Wenceslao: On Gilbert Wagas

FORMER Compostela town mayor Gilbert Wagas is dead. A Facebook post by one of his relatives said he died of stroke at the National Bilibid Prisons (NBP) in Muntinlupa where he was jailed after his conviction by the Sandiganbayan for graft.

For those who have forgotten, Wagas was among the personalities in Cebu who fought the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos and by extension the Durano clan that rules the province’s 5th district that straddles his hometown. He was associated with the camp of another anti-Marcos icon, Nenita “Inday Nita” Cortes-Daluz and even had a radio program with her.

Many Cebuano leaders were catapulted to national prominence because of the anti-Marcos struggle, most of them ending up getting elective positions at the local and national levels. If I remember it right, Wagas was among the young ones, becoming OIC mayor of Compostela in 1986 at the age of 23. He went on to win the mayoral joust in the 1988 polls.

Wagas traced his roots to Gervasio Wagas Sr., who was Compostela mayor during the World War II years from 1941 to 1943. No wonder he was able to jumpstart his political career at an early age. But he couldn’t sustain his hold on the town’s politics. Instead of running for reelection, he challenged and lost to the formidable Ramon “Nito” Durano III for the 5th district congressional post in 1992.

One can say that Wagas’s decision to leave Compostela town to his allies proved to be his political undoing. Not only was he a Don Quixote tilting at the windmills against Ramonito, who also successfully parried the same challenge by the then popular and administration-backed Inday Nita four years earlier, his mayoral bet also succumbed to the juggernaut that was Antonio Dangoy.

The Wagas clan would continue battling it out in election after election both in Compostela and in the district, but except for his brother’s win in the 2007 elections (he lost in 2010), the Wagas clan had obviously become a spent force, especially Gilbert. Then came what can be considered a final blow to his political career in 2001: the Sandiganbayan finding him guilty of misappropriating public funds amounting to P376,618.65.

But let me digress. Wagas not only caught the ire of the Duranos but also of the military who, because of his activist past, believed he was supportive of the New People’s Army rebels who raided the Compostela municipal hall in 1987. That was the period in Cebu’s history when the rebels declared armed struggle in Cebu and armed men roamed the mountains while armed artisans operated in the metro.

Back to Wagas. I don’t know much the details of his graft case so I won’t give my view on it except to say that it was unfortunate and to note his protestations about him being persecuted by the Duranos. In 2009, he was arrested in a mall and brought to the NBP where he languished while battling his conviction in court and filing certificates of candidacy during elections.

Whether he really did commit graft or was merely persecuted, I say that his was a life wasted. To think that many politicians who have stolen millions of pesos from government coffers are free and enjoying life.
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