BOAC — It’s the season of Lent and this capital town of Marinduque province is once again in a frenzied preparation for the traditional Moriones Festival on Holy Week.
Provincial tourism officer Gerry Jamilla said local government officials are inclined to push through with the Lenten fiesta but it will be toned down due to the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis. He expects fewer people to participate this year unlike in the past when an estimated 50,000 people would join this world-famous festival annually.
The run-up to Holy Week is considered the only time when small businesses and beach resorts here would come to life. For the rest of the year, economic activity slows down in this fourth-class province income-wise, based on the 2018 Standard Geographic Code of the Philippine Statistics Authority.
Last month, Marinduque’s 100th founding anniversary celebration as an island-province kicked off with the unveiling of the Centennial Monument and the heritage plaque for the Boac Cathedral, which was declared an important cultural property by the National Museum of the Philippines. However, some crowd-drawing events like the centennial concert were canceled for health and safety reasons.
Sadly, Marinduque remains one of the country’s poorest provinces — exactly a century after it was separated from Tayabas (now Quezon province) in 1920. Since the 1960s, it has mostly been ruled by only three families surnamed Lecaroz, Reyes, and Velasco.
Incumbent Governor Presbitero Velasco, Jr. retired as Supreme Court associate justice in 2018 and subsequently ran for public office. Prior to his 20 years in the judiciary, he had a short stint with the government’s executive branch as undersecretary of the Department of Justice (DoJ). He was previously engaged in private law practice for two decades.
In the banking industry, a controversy arose concerning a loan co-signed by Mr. Velasco in 1997 when he was DoJ undersecretary. An import-export firm obtained this loan from Orient Commercial Banking Corp., which was closed by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) in 1998 after its president, Jose Go, was found to have “diverted to fictitious and questionable loans” the P3.3-billion emergency financial assistance extended by the BSP to the then ailing bank.
Later, as a sitting justice during the 2010s, Mr. Velasco did not inhibit himself in cases involving Mr. Go whose businesses included the Ever-Gotesco malls and the Evercrest golf club —even when it turned out they used to have a lawyer-client relationship.
Recently, the League of Provinces of the Philippines elected Mr. Velasco as national president. His sudden rise to political prominence is complemented by the rising career of his son, Rep. Lord Allan Velasco. This coming October, the Marinduque congressman is poised to take over as Speaker of the House of Representatives under a term-sharing agreement with Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano.
Of course, poor Marinduqueños are excited at the prospect of having one of their own ascend to the fourth highest position in the national government, as it could be their only way out of perpetual impoverishment. But the father’s controversial past might haunt the son, who himself is currently embroiled in a tug-of-war with Mr. Cayetano over the speakership.
Meanwhile, the average poverty incidence per village in Marinduque stands at around 46.1% as of 2017, according to a study conducted by Arnold Salvacion of the University of the Philippines Los Baños College of Human Ecology.
When will the cycle of poverty in this perennially benighted yet beautiful island ever be broken? Does it have to wait another hundred years?
J. Albert Gamboa is CFO of the Asian Center for Legal Excellence and chairman of FINEX Publications.