(January 17, 2005)

THEY are the city’s most recognizable people.When they speak, most listen.

They influenced the course of events and touched the lives of many residents in the city.

Though they come from diverse background, their influence goes beyond the confines of their offices and their homes.

Meet some of the city’s most influential people.

When this writer gathered the likes of fishing magnates Marfenio Tan and Dominador Teng, legal eagles Tomas Falgui II and Franklin Gacal Jr., businessmen Manny Yaphockun and Antonio Veneracion and the rest of the group in a Lauriat dinner, it was surprising to realize that despite their lofty status in the society, by reason of their wealth and fame, they are all unassuming and would rather defer to each other.

But when each and every one of them spoke, all the rest listened.

Virtually all of them asked what was the basis of this writer to conclude that they are among the city’s most influential figures.

In December last year, this writer asked the opinions of acquaintances and noted personalities in the city on who, in their views, are the 10 most influential people in the city.

There were no other qualifications in the question.

Their replies were quick.Most of them also did not provide further comments.

When this writer met with the people who were included in the list, he explained that it was not strictly a survey but quick tally of replies coming from the respondents.

Again, many may not agree with the list.Others may feel slighted for the oversight.

But the list is somehow a representative of personalities who are often seen on television, read in the paper, heard on the radio or seen in public gatherings.

Gathering them together for a round table discussion over dinner however is easier said and done.

Of those who were included in the list, six failed it make it. So below are the names of those who came for dinner (not necessarily in the order of their influence):

Dante Vicente.More popularly known as Bombo Vic Dante, station manager of dxES Bombo Radyo.His name has become synonymous with their station ID.

Bombo Vic spews a lot of hard-hitting commentaries, sometimes biting diatribes against anybody who dares cross his path.

He minces no word when criticizing public officials who are perceived to be corrupt and inefficient.The 41-year old anchor-commentator worked his way up the ladder starting as a beat reporter in Zamboanga after leaving the Philippine Marines.

He has gone to as far as Iloilo, Bacolod, Cebu, Roxas City and worked in different radio stations and networks before finally ending up station manager of Bombo Radyo here. Although his name is a byword in the local broadcast industry, Vic Dante is rarely seen in public and packs a .45 caliber pistol on his waist.

Some say he also carries an M16 Armalite rifle inside his car.

Domingo Teng. He, along with his brothers, is one of the proud owners of a city landmark that was gutted down by fire almost three years ago, the Kimball Plaza. Teng’s family started as retailer of textile products, the former Eric Commercial along P. Acharon Blvd.

As the city progressed, their store also grew and went on to become one of the earliest and biggest shopping malls in the city.

Before their mall was razed by fire, Teng and his brothers ventured into deep sea fishing and have since become one of the major players in the tuna industry.

Teng, now in his 50s, is presently the president of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing Associations and Allied Industries.

He has been actively lobbying for government support in the effort to position the multi-billion tuna industry as one of the world’s biggest exporters of fresh, canned and processed tuna products.

He once incurred the ire of city hall employees after he criticized the move of the city government to grant bonuses to its workers.He later apologized, however.

Manny Yaphockun. An electrical engineer by profession, Yaphockun is also one of the bigger contractors in the city.His family owns the Yap Mabuhay Lumber.

Yaphuckon, in his mid-40s, now walks with a limp after suffering from a stroke several years back.

This did not prevent him however from being active in the business community.

He is presently the president of the General Santos City Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Yaphockun, whose brother is also the president of the South Cotabato Chamber of Commerce, still drives to his store and follows up his papers at the city hall without a bodyguard although his wife was kidnapped several years ago.

Tomas Falgui II. This 44-year old lawyer is the only son of former board member of the then undivided Cotabato province Cornelio Falgui and former General Santos City vice mayor Minda Falgui.

He is known for his generousity to friends and is widely popular in the corporate world.

His ability to win friends over the military and the police however is what endeared this Boston University-trained Ateneo de Manila law school graduate.

He is often consulted by national politicians and is well-informed on the behind the scene maneuverings in national and local politics.

He ran as and independent and handily won as city councilor in 1992.

After one term, however, he quit politics and concentrated on his legal profession.

Some say, however, that a controversy involving one of his legislative staff prompted him to turn his back on a promising political career.

Rodrigo Rivera Sr. Not a few would say he is the richest man in the city.May be, rightly so.Now 63-years-old, Rodrigo Rivera Sr. arrived in the city in the late 70’s and rose to become the senior manager of the then International Bank of Asia and America (IBAA) branch in General Santos. Some accounts say he endeared himself to the Pontinos, who were among the pioneers in the tuna industry, and was able to convince the family patriarch to allow him the use of the latter’s credit line to start his own business even before he quit his job as bank manager.

By the late 80s, he, along with Marenio Tan, revolutionized the tuna industry.Today, it is one of the country’s biggest dollar earners.

Rivera has since diversified his business interests, acquiring a rural bank in the 90’s while accumulating real properties along the way.Some say he is a shrewd and ruthless businessman but, no doubt, his vast business empire has benefited thousands of workers and employees who are directly employed under his long list of companies.

Marfenio Tan. Marfenio Tan is a classic example of a country boy who hit it big in the city.

He worked his way to get a college degree by doing odd and menial jobs.

He once swam to save his life after sea pirates attacked their fishing boat.

After marrying his wife Rosalina, whose father was his employer, Tan started his own business which grew dramatically in the 80’s.Like his friend, Rodrigo Rivera Sr., Tan also ventured into other businesses.

Known for his temper, Tan nonetheless is an amiable fellow and has not forgotten his humble beginnings.

He still lives in Bula, albeit in a bigger house with a wide lawn and a fleet of several luxury cars.He is still very active in the Bula Parish and once placed his life in forefront of the anti-dictatorship movement during the reign of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

Franklin Gacal Jr. A politician aside from being a lawyer, he is seen as the lone voice of the opposition although he is no longer a city councilor, having lost in the elections last year when he ran as vice mayor.

Still a bachelor at 43-years-old, this Ateneo de Manila University College of Law graduate had several brushes with a wealthy family in the city.One incident even reached the local court here.

The case was eventually settled out of court but the animosity continued such that Gacal chose to run as vice mayor instead of being included in the line-up Ryan Rivera, son of Rodrigo Rivera Sr., who ran as mayor in last year’s election.

Orman Manansala. A second generation from a family of original settlers, many concede Manansala’s active role in promoting the city made him one of the recognizable people in the city.

Although he is a bank manager, Manansala, 41, is more known as festival organizer, having chaired the Tuna and Kalilangan festivals during the past three years.Straightforward in his dealings with other people, he often finds himself at odds with other members of the local media.

Antonio Veneracion. Barely in his 40’s, this certified public accountant is the eldest boy in a family of medical practitioners.

He silently but regularly holds charitable projects through a foundation put up by his father, Dr. Jesus Veneracion.

Tonyboy, as he is called by friends, is the administrator of the family-owned St. Elizabeth Hospital.He is very active in the Rotary Club gatherings.

Orlando Mirabueno. Low-key but very approachable and good-natured, his belongs to a prominent family of professionals with business interests in lending, agriculture and livestock.Like Tomas Falgui II, he once served as a city councilor but declined to run for re-election.Mirabueno himself is also a lawyer.

Adelbert Antonino. Former congressman and city mayor.

Although now rarely seen in the city, Antonino is still perceived as a major player in local politics.Son of former senator Magnolia Antonino, this former logging concession owner barge into the local political scene after Marcos, their political patron, was kicked out from office.

After a disastrous defeat to Rosalita Nuñez in the 1995 elections, Antonino fortified his grip in the city’s political landscape.

He re-took his set as city mayor in 1998 and has since lorded it over in local politics.

He resigned in 2001 but not after ensuring that his handpicked candidate Pedro Acharon Jr. will win in the elections.He also fielded his eldest daughter Darlene Antonino-Custodio, then 26 years old, as candidate for the House of Representative.

Darlene won and is now on her second term.Some political figures here said the Antoninos made local elections a very expensive political exercise.

Sources said he is now in the United States undergoing medication.

Pedro Acharon Jr. Being the city mayor undoubtedly made him in the list. Born to a family of politicians (his father and half-brother also served as city mayors), Mayor Acharon sports a boy-next-door image and is very active in the Couples for Christ movement.

The mayorship was virtually handed over to him in a silver platter when Adelbert Antonino resigned in 2001, three months before the election.

Some say with him around, nothing spectacular happened to the city.Of course, he would disagree.

Several programs of the city government have been adopted by the Asian Institute of Management as best practices in good governance.

Although on his second term, Acharon still has not shed the image of being an understudy of Antonino.

Darlene Antonino-Custodio. Petite and pretty, Custodio quickly learned the ropes of being a politician.

She has been endearing herself to her constituents by doling out projects upon projects in the remote areas of Tampakan, Polomolok and Tupi in South Cotabato and General Santos which represented the first congressional district of South Cotabato.

Some say she merely inherited her position through his parents (her mother Luwalhati was a former member of Congress), but Custoido has proven she also got the character and zeal of her father.

Observers believed she is being groomed to become the next mayor of General Santos.

Mirzi Moralde. She is the same Majah Moralde to you who are watching the daily news of ABS-CBN’s TV patrol Socsksargen at Channel 3 in the free television and Channel 10 in cable television.

Still single at 27-years-old, Majah Moralde graduated from the University of the Philippines.

She started as a talent reporter of ABS-CBN before being appointed as news chief of the city’s only TV news program last year.

Others who were also mentioned were Vice Mayor Florentina Congson, councilors Lourdes Casabuena and Dominador Lagare, Manny pacquiao, Bebot Haw, the “Chinese mafia”, Supt. Willie Dangane, Sarangani governor Miguel Dominguez, one member of the print media, Rodrigo Salangsang, former city mayor Rosalita Nuñez and a few others.

Surprisingly, no member of the clergy and religious sector, in any denomination was cited as influential.

So too are the members of the military and the police.Some opined that the nature of these men in uniform, especially officers, whose tenure in office is dictated by their higher headquarters made them less identifiable as residents of the city.

Or maybe because of the perceived widespread corruption in this two establishments, the police and the military, have made people think their officers played no significant effect in their daily lives as residents of the city.

Those who made it to the list top 14 most influential people are also in their 40’s with the exception of Rivera, Tan (who at 63 and 58 are already “old” by their standard) and Moralde.For a city with a median age of late 20s to early 30’s, the list of perceived influential people is arguably representative of the city young population.

One thing noticeable, however, the early settlers have already virtually ceded their influence.Some say other settlers just faded into the background while others argued some have already left for greener pastures abroad.

A closer look of the people named in the list will however reveal that most of them belong to the middle class, acknowledged as the opinion makers of the society.

For whatever it is, many may not agree that those who were named are most influential people in General Santos.Some may even fell bitter because they were not included in the list.

Maybe a separate formal survey should be made.Any takers?