By ARIES CHAN, CLAIRE MORALES TRUE and LOLLY R. ACOSTA

SAN MATEO, Rizal – A new dawn has set in the premier province of Rizal. And in no time, the province named after national hero Dr. Jose Rizal, will soar further to greater heights.

This as the province’s well loved lady governor, Rebecca “Nini” Ynares (she was unopposed in the 2019 election), found a strong ally in Congress who will help her administration in boosting the growth and development of the province and assist its people, especially the poor and the needy in the far-flung areas. This ally is no less that her youthful former assistant administrator, an Ateneo University and Harvard University-trained lawyer, whom she and her team personally picked and supported as their congressional candidate in the second district of Rizal. He is Representative Juan Fidel Nograles.

Running for the first time for public office and only 32 years old then, Nograles was at first not given a yeoman’s chance to win when he was introduced to the voters. His fight was likened to that of David against Goliath as his opponent was businesswoman Maria Lourdes “Maridee” Henson Rodriguez, 70, wife of then sitting but termed-out Rep. Isidro Rodriguez Jr. whose clan has been well entrenched in the province for several decades and on whose patriarch the historic town of Montalban has been renamed.

But through hard work, reaching out for the people in all the barangays, including the remote and mountainous areas, the support of the Ynares clan and party, and the support of the barangays, most especially of the youth, Nograles scored a resounding victory by garnering 210,710 votes against 137,567 votes of Rodriguez and 10,749 votes of a third candidate, Dindo Garciano.

The victory of Nograles was one of the  many  surprises in the May 13, 2019 national-local elections where many young leaders emerged winners, beating the old guards in politics.

The most publicized landslide victory was that of actor and former Vice Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso, 44, who studied at Harvard University Kennedy School of Government and earned degrees at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM), over then incumbent Manila Mayor and former President Joseph Estrada, 84, who had won also as Vice President  and Senator and many  terms as mayor  of San Juan.

In Quezon City, Vice Mayor Maria Josefina “Joy” Belmonte-Alimurung, 49, who holds a Master’s degree in Museum Studies from England’s Leicester University and a Master’s degree in Archeology at the University College London, trounced veteran Congressman Vincent Crisologo, 72, in the mayoralty race in the country’s wealthiest city and local government unit which boasts of over P19 billion annual income.

Neophyte Councilor and Ateneo de Manila University graduate Victor Maria Regis “Vico” Sotto, 30, son of actor-singer and television host Marvic “Vic” Sotto and actress Conney Reyes, defeated in only his first attempt incumbent Mayor Robert Eusebio of Pasig City whose clan had held the mayorship for about three decades.

Immediately after taking his seat in the Lower House of Congress, Congressman Nograles, a first cousin of Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, filed bills that aimed to spur faster the growth of the province, to the delight of Rizalenos, particularly Governor Ynares and Rizal province officials. One such bill seeks to create a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in the historic town of Rodriguez, one of the nine municipalities and  the biggest in the second congressional district. A SEZ will boost trade and commerce, increase job opportunities and ensure employment, and hike investment. “This proposed SEZ will be the first in Rizal province and will be easy to establish as the town has a vast area for it and will readily succeed owing to its proximity to Metro Manila,” the lawmaker said.

Nograles  also filed bills which seeks to revert Rodriguez to its historic name of Montalban and make it a separate congressional district to assure it of more funds from the national government to finance its infrastructures and needs. Montalban is more than qualified to be a separate district considering that it has a population that year of 369,222 and income of P691 million. In fact, it was listed as the 3rd richest town of the Philippines in 2016.

The young lawmaker also wants the adjoining and progressive town of San Mateo now under the leadership of Mayor Cristina Diaz to be another separate congressional district as it has all the qualifications not only for a district but for cityhood which the town had long wanted – a population of 276,527 and income of P444 million in 2019.

Being a lawyer, Nograles defended effectively his bill seeking to divide his densely populated and over-extended congressional district into three – a separate district for bustling and historic town of Rodriguez and another separate district for the progressive town of San Mateo and the third will be the remaining seven towns. He made  clear his objective  in championing the redistricting of his district: “to allow residents closer access to public funding and government services.”

“With more representations, the people will be able to enjoy more projects and funding support that will uplift their living conditions,” he stressed.

“Additional representation equals additional resources, which would lead to a much more equitable distribution of government services to the people of Rizal,” Nograles posted on his Facebook page.

On June 1, 2020, the  House of Representatives approved unanimously a consolidated bill, Bill No. 6222, reapportioning the second district of Rizal and creating two more congressional districts out of it to the delight of the youthful lawmaker and the leaders and residents of the province.

The people of the second district of Rizal made the right choice in 2019 in electing “Attorney Fidel” as he is now fondly called by the people, especially those he had served with free legal assistance in the barangays, because he has a very strong academic foundation having graduated cum laude with the degree of AB Management Economics from the Ateneo de Manila  University in 2008 and with honors from Ateneo Law School in 2012 and immediately studied at  the Harvard University School of Law where he got his Master of Laws. His parents are both lawyers and he admitted they are his inspiration in serving the people, especially the poor and the needy. Above these qualifications, Attorney Fidel or Congressman Fidel can easily relate to the needs of the people of Rizal, having visited even the remotest barangay of his district.

More than six months after the House approval, on February 1, 2021, the Senate, with 23 affirmative votes, zero negative, and zero abstention, approved on third and final reading Senate Bill 1826 introduced by another neophyte senator, Francis Tolentino, the Upper House’s version of  bill reapportioning the second district of Rizal into three legislative districts.

Leaders of Rizal province and its capital city of Antipolo immediately lauded the approval of the bill which they said could ensure faster growth and development for the new districts.

The bill approved by both houses of Congress seek to retain part of the second district of Rizal, composed of the municipalities of Cardona, Baras, Tanay, Morong, Jalajala, Pililla, and Teresa, and establish the municipality of San Mateo as the third congressional district; and the municipality of Rodriguez as the fourth legislative district of the province.

Senator Tolentino, chairman of the Committee on Local Government and sponsor of the bill, said that with this measure, he is hoping that the proper representation will help the local government units involved to better respond to the needs of the people and also help facilitate in the long-term rehabilitation and the capacity building efforts of the province following the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The call for apportionment is not only based on today’s realities but also a resounding echo from the past, recognizing the unique histories of the towns which have molded and shaped the growth and character of the localities and the residents therein,” he added.

Tolentino said that the proposed districts met all the qualifications since the new second district has a population of 449,103; while San Mateo (3rd district) has a population of 252,527, and Rodriguez (4th district) has a population of 369,222.

According to Article VI, Section 5 of the Constitution each legislative district shall comprise, as far as practicable, contiguous, compact, and adjacent territory; and a locality with at least 250,000 residents is entitled to one representative in the House of Representatives.

During the consideration of the bill on second reading, Majority Leader Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri, and Senators Juliana Pilar Pia Cayetano, Sherwin Win Gatchalian, Richard Gordon, Risa Hontiveros, Panfilo Lacson, Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, and Joel Villanueva, requested that they be made co-authors of the measure, thus hastening its approval.

The approved bill will soon be approved by the Bicameral Committee of Congress, after which the final version will be sent to President Duterte for signing into law.

The Commission on Elections will then set into motion the new law’s approval in a plebiscite. When approved, the people of Rizal province, particularly the old second district, will elect two new congressmen for Rodriguez (Montalban) and San  Mateo in the 2022 elections.

Goodluck Congressman Nograles, Senator Tolentino and the people of Rizal province.