It is an unusual odyssey for a former rebel-priestÂ from wanting to bring down the Marcos government intoÂ becoming a most trusted aide as Cabinet secretary to president-elect Rodrigo Duterte in MalacaÃ±ang.
Leoncio Evasco Jr., outgoing Maribojoc three -term mayor , is a man described as gifted with exceptional “management skills” sharpened by his decade long struggle as an NPA in the mountains of Mindanao and as a rugged hatchet man of tough-talking mayor Duterte who ruled Davao CityÂ for 20 years.
‘Unorthodox’ has been the term given to the nationwide campaign of the Digong candidacy-piloted byÂ EvascoÂ himself operatingÂ from Davao cityÂ with a rag tag team that included among others, Bong Co, Sonny Dominguez and Peter Lavina.
Many people are indeed qualified to become president of this republic. Only- thatÂ one has to be elected first.
And Evasco was able to structure a tightly-financed campaign fueled largely by Mindanao businessmen with a pitch for “real democracy” vs the “elite democracy” the country has known for so long. All the text book rules in campaigning were thrown off the window as the message of “The Punisher of the South” resonated well across the nation resulting in a 42% plurality vote for the Davao mayor.
Self-effacing, Evasco was indifferent to any Cabinet post and was as excited to continue his organic farming endeavors in his townÂ than be in the Palace with the powers that be.
However, Duterte insisted he wanted a “man of action” in the Palace and gave the crucial Secretary to the Cabinet post to this organization man.
PRIESTLY DUTIES TO NPA
Jun Evasco finished his seminary days at the major seminary of San Carlos in Cebu City and his masters at the Ateneo de Davao University. Ordained in 1971- just before the declaration of Martial Law hisÂ priestly assignments included Dauis, Baclayon in Catigbian.
In 1974 when soldiers raided his convent in Catigbian- he threw his cassocks away in favor of peasant uniform with guns and bullets as a member of the New People’s Army. He was in a northern Cotabato mountain top officiating over a rebel wedding when soldiers pounced in.
He was arrested in 1983 and cameÂ face-to-faceÂ with the city government prosecutor in Duterte. He was reportedly tortured excessively by soldiers having been thought of as a top commie leader.
With the democratic space back in 1986, the political prisoner Evasco was released. Pretty soon he was in the corridorsÂ of power in the Duterte circle. Despite his lack of background he was an engineering and economic planner and graduated into a chief of staff of the mayor of theÂ country’s third largest city – a powerful “little mayor” he was.
The rest is history.
OTHER REBEL PRIESTS AND LEFTISTS
The Evasco phenomenon was not uncommon in the 70’s when the fascistic regime of Marcos bore down on the studentry, peasants and workers who he accused as allied with the communists.
Fr. Conrado Balweg (SVP priest), for instance, became the founder of the Cordilleras People’s Army and killed dozens of soldiers and informants. Many priests, then, were enamored by the “preferential option of the poor” of the church and the Liberation Theology most accepted in Latin America.
Balweg negotiated for peace during Cory’s time.Â He was assassinated in 1999 allegedly by some remnants of the rebel group.
Other priests turned rebels include Fr. Edicio de la Torre (SVD) who later founded the Rural Reconstruction Movement and Boholano priest Fr. Nick Ruiz.
President-elect Duterte always admitted to be “left of center” and gave crucial Cabinet posts to socialist-activists. Among those are Rafael Mariano of the Department of Agrarian reform , Judy Taguiwalo (former Makibaka, and professor at the University of the Philippines) for the DSWD. DENR is expected to be given to another leftist inclined member.
Undersecretary for DOLE is JoelÂ Maglungsod, an identified leftist.
President-elect Duterte has instructed Jess Dureza of the Peace Process to hasten the peace talks with the communist rebels in route to a lasting peace with the NDF/CPP (National Democratic Front and the Communist Party of the Philippines).
CHALLENGES OF THE REGIME
Given the perceived shortcomings of the Aquino administration and the entry of a hodge-podge of politically diverse Cabinet officials from both extremes of the spectrum, the managerial skills of an Evasco will be pushed to its limits.
Jun Evasco is known to have shownÂ the door onceÂ to the Red Cross during the rehabilitation of the earthquake-ravaged Maribojoc “to put order and avoid duplication of efforts.”
A man of action and man of strategic vision is what the incoming former city mayor needs as he walks almost blindsided by the images and mirrors of a bureaucratic labyrinth called theÂ national government.
Evasco has this chance to rise to national prominence.Â (BPD III)