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The place has been aged by decade, I whispered to myself. As I entered the hall, I was courteously greeted by only two security guards at the main entrance of Rizal town’s municipal hall. I went upstairs directly to the mayor’s office and was welcomed with warm smiles by the staff.
Piles of unorganized paperwork lay on his table, papers from office departments waiting for his signature. A cold untouched tea was on his left side. The man himself was wearing a new blue modest polo with a pack of cigarette neatly inserted inside his front pocket and faded jeans. His smile reminded me of how my late grandfather used to give me: Old yet precious.
Mayor Otol J. Odi Jr. is the incumbent mayor of Rizal, Palawan, the first indegenous people (IP) member who was elected as mayor of town in South Palawan. A true-blooded Rizalinian who was bred and raised in the 1st class town, Odi won by specifically 3,761 votes, receiving 8,575 votes, while his rival candidate, Cesar Magsaysay from the provincial party of Partido Pagbabago ng Palawan, scored almost just half of the Odi’s votes during the May 2019 election.
Odi is the youngest among four siblings and was born in Rizal town on 1942, when it was still called “Barrio Malambunga”, the time when the place was ruled by families of Muslim natives like him. Road access, facilities, electricity, and luxuries were still unavailable. It was a complete primeval era.
His parents, who makes a limited living out of kaingin, vegetable farming and hunting, hoped that their children will continue to do so and live simply, following their lifestyle and tradition.
“Kayo mag-trabaho nalang, malayo ang eskwelahan malabo sa inyo makakuha ng diploma,” Odi’s parents told him.
But, at a young age, Odi decided that he wasn’t going to have the life his family expected from him. He dreamed that there was something more beyond inside him. He wants to serve the people, and, one day, reached Manila and visited Makati City for his folks usually told him stories about both places having high tall buildings even taller than the trees they see in Rizal’s mountainous areas where their parents took them when they were just but small children.
He started school when he was 13 years old and was able to finish elementary degree, but was not fortunate enough to enter high school during the late 1950’s for the only school that offer secondary level that time was Western Philippines University (WPU) located in Aborlan, Palawan.
“Ang gusto ko talaga noon, ang tumulong sa mga kababayan ko. ‘Yun ang layunin ko sa buhay. Wala akong pera, wala akong kilalang ibang politiko, wala akong alam kung papaano ako mananalo. Lakas loob lang, walang nag-utos sakin. Sarili kong desisyon lang,” Odi said.
Though he only finished elementary school, he was able to run and won as a barangay councilor and soon found himself as a chieftain who served Barangay Punta-Baja for years.
In 2019, Odi, 77 years old, with just guts and faith, decided to run and won in the mayoral position of the municipality. He had no money. He had no connections to powerful people. He had nothing but courage and a mountain of faith in himself. And the support and believe of his fellow citizens.
Odi thinks that he had enough of the redundant promises of former leaders. He knows someone who has a good heart must run in order to achieve progress and development for the betterment of their town. That, however large the gap between him and other politicians are in terms of education and degree, he is no more immune than they are to the world of politics.
“Minamaliit siguro nila ako kasi hindi ako nakapag tapos. Pero okay lang sakin. Hindi ko pinapansin. Ang gusto ko lang lahat kami dito magtulong-tulong. Kasi doon lang uunlad ang bayan namin,” Odi said.
“Hindi masyadong nabibigyan ng pansin ng gobyerno kaming mga nitibo, pangarap ko na mabago ‘yun,” he added.
Odi also dreams of putting up schools on far-flung areas in Rizal where indigenous and tribal groups are residing. He sees education as a steeping stone of change especially to young indigenous children.
His name made impact and reached national media when he won during the election. It was like a lion’s roar, some saying that it reminded the story of David and Goliath.
When he formally took over the municipal hall on July, he prepared himself for he knew that he was going to have numerous detractors, some accusing him of being kicked-off his position in a span of months.
The mayor thinks that he still has a lot to face in the coming years of service. Nevertheless, he is persistent to bring and make a change in everybody’s view and that he is certain that there is hope for his hometown. Mayor Odi aspires to see a progressive Rizal someday with every native, Muslim and Christian hand in hand.