TODAY would have marked the 76th birthday of former Negros Occidental governor Joseph G. Marañon. He ranks among the most loved leaders the province ever had. His legacy, anchored on his accomplishments and his no-nonsense political will, lives on in the hearts of Negrenses.

The impact of Marañon’s programs in the province is unparalleled. Foremost among these is the upgrading of district hospitals and the construction of the new provincial hospital in Silay.

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Thus, people outside Bacolod City can avail of decent medical services in nearby district hospitals and in the new provincial hospital. This led to the notable decongestion of patients at the regional hospital in Bacolod.

When governor Marañon assumed office, the old Provincial Capitol was already abandoned and destined for oblivion. Seeing the historical significance of this structure, Marañon restored the building to its former splendor and moved the seat of the Provincial Government back to its historical place.

In line with his thrust for transparency in government service, the offices in the refurbished Capitol were installed with glass walls and windows such that Negrenses passing through the alleys can readily see what the employees are doing in their offices.

Mambucal Resort was another Marañon project which deserves accolade. The resort was languishing in obscurity when it was run by a private entity. However, Marañon took over control of the resort and improved its facilities.

Not only was Mambucal transformed into the glorious summer resort of our memories but it also became one of the top income earners under the Economic Enterprise Development program of the Provincial Government.

Governor Marañon drew some flak with his decision to evict the informal settlers at the back of the Provincial Capitol. He explained that the eviction of the settlers had already been decided by past administrations and that he was simply implementing the decision.

Despite criticisms, Marañon stood his ground. He provided a relocation site under easy installment terms and he also gave cash assistance, manpower to help in the dismantling of the houses and transportation to the relocation site for the affected settlers. Negrenses have yet to hear of a more humane and generous relocation program.

Way back in 2004 when I was still involved with a publication, I went to the office of governor Marañon to follow-up payment for the Provincial Government’s sponsorship. When he learned of my purpose, he put his arm around my shoulder and steered me to his chief of staff, Joval. He instructed Joval to facilitate payment for our publication.

“If you don’t get your check next week, you come back to me,” he told me in parting. Within the week, the check was ready. I came back to his office to thank him for the swift action.

I joined the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters (NFSP) in 2005. When 319 (as governor Marañon is also known to friends) celebrated his birthday, I was sent by NFSP president Nene Rojas to cover the event for the NFSP Bulletin. Off I went with my camera to Sagay’s Balay Kauswagan, one of 319’s landmark accomplishments as Sagay mayor.

People flocked to the venue. Everybody was welcome. Food overflowed the tables. The guests included the “who’s who” in the province. Even Mikey Arroyo was there. The governor spent as much time welcoming and entertaining his VIP guests as well as the ordinary folks.

During 319’s birthdays, he had always requested Ramon Mendez, one of my colleagues at NFSP, to serve as head waiter in the presidential table. Unknown to the many birthday guests of 319, Ramon also celebrates his birthday on March 19.

I suggested to Ramon that he should request 319 to pose with him for a souvenir picture. Governor Marañon readily complied. We published the picture in the NFSP Bulletin as part of the coverage for the governor’s birthday. Ramon still proudly treasures the picture and keeps it in his wallet even up to this day. (Happy birthday, Ramon!)

While I was working at NFSP as Assistant to the NFSP President, I got my baptism of fire handling the Urea importation transaction for the Federation. The transaction hit many snags, the most serious of which were delays in delivery because of bogus suppliers.

Naturally, the planters associations which had deposited money for the Urea were worried by the delays. They often called up the Federation to inquire on the status. There was one instance when the Northern Negros Planters Association, Inc. (NNPAI) headed by Marañon invited NFSP president Nene Rojas to attend its meeting to personally shed light on the status of the transaction.

Owing to the busy schedule of the NFSP president, I was sent in his stead. The meeting was at Bar 21 restaurant. I had to hurry back to Bacolod after lunch because, in the morning of that day, I was in Central Bato in Sagay to meet with NNPAI’s Edap (Educational Assistance Program) beneficiaries and explain to them the different socio-economic programs being undertaken by NFSP for farm workers and their dependents.

I made it on time for the meeting. The top brass of NNPAI was there. When the Urea importation was nearing the agenda, Marañon motioned for me to sit beside him. As I sat at his right, he whispered to me, “Butch, don’t get intimidated by these planters. It is just normal for them to be voluble in their complaints. Just say your piece.”

It was very heart-warming to hear those words from the highest official of the province. I must have done well with my explanation because NNPAI opted to stick with the importation until it was eventually successfully concluded.

When the Urea matter was finished, I was excused from the meeting. Governor Marañon then said, “See what I told you? They might be aggressive in their questioning but, in the end, they also listen to reason. Now, just go over to that table there and take your refreshments ahead of us while we finish this meeting.”

That’s what makes Marañon a truly great man. Though unbending in his convictions, he has a naturally kind heart for his fellowmen. We miss you, Guv!

(For reactions and suggestions, email bbacaoco@yahoo.com.)