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Don’t mess up LB

/ 12:25 AM March 15, 2012

I WAS born in Los Baños.

My birth certificate says it all started at 12:57 a.m. on Nov. 14, 1989, in one of the rooms of my granny’s place on Bangkal Street. My dad told me more than once that he used to take me to the shore of Laguna Lake (which is still part of the town) before dawn when I was a baby, so I could take in the breeze which is believed to invigorate a young soul.

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Growing up in Los Baños meant being raised in simplicity. As a child I ran errands for my mom, going out to a retail store to buy a kilo of rice or shampoo or what have you. On weekends, my family would walk to my aunt’s place and sleep over. That street is called Daang Kalabaw, and indeed we passed through a grassland with carabaos grazing. On weekdays, I would excitedly walk back home from school to watch my favorite animé.

I didn’t necessarily like being outdoors, however, because I was (and am still) a TV person and a bookworm. But when two malls rose, followed by the mushrooming of second-hand-clothes and discount stores, walking around Los Baños appealed to me more. During such times, which was about a decade ago, whenever I had to cross the main roads downtown, I would first glance around the establishments, the people, and the jeepneys, and appreciate how my town maintained its simplicity and quaintness despite having embraced some modern changes.

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Back then I felt the peace in my town even if I knew some parts of it were drug-infested and even if I could see a lot of paupers. Even if I sensed that the people of Los Baños, despite being considered a first-class urban municipality, still represented the everyman (or everywoman) of this country—one who only wants a decent life but is constrained and subjugated by oppressive and dominant institutions, roles, structures and norms (physical and spiritual)—I thought the town was rife with potential. And hope.

I came back to the town in 2006 after a yearlong exchange student program in Japan and entered the University of the Philippines in Los Baños a year later. Overall the town was no different, except for the sprouting of coffeehouses, nightspots and this complex of bars and food establishments called LB Square. I had heard of altercations in these areas. If true, one can only hope the incidents had been settled.

Then Anthony Genuino came into the picture. He ran in the 2010 mayoral election, eliciting some controversy. Brickbats were hurled at him, such as doubts on his being a bona fide Los Baños resident, his rumored motive of merely looting the town, and the alleged diversion of public funds from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. formerly chaired by his father Efraim to the Genuino-owned Trace College, which is also in Los Baños. (Ten years after the then computer school was founded by Efraim Genuino, Trace College hosted the aquatic events in the 2005 Southeast Asian Games with its Olympic-sized swimming pool.)

Many townsfolk didn’t like the way Genuino ran his electoral campaign. His group doled out apples, rice and clothes to residents and reportedly gave away P500 bills in the village of Mayondon. My granny told me that when she and other senior citizens attended one of Genuino’s campaign gatherings, they were made to stand up and pledge their votes to him. She even received a chocolate cake from the candidate on her birthday.

Genuino won the mayoral post.

The truth is that the mayor and I know each other, as I have hosted the Ms. Los Baños pageant thrice. I once asked him about his plans to improve the education, livelihood and health of the townsfolk, and egged him to deliver on these effectively. He came up with an answer for each of the three sectors, and one could only hope that he would walk the talk. But about two years have passed, and the last thing you do to your people is to make them wait.

Today, about 100 lampposts line the road leading to the UPLB campus, beaming pink light at nighttime. An Inquirer columnist claims the lampposts were installed by Pagcor workers on Election Day itself. Also, a huge commercial complex on the same road, called LB Centro, is under construction. By the standards of Western modernity, these projects ought to sound truly promising. I look at these projects and I’m frankly puzzled as to how this evolving face of Los Baños and its controversial dynamics would actually benefit its people, my own people, especially in the long run. For starters, are the fundamental needs of an ordinary Los Baños citizen being met by the local government?

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Then the murders. The list did not start with Given Grace Cebanico, the 19-year-old UPLB computer science student who was raped and murdered on the dark and grassy road of the Institute of Plant Breeding on campus on Oct. 11, 2011. Three months earlier, Bradley Inway, 16, and Gilbert de Ocampo, 23, were found dead merely 50 meters from where Cebanico’s body would be discovered. Last Feb. 29, 14-year-old Rochel Geronda of Los Baños National High School was raped and killed near a junkyard in Demarces Subdivision. As I was writing this in the morning of March 4, I had just heard that UPLB agriculture student Ray Bernard Peñaranda, 19, was knifed to death hours ago after being held up on F.O. Santos St., Umali Subdivision. The culprit got away with nothing.

And as if these murders in the town were not enough for a week, a 32-year-old resident of Batong Malake was stabbed to death by his elder brother after a row behind the Los Baños Doctors Hospital. This occurred at 4:30 p.m. on the same day Peñaranda was killed.

Public anger at the state of Los Baños is all over the social media. UPLB students, in particular, are aghast at the Genuino administration’s inability to provide effective and consistent security measures on campus and outside. With the killings serving as the last straw in the accumulating discontent with the mayor, local residents may well be screaming, in thought or in speech, “Tama na, sobra na, palitan na!”

Hell hath no fury like a people denied principled leadership. And hell hath no fury like a people deprived of a decent Los Baños.

Indeed, I claim a decent town. I claim its simple and quaint aspects, which have marked my life from the get-go. I claim its responsible, sustainable and equitable progress. Just last year I returned to the shore of Laguna Lake where my father used to take me as a baby. It was midnight and no one else was there. I stood in darkness and quietude, listening to the waves lapping at the shore and enjoying the breeze.

Early last Christmas Day, instead of staying in bed longer, I decided to get some air. I took a bicycle ride to Daang Kalabaw. The carabaos and their grassland have been replaced by fancy houses and apartments, but the cool air and the quiet were still there.

This is a town that carries a legacy of decency. This is a town you don’t just mess up.

Linus Plata, 22, is a development communication student at UP Los Baños and the president (chief anchor) of the UP Community Broadcasters’ Society.

Stories from the young Filipino

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