Flashback 2015: In the run-up to the 2016 presidential elections, then Laguna 1st District Representative Danilo Ramon Fernandez can be seen in many an uploaded Youtube video heavily campaigning for his party mate Mar Roxas, the Liberal Party’s standard bearer for President.
Fastforward 2018: Santa Rosa, Laguna Mayor Danilo Ramon Fernandez enthusiastically receives and shakes the hand of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte at the oath-taking of some 4,000 elected barangay captains of Region IV-A at the Santa Rosa Complex, Santa Rosa, Laguna.
“Okay na kami [We’re okay],” Fernandez quipped, referring to Duterte. “He (Duterte) delivered a speech and we were all there. It was the birthday of Bong Go at that time. He celebrated his birthday there.
Back in 2015, Fernandez was the recipient of potshots from diehard Duterte supporters for his support of Roxas. A year later, he and then newly-elected President Duterte would shake hands and commit together to a common ideal of service to the people.
Fernandez said that the President told him: “Alam mo ang pulitika, ganyan lang naman e. I understand, Mayor ako dati, pulitiko ako, alam ko yung nararamdaman nyo. Punta ka ng Davao, bisitahin mo ako doon [I know politics is really like that. I understand. I was mayor then and a politician. I know how you feel. Come to Davao and visit me there].”
It was then that, according to Fernandez, he knew that the President did not hold grudges.
PEOPLE FIRST, POLITICS SECOND
For Fernandez, a dichotomy exists between political affiliations and service to the people. And nowhere is this more felt than in the realm of local politics.
“Sometimes, you have to choose: Am I going to do what I feel or will I do what is best for my constituents? Minsan nandun ka sa ganoong [Sometimes you are faced with that] predicament. Of course, you have to choose the latter because you took an oath that you will serve your constituents with utmost sincerity and to the best of your ability. You are not serving for political ends or political affiliations. You were elected to serve your constituents and they always comes first,” Fernandez said.
The 52-year old, former actor has successfully run the rounds of political victories that saw him, at the age of 32, winning a seat as provincial board member, representing the 4th district of Laguna province (1998-1991), which covered the municipalities of Cavinti, Famy, Kalayaan, Luisiana, Lumban, Mabitac, Magdalena, Majayjay, Paete, Pagsanjan, Pakil, Pangil, Pila, Sta. Cruz, Sta. Maria, and Siniloan.
At the age of 35, Fernandez ran and won as Laguna vice governor (2001-2004). He experienced a temporary political setback in 2004 when he ran for Laguna governor but lost to then incumbent Teresita ‘Ningning’ Lazaro.
He bounced back in 2007, successfully landing a seat in Congress, where he served for nine years as Representative of the 1st District of Laguna (2007-2016).
It is here, in the power corridors of the Lower House, that Fernandez fully saw the big picture regarding Philippine-style realpolitik.
“You know, in Congress, you have to be part of the majority Party. You’ve seen it happen in previous administrations. In the Congress leadership, kapag hindi ka kasama sa partido ng nakararami, hindi ka mabibigyan ng proyekto para sa constituents mo [if you are not part of the majority Party, you will not be given projects for your constituents]. Of course, sasabihin nila, ay yan balimbing yan, lumipat [they would say, he is a political turncoat, he changed party affiliation]. But if you think about it, you really have to do it otherwise, you will hurt your constituents as a whole,” Fernandez elaborated.
He added: “I can stick to my Party, yes, I can. But how do I tell my constituents that I’ll stay with my Party because I don’t want people to tell me I am a balimbing (political turncoat), when in the process, I will deprive them (constituents) of much needed programs and projects, just because I am not part of the majority Party? I choose to have a lot of programs and projects that I can deliver to my constituents. Let’s face it, this is the real politics that we have in the Philippines. I have to be frank about it because that’s the reality every elected local official must face. Of course, we are in the process of trying to have a stronger party system and I hope Congress will be able to achieve it in the future.”
Born on January 14, 1966, Fernandez, the youngest in a brood of four, consistently excelled in his studies.
He graduated as elementary class valedictorian at the Pagsangjan Academy, earned an honorable mention in high school at the Francisco Benitez Memorial School in Pagsanjan, and later, won a college scholarship at the Centro Escolar University in Manila, where he studied and became a doctor of optometry.
Tall and muscular at 5 feet 11 inches and blessed with a healthy crop of hair, an aquiline nose, fair and pellucid skin, full lips, and distinct Chinese-mestizo features, Fernandez first caught the public eye as an actor during the late ‘80s.
“It was 1986. I had just passed the board exam in optometry and was in my first year as a law student at the University of Santo Tomas (UST). I was working out at the YMCA in Manila when somebody approached me and offered me the chance to enter show business as an actor. And when they gave me a script to deliver, I always had it in just one take. They were surprised,” he narrated.
Then only 20-years old, Fernandez got introduced by appearing in TV shows like “Lovingly yours” and “Regal Shockers,” later landing supporting parts in a slew of crime-action flicks like “Kahit ako’y tupang itim, may langit din” (1988), “Gapos Gang” (1989), “Kunin mo ang ulo ni Ismael” (1990), “Urbanito Dizon: The Most Notorious Gangster in Luzon” (1990), “Hulihin si… Nardong Toothpick” (1990), “Alyas Dodong Guwapo” (1991), “Magdaleno Orbos: Sa kuko ng mga lawin” (1991), “Lintik lang ang walang ganti” (1991), and “Lumaban ka, Itay” (1992), among others.
Fernandez dropped out of law school to concentrate on his budding TV and film career. He later starred as the lead in more action flicks like “Kobra” (1997), “Boy Tapang” (1999), and “Upak Gang” (2015).
In his almost 30-year film career, Fernandez credited the late television and film director Argel Joseph and writer-director Emil Cruz, Jr. as the two people who gave him his biggest breaks in television and cinema.
In 1992, Joseph (real name: Angel Cruz) was the director of the long-running weekend drama anthology series, “Lovingly Yours, Helen.” Cruz would be Fernandez’ future director in the hit soap series “Mara Clara,” which went on the air from 1992 to 1997 and established the careers of Judy Ann Santos as “Mara” and Gladys Reyes as “Clara.”
POLITICS IN HIS BLOOD
For Fernandez, his star turn in the hit series made him a popular and sought-after actor. When “Mara Clara” wrapped up in 1997, he was ready to win his first elected political post as Laguna board member in 1998.
Politics is in the Fernandez bloodline. His father, the late Edilberto Fernandez, Sr., was councilor of Pagsanjan for 20 years. His eldest sister also served as Pagsanjan councilor. An uncle sits as councilor of Manila.
Still, Fernandez is proudest of his Lolo Estanislao Fernandez, Jr., the first and only member of the Fernandez clan to win an elected post at the national level.
The elder Fernandez was elected representative of Laguna’s second district in 1941 and later elected Senator (1959-1965).
Born in Liliw, Laguna, Estanislao Fernandez shifted Party affiliations throughout his 43-year political career: Nacionalista (1941-1946), Liberal (1946-1978) and was a delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention.
During the Martial Law years, he served as Regional Assemblyman (Region IV-A) under the banner of the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan in 1978. President Marcos later appointed him as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.
While at the Batasang Pambansa (National Legislature), the elder Fernandez was a member of six committees: Foreign Affairs, Justice, Human Rights and Good Government, Public Highways, Revision of Laws, and Codes and Constitutional Amendments.
“My grandfather, Lolo Stan, was a first cousin of my grandfather. He was an inspiration,” Fernandez said, adding, “One of the reasons I entered politics was to help people. I guess, I first imbibed that during my years as an actor, when I did roles of characters who championed the poor and the oppressed.”
In his nine years as congressman and now three years as mayor, Fernandez can confidently state that there is a world of difference between being an official of the executive branch and a lawmaker.
“Oo, ang laki ng pagkakaiba [Yes, there is a great difference]. The difference is like 100 to 10. As an executive official, being mayor, you have to personally deal with all the problems. You need to have direct and close contact with your constituents. You need to solve their problems and personally address their concerns,” he said.
He added: “As a legislator, you don’t do that. You legislate. You debate and interpellate on all the measures that will be brought to you. At the local level, it is different. As mayor, I need to implement the ordinances that have been crafted by the Sanggunian. It’s really a big difference.”
A good number of House measures sponsored by Fernandez in the Lower House had to do with the conversion of provincial roads into national roads.
“You see, the municipal roads are financed by the local government units (LGUs). If these roads are converted to national roads, the national government will be the one to finance the construction, rehabilitation, and maintenance of these roads. What I did was to ease some of the financial burden from my distict, para hindi mahirapan yung mga tao [so my constituents will not be burdened].”
He added that the Santa Rosa LGU is still in the process of maintaining and widening and lengthening municipal roads to make them attractive to investors. G