Up to the last moment of his life, assassinated Los Baños Mayor Caesar P. Perez knew he was well-loved by common folks.
He didn’t seem security-conscious as the constant outpouring of love from his constituents who admired him as a devoted public servant gave him the confidence that no one wished him harm.
The outpouring of love was more evident in the aftermath of his untimely death on Dec. 3 when unidentified gunmen pounced on him at the back of the municipal hall, in the very place where he used to meet his constituents and act on their concerns.
Many grief-stricken common folks wept openly as they lined up the streets of Los Baños in my home province of Laguna to get a glimpse of the remains of their beloved mayor as the funeral car traversed all over town on Dec. 8. The immense outpouring of love was even more intense during burial on Saturday.
“Humihingi kami ng hustisya para sa aming pinakamamahal na mayor (We’re asking for justice for our beloved mayor),” wailed distraught women shown on TV news crying out to the heavens. “Hindi kami naniniwala sangkot siya sa illegal na droga (We don’t believe he was involved in illegal drugs).”
Just like many others who knew Mayor Caesar for the longest time, starting when I became Laguna governor in the mid 1990s, I was really surprised by news his name was included in a drug list given to President Duterte.
His being linked to something so despicable had hit him hard. When I last saw him at the Manila Hotel where he attended a conference of the League of Municipalities, it was obvious he felt downtrodden as he vehemently denied any link to illegal drugs.
“Hindi ko magagawa ‘yon sa mga taga Los Baños; mahal na mahal ko mga kababayan ko (I can’t do that to the people of Los Baños; I love my people very much),” he told me. Knowing him, I was convinced he was telling the truth.
And he tried telling the truth countless times to people at the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.
“Ilang taon siyang humarap at nagpabalik-balik sa PDEA para malinis ang pangalan nya, pinresenta nya ang sarili nya, hindi sya nagtago, hinarap nya lahat… (For years, he faced and kept going to PDEA to clear his name, he presented himself, he did not hide, he faced it all..), according to the mayor’s nephew, CJ Perez, in a Facebook post last Tuesday.
It is really unfortunate that the beloved mayor lost his life after being linked to drugs. Whether his untimely death is connected to the drug list, it is still unclear. But I’m glad the National Bureau of Investigation is looking into his gruesome murder. I spoke recently with Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and he assured me of a thorough probe.
Upon learning of Mayor Caesar’s assassination, I knew Los Baños lost a great leader who was known as a staunched environmentalist and farmer.
“Ang mga scholar, mga magsasaka, mga trabahador, mga organisasyon, mga unibersidad, mga instititusyon na katuwang ang ama ng Los Baños para sa mga proyekto sa pagpapaganda at ikakaunlad ng bayan… inulila ang buong bayan, (The scholars, farmers, workers, organizations, universities, institutions that were partners of the father of Los Baños in projects of beautification and development… the whole community is orphaned),” CJ Perez posted on FB.
As environmentalist, Mayor Caesar was best known as one of the first, if not, the nation’s first-ever local official to push for the ban of single-use plastics as he rallied local legislators to pass Municipal Ordinance No. 2008-752 that prohibited the use of plastic bags for dry goods and regulated its use in wet goods.
For his advocacies and hard work, he received numerous awards. Among them are: Outstanding Mayor for Good Local Eco-Governance bestowed in 2008 by the Evelio Javier Foundation, Gawad Galing Pook 2005 Trailblazing Programs category for the Los Baños Ecological Solid Waste Management Program, and Success Story Award for exemplary environmental management program given by the Pollution Control Association of the Philippines.
As farmer, he was proud of the farm produce and livestock he helped with. I remember those times he would give me some chicks for me to raise whenever I visited him on my way to my hometown in Victoria.
“Isang dakilang punumbayan… kahit sino pwedeng lumapit, dumaing, humingi ng tulong, makipagpulong… hindi mo kailangan pang dumaan sa mahaba at maarteng proseso, kapag kailangan mo siya, haharapin ka niya.. (A great mayor.. anyone can approach him, express grievance, ask for help, meet with him… no need for arduous and complicated process),” his nephew posted on FB.
Mayor Caesar was also admired for his brilliance. He was not a “typical elitist, celebrity-type” mayor, according Carmel Abao, an Ateneo political science teacher who worked with him on his solid waste management program when she was with an NGO. “He was one of those more organic types: he completed only a high school education but he was smarter than anyone in the room,” she wrote of the mayor in a Rappler article.
For all his endearing simplicity, pragmatic brilliance, and unpretentious humility, and a host of other virtues that made him the most beloved and outstanding mayor Los Baños ever had, Mayor Caesar Perez will surely be missed. Farewell and thank you for all you’ve done to make Los Baños a better place!
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