After my stint with the CNI, I was drafted as the official candidate of the Nacionalista Party for the Lone Congressional District of Ifugao. The Ifugaos knew of my having earlier worked in Congress with Nueva Vizcaya Congressman Leonardo Perez, and my being the incumbent Legal Division Chief of the Commission on National Integration. They contended, that with my broad experience and knowledge of the problems of the National Cultural Minorities, I could easily get the support of the Ifugao electorate. The Ifugao people, realized that together with my brother Gualberto, as the 1st elected and incumbent Governor of the new province of Ifugao, and I would be the 1st elected Congressman of the province, we could work as an effective tandem to attend the critical development needs of the newly organized province. I won in the Congressional elections of 1969, handily.
But an earlier incident that really ushered me into Ifugao politics, was when the then, Banaue Municipal Mayor Alipio Mondiguing, whom I assisted to get national support for their joint project with my Governor brother Gualberto, to develop the town of Banaue as a tourist spot, invited me to be the Guest of Honor and Speaker of the Banaue Town Fiesta in 1968. Mayor Mondiguing used to come to Manila to follow-up his requests for community improvements and public works projects with the various government national offices. When in Manila, he would literally park at my CNI Office. From there, we would make the telephone or personal follow-ups for his projects. Most often, I would accompany him to the government offices, where his proposed projects were pending for consideration. One office that we frequented, was the Bureau of Tourism and Travel Industry (BTTI), chaired by the late Greg Araneta, brother in-law of my UP law classmate, Jun Leido and later, my colleague in the House of Representative. He was also elected as Congressman of Oriental Mindoro. BTTI Chairman Greg Araneta, while very supportive of the Banaue Tourism Project, was a stickler for administrative procedures. Mayor Mondiguing and I had to observe and to comply with all the project document requirements. It took about several months, when the Banaue Tourism project was officially approved. Banaue finally got its five-star Banaue Hotel and also a Hostel.
Mayor Mondiguing introduced me to the crowd, (I was still then with the CNI) as the candidate to be the first Congressman elect of Ifugao. I was both surprised and flattered, as I did not expect at all, that Mayor Mondigiung was going to make such a public statement. Anyway, I thanked Mayor Mondiguing for his kind and generous introduction. But Mayor Mondiguing immediately blurted out – “Atty., I am serious. That was not a joke that I made. I suggest, do not go back to Manila yet as tomorrow, we will make our first round of the surrounding barrios. He prevailed on me to stay. The following morning, we proceeded to Hapao, one of the big barrios of Banaue then to Nungulunan, and other adjacent barrios and sitios. In those instant meetings with the barrio folks, he introduced me as “our candidate for Congress that we should vote for in the coming elections.” After four days of visiting the different barrios of Banaue, I returned to Manila. But the vagaries of politics was such, that by some quirk of event, Fred Mondiguing, lawyer son of Mayor Mondiguing eventually ran against me in that 1969 Congressional elections. He lost and I won handily.
My first few months in Congress was indeed hectic. As the saying goes – “My first day in Congress, I hit the ground running.” I had to fast tract the consideration and approval of the numerous development projects of the province, which were under study and review by the national offices concerned. The immediate improvement of the national highway linking the province to Nueva Vizcaya leading to Manila, was on the top list of our Action Program. The province had already an export potential for its well known Ifugao woodcarving products, as well as its vegetable production similar to that of Benguet Province. Next was to prod the Department of Education, to repair and improve the old dilapilated school houses (buildings) and/or to build more newer school buildings in several towns and barrios of the province. The old Municipal building in each of the towns had to be rehabilitated and to secure funds for building Municipal Halls for several municipalities without Municipal Halls. I also upgraded thru legislation, the existing Nayon Farm School into a National High School for Industrial Arts and Agri-Technology. To improve the basic talents of the natives in indigenous wood carvings and other wood crafts, I was able to put up the Lagawe School of Arts and Trade. It improved a lot of the basic skills of the Ifugaos in woodcraft. Later, my brother Governor Gualberto carried on with putting up more advance training schools like the Ifugao State College of Agriculture and Forestry (ISCAF), in Potia, Alfonso Lista, Ifugao. The health problem of the people must also be attended to. The existing health clinics in some of the municipalities were in most cases, mere dispensaries where free medicine and first aid treatment were done. I had to fast tract the establishment of hospitals in a far flung municipality Mayoyao, and later in Tinoc. Livelihood enhancement programs for a great number of the populace had to be organized and launched and also other related projects designed to advance the progress of the province.
Before the opening session of the 7th Congress on January 1970, a series of caucuses were held by the House Majority party, the Nacionalista Party (NP), the Party to which I belong. Elected as Speaker of the House was Jose P. Laurel, Jr. The regular House Committees of the House was also organized and chaired by the senior members. The newly elected members of the House composed mostly of young ones, made some intimation, that the Chairmanship of the various House Committee, should not only come from the senior members, but the House leadership should also consider even the newly elected members. We were graciously advised, that it was the tradition in the House, that only the senior members would be given the chairmanship of the Committees. The junior members or neophyte could only, at most, be considered for the vice-chairmanship or just plain Committee members. Thus, when the composition of the various House Committees were finally announced, there were negative observations about the choice of Committee Chairmenship and membership. It was alleged, that vested interests dominated the powerful House Committees.
One Committee Chair, that elicited some harsh comments, was the powerful Committee on Economic-Affairs (CEA). It was announced that the amiable and soft spoken, Congressman from Davao, Lorenzo Sarmiento, would chair the Committee. The Sarmiento family of Davao was known for their wide ranging business interests in timber concessions, various industrial and commercial enterprises in Davao and other parts of Mindanao. They played a big factor in the increasing progress of Davao and Mindanao. The negative reaction to the announced Chairmanship of Congressman Sarmiento, to the Committee on Economic-affairs (CEA), was his identification with big business interests. It was perceived by the critics, that he may use his Committee position to unduly advance, his family’s business interests. Because of the furor raised to Congressman Sarmiento’s posting as CEA Chair, the House in a caucus decided to defer meanwhile the election of (CEA) chair. For about a month and a half, action on the Chairmanship of the CEA was deferred. Meanwhile, House Speaker Jose Laurel, Jr. conducted a survey of the House membership, to ascertain the extent of their business interests.
One early Monday morning, about the 2nd week of March 1970, I received a message from Speaker Laurel to join him at his private office at the Manila Bank Building at Bonifacio Drive St., Port Area, Manila. When I was ushered in to Speaker Laurel’s Office, I saw Congressman Lorenzo Sarmiento and the Speaker in a huddle. The Speaker beckoned me to join them. Speaker Laurel said that he made a survey of the varied interests (business, professionals etc.) of the House membership and, “Romy, he added, parang ikaw lang ang walang connection sa negosyo.” I answered, “Totoo, Mr. Speaker, hindi ako negosyante. Ang mga magulang ko po ay mga guro at wala talaga kaming ka ano-ano sa negosyo.” The Speaker smiled, and said, “That is why I called you and Congressman Sarmiento, so we can solve the problem of the Chairmanship of the CEA. I will make an announcement that you are chosen to be Vice-Chairman of the CEA and Congressman Sarmiento remains as Chairman. But it will be you who will actively handle the Committee Affairs, and Congressman Sarmiento will be there to guide and assist you meanwhile”. He asked me if I agreed with that kind of arrangement. I answered, “Yes Mr. Speaker, if that is the decision of the House leadership.” But I added, “Hwag lang naman akong pabayaan ni Congressman Sarmiento at bagito lang ako”. “Ay oo naman”, the Speaker remarked. “Si Enchong ay alalayan ka.” Congressman Sarmiento likewise remarked, “Nandito naman ako lagi eh, hwag kang mabahala Romy, madali mo naman matutunan ang pamalakad ng Committee.” The Speaker, called his media adviser, Tony, and instructed him to brief the media of what transpired. The EAC was regularly briefed and advised by the Congressional Economic Planning (CEPO), composed mostly of top acknowledged economists, graduates of world class economic schools abroad, (i.e. London School of Economics, Wharton, Yale, Harvard and Cornell University in the US, like Jose Romero, Alejandro Lichauco, Dr. Emmanuel Q. Yap,Dr. Vicente Valdepeñas and a few others.
Meanwhile, student rallies in the streets were increasing everyday. At one time, they barged inside the session hall and fully occupied the galleries. Then they sung the national anthem, and the Congressmen rose from their seats to stand. But when the singing ended and the Congressmen were about to take their seats, the students would again sing the national anthem and perforce, the Congressmen would again stand up. Speaker Laurel who was presiding over the House proceedings,
stood up from his chair at the rostrum and pounded for three times, the gavel on top of his table and loudly announced “ We are now witnessing how this unruly group, abused the hospitality of this Chamber. I order the House Security to evict them out of the gallery at once”. A loud scuffle occurred in the gallery, as the House Security people forced out the rallyists from the session hall.
Even as I was already in Congress, I still pursued any studies in Anthropology at the UP. Dr. Landa Jocano and Dr. Arsenio E. Manuel, well known Anthropologists and writers in Philippine societal structures, cultures and traditions, were my two guiding professors and advisers who eagerly and patiently encouraged me to further broaden and deepen my knowledge and understanding of Philippine Society. It was already the time when rallies in the streets were increasing almost every week. I arranged to attend my Anthropology studies at two o’clock to four o’clock in the afternoon. After class hours, I then would rush to Congress to be on time for the daily session which usually started at five in the afternoon. One afternoon on my way back to Congress from my afternoon class in the UP, there was already a huge rally of students at Congress. The street below Congress and the driveway leading to the doorway entrance to the Session Hall were already teaming with rallyists. My car was following the car of Senator Jose Roy of Tarlac with his No. 7 plate. I never used my No. 8 car plate as a Congressman. I was seated beside the driver in the front with the right glass window rolled down, as I was also eager to see, if I recognized a few of the rallyists. Just as Senator Roy stopped in front of the doorway entrance, a stone was hurled at the back of his car hitting the rear glass window which immediately cracked and broken with shattered glass pieces strewn on the car and the driveway. The policemen and other security people immediately surrounded the car of Senator Roy, as it was being led down and out of the driveway. At that moment I got frightened. I thought, I was next to be stoned as I saw several rallyists with arms raised and clenched fists. At that instance, I heard several voices coming from the rallyists standing along the driveway, saying “Huwag si Romy yan.” I looked at the right, and scanned the sea of faces. I caught a few familiar faces among the crowd. I recognized two or three of them to be my classmates in my Anthropology and Political Science classes. They were smiling and waving at me, and were shouting “Hi Romy”. I also waived back and felt so relieved. As I rushed out of my car and proceeded to the Session Hall, it was only then, that I could breathe in full. The session for the day adjourned early – about six pm. I went down to my office located in the basement of the Congress Building. As I entered my office, I was surprised to see Brig. General Mariano Ordoñez, the MetroCom Commander in Manila. He stood up and greeted me. So I asked what was the purpose of the visit. Then he said, “Congressman, we saw that after the stoning of the Senator Roys’ car, you were just a few feet behind his car, but you were not stoned. Mr. Congressman, perhaps those in that rally, knew you. Would you know them too, Sir?” I laughed a bit and I said – “Ah General, that is why I deserved a visit from you.” And I continued, “General, I recognized two of the girls in the rally, are my classmates from UP, but I don’t remember their names.” General Ordoñez smiled, thanked me and left. Those two girls that I saw, were my classmates in the Anthropology class. I learned later, that they joined the activists and went underground. One of them, was reportedly killed later in an encounter with government troops in the Sierra Madre mountains, on the border of Quezon Province and Bicol.