The sun was past its zenith, ready to cast the erstwhile capital of the First Philippine Republic in the soft glow of the photographer’s magic hour when outgoing Bulacan Vice Governor and consummate actor Daniel Fernando arrived at the Official Residence of the provincial governor for his interview with the Philippines Graphic.
The residence is in close proximity to historic Barasoain Church, where the Malolos Constitution—drafted by Felipe Calderón y Roca and Felipe Buencamino as an alternative to the Malolos Congress proposals by Apolinario Mabini and Pedro Paterno—was presented, debated and promulgated on Jan. 21, 1899.
Barasoain Church stands with the solid grace of its centuries in the softening light that invariably gives way to early evening. We sat down with a Bulakenyo, born and bred, who spoke and moved with the revolutionary fire and eloquence of his ancestors.
Fernando arrived from a medical mission by his Damayang Filipino Movement, which he later said provides livelihood programs and technical education training. The movement advocates for the protection of the environment and conducts regular blood donation drives and medical assistance to indigent Bulakenyos.
Fernando is as well-known for the three terms he has served Bulacan as its vice governor as he is for his thespian’s skill and talent, particularly for his roles in the Peque Gallaga classic “Scorpio Nights” and Lino Brocka’s “Macho Dancer,” as well as for his sharp contrabida roles, both on the silver screen and the small screen
As an actor, Fernando has shown versatility and career longevity in showbiz—no mean feat in an entertainment industry where young, talented actors come and go. He has walked the boards of the UP Repertory, done action movies and, yes, shown serious acting chops in dramatic roles both in teleseryes and on the big screen.
“Hindi mo dapat pinagkakakitaan ang (you shouldn’t profit from) public service,” Fernando said in his interview with the Graphic. “Ang pagiging (as for being an) actor naman, dapat mong pagkakitaan (you should profit off that).” That, Fernando explained, is how he balances his political and showbiz careers.
Yet, public service still comes out on top.
“The networks I work with know that I have commitments as an elected official. I have a people’s day on Thursdays, so I can’t attend tapings then. When I have events and activities with the public, I don’t attend tapings. That’s the deal I worked out with them and it has worked out well so far. They are okay with it,” he said
Where scheduling conflicts arise between his careers, Fernando works them out with savvy negotiations that are informed both by his political expertise and his discipline in acting: He calls the networks where he has show tapings when this happens and makes the best adjustments possible.
Over the hour and a half duration of the interview, it was very clear that Fernando had the fire and zeal of a man with deep passion for his work and for the commitments he has made to the public—both as an actor and as a government official.
Now that he has hit the three-term limit for his post as vice governor, Fernando has said he will seek the gubernatorial seat come Election Day in May.
Fernando described his relationship with outgoing Bulacan Governor Wilhelmino Sy-Alvarado as one that seemed to have been ordained by heaven: “We hit it off right away. We worked very well together for nine years. It was as if God had made it so that we would work together.”
In the coming elections, Sy-Alvarado will be running in the vice gubernatorial race—something that Fernando said he supports wholeheartedly. “This is not the kind of situation where an outgoing elected official hands his seat to a family member,” Fernando said. “Still, the outgoing Governor and I are almost like family. We’ve worked very well together to push for the good of Bulacan. Where [the governor] needed me to support him, I supported him. He did the same for me.”
Fernando is a graduate of the Tabang Elementary School in Guiguinto, Bulacan and he finished high school at the Bulacan College of Arts and Trade (BCAT). He earned his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration Major in Management at the University of the East in Caloocan City. Plus he also took the Crash Course in Public Administration NCPAG, at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.
It is logical to say that Bulacan’s vice governor since 2010 prepared himself well for his political career and he is setting his cap at the leadership of his home province: The governor’s seat.
Fernando worked his way up from his first stint with the KB in Tabang, Guiguinto from 1981 to 1984. After his hiatus to complete his college degree, he served as a Senior Board Member of the provincial board from 2001 to 2006.
“I started my career as a politician, not as an actor, pero halos nagsabay, e (but the two started practically at the same time),” Fernando said. “I became a stage actor with the Dulaang Kabataang Barangay, and, at the same time, I was a KB chairman for four years. Dulaang Kabataan was made during the time of [former President Ferdinand] Marcos. [Imee Marcos] established this during the time of the KB. I was one of the actors of the KB. About a hundred of us auditioned.” Fernando was in his mid-teens then.
Of his political beginnings, he said, “it was all unexpected. Maybe the wisdom of God. Maybe it is as it was written in [the Book of] Jeremiah: ‘Ipinaglilihi ka palang, ipinagbubuntis ka pa lang ng nanay mo, magiging propeta ka nang isang bayan (Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations [Jeremiah 1:5, New International Version].’ Maybe I belong to that. I felt that when I read that verse in Jeremiah.”
He added: “I didn’t expect to become a barangay official, because, at that time, youth leaders were appointed. Your background has to be good. Your performance in your area must be good. Your family background has to be good, in good order,” Fernando recalled. He was appointed to the Kabataan Barangay (KB) by then Bulacan Governor Ignacio Santiago Sr.
“I was appointed, and I didn’t expect it. I served for four years. There was a challenge to that: There were no barangay funds. The Kabataang Barangay had no funds. As in wala,” Fernando said. “You have to find a way to get your funding for projects. Compare that to now: There is a 10% fund from that barangay for the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK). So, if the barangay has a budget of P4 million a year, there is P400,000 for the SK.”
Back in those days, Fernando said, a KB did not have funds for projects created. “Before you could embark on a project, you had to find your own way to gather funding to spend on a project. You solicited funds. We would set up basketball tournaments. If we wanted to make a feeding program, we would find the means for a feeding program for the youth. I set aside part of my allowance. I solicited funds from large stores like construction supply stores, asked for support from my relatives, raised funds by organizing and selling tickets for parties.”
The fund sourcing efforts developed his character, Fernando said. “This was the experience that I got, which is how I gained strength. When I went to college at the University of the East in Caloocan, I bid politics goodbye. That’s when I got discovered and entered showbiz. A talent scout recruited me to do a commercial for Magnolia, but that didn’t push through. Instead, I was asked to join the group of Gallaga to make ‘Scorpio Nights.’”
The daring role that was Fernando’s big break on the silver screen, however, wasn’t cut and dried, either.
“Thirty of us auditioned for that movie,” Fernando said, his face intent and serious. “I wasn’t simply picked for a role in ‘Scorpio.’ No. I had to go through so many interviews, take many seminars, training, workshops. Of the 30 of us who auditioned, four of us passed, all newcomers: Richard Gomez, Anjo Yllana, Jestoni Alarcon and me.”
This breakout role for Fernando came on the heels of Joel Torre’s performance in “Oro, Plata, Mata” and Abel Jurado’s acting in the lead role of Gallaga’s “Virgin Forest.”
Fernando is an award-winning actor. The Philippine Movie Press Club (PMPC) named him as the Best New Male Star for Movies for the 1985 film “Scorpio Nights.” He also bagged the Gawad Urian Best Actor for “Macho Dancer” in 1990. As for his dramatic performances for television, Fernando was named Best Drama Supporting Actor at the 31st Philippine Movie Press Club (PMPC) Star Awards for TV for “Ikaw Lang ang Iibigin.”
Fernando was nominated for Best Actor honors for the “Angkan” soap opera directed by Ben Cervantes, and he was nominated for the Best Actor award in the 14th Star Awards for “Kirara,” directed by Gina Alajar. He also came close to receiving a Best Supporting Actor in the FAMAS Awards for “Huwag mong salingin ang sugat ko.”
As for his work in politics, Fernando has been recognized with the 2017 Lakandula Awards’ Most Outstanding Public Servant honors given by the Gawad Amerika Award at Celebrity Center in Los Angeles, California. He was also named an Outstanding Local Legislator (Vice Governor Category) by Superbrands in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. His Damayang Filipino foundation was named Most Outstanding Non-Governmental Organization by the Gawad Amerika Award.
The Golden Globe Annual Awards for Outstanding Filipino Achievers recognized Fernando for his “Outstanding and Significant Achievement in Public Service” in 2015 and 2016.
He also received the 2013 Gintong Palad Public Service Award given by the Movie Writers Welfare Foundation and Elements Marketing and Advertising Services.
Fernando was also named Most Outstanding Provincial Vice Governor by the Press Media Affairs Center in 2011, and named PMAC’s Foremost Advocate of Good Government in the same year.
Besides being a TV and movie personality, stage actor and fashion model, Fernando has worked as the president and CEO of Tri-red Productions, a director on the board of the UE Alumni Association, a vice president of the Bulacan State University Alumni Association and a vice president of the Guiguinto Golden Jaycees.
He was an organizer with the League of Filipino Students UE Caloocan Chapter, and a member of the Perpetual Help College Combat Judo-Karate Club and the Kapisanan ng mga Artistang Pelikulang Pilipino (KAPP). He has worked with the Metropolitan Theater Group of Actors (Bulwagang Gantimpala), and was a member and lecturer of the Oasis of Love Community. He’d also been an adviser of the Philippine Independent Catholic Church in Tabang.
ON ACTORS IN POLITICS
Between acting and politics, Fernando said, his family “found it easier to accept that I was a politician. We are a political family.” His smile grew wide as he described his father’s reaction to the premiere of “Scorpio Nights”: “He was happy I’d gotten the role, of course. But while he was watching the movie, he sank lower and lower in his seat until he fell asleep.” His mother has not watched the movie.
While some may see acting in a movie like “Scorpio Nights” as something to giggle at, Fernando’s experience in making that movie was what drove home the concept of professionalism in acting: “We were put through workshops where everyone was naked inside the same room. This taught us to let go of malice, to be comfortable with our bodies and, most importantly, to be respectful of each other and ourselves despite being naked.”
The vice governor is unmarried, which he ascribes to coming from a family with a strong single-blessedness streak: “I prefer to serve the people with focus and total commitment. Getting married can wait.”
Of actors who want to venture into politics, Fernando has a mouthful to say:
“Here’s the reality—There really are actors who want to go into politics who did not start in politics. There is no problem with wanting to serve. Anyone can enter politics. Everyone has the right to serve; to enter politics. You have to feel the situation out. What role are you looking at? What have you got to offer? There are actors who actually serve well in politics. Truth be told, we are close to the masses. We know how the masses move, what they need. We also know how the upper classes move and what they need—class A, class B, class C. Now, the Filipino nation is intelligent. They know how to feel you out. In truth, there are many actors who have sought public office who did not succeed in politics.”
The way he views it, Fernando said that many of those who took on villain roles made it into the political system. He added that those who win are usually contrabidas, except for Vilma Santos and Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada.
“Helping people is easy,” he said, adding that what people in public service need to remember is that “it is part of our culture to expect our elected officials to help us. People will approach you for help because they elected you.” G
Health care, according to Bulacan’s vice-governor Daniel Fernando, comes as the top need of his province’s more than two million constituents.
“I believe that you cannot work or study unless you are in good health. You’ll stay home, moping. Will you life improve? No. This is why health is top priority. If you are healthy, you can make your life better,” he said.
Fernando added that there are many poor people in Bulacan who cannot afford hospitalization.
“How much does a stay in the ICU of a private hospital cost? P10,000 a day. If you are a tricycle driver, you make P500 a day and you have five children to support, can you afford this? For me, we need to strengthen the support for free health care and hospitalization in the provincial hospitals,” he stressed.
100% FREE HEALTH CARE
People around the current vice-governor said Fernando is working toward making it possible for the province’s constituents to avail of “100% free health care” from Bulacan’s hospitals.
The 2017 Lakandula Awards’ Most Outstanding Public Servant said this can be achieved by strengthening the capacities of Bulacan’s hospitals, through the provision of needed funding and equipment, as well as personnel.
“We are working for zero [hospital] billing that is sustainable” with the help of the Department of Health (DoH) and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), he explained. “We’ve added more dialysis machines in our district hospitals, bringing the total number up from 10 to 40 machines. So many people here need dialysis. The governor (Gov. Wilhelmino Sy-Alvarado) and I have agreed to increase the bed capacity of our hospitals. We have also agreed to build additional district hospitals in Pandi, Angat, and Obando that will soon open.”
Fernando has also been working with Sy-Alvarado to improve social services in the province.
This is to ensure that necessary medications—DOTS medication for tuberculosis, maintenance medicines for the elderly, and vaccinations for children under five—are properly supplied and available at the rural health centers, clinics and through the local government’s social welfare offices for house-to-house visits by the province’s health workers.
“You go around,” he said, “with doctors. Universal health care is already a reality, made so by the national government. So we will go on to preventive health care. There must be doctors going around, besides those at the health centers, including specialists. We take them to the people with medical missions. Not just once, but throughout our terms,” Fernando said.
He mentioned that he and Gov. Sy-Alvarado have learned a lot from the medical missions they conduct regularly.
“While we are at the medical missions, I sit in one place so I can speak with the people there,” Fernando said. “I talk to them one by one, those who cannot visit me in my office, and I encourage them to see me during my people’s day.”
Fernando underscored preventive health care as the formula for sustaining health services for the poorest of the poor in his province.
He said: “We’re always providing medical treatment for the people. We need to provide preventive health care. We’re renovating the district hospitals to sustain the services. We’ve added rooms to our district hospitals in cooperation with the DOH. We are opening new health centers. We are increasing the hospital bed capacity by 250 beds, mainly for primary hospitals that will provide preventive health care.”
Fernando said that next on the people’s agenda after health is livelihood. “We are aiming to create 30,000 jobs in the next three years, should we win.”
One asks: How will these jobs be created?
Fernando quipped: The investments are already in Bulacan. They are real and on their way—The flood control systems along the coastal road from Cavite to Bataan. The Manila Bay project. An international airport in Bulacan. The North-South Railway from Tututban, through Malolos to Clark (in Pampanga). The Bulacan Economic Zone, for which we have allocated 12 hectares. We’re already preparing that for PPP—private public partnership.”
At the heart of the livelihood effort is the Damayang Filipino Movement, Inc. (DMFI) or simply, “Damayang Filipino.”
Organized in 2008, the movement is really a non-government organization founded by Fernando to uplift the economic and health standing of Bulacan’s poor.
Targeting the sick and the needy, Damayang Filipino is made up of volunteers who share in Fernando’s vision of a “progressive, prosperous, and healthy” Bulacan constituency.
Damayang Filipino started with a livelihood program called “Pangkabuhayan Mo, Sagot Ko, Paunlarin Mo: Damayang Filipino Livelihood Project.”
“Under this program,” Fernando said, “Damayang Filipino beneficiaries are provided livelihood equipment to enable them to engage in small enterprises such as selling fishballs, banana cue, balot (duck eggs), or charcoal.”
Not only are they given the food ingredients that they will sell, they are also provided the small gas cooker, styro cooler, oil, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, among other things.
The livelihood project is launched at least three times a year, Fernando said, with around 200 beneficiaries participating per livelihood training. “At the moment, there are classes in the making of soap, candy, chocolate, beads, butchi, empanada, and even meat processing. Massage therapy training is also offered.”
Certificates of accomplishment are given by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) for those who finish a training course.
Damayang Filipino also holds free medical, dental, and optical missions almost twice a week. To help boost the blood supply of Bulacan’s Provincial Blood Bank, Damayang Filipino also has a “Dugong Filipino: Dugong Alay Ng Bulakenyo (DF-DAN Bulakenyo) Bloodletting Project.”
The organization likewise conducts a regular feeding program called “Batang Mabilog, Batang Malusog Damayang Filipino Feeding Program.” Its objective is to educate parents on the value of nutritious food by providing them and their children with healthy meals.
BETTER PENAL SYSTEM
The Bulacan provincial government, revealed Fernando, is moving the very crowded Bulacan provincial jail to the municipality of Doña Remedios Trinidad. “Many inmates are falling ill in the old jail. We are moving the jail to a bigger facility that will be like the Iwahig Penal Colony in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.”
He further said that the new location will allow inmates to farm and undergo a better rehabilitation regimen. Also to be situated in Doña Remedios Trinidad are the court and police offices so as “to improve the dispensation of justice and to provide strong security for the area.”
Popularly referred to as Bulacan’s “last frontier,” Doña Remedios Trinidad is the province’s last town before Gapan, Nueva Ecija.
“I hold a people’s day so I can talk to my constituents,” Fernando said, explaining how he opens the door to public participation in governance. “The culture of our politics being what it is, our people look for what we can do for them. What I am trying to teach through this is for them to look at what we can do for government, not just what government can do for us.”
“We cannot evade the needs of the people,” he said. “First, we see the poverty of the people: There are many without livelihood who depend on handouts from politicians.”Fernando’s remedy for this is to bring growth to the grassroots: “Teach them how to fish. Not give them fish. That’s how it should be. How will they be educated? That’s why I made my Damayang Filipino Movement.”
“Uplifting people begins with giving them the ability and opportunities to earn for their families. In the Philippines, politics at the local level is about gut issues,” Fernando emphasized.
Federalism one-on-one with Vice Gov. Daniel Fernando
The push for a shift to a federal system of government continues, and Bulacan Vice Gov. Daniel Fernando believes his province is well-positioned to flourish even under a federal system. However, Fernando also said there is a need to better educate the public about the form of federalism that will be implemented and how this will be done—in Bulacan and throughout the rest of the archipelago.
Philippines Graphic: In your work in the LGU, do you find federalism feasible? Can this be applied? Why or why not?
Daniel Fernando: It would be very useful if the discussions about federalism it can be brought to the people in a way they can understand, because, according to a survey, 80% of citizens do not know anything about federalism.
How federalism will work will depend on the situation in each region will depend on any given region’s stage of economic development. There are, for example, regions that can easily generate income, and there are still others that cannot cope with the costs” a shift in government systems will create.
In my opinion, majority of regions do not have the capacity to earn sufficient revenues on their own. Mga usap-usapan lang yan (There is just talk about that). There is even talk that, once a federal system is in place, there will be prosperous regions that will benefit from this.
Yet there are regions that are having a hard time claiming their revenues. This may widen the income gap. Why? Because some of these provinces rely on their IRA Internal Revenue Allotment.
In these places, there must be amnesty programs so the people, so they can pay taxes. [There should be] a thorough study of federalism. This must be brought down to the people.
We will not simply say yes without studying this proposed change in government systems.
As I said, 80% of people don’t know about federalism. It’s just us at the top who are aware of it, but what about those who don’t?
There are other countries that use a federal form of government: America, Malaysia, Australia, India, Canada. They seem to be prosperous.
Now, how will be apply this in the Philippines? When a region depends solely on revenue and has little to no support from the national government, those regions may find themselves stuck in a unitary form of government.
How will Bulacan fare under a federal system? Are you prepared for a shift to a federal system of government by 2022?
I believe that Bulacan has the capacity to transition well into a federal system.
We are among the 10 richest provinces in the Philippines. Bulacan can afford to make the shift to a federal system of government. We have tea rose marble in Biak na Bato. We are part of Central Luzon and Central Luzon can do that easily. But what about the Visayas? What about Mindanao? How will they work it out?
Do the youth of Bulacan favor a federal system of government?
Young Bulakenyos favor federalism. It is popular with them. But that is not enough reason to push for federalism. What is federalism? What are the federal system that will be applied? What our youth need is to have this explained to them.
Bulacan’s youthlearn things quickly. They adapt very quickly. The people of Bulacan are intelligent, and many of them will be able to understand that concept.
What preparations has the Bulacan provincial government been making to prepare for a shift to a federal system?
We have been discussing federalism in all our programs. Federalism is favorable to Bulacan—we will be able to widen the scope of our programs to generate prosperity. Our local economy with grow.
But we need to study what the effects of a federal system will be on each local economy, in terms of how it will affect livelihoods and lives. We just really need to study this well. What will the effect be on our lives? The governor and I have been studying this and discussing it. We won’t have any problems with federalism. We are really looking at it as clearly as we can.”
We hope we will be given time to prepare. I am not speaking just of Bulacan. We all need time to prepare for, and to understand federalism. We need to bring this down to the masses: What with this new system bring? G