The Leyte Roots of the VP and speaker

HISTORY MATTERS - Todd Sales Lucero - The Freeman

I was recently reminded of the 2013 earthquake and typhoon that hit Visayas because Mindanao has been rocked by earthquakes in the past few weeks, and thoughts of Yolanda also recalled the ongoing issue between Vice President Sara Duterte and Speaker Martin Romualdez. Both have roots to Leyte, which Typhoon Yolanda devastated in 2013. During the 10th anniversary commemoration of Yolanda this year, the Duterte and Romualdez surnames have been trending as comparisons were made between how, in 2013, then mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte immediately visited Leyte and sent assistance and personnel just days after Yolanda with the usual “from the people of Davao” emblazoned on the relief goods, as opposed to Speaker Romualdez’s recent photos of relief goods and other projects which prominently display his and his wife’s faces and names.

In his unsuccessful 2016 senatorial bid, Romualdez was criticized for using Yolanda as a campaign issue, that Romualdez had “no right to use Yolanda because both the national and local governments were unable to bring immediate response when Yolanda hit Leyte”, and that it was “disappointing to see ads of Romualdez which claimed he was an effective leader during the disaster.”

Both families have a deeper history in Leyte. Sara’s father was born in Maasin City, whose own maternal grandparents were from Liloan and Maasin City, all in Southern Leyte; Sara’s maternal grandfather was born in Hilongos, Leyte, whose mother was from a very long line of Hilongosnons. Meanwhile, the Romualdezes had been in Leyte for three generations before the speaker was born. His great-grandfather, Daniel Romualdez, moved to Leyte in 1872 together with his wife, Trinidad Lopez, the daughter of Spanish friar and a local from Basey, Samar. This line connects Speaker Romualdez genealogically to Leyte, as both his mother and paternal grandmother were from Luzon.

Daniel Romualdez was accused of helping in the capture of Fr. Donato Guimbaolibot, the much-beloved parish priest of Balangiga, whom Americans suspected as the mastermind behind the infamous massacre in 1901. Guimbaolibot’s arrest was influenced by dirty local politics involving Romualdez; to prove his family’s allegiance to the Americans and to hit back at his political enemies like the influential De Veyra family, Daniel tipped the Americans about Guimbaolibot leading to his arrest at a De Veyra house.

We know that after the Balangiga massacre, the Americans took the town’s bells as war trophies and these remained with them until 2018, when the US government finally returned them to the Philippines following President Rodrigo Duterte’s patriotic demand during his 2017 State of the Nation Address that the Americans return the Balangiga bells. While the Philippines had demanded their return since 1957, it was only during Duterte’s presidency when the bells were finally returned. It is further interesting to note that a Romualdez, Babe Romualdez, was our Ambassador to the US during this time and helped facilitate its repatriation to Samar. Thus, 115 years since a Romualdez betrayed Balangiga by turning in the town’s priest, a Romualdez helped return the town’s stolen bells.

A final interesting historical trivia is the Duterte and Romualdez families’ relationship with the De Veyra family. Fr. Guimbaolibot was arrested in the home of Fr. Pantaleon de Veyra, whose family members were well-known to be against the Americans. This association with the De Veyras gave Daniel Romualdez more reason to betray Guimbaolibot. While the Romualdez-De Veyra rivalry didn’t continue, the family never forgot Daniel’s betrayal. Sofia Reyes de Veyra, wife of Leyte’s first governor, Jaime C. de Veyra, was good friends with Remedios Duterte, a cousin of President Duterte’s grandfather.

Family rivalries come and go in political alliances. We’re probably seeing this now with the slow disintegration of the Uniteam (let’s not forget that the other half of the Uniteam is also a Romualdez), and the continued issue between the VP and the speaker. While we do not find any direct confrontation between the two families in history, they continue to have indirect rivalries and have taken conflicting steps when it came to their relationship with Leyte. If rumors are true that Romualdez is neutralizing VP Sara’s chances of running for president in 2028, then this would be the first time that the two families would have a head-on collision. Time will tell who will triumph in the end.

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