Jericho Rosales and other prominent stars.

Ochoa was named Most Outstanding Punong Barangay by the Department of Interior and Local Government in 2012. He was a Top Public Servant awardee of the P.E.E.R.S. publication and Most Outstanding Public Servant-Leader of the M.W.A.P. Journal.

The DILG also gave certificates of appreciation to Ochoa for his “continued support to the Manila Bay Clean Up, Rehabilitation and Preservation Project.”

Ochoa was also cited for active participation in the prevention of human trafficking and pushing for quality public education in Sto. Tomas.

Asked what motivates him to serve well and maintain a clean and honest governance, Ochoa said: “I want to maintain the good name of our family.”

“If you don’t know how to handle your position and your power as leader, you will be corrupted and eventually be a corrupt public servant,” said Ochoa.

“You need experience in order to be an effective leader,” he added. “That’s the only thing lacking in the 21-year-old Sagad that’s why I will not endorse her as my replacement.”

Ochao said he will not endorse anyone to replace him after he ends his term in 2016.

“I may support someone silently but will not endorse him or her. I don’t want to be blamed by the people if my choice will perform below par,” he added.

Ochoa was told about the existence of drug users and pushers in their village of late.

He quickly admitted there was a problem on the proliferation of illegal drugs in Sto. Tomas.

“That’s our barangay captain. He is honest enough to admit the good and as well as the bad in our village. The solution to any problem could be achieved by first admitting it. The drug problem is a new challenge for us,” said Sagad.

Ochoa stressed that “people will judge you by what you did and not what you said.”

“I am a gay. But I am a man when it comes to my decision and I am firm in everything I do for Sto. Tomas,” Ochoa added. (Joey Pavia/Contributor)

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on August 26, 2014.

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