112-year po­lit­i­cal jour­ney of the Orte­gas of La Union

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - FRONT PAGE - By Yolanda Sotelo San Fer­nando City

AT NOON, the court­yard of the big house on Rizal Street in La Union’s cap­i­tal of San Fer­nando comes to life. The long ta­ble, laden with a fare of meat and fish, sits be­neath decades-old fruit trees.

It is lunchtime for the Orte­gas, the fam­ily that has dom­i­nated La Union pol­i­tics since the early 1900s. In one such oc­ca­sion last month, the clan leader, Rep. Vic­tor Ortega, took the seat at the head of the ta­ble. To his left was his wife, Mary Jane, the for­mer mayor of San Fer­nando City.

Present, too, were Board Mem­ber Jose “Pepe” Ortega, Coun­cilor Ra­mon “Monet” Ortega, the chair of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Barangay Cap­tains in the city, and other fam­ily mem­bers and staff of Vic­tor’s con­gres­sional of­fice.

There was no talk about pol­i­tics—just much rib­bing, laugh­ing and even danc­ing.

“Ev­ery­one is in­vited to lunch here, but not at din­ner be­cause the kitchen is closed as we would not know where we would be then,” said Vic­tor, the old­est of 15 chil­dren of Fran­cisco Ortega, who rep­re­sented the sec­ond dis­trict of La Union for 24 years.

No dy­nasty

The Orte­gas have been serv­ing in var­i­ous elec­tive posts in La Union for 112 years now. Vic­tor, how­ever, does not want the fam­ily to be la­beled a po­lit­i­cal dy­nasty.

“What I un­der­stand about dy­nasty is that the po­si­tion is sim­ply handed down. We did not in­herit the po­si­tion, we in­her­ited only the de­sire to serve,” he said.

The Orte­gas’ jour­ney in La Union pol­i­tics started in 1901, when the Amer­i­can colo­nial govern­ment ap­pointed Don Joaquin Ortega, Vic­tor’s grand­fa­ther, as the prov­ince’s first gover­nor. Joaquin served un­til 1904.

But the fam­ily, Vic­tor said, has not al­ways held the top elec­tive post in the prov­ince.

Af­ter Joaquin, it took 87 years be­fore an­other Ortega took over the gover­nor’s seat, with the elec­tion of his son, also named Joaquin (called Un­cle Tit­ing), in 1988. Tit­ing lost six elec­toral con­tests be­fore fi­nally win­ning as rep­re­sen­ta­tive in 1969.

The other son, Fran­cisco, had a rel­a­tively smooth sail­ing in pol­i­tics, al­though there were years when he was out of the game. Taken to­gether, he served 24 years as rep­re­sen­ta­tive un­til he died in 1967 while serv­ing as com­mis­sioner of the Com­mis­sion on Elec­tions.

It is Fran­cisco’s fam­ily that con­tin­ued the Orte­gas’ po­lit­i­cal jour­ney.

Fran­cisco has 15 chil­dren, with all of the eight boys now in pub­lic ser­vice. None of the seven girls joined pol­i­tics, and it was only Mary Jane (Vic­tor’s wife) who was elected thrice as mayor of San Fer­nando.

Aside from Vic­tor, the other broth­ers are Manuel (known as Mano­ling, for­mer San Fer­nando City mayor and rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the sec­ond dis­trict from 1998 to 2007), who is gun­ning for his last term as gover­nor; Pablo, who is run­ning for his last term as mayor of San Fer­nando; Jose (Pepe), run­ning for San Fer­nando vice mayor; and Fran­cisco Jr. (Kit), for provin­cial board mem­ber.

An­other brother, for­mer Baguio po­lice chief Roberto “Bobby” Ortega, is run­ning for coun­cilor in Baguio City. His son, Robert, is run­ning for coun­cilor of Manila, while his daugh­ter, Michelle, is run­ning for mayor of Caba town in La Union.

Manuel’s three chil­dren are also in pol­i­tics: Fran­cisco is the sec­ond nom­i­nee of the partylist group Abono, Al­fredo is run­ning for coun­cilor of San Fer­nando, and Em­manuel Vic­tor is ABC pres­i­dent of the prov­ince.

Pablo’s son, Fran­cisco Paolo V, is eye­ing a

‘We did not in­herit the po­si­tion, we only in­her­ited the de­sire to serve’

coun­cil seat in San Fer­nando.

Ra­mon’s son, Ra­mon Guio, is Sang­gu­ni­ang Ka­bataan chair of San Fer­nando. He is the youngest among the Ortega politi­cians. Vic­tor’s en­try into pol­i­tics led the way for his broth­ers in pol­i­tics. But it was not easy as the path was full of stum­bling blocks, he said.

Ortega vs Ortega

When their fa­ther Fran­cisco died in 1967, Vic­tor was all set to run for rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the 1969 elec­tions af­ter his un­cle, Tit­ing, told him he was not run­ning.

“We re­signed as teach­ers from the Univer­sity of the East, sold our house in Manila, closed his law of­fice there and the gaso­line sta­tion, packed our bags and went back to La Union,” said Vic­tor’s wife, Mary Jane.

But Tit­ing changed his mind and said he was run­ning with the back­ing of then Pres­i­dent Fer­di­nand Mar­cos, who was his class­mate at the Univer­sity of the Philip­pines’ Col­lege of Law.

Vic­tor lost by 3,000 votes in his first at­tempt in elec­toral pol­i­tics to his Un­cle Tit­ing.

“Is that dy­nasty? That was Ortega run­ning against an Ortega,” Mary Jane said.

The same sce­nario hap­pened in the 1978 Batasang Pam­bansa elec­tions, with Mar­cos or­der­ing him again to with­draw from the race in fa­vor of his un­cle.

Even Manuel had to suf­fer as he was asked to with­draw from the San Fer­nando may­oral race in 1980 be­cause a rel­a­tive of then Tourism Sec­re­tary Jose Aspi­ras, a close ally of Mar­cos, wanted to run.

Justo Or­ros, then a judge in Pan­gasi­nan, was asked to run as a com­pro­mise can­di­date. Or­ros, a cousin of the Orte­gas, would be elected La Union gover­nor in 1992.

“Mar­cos was a demigod then in Ilo­can­dia. His word was law and if he did not sup­port you, you would lose,” Vic­tor said.

In 1987, with Mar­cos out of the coun­try, Vic­tor fi­nally put his foot down and talked to his Un­cle Tit­ing about his plan to run.

“I told him that if we will both run, we will lose to Mag­no­lia An­tonino, who beat him in the 1965 elec­tions. He said we will talk to his lead­ers, but I talked to them first. They may like Un­cle Tit­ing but they like me bet­ter than An­tonino,” Vic­tor said.

Hard fight

Vic­tor’s dream to be­come a leg­is­la­tor came true.

“As you can see, I waited for 22 years to be­come con­gress­man. It was hard fight all the way that a man made of less sterner stuff would have crum­bled. Is that a dy­nasty?” he said.

The fol­low­ing year was the elec­tion for lo­cal of­fices and Tit­ing was elected gover­nor of the prov­ince.

“La Union had an Ortega as a gover­nor 87 years af­ter Don Joaquin was ap­pointed gover­nor in 1901. Is that a dy­nasty? My point here is hindi mi­nana (we did not in­herit the po­si­tion). My fa­ther fin­ished his term in Congress in 1965, I reached Congress in 1987,” he said.

Vic­tor said the older Orte­gas had to go through a nee­dle’s eye be­fore achiev­ing the po­si­tions they are oc­cu­py­ing now. He started as a barangay cap­tain be­fore he be­came San Fer­nando mayor.

But Vic­tor con­ceded that the road was eas­ier for his younger broth­ers and their chil­dren.

“But no fam­ily mem­ber is forced into run­ning for an elec­tive of­fice. It is all vol­un­tary. Af­ter my fa­ther died, no one was in­volved in pol­i­tics. We were never en­cour­aged nor dis­cour­aged. His at­ti­tude is what we fol­lowed with our chil­dren. If they want to en­ter pol­i­tics, then we let them and sup­port them,” he said.

As the ac­knowl­edged leader of the Ortega clan now, how does Vic­tor make sure that each of them does not stray from the kind of pub­lic ser­vice that their fa­ther, Fran­cisco, had shown?

“I have only one warn­ing to my broth­ers and my neph­ews and nieces. The Orte­gas fear no one, but I told them that their grand­fa­ther would haunt them if they failed in pub­lic ser­vice. That was his legacy— good pub­lic ser­vice,” he said.

THE ORTE­GAS of La Union: (From left) Fran­cisco, Rep. Vic­tor, Gov. Manuel and San Fer­nando City Mayor Pablo

DON JOAQUIN

PHO­TOS AND RE­PRO­DUC­TION BY EV ESPIR­ITU

VOTE2OI3

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