THE Latin phrase primus inter pares (translated as first among equals) applied to my former boss, former Cagayan de Oro City councilor and later former congressman of the then lone district of Cagayan de Oro Erasmo Damasing.
Damasing is cut from the old school of public officials in that he worked hard to lobby for projects to be implemented in the City of Golden Friendship while elevating Cagayan de Oro into the national political stage during his stint in Congress.
Damasing earned the moniker “Rambo”, the name of the Vietnam veteran commando character popularized by Hollywood great Sylvester Stallone not because of his booming, terse voice but his uncanny ability to supposedly fix any bad situation.
Damasing was my boss at Cagayan de Oro College which operated dxJR COC TV 39 that I managed for several years. He is known among friends for not squandering hard-earned money for frivolous pursuits and for being generous to those in real need.
It’s not so hard to write about Congressman Damasing or President as I refer to him even now. Believe me I’ve so many stories to tell about him and all these stories carry with it a moral lesson at the end. And I feel like reminiscing on these stories.
First of all, he values education so much that it is seared in his soul. Maybe because he rose from poverty and became president of Cagayan de Oro College during which he ordered that an overhead bridge or skywalk be built connecting the two campuses with the Latin phrase “Educatioliberabitvos” or translated as ‘education liberates men from poverty.’ Just like what happened to him and his siblings.
Some personal background: After graduating valedictorian at the Misamis Oriental General Comprehensive High School (MOGCHS) Damasing went straight to the University of the Philippines where he graduated as part of Class ‘59 then passing the bar and becoming a lawyer one year after.
He told me and those who worked for him that he became a student assistant at the College of Engineering at UP to support his studies there while his other brother, also a lawyer, washed dishes to fund his college education.
Erasmo Damasing is a lawyer and labor leader before he joined politics. He was also conferred a doctorate in humanities, Honoris Causa by the Misamis University in November 25,2003.
This year, specifically on July 26, 2020, Damasing will turn 85 years old and during a recent visit I made to his office along with the old crew of COC TV that included now City Information Officer Maricel Casiño-Rivera and Jomar Figuracion, he told us that he is very much contented with his life now.
Happily married to Dr. Annie Propia Estrada of Malaybalay City, Bukidnon they have four children. Damasing’s son Francis is married to Judge Caroline Damasing of the City Court. His other children are Eric, Edgar and Ernie who are all professionals in their chosen fields.
Damasing still has 18 pending cases in court and he wanted to withdraw from these cases in order to rest. “Lawyers cannot withdraw without the consent of the clients,” he said. He is a ‘probinsiyano’ having been born and raised in Gitagum town, Misamis Oriental to former vice mayor Custodio Tagarda Damasing and Feliza Daaca Balacuit.
It was his cousin Romarico “Buddy” Marte of Salay town, Misamis Oriental who encouraged him to enter local politics specifically Cagayan de Oro City’s political landscape. In 1967 he was elected city councilor and was re-elected in 1971 with the highest number of votes at the time.
In 1987 he was elected vice mayor of Cagayan de Oro City which he held until 1992, again getting the highest number of votes. And during the 1992 national elections, the first after the post Marcos era, Damasing was elected to the city’s lone congressional district with a margin of 41,636 votes over his nearest rival.
Damasing served as congressman from 1992 until 1998 during which he had the widest margin of 52,644 votes against his rivals in the city’s political history.
While in Congress Damasing sponsored and authored laws of local and national implications. He authored Republic Act 7670 which declared June 15 as Cagayan de Oro City’s Charter Day and thus a special non-working holiday in the city. Damasing also authored RA 7938 (House Bill 3802) or an act converting the Northern Mindanao Medical Regional Training Hospital into Northern Mindanao Medical Center.
The conversion made it possible to allocate P160 millon to upgrade the hospital’s facilities and hiring of additional personnel as well as construction of additional buildings to expand its bed capacity to 100 beds. Damasing also brought to Cagayan de Oro about 1,115 projects for the entire nine year term of office or from July 1, 1992 to January 25, 1998.
Of that number, about 779 of these projects cost P243,302,339.00. Long before I joined local media, I am already familiar with Damasing during my stint in the judiciary. If I learned that Damasing is listed in the court calendar I make it a point to attend his cases just to hear him argue his case before the presiding judge.
During those times, I am reminded of lawmakers deliberating their points in Congress and when I did see him live in the hallowed halls of Congress in Manila, I was proud to witness him interpolating a fellow legislator. Hopefully I can talk more about the laws he authored sometime after this column is published this week and how it impacted on the city to date. (For comments and questions email me at firstname.lastname@example.org