Wednesday, June 1, 2011

CONRADO F. ESTRELLA: Hero and Pride of Rosales, Pangasinan

Sometime in October, 1999 I created a website called ( . It was meant to honor national heroes, martyrs, patriots and Filipinos in history. But I also added new categories such as hometown heroes, heroes in every field of discipline and of course, my hero. The idea was that while the National Historical Commission, Bantayog Ng Mga Bayani and the Libingan Ng Mga Bayani took care of the national heroes, the local folks may have a different take. The residents of the town know more about who would be considered as heroes in their town. Of course, an individual may also have a different view, hence- my  hero. This was before Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks became popular. In fact, this was on TV as I announced it a few days before All Saints Day that year. (The website is currently under reconstruction but I hope to be able to upload it soon.) 

I just found out that Lakay Condring or former Pangasinan Governor Conrado F. Estrella was finally called by God to join Him. My sincerest condolences go to his family. I offer my  prayers as he enters the Pearly Gates of Heaven.

Lakay Condring as a national hero will be judged by history. There are enough reasons and justification for his inclusion. It will probably take a little time to compile the historical files and documentation gathered, researched and written by historians to support such an inclusion. But as a hometown hero, as a hero in the field of public service and as a hero of certain  individuals who have had direct exposure to his heroic qualities and traits, we do not have to wait.

Governor Estrella (his preferred title) was indeed a hero and pride of my town, Rosales, Pangasinan. What he has achieved in the political arena and public service, no other resident has ever achieved and no one may ever will. He was a great Mayor of Rosales, loved by the people and destined for higher glories. Discovered by President Ramon Magsaysay as someone who resembled him as a “man of the masses”, he nurtured Lakay Condring as the latter climbed to Governorship within a very short period of time. I have always wondered what would have happened if Magsaysay did not die in that plane crash. We know how the Province of Pangasinan was effectively and efficiently run under Estrella’s regime. How far could Magsaysay have nurtured and prepared him for a higher national Chief Executive position?

The ascendancy of Governor Estrella also meant the ascendancy of Rosales residents. I remember as a young Boy Scout while attending the provincial jamboree in Lingayen, I went to visit the Governor’s office at the Princess Urduja building. It was full of people but when I mentioned to the staff assistant that I was from Rosales, I suddenly received first class service. I also found out that most of the employees in the office were from our town.

The Governor was a basketball player and buff. When I was in the Pangasinan Basketball Team that won the Central Luzon Athletic Association meet in Balanga, Bataan, he sought us out. When he found out that I was from Rosales, he made sure that we had a picture together with my gold medal. The picture is still in an old scrapbook of mine in the Philippines.

In college I became a student activist fighting for social, economic and political reforms. At that time, Governor Estrella was the Agrarian Reform Secretary. I remember having several encounters with him on opposite sides. One was in Isla Puting Bato and Don Bosco, Tondo. I was helping the squatters in preparing for their march to Malacanang bringing their “barong-barong” huts and camping at Mendiola in front of the palace. He was there to assuage and discourage the leader, Resty de Leon who was from Pangasinan. He saw me and even told Resty that we were town mates. He was there to relay Marcos’ offer that the titles to the lots would be transferred to the squatters.

Another instance was when my youth group joined the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) in the march from Agrifina Circle to Malacanang. Secretary Estrella arranged a dialog between Marcos and some leaders of FFF. When the Secretary opened the gates, all  of us barged into the palace grounds and into the Malacanang hall. He was always respected by the farmers and their leaders so when he requested them to keep still and he would call Marcos, they did. When he and Marcos came back, he saw me again and somehow he managed to ask me to join him and introduced me to Marcos as a town mate of his.

When I was President of the Rizalinian Civic Association (RCA), I invited Raul S. Manglapus as a guest speaker. When Secretary and Congressman Bobby Estrella found out about the former coming to Rosales, they offered the Secretary’s residence for Manglapus to stay which he did. The latter authored the original Land Reform Code which DAR Secretary Estrella was implementing.

A few years after the People Power Revolution, I had the chance to see him again. First was when I negotiated the deal that brought Frank Sinatra to  Manila. I was honored to invite him as a special guest. Accompanying him on front row were his sister, and his daughter Bernie.

When my father-in-law, Raul Manglapus, died, he was at the wake in the Ateneo de Manila University chapel. I was glad to have spent some time with him  talking about Rosales and what he and Manglapus had in common, especially with respect to the welfare of the farmers. Again, it struck me. What they actually had in common was President Ramon Magsaysay. What if?

I met him again later at the house of his daughter Bernie. He was always friendly, charming and disarming. He even asked me to become a member of PHILCONSA (Philippine Constitution Association). He was already the Chairman of the Association. He was the only non-lawyer I know who gained full knowledge of the Philippine Constitution, vowed to protect it and even led the association that defends it.

“What we are is a gift given to us by God. What we become is our gift to God.” Governor Estrella was provided by God great talents to govern and to serve other men. His achievements in life – as a Mayor, Governor, Agrarian Reformer and defender of the Philippine Constitution cannot be ignored. His success as a parent could be seen through the children that he raised.

The only Rosalenian or Rosaleno I know who has been conferred six honorary doctorate degrees (honoris causa) by prestigious universities and colleges in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, Dr. Conrado F. Estrella understood the value of education. He was an avid student of history and in fact, obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in History.

With his historic contributions to society, especially to the people of Rosales, he himself will soon be part of that history written for this current and future generation to emulate.

With what he has become, he is also a great gift to God.

No comments:

Post a Comment