"What this Country needs is not a change OF men but a change IN men" March 1980

Saturday, June 20, 2009

My Father, my hero.

Father of Olongapo

James Leonard Tagle Gordon was Mayor of Olongapo City from December 30, 1963 to February 20, 1967. He was born on January 17, 1917 of an American father, John Jacob Gordon, and a Filipina mother, Veronica Tagle Gordon.

He could have chosen to take American Citizenship and live in the United States like his four brothers where he could enjoy the comforts in a well developed country. Instead, he chose to stay in the Philippines as a Filipino Citizen. He raised his children as Filipino Citizens and brought them up according to Filipino values.

This is not surprising considering that he inherited the genes of a revolutionary hero, Jose Tagle. One of the three children of Tagle was Veronica who married John Jacob Gordon. Jose Tagle was known for his exploits in leading a raiding team against friars and Civil Guards in Imus, then against a strong Spanish force in Bacoor, Cavite. He was victorious in both instance and won the high regard if Aguilnaldo. In recognition of his leadership Aguinaldo appointed Tagle Municipal Mayor of Imus.

Inherited Traits.

This distinguished ancestry gave James Gordon the strong character that he, in turn, left to his progeny and to the people of Olongapo as lasting legacy. His private life and public career all bore the earmarks of decisiveness, of willingness to fight corruption against seemingly insurmountable odds.

James Gordon was a self- made man. He did not depend on anybody but largely went through life on his own efforts, a trait that is part of his American heritage. Being the only child left behind with his aging father, who was interned during the war, he took care of the old gentleman until his death in 1954. In doing this, he followed closely the Filipino tradition of close family ties and of caring for the elderly members. As a true Filipino he kept in close touch with his children even when they were away in school in Manila. He always wanted his children to excel in whatever they tried, be it a very lowly task.

Civic Consciousness.

His family orientedness showed in his successful attempts to put up an institution that would take care of orphans and abandoned children. Together with his friends, he put up Boys Town- Girls Home which still exists to this day, caring for around 70 wards.. Jimmy Gordon’s widow Amelia J. Gordon continues this tradition of caring by keeping under her care children from very poor families.

In the field of civic work James Gordon led in the forming of groups that worked on community projects. He was one of the organizers of the Olongapo Civic Action Group that worked on beautification projects and in general improvement of the city. He was one of the founders of the Olongapo Rotary Club, which has given rise to four other Rotary Clubs at present. He was also one of the founders of the Olongapo Knights of Columbus- and was selected the second Grand Knight. He organized the Olongapo Businessmen’s Association which then, as now, played a significant part in community life.

Military Rule.

During Gordon’s time Olongapo was in a strange situation. The rest of the Philippines had been declared independent of the United States on July 4, 1946. Olongapo, however, remained under U.S. Government jurisdiction. It had been declared a U.S. Naval Reservation soon after the U.S. and Spain signed the Treaty of Paris. As such it was administered by a U.S. Navy officer. In other words, instead of having a Filipino Mayor, Olongapo had as its governing authority an American military official. Residents had to follow strict rules like: always having an ID Card issued by the Reservation office; home lots could not be owned, these could be taken back any time the US Navy needed the area; relatives from out of town can stay only for a few days and had to renew their passes if their stay is extended; only families with working members could stay in the Reservation. These strictly followed rules made the residents angry. But they became angrier when bus passengers going in and out of the Naval Reservation were made to get off the bus for strict searches of their belongings.

Turnover of Olongapo to Philippine Government.

Jimmy Gordon led the move to make Olongapo free from U.S. rule. He was well respected by US Navy officials and had many friends among the Americans but he could not stomach the military regulations that limited the movements of people in Olongapo. Jose Balein of the Manila Chronicle interviewed him and in a series of articles from July 3 to 7,. 1955 he exposed the abuses and harassments suffered by Olongapo residents under US military rule

The Zambales officials supported Gordon in this fight to be free of military restrictions. As Vice Governor of Zambales he was in a position to speak for people living in Zambales town north of Olongapo who worked in US Navy installations. Buses carrying passengers from Zambales towns passed through Olongapo and underwent the annoying searches. The concerted resistance to military rule could not be ignored by the U.S. Navy authorities. Talks were initiated to formalize the turnover of Olongapo to the Philippine Government. The American panel was made up of officials from the US Embassy headed by Minister Abbot and officers from the U.S. Navy. The Philippine panel was headed by Pacifico Castro of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Vice Governor Gordon was a member. The US Government was thus compelled to relinquish Olongapo to the Philippine Government after the RP-US panel met several times to discuss the conditions. Olongapo was turned over to the Philippine Government on December 7, 1959. On the same day President Carlos P. Garcia signed the Executive Order making Olongapo a municipality of Zambales.

Post Turnover Trouble.

After the turnover, the Zambales politicians moved in. they succeeded in placing their own men in sensitive positions in the new municipality because they worked to have officials appointed instead of elected. Gordon had no stomach for the corruption and he resigned from the post of Deputy Governor. He saw how Olongapo was marginalized. The government hospital was reduced in category; its equipment was carted off to Zambales. Illegal logging and cigarette smuggling were rampant. Land problems proliferated. The new officials tried to lease out the electrical utility for only P5,000.00 a month. Heavy equipment like bulldozers which had been acquired from the US Navy could not be accounted for.

Political Turncoatism.

The political disease of turncoatism was very evident. Party hopping politicians were motivated by the advantage that they could get from the party, not by the principles that the party stood for. The first few years of the new municipality saw this in evidence with the change of party of the Zambales Governor and the Congressman. Politics at its devious worst was the order of the day.

Prodded to run for Municipal Mayor during its first election four years after the turnover, James Gordon, though a reluctant candidate, won and was finally at the helm of his town on December 30, 1963.

Relentless fight against corruption.

If Gordon fought American rule for the military excesses, now he fought well entrenched politicians for widespread corruption. He contracted the services of a lawyer using his own money and won the case (albeit posthumously) that he filed to return the electrical system to the Olongapo Government. He exposed the anomalies that bedeviled the new municipal government. Understandably, his crusade earned for him enemies who tried all manner of harassment, including threats of suspension, hand grenade attacks and planned ambushes.

A City is born.

The situation deteriorated to the extent that Gordon, together with Olongapo residents, struggled hard to be free of the provincial government. He lobbied in Congress for the passage of a bill to convert the municipality into a City. Amidst strong opposition from the provincial government but to the triumphant rejoicing of the people of Olongapo, RA 4645, the Charter of the City of Olongapo, was signed by President Ferdinand Marcos on June 1, 1966. In simple but impressive ceremonies Olongapo City was inaugurated on September 1 of the same year.

New city status failed to damper the avidity of Gordon’s enemies who continued to plan his extermination.

A Light is Extinguished.

There were three attempts on his life: On July 4, 1965, he was lured out of his house by a false report on a fire. On the way back home a grenade was thrown at his car. He survived this first attempt. On August 4 of the same year several prisoners were allowed to escape from the municipal jail of Subic, Zambales. Again, a fire was made as a ruse to make Gordon appear. Three grenades were thrown at the crowd, wounding one US Navy officer who was with the team that helped to control the blaze. Again, James Gordon survived the attempt. The third try was again linked to a fire. The Gordon residence in Quezon City mysteriously burned down on All Saints’ Day. The family later learned that an ambush had been prepared at the Zig-Zag pass although he went through this third attempt unscathed.

On February 20, 1967, while talking with a constituent on the first floor of City Hall, he was gunned down by Nonito Alincastre, an scaped inmate of the National Penitentiary. He was immediately brought to the USS Repose, a US Navy hospital ship, but he could not be saved because of his massive head injuries.

His funeral was the longest Olongapo ever saw. Senators, Congressmen, Ambassadors, joined the grieving Olongapo public in the funeral cortege. His death brought inconsolable loss to his grieving family. Son Richard rued the fact that his father died before he could prove himself equal to the challenge of service that was constantly dinned in his consciousness both by his father’s word as well as by example. Thence began his promise to himself that he would make something of himself to make his father proud of him.

It was a loss felt nationwide. Senator Jose W. Diokno’s tribute to him resonates in every Olongapeno’s heart: “He was born to an American father, chose to be a Filipino, raised his children as Filipinos, served his country as a Filipino and died a Filipino hero.”


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