“You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honour.” – Aristotle
Friday last week, I had a propitous chance to meet this motivated young man from the land of hard working farmers of Sariaya town in Quezon province. His name is Marcelo Gayeta, 46 years old, mayor of Sariaya. He is now on his third term as mayor.
Over a cup of coffee, mayor Gayeta narrated to Palawan News that at the onset he had dreamed of becoming a barangay chaiman, as his father served as barangay councilor in Brgy. Morong, one of the smallest barangays.
His first actual exposure to public service, Gayeta said, was when he was elected as Sanggunian Kabataan chairman in their barangay.
“From 1996 up to 2002, I was a former SK chairman of Baranggay Morong in Sariaya.Then I became a councilor of my baranggay. I was decided to run for baranggay chairman, but my opponent went to my father to convince me not to run as I was still young. They wanted me to give way to them,” Gayeta said.
Gayeta thought that it would be a waste of time for him to wait for them to finish their term which would be in 2022 or 2023 as the baranngay elections was extended.
“Instead, I ran for town councilor of Sariaya and won. From 2013 to 2016, I was a councilor. Then on 2016, I ran for town mayor and I won as mayor,” Gayeta said.
Sariaya was “payak” or a simple town, Gayeta explained: It was a first class municipality which had been receiving an internal revenue allotment of P574 million from the national government.
“Our target is to become a component city. We have now more than 200 thousand population. Our voters’ population is 108, 000 and we have 43 baranggays. Our land area is 24,000 hectares,” Gayeta said.
Foremost in Sariaya’s livelihood is agriculture farming where there exists a 24-hour vegetable depot as the neighboring provinces in Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon provinces haul their harvests because Sariaya has big vegetables distribution center.
Gayeta said their farmers’ harvests were those vegetables commonly known as “pakbet” that comprised of eggplant, tomatoes, ampalya, string beans, squash, okra, garlic, and onions.
At present, Gayeta said Sariaya now provides jobs and livelihood for its residents.
“There are plenty of livelihood in Sariaya now. Our main target is that my constituents will no longer search for jobs in other places. I want them to stay in Sariaya,” Gayeta said.
He said they had invited big businessmen to invest in Sariaya.
“We helped our investors. We do not ask anything. No one is asking of “percent or commission” from investors. Not one official is asking anything in Sariaya from our investors. That is the policy,” Gayeta said.
Gayeta said once investors came in the town hall: “Especially to me, I will personally assit them. They will be given due courtesy. For example, we will not ask anything from them… Walang hihingiin sa kanila… Hindi kami humihingi ng prosyento. Walang ten percent. Walang ganoon. Pag investor tutulungan namin sila”.
Gayeta stressed: “That was it. It is a policy that is being followed by the municipal employees that is followed by the employees in the Business Permit Office. So the businessmen secure their business permits.”
He said it was the main reason why their collections increased in the succeeding years of his term in office because investors had started to trust the municipal government.
“That’s why our income increased. For example, previously, we collected only P70 million. Our target to become a city is more P1.5 billion because we want Sariaya to become a city. Now, it’s been three consecutive years that we have collections of P100 plus million. In 2022, we had hit our target P100 plus million,” Gayeta said, “People are saying: That’s alright, Mayor, even if we pay our taxes regularly, we can see developments in Sariaya.”
Gayeta said that business tycoon Lance Gokongwei has started to put investments and to build up the largest Universal Robina Corporation flour factory in Sariaya. He said it could be the largest flour factory in the Philippines.
He said tycoon Ramon S. Ang of San Miguel Corporation has also began investments in Sariaya, aside from giving out lands to help Sariaya residents have their own homes.
Supermarket chains Puregold Price Club, which is owned by Lucio Co, has started put up a big outlet in Sariaya.
“Our investors are good signs that Sariaya now has progress. People in Sariaya have jobs,” Gayeta said.
Gayeta said a big oil depot is being constructed in Sariaya that can contain almost 1.2 million leters of diesel and gasoline that huge tankers from Panama shipped.
“They came in 2017 during my first term because they saw the geographical potentials of Sariaya. Secondly, they are welcomed to Sariaya. They get good rapport in the local government because no one is asking… (kasi di namin sila hinihingian). I think that’s the reason. You know, investors wants some degree of honesty from local government officials,” Gayeta said.
Gayeta said Sariaya has found good business partners in development as they also helped in social projects in town by donating goods for persons with disabilities (PWDs).
“Investors know how to share. They volunteer to give social assistance to PWDs of Sariaya. During my birthdays, I do not prepare much. Instead, I give to all PWDs one pail full of goods worth P3,000 each. Our investors donate all of these goods during my birthdays because they know what I am doing. I felt more than happy for that, ” Gayeta said.
In Sariaya, all 43 baranggays have their respective L-300 brand new ambulance and there are 16 units of ambulance assigned to Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (MDRRMO) to fetch those who are sick to bring back and forth, from their respective houses to the hospital, whether in Lucena city or in the Ospital ng Maynila or the Philippine General Hospital (PGH).
“We want to show our concern for the people Sariaya. Especially, those persons who undergo dialysis that we need to bring to hospitals. It is free of charge,” Gayeta said.
On matters of local politics, Gayata said he managed to unite the local political leaders in Sariaya because he departed from the rotten style of traditional politics.
“I was at my young age when I become mayor. I saw the system of old politics. Before, if you’re an enemy, then you remain an enemy until the end. I changed it in Sariaya,” Gayeta said.
At first, he said that some political leaders of 43 barrrangays disliked him, but remained firm he could convince them on his principles.
“I showed sincerity to them. I gave my best in public service. That’s why on my second term as mayor of Sariaya I unopposed because the people of Sariaya had decided and there was no resistance,” Gayeta said.
He said that he focused on the baranggay chairmen who he noticed to indifferent to his leadership: “I have patiently ask them that we should be united in Sariaya so the services will not be hampered and affected by politics, until they agreed. I showed them sincerity,” he said.
Although, Gayeta has executive assistants but he said he remained to have no political advisers.
“No one dictates me what to do and what to be done. Others in the office can suggest, but in the end I will make my own decisions. I maintain my principle: If I make a wrong decision, I will nlame no one but myself,” Gayeta said.
In terms of developments in Sariaya, Gayeta said he got funds to support projects from Department of Agriculture for the farmers, aside from the projects provided by the Philippine Rural Development Projects (PRDP) which was funded by the World Bank. He was one of the selected few local mayors that were granted favors by the World Bank in 2016.
Gayeta said he was granted of P187 million funds for agriculture projects as support for Sariaya farmers and on its second phase he was given P250 million under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture.
“Patience is a virtue. I have courted in the DA central office in Manila. I remember I had to leave in Sariaya at 3 o’clock in the morning to bring the letter-request with a resolution of the Sangguniang Bayan. I had made a series of follow-ups, until I got noticed there so I was granted of my request. Tiyagaan talaga yun (laughs),” Gayeta said.
In the projects, Gayeta said he assigned a task force to have a regular monitor of the projects that he had hired engineers who were from Sariaya.
“I hired young and idealistic engineers to work for me in the LGU. They are not yet corrupted of the system (laughs),” he said.
As a college student of Manuel S. Enverga university in Lucena city, Gayeta narrated that he worked as crew in Kimsuy Chinese Cuisine in Lucena city where he met a co-worker that was to become his future wife, Marivic.
“I also worked in Buddy’s Pizza as waiter in Ocean Palace Mall. After I graduated in my course of Criminology, I worked there in Big Mac food center. Then I got married. I stayed longer at Buddy’s, until I met a customer who was Filipino-Chinese businessman who offered me a part time job during my day off,” Gayeta said.
He learned that the Filipino-Chinese businessman was a distributor of Philip Morris cigarette that he was assigned to distribute cigarettes in routes of Tayabas, Lucban, Mauban, Tiaong, San Antonio, and Dolores. He found out that his income was better that to be a mere waiter in the restaurant in Lucena city that he became a cigarette salesman for seven years.
“I gained the trust of this Filipino-Chinese. I happened to collect amounted to million in cash, I was never lured to misspend the money. I remitted them all,” Gayeta said.
When the business had stopped because the distributor had changed, Gayeta said he was given P200,000 cash by the Filipino-Chinese as a gift.
“He became our godfather in our wedding. So he gave us P200 thousand cashwhich I used as my capital in the business. I bought three female cows and a tricycle. Those cows I was able to propagate into twenty heads,” Gayeta said.
Gayeta said when he heard that a certain funeral parlor was about to stop business, he decided to sell all the cows to have capital and started a business of funeral parlor.
“I am the owner of Marcelo Gayeta Funeral Services in Sariaya. That is where it all started. So I bought a Besta van in Lucena because I cannot load a cadaver in the tricycle,”Gayeta said.
“I was the driver. I fetch the cadaver. I arranged flowers. I assisted how to set up in the house. I helped bury the dead in Sariaya. That I became known to the people of Sariaya with whom I provided my service, rich and poor,” Gayeta said.
He experienced that he got only two customers in one month because he was still unknown in the funeral service.
“Suppliers of coffins even do not trust me because I had no capital yet. I was just a simple funeral parlor in Sariaya. I had no display of coffins so I was just showing pictures of coffins to costumers (laughs). Then I will get the coffins in Lucena in Tayabas funeral parlor. Meron nga iba, pag di’ nagustuhan ang kabaong: “Totoy, ang sama ng itsura, puede ba palitan?” I had no choice, I will only scratch my head siempre, babalik ako sa Lucena para palitan… (laughs loud),” Gayeta said.
Because Gayeta was a former SK chairman, he had contacts in the different baranggays in Sariaya that he started to gain customers.
“I started to gain customers. I have my sympathy to the families in their moments of bereavement. Especially, those poor customers. We can do nothing about it because they are poor. It’s hard to be poor,” Gayeta said.
Gayeta said his wife Marivic was hesitant at first to have the funeral parlor as business but he explained that there was nothing wrong in funeral business.
“My wife now is a big help to me. I made her understand. She understands now the business. Of course, who will like the dead persons (laughs). It is just business. We will all pass away. It is our final destiny on earth,” Gayeta said.
He said after many years had passed, he was able to extend help to people in Sariaya that they convinced him to run for public office in town.
“When I ran for councilor in Sariaya, they showed their strong support for me. They helped me win. Those families I helped, they helped me in return. Now, I am on my third term as mayor of Sariaya. I thanked the people of Sariaya,” Gayeta said.
Gayeta said he prepares Sariaya in becoming city that he constructed a P300 million new municipal building that would house 10 councilors, the vice mayor, the SK Federation President and Association of Barangay Captains (ABC) President and the Secretary to the Sanggunian along with the Secretariat employees.
“I want to leave a legacy. After 50 years, we are all gone but we will be remembered. We will pass it on to our children and grandchildren. Like Robert Frost said: there is always a passing of the torch and changing of the guards,” Gayeta said.
In Sariaya, Gayeta executed a well planned perspectives located on 11.6 hectares government land where the Mayor has to have an official residence, 2 hectares intended area to build the municipal hall, and 3 hectares for the parking area, another 2 hectares for the various offices of the national agencies.
Gayeta said business tycoon Ramon S. Ang pledged P350 million for the construction of the convention center in a 2-hectare lot.
Gayeta said the DA has given an advance of P150 million to start the construction of the Pamilihan Bayan ni Gayeta located in a 2-hectare government land which is a part of P650 million fund project.
“it is not easy thing to dream, but if we will be happy doing it, we can attain our dream,” Gayeta said.
Gayeta said that it would be best for a politician that his family has their own livelihood so as not to rely on government’s funds.
“For me, if the mayor has no other source of income, he will only rely his family’s expenses on the treasury which is wrong, that has bad effect on public service to the people,” Gayeta said.
Gayeta has three children but his only son, Christian, was murdered in the hands of corrupt police officials in Tayabas, Quezon in March 2019.
Gayeta said the police murderers were sentenced to double life imprisonment in the National Bilibid Prison, Muntinlupa City.
I thanked Joel Lanzanas and his wife Gloria Alcala-Lanzanas, both Spanish citizens, for inviting at their cozy residence in Libis Road, San Pedro, Puerto Princesa city to have good breakfast with mayor Gayeta, and eventually met his entire family.