YOUNG TURKS | Service with a capital “S”

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BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines — The tarmac is awash with blinking lights, the seemingly endless concrete road awaiting the familiar pound-pound-pounding of a special flight that would be arriving soon.

Councilor Israel Salanga, seen here with his team, waits for the arrival of the vessel bearing repatriated OFWs. | Photo taken from Councilor Salanga's Facebook Page
Councilor Israel Salanga, seen here with his team, waits for the arrival of the vessel bearing repatriated OFWs. | Photo taken from Councilor Salanga’s Facebook Page

Israel “Ising” Salanga rubbed his eyes, looked at his watch.  11:15 p.m.  Any moment now, the plane bearing repatriated OFWs would be arriving.  On a flight that was supposedly cancelled.  Until they were informed – again – that the flight would push through after all, the information coming in a mere two hours before the arrival.

In those two hours, they are expected to cobble together a team of nurses, police personnel, health workers, all of whom have gone home after they were informed that the flight was cancelled.

Now it was a last-minute effort to bring the team together again.

Crazy day.

11:30.  The lights of the sweeper flight came into view.

Ising gets his team ready for the usual protocols.  There is no time for shifting blame now. 

Time to get to work.

In the blood

“Ising” Salanga is not new to public service.

In fact, most of his family seemed inclined towards it.  Papa is THE Fred Salanga, veteran broadcaster and amateur cook, who can rival people half his age when it comes to drive and commitment to the craft.  Big Brother is Mark Gabriel Salanga,  TV broadcaster for ABS-CBN.  Mother is Jocelyn, known among her local community for service, having served as kagawad for some time now. 

Ising with fellow Councilor Cindy Rojas coordinate on the return of OFWs and LSIs. | Photo from Councilor Salanga's Facebook Page.
Ising with fellow Councilor Cindy Rojas coordinate on the return of OFWs and LSIs. | Photo from Councilor Salanga’s Facebook Page.

It’s in the blood. 

Ising has been on the headlines lately, documenting on his social media page his experience as head of the Action Team for Returning OFWs. 

When the position was handed to him by Mayor Evelio Leonardia, Ising knew it would be no easy task.  There is, for one, dealing with a constituency steeped in the binary  logic of TAMAD vs EPAL (i.e. politicians are criticized for being idle, but are also called ‘epal’ if they do their jobs).

Councilor Salanga during Independence Day celebration. | Photo from Councilor Salanga's Facebook Page
Councilor Salanga during Independence Day celebration. | Photo from Councilor Salanga’s Facebook Page

There is also the matter of the Hatid Probinsya Program (not to be confused with the Balik Probinsiya, Bagong Pag-asa program of the national admin) of the national Inter-Agency Task Foce which is headed by Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Department of Transportation that aims to facilitate the repatriation of OFWs to their home cities, or towns. 

The program, with all its good intentions, has resulted to the seemingly endless ingress of repatriates and Local Stranded Individuals (LSIs – our government just luuurvs its acronyms), creating a scenario hovering between nightmare and chaos on the ground.  It quickly became a comedy of errors (last minute cancellations, last minute confirmations, etc) with local government units lashing out at national, and national lashing back for LGUs lack of preparedness.

And wade through it all, Ising does.

Certain quarters thought the neophyte councilor might be in over his head.

But he is thriving, so far.

As we have said, he is not new to public service after all.

Start ‘em young

Ising was all of 18 when he came face-to-face with public service – he was assigned to the local employment office here, and was given chance to work at its scholarships division.

The councilor, seen here at the airport, is tasked to coordinate and the facilitate the return of OFWs. | Photo from Councilor Salanga's Facebook page
The councilor, seen here at the airport, is tasked to coordinate and the facilitate the return of OFWs. | Photo from Councilor Salanga’s Facebook page

“I was able to handle [requirements and needs] of all the city scholars; that was a really big responsibility,” he said.  He was, himself, a scholar so it gave an added complexity to his job. 

That was the time, he admitted to DNX, that he fell in love with public service.

There is a certain kind of satisfaction in knowing that, by doing your job, you were able to touch lives, somehow.  That was what Ising realized when parents of scholars, or even the scholars themselves would come to him, thank him for helping them.

“I thought: That’s not my money; it’s government money… I am just facilitating their needs and doing my job.”

“Job” means legwork, chasing paperwork, helping city scholars who might be affected because the city was late in its payments.  Small work, it seems, but the impact is big in the long run.

It impressed Ising, too, about the importance of doing your job well, despite the low pay.  Thus, even when other opportunities came his way, he always went back to public service.

He had a string of jobs after his stint with the city scholars: a DJ, a call center agent, a car salesman, a mall supervisor.  But the allure of public service always is always there.

Thus when Councilor Dindo Ramos persuaded him to run in 2013, he chose the offer over an opportunity to work abroad.  He lost, twice (the second time when he ran in 2016).

Lady Luck was smiling on him in 2019, in his third attempt attempt to run as councilor.  He clinched the 7th spot.  The rest, the cliché goes, is history.

Passion and love for service

More or less 100 OFWs – 55 of which are Bacolodnons – spill out of the sweeper flight and onto the tarmac.  Ising gets the team ready for the usual safety protocols – disinfection, checking of documents, etc.  After that, the OFWs (some of whom have not eaten for days) had to be fed before settling down (here, Ising makes a mental note to scout for police personnel and nurses who can be called on duty with last-minute notice). 

After three hours – time check says it’s past three – Ising and team finally are done with preps  for the OFWs.  They were fed, watered, settled in an inn.

Four hours later, Ising would be informed that there is yet another flight arriving with more OFWs in an hour.

The risk – 10 of the 14 confirmed cases for May and June were either repatriates or LSIs – is there.  And the pressure usually mounts when test results come out.  It’s enough to make anyone quit.

Ising, though, is dauntless.

“The passion for service is there.  I went to public service without thinking of glory… I came in because of the true love for service,” he says.

And that passion to help others had so far sustained him.  And will keep on sustaining him for, perhaps, years to come.

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