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Tagoloan VM Sabio and the food aid controversy

Charlotte, North Carolina—Even before he got his start in government service as an elected councilman in the Tagoloan town council, Vice Mayor Robinson V. Sabio is a low-key person who refuses to be interviewed by local media.

I remembered that it took his sister to convince him to be interviewed by me for another paper I used to write for. This year I chanced upon him online and our casual greetings led me to ask questions to him concerning his distribution of food aid to constituents without ensuring the physical distancing requirement set by the Department of Health (DOH) in the wake of the state of public emergency and subsequent quarantine declared by President Rodrigo Duterte to combat the dreaded COVID-19.

I told him that I will use his answers in my radio program at 105.5 FM Bay Radio Way Kurat Balingasag and in my column here at Mindanao Daily.  This time, Vice Mayor Sabio said he had no choice but to reply. Through his sister Dedith Arellano online, he replied that he could have handled the situation better were it not for the crowd that waited outside his house to ask for food aid that consisted of rice, noodles and other basic items.

Vice Mayor Sabio said the day before two women knocked on the gate of his house and asked for rice. He said he pitied them and asked his wife to give the women rice and other food items. Word spread by these two women caught the attention of other Tagoloanons who crowded outside his house, forcing the vice mayor to call his siblings and ask for money to buy sacks of rice.

As backgrounder, the 46-year-old Sabio was elected councilman in 2007 and then became a vice mayor by succession in 2010. In 2013 he elected vice mayor and three years later became acting mayor upon the death of Tagoloan mayor Paulino ‘Oloy’ Emano. He was elected vice mayor in 2016 and again last year.

Since it is Holy Week, Vice Mayor Sabio said he contemplated about his life and career in public service. ‘Prepare nata sa panahon moatubang kita sa ato magbubuhat (We prepare for the time when we will face our maker),’ he said as he believed that it was God’s plan for him to become a public official.

He recalled that his late father Manuel Valdehueza Sabio was a fierce opponent of the entrenched Emano clan in Tagoloan and he wondered why he ended up at the Padayon Pilipino party. Sabio said it was his uncle Teling, father of incumbent Tagoloan Mayor Gomer Enan Sabio, who told him to run under the Emano-led Padayon Pilipino party in 2007.

Fast forward to 2020 and Vice Mayor Sabio said he managed to receive the money sent to him by his siblings to buy rice, sardines and noodles for those who waited outside his home. He said he wasn’t selective in distributing the food as he gave to all those who asked for aid. ‘Kong pilion nimo ang pagpanghatag morag pamolitika walay grasya ana gabaan ta ana (If we are selective in giving it’s politicking and there won’t be any blessing, we would be cursed),’ he said.

Of the 1,400 who trooped to his house, a lot of them are women.  Vice Mayor Sabio said he called on the residents to observe physical distancing while lining up to receive the food aid but the eventual beneficiaries didn’t want to move at all. ‘They wanted to stay where they stood. I realized how desperate their situation is and so I proceeded to distribute the food to them,’ he said.

It remains to be seen if any action will be taken against him. By the way, I am forever grateful to Vice Mayor Sabio’s father who served as Municipal Administrator during the term of the late mayor Ariel Valdehueza. It was Ning Manuel who recommended me to work at the 6th Municipal Circuit Court of Tagoloan and Villanueva towns in Misamis Oriental province.

I think it was also God’s plan to put me there as it paved the way to where I am now, a semi-retired media practitioner based in the US that is now in touch with her audience in Cagayan de Oro City and the rest of Misamis Oriental province and the world through one of the wonders of technology that is Facebook, the current leading social media platform in the world. Have a belated Happy Easter (For comments and questions email me at susanap.dennis@yahoo.com)

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