BY MARLEN V. RONQUILLO
1-UTAK congressional nominee Homer Mercado 15 years ago. This was in Australia. He was on a transport observation tour. I was a fledgling livestock farmer jotting down notes—and getting amazed—at a country with more cattle than people. And one with a prodigious agricultural sector.
You cant but help notice this: the hamburgers were the size of plates you see at baseball diamonds.
Here was my first impression of Homer Mercado: if the phrase transport wonk were already in use at that time, he would be called that—a wonk. His grasp of the industry was not the usual operators’stuff: Who was operating more buses who got more franchised lines. Who the big guns were. And where the big guns of the industry went golfing. In short, he was less interested in stuff that can get you into the columns of Litton and Arcache.
His knowledge was the broad view: Industry trends, economic indicators that may impact on the bus industry, an overview of government regulations on transport. He knew the causality of toll rates and transport fares, diesel price increases and bus operating costs. More, he also trained in engineering, equipping him with the skills needed at the shop level, from torque ratios to internal combustion. His engineering class included one of the sons of the richest man in the country. But Homer was not one to drop names.
With this deep and sophisticated grasp of industry issues, Homer, one would presume, would be acting out as the transport industry egghead, the swaggering resident wonk. No, he was not. He was—and still is—serious but self-effacing. No wersh-wersh accent for him either. It was—and still is—Laguna’s Tagalog all the way. His service and maintenance staff regarded him respectfully. His bus crew treated him as a
Of course, when you study hard, when you take serious stock of the trends, you are one step ahead. On the CNG-powered buses, he was a pioneer. He also leveraged things to favor his company but in the legal and trailblazing way.
Peer respect is earned through the demonstration of leadership and Homer Mercado stayed long as president of the Provincial Bus Operators Association of the Philippines because of respect from peers.
I am writing this brief for Homer Mercado because some quarters have been criticizing the formal petition of his party-list, the 1-Utak, to name Homer as the party-list representative of 1-Utak in the House of Representatives in lieu of a former Arroyo apparatchik, Angelo Reyes. As a member of a peasant party-list, I can differentiate between the chaff and the grain (the real thing).
Homer was the third nominee in the 2010 party-list election. Number two was the 2007 to 2010 1-Utak seat holder—lawyer Vigor Mendoza, a former head of the Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). Number one was Reyes. Mendoza and other party leaders have filed a formal petition to replace Reyes with Homer Mercado based on several grounds.
Reyes is facing a disqualification case and there is a general fear among party leaders and members that the case would drag till eternity. The political environment too, is not hospitable to former Arroyo apparatchiks such as Reyes, who had been with the previous president—the most unpopular leader in contemporary history—as AFP chief of staff and holder of two cabinet positions, local government and energy.
The ex-com of 1-Utak, which decides on such matters, has asked Reyes to withdraw his nomination in favor of Homer Mercado. The second nominee also gave in to the popular clamor to seat Mercado.
On background training and competence the issue of who between Mercado and Reyes should sit as 1-Utak representative is a no-brainer.
Mercado got involved with the transport industry when he was in his short pants as a grease-stained kid helping company mechanics fix buses in Laguna. He knows the workers’ hopes and dreams and fears.
He has been a serious student of transport policies and issues for decades.
Within his immediate circle, he is known as a pioneer and trailblazer.
In short, he is a man fully prepared to do legislation and advocacy for the transport workers in particular and the sector in general.
What about Reyes, the former Arroyo apparatchik?
The transport industry knew him as the Arroyo functionary who turned a blind eye to the excesses of the oil industry, the orgies of fuel price increases that inflicted great suffering on them and the larger society.