From fish vendor to town mayor

From fish vendor to town mayor
POOR MAN’S BET Former fish vendor Rodrigo “Onoy” Rivera in one of his campaign sorties as a mayoral candidate in Dolores, Eastern Samar. —PHOTO BY FRANCIS ALGIE RIVERA

I was in Dolores, Eastern Samar, a few weeks ago and had a chance to take a photo of the new mayor of the third-class municipality (annual income: P15-20 million) facing the Pacific Ocean, on a billboard near the port.

The story of Rodrigo “Onoy” Rivera, 62, a fish vendor who became mayor, is one for the books. Indeed, it has gone viral on social media sites.

But it was an inopportune time then for an interview with the new local chief executive who narrowly defeated a powerful former mayor in the May 9 elections and who, some town residents felt, had yet to be comfortable with security protocols. Besides, there was an unscheduled presser that entertainment writer Art Tapalla and I had to attend; by the time it was over it was past 5 p.m., and we had to sail for an hour to get to his place on Hilabaan Island.

We tried to see Rivera the following day. Tapalla asked a tricycle driver for directions to the mayor’s residence, but things didn’t immediately fall into place. We had to rush to the town of Balangkayan, a three-hour ride away by land, to meet a scheduled appointment.

My report on the mayor is thus based on an interview he granted Tapalla a couple of days later in his new office.

Bundy clock

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WITH SUPPORTERS Rivera (center) enjoys the company of his constituents. —fish vendorPHOTO BY FRANCIS ALGIE RIVERA

Mayor Rivera began his term on July 6. 

As Tapalla observed, old and new municipal employees reported for work even before the official hour of 8 a.m., beating the Bundy clock for attendance. Previously, according to Tapalla, employees were obliged to log in on a record book, after which some of them would leave the office to return home or to attend to personal errands. But they would still get their pay on the 15th and 30th of the month despite the malfeasance. 

But Rivera would have none of the old ways. “I cannot allow one to get his or her salary without sweating it out or working for it. Our salary comes from the taxes of the public,” he said, speaking in their native Waray.

He had had no plans of running for mayor in the May elections, until, he said, he realized that the dispensation of Shonny Niño Carpeso wasn’t performing well. 

It was on Oct. 7, 2021, that he decided to file his certificate of candidacy (CoC). 

Actually, Rivera had filled out three CoCs: for councilor, for vice mayor and for mayor. He said he submitted the last one after thoroughly thinking things through and praying for guidance.

Related: Mayors unite for good governance and against corruption

Narrowest margin

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POLL RIVALS Rivera and former mayor Shonny Niño Carpeso. —fish vendorPHOTO BY FRANCIS ALGIE RIVERA

An independent candidate, Rivera garnered 11,506 votes to defeat Shonny Carpeso’s brother, Dr. Zaldy Carpeso, of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Laban, who received 10,946 votes. 

The town of Dolores had 30,124 registered voters, according to the Commission on Elections.

Shonny Carpeso, who had served three terms as mayor, ran unopposed in the vice mayoral contest.

According to Tapalla, even Rivera’s family, who lives in a community of informal settlers in Barangay Lunang, was surprised by his decision to run against a strong rival.

With an empty campaign kitty and no slate to speak of, Rivera campaigned among his relatives to gain their support. At the onset, only 10 believers accompanied him in his sorties, but two backed out a week later, reportedly due to pressure from his opponent’s camp.

Rivera went from house to house on foot in 15 barangays in the poblacion and the remaining 18 villages outside the center. Generous residents would later lend him tricycles or fork out P50 to P500. 

“According to Onoy, if they were able to collect money, they could gas up a pump boat to get to the hinterlands,” Tapalla said.

Convinced of victory

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‘CURACHA’ The new local chief executive dances the “curacha” on Vesper Day on Hilabaan Island. —fish vendorPHOTO BY FRANCIS ALGIE RIVERA

Was Rivera convinced he would win despite the odds?

“I knew early on I would win,” he told Tapalla, adding: 

“In any place I went to campaign, the people were energetic. They were even the ones who brought their seats.

“During the miting de avance, the people came in overflowing numbers. I shed tears when I saw that there were people giving away bottled water and food on their own.”

In fact, Rivera isn’t new to politics. He was the barangay chair of Gap-ang from 1994 to 2010. He sold fish in the public market from 1973 to 1994. 

Born on Oct. 23, 1960, in Barangay Dos, Poblacion, in Dolores to Victoria Cecista and Alberto Verna Rivera, he studied at Dapdap Elementary School and reached second year at Dolores National High School.

With his first wife, Milagros Acol, he had two children—Victor and Gerund. His second wife, Janette Bula, bore him three children—Ma. Cristina, Christopher and Crisamae Joy.

On July 15, the mayor went to Hilabaan to join the celebration of Vesper Day. He drank tuba (native wine made from fermented coconut sap) and danced the traditional curacha where a male dancer pursues his dainty female partner while spectators throw paper bills and coins at them.

At the moment, Rivera still uses his Samsung cellphone that he bought for P500.

Municipal action plan

As the top municipal official of Dolores (pop. 44,626 based on the 2020 census), Rivera promises to boost agriculture, medical services, tourism, and other areas of public interest. His team, according to a Philippine News Agency (PNA) report, plans to tackle the problems of clogged drainage, unlighted streets, lack of classrooms, and poor water system. 

But a reality check on his agenda looms large, with the coming meeting of the municipal council. All of its members are allies of his defeated rival.

The mayor spoke about their “differences” in the PNA report: “Since we are all elected and voted by the people, we should give them what they deserve, the services of [the] government they deserve, for the improvement and progress of the town.”

Boy Villasanta also writes an entertainment column in he weekly Opinyon (httpp:// —ED.

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