I met Gen. Antonio Viernes in person during my recent visit in Abra this year. Gen. Viernes, is from Langangilang, Abra.
He has an impressive Education Background, a colorful career in the Military Service and served in the United Nations. He is a General who spend his career advocating Human Rights and Peace. How often can you say that in one breath? Perhaps he’s what Abra needs.
Gen. Viernes is now retired and opted to come back to Abra and run for Governor. I sat with him at the Abra Valley Grand Hotel on January 10, 2016 and ask him why he choose to do so, what are his motivations, plans and aspirations for the Province and most important why Abrenians should consider him to be our Next Governor.
Here’s the full text of my interview.
Sysop: First things first Who is Gen. Antonio Viernes? Please Introduce yourself to our readers.
Gen. Antonio Viernes: Thanks you very much Eric for this rare opportunity. I am from Langangilang, Abra. I came from a family that cannot be considered a rich in material things but rich in friends, we are reach in values. Bottom line is I am a success story. In the sense that, I am a self-made man. I was a police officer at the PNP, I was the first police office to graduate the scout ranger course.
S:Did you ever server as a police officer in Abra?
GAV: No, my eldest sister dissuaded me. She knows that I am a straight shooter and I apply the law equally. She’s concerned that with this attitude, I will make a lot of enemies specially from my friends and relatives. I did had a chance to be the Provincial Commander of Abra PNP but as I said it never materialized.
S: So where did you server?
GAV: I served all over the Philippines from Norther Luzon and to as far as Mindanao. I’ve been all around the country.
S: What was your highest position as a General?
GAV: I was the Chief of the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office.
S: General in the Military that is an advocate in Human rights? That’s rare
GAV: Yes, in fact I was the one who initiated that Human Right and International Humanitarian Law should be a way of life in the PNP. We investigate Human Right abuses within the PNP and refer these cases to the Internal Affairs and even to the Human Rights Commission. During my tenure in office, I have strongly promoted and advocated the protection and respect of Human Rights in the Philippines. This is one thing that I want to promote here in Abra.
If you try to look at the dignity of Abrenians, specially during election time. You can see how Candidates and government sectors highlight the lack of respect to our people. For example, candidates tagging a price per head or per family. What does that mean? You don’t give dignity to that person. you are degrading their rights as a human being. And this saddens me a lot.
S: Vote buying is a open secret General
GAV: And this is appalling. To me I will never do such a thing because you are debasing the dignity of our people. I want to promote, protect and respect the human rights of every Abrenians.
S: Let’s talk about your stint at the United Nations. Tell me more about it
GAV: At first I was a district commander, as part of the Peacekeeping Force of the U.N. I worked in the U.N. for more than five years. I was in Cambodia and East Timor. I was the highest political officer in Darfur and we opened the U.N. mission in Sudan. Later I was the Chief of Strategic Planning as well. I’ve done a lot of humanitarian works when I was there.
S: I can imagine you are being paid handsomely at the U.N., so why come back here in Abra?
GAV: That’s one of the hottest question that’s being asked. To me I felt that I already have done my part in promoting global peace. If I was able to help out other countries to put their houses in order, I thought why not here in Abra. I know this is a sacrifice looking at the benefits (specially financially) if I didn’t leave the U.N. But to me that’s just money. I want to help Abra. I tell you, once elected as Governor, I will not receive my salary, not even a single centavo. Instead I will donate the money for scholarship programs.
S: So why for Governor? You can start being a Mayor in Langangilang, or perhaps Congressman?
GAV: If you’re a mayor, you can only do so much. If you are not in good terms with the Governor, you don’t get projects. Why not as a Congressman? It’s law making function primarily. My strength, my experience and my educational background is more on executive in nature. More on hands-on and implementations.
S: Speaking of Education, Let’s be specific here. What’s your immediate plans in Education specially in our remote towns.
GAV: Our kids education is the future not only in Abra but for this country. There’s a program called PPP – Private Public Partnership. We have to localize that kind of program. There are bright students who can get degrees so these Private and Public sectors can help. I mentioned earlier, I will be donating my salary as a governor to the scholarship program. Then invite private sectors to give into this program as well. Now Lack of teacher and lack the resources, but here’s where the PPP can be tapped again. We need to improve the educational foundation we have. That’s why I am back here. It’s pay back time. My education and character foundation came from here. I was educated from elementary to college in catholic school. I’m a product of Holy Cross School. I took up Political Science at St. Louis University since I was planning to take up law but eventually took the exam at the PNPA. I have three masterals; Masters in Government Management at the Pamantasan ng Lungson ng Maynila (Ping Lacson and my wife were my classmates), Masters in Management, Major in Police Administration at PCU; Masters of Science in Criminology at the University of Lasalette. I have two Doctorate. I am a Doctor in Public Management in PLM and a Doctor in Business Management in University of Lasalette. As you can see I know how to attain a good education. And I intend to help Abra in Education.
S: You’re a General, you spent your time in the U.N. as a member of the peacekeeping force and for other Humanitarian Services, What are the programs you want to put in place to resolve this never ending problem about peace and order in the province?
GAV: Peace and order is everybody’s concern. The approach should be inclusive. Violance sometimes is created due to Political differences. In elections, I always say may the best man/woman wins. let’s not take things too personal. We should not be harming each other. we need to advocate peace. how? During and after elections, let’s open up. Let’s reach out. let’s help one another. Walls created amongst us will prevent peace. I don’t look at the political affiliation. I don’t have quarrel with anyone. if elected I will offer reconciliation to other parties. There are a lot of positions in government even in advisory capacity. I will invite my opponents to join me. They have expertise that we can tap for the good of the province.
S: what about the PAGS (Private Armed Groups)?
GAV: You know there will be no impunity during my term. But the law is the law. If someone is doing things against the province, they have to answer. The root cause of this and why there’s no remarkable progress is because people perceive that anyone can get away with the crime. This will not happen under my watch. You can ask anyone what my reputation is, If I said I’ll do it, you can be assured that I will. Also, I think that the improved professionalism with in the PNP will eliminate these unwanted groups. Peace and Order is my top priority. If we solve this, everything will come into place.
S: Let’s talk about economic situation in Abra. What will be your programs to uplift economic and social inclusion of indigenous tribes who are still geographically isolated (no roadworks) and are therefore marginalized?
GAV: First we need to have a good leadership. We will show the people what are the things to be done and how to do it. We need to look into the Province’s competitiveness compared to the other provinces in the region. In the Cordillera Region, we’re lagging way behind. We need to improve that. First, Peace and Order is one of the big concern, we need to address this so that this province will be conducive for business. If people are afraid, they will not come here. We need to maximize farming by applying modern technology.
S: What kind of technology?
GAV: We can apply technology in our irrigation system to double or even triple rice productions and other staples. I’ve seen this in Bulacan and the Calbarzon area. We can do it here. We also need to have bigger fish farms. My idea is the irrigation system should go through this fish ponds and then to the farm lands. We will be killing two birds in one stone.
S: Let’s talk about Tourism. Recently Abra was featured in the Inquirer as one of the 5 exotics place to visit. But we have not seen any considerable movement from the government to promote Tourism. What’s your plan to change this? For instance I would want to go to Tineg, but I don’t know how to get there. Much more for outside tourist.
GAV: Abra is a beautiful place. I agree. I’ve seen a lot of exotics places. Tourism is also my priority if elected. The number one actor should be the government. We need to improve our current Infrastructure. If we have good infrastructure, we would open up new businesses – such as Transportation. Transportation is vital to the Tourism Industry.
Again all am saying is, we need someone to have the will and dedication to do all these. By the way, I am also half Itneg and I see myself as the rallying point for unity among our Indigenous people and our fellow Ilocanos.
S: What about Healthcare? The Governor was able to finish the new Abra Provincial Hospital amidst controversies. Once it was opened, the hospital building deteriorated quickly, we have reports of various complaints from Patients regarding inadequate and subpar services, lack of medicines lack of skilled doctors. What about these medical missions that only happens during election time. it’s not sustainable. Do you have plans to improve this situations?
GAV: According to our Local Government Code 1991, health care services was devolved or transferred to the local government control. Meaning, this falls into the Governor’s responsibility being the head to deliver these services. First healthcare services can only be delivered if we have the facilities. Second we need good doctors. third availability of medicines. Not only that we need to make sure that the people trust us that these services are delivered properly. I will go to the people and we call frequent town hall meetings to to address their concerns and only during elections time. To me that’s more sustainable and continuously deliver these services.
S: What about graft and corruption in the government. When elected, will you file cases against erring public officials?
GAV: I mentioned when elected I will offer reconciliation with every political parties, right? But there should also be justice. We will look at the wrongdoings. Once proven, we will definitely pursue cases against them. If we cannot deliver justice, then there is no reason for us to be at the helm of the government. I wan to make sure to correct the prevailing impression that people in power can always get away with crime.
S: You’re up again two strong candidates Ruby Bersamin and Joy Bernos. People are saying the fight is only between this two. What do you think are your chances going head to head with them?
GAV: You know Eric, I’ve talked to a lot of people before I decided to run. People have said “You are the man…you will be our Governor”. If we try to look at the side of Abrenian, they are now awake, they are ready not only for change but for transformations. Yes my opponents are household names, but a quality product that comes along, people will take notice. In the coming days, Abrenians will be seeing me in persons as I will be going around. My interest are for Abrenians only.
And yes, you said something about name recall, but remember in a week there is always a Viernes. In a month there’s at least four Vierneses.
S: So you’re saying although May 9 is a Monday, it will be a Viernes?
GAV: ha ha ha ha yes!
S: Are you willing to face Ruby and Joy in a debate?
GAV: Oh yes ! Anytime anywhere. I suggest we go public and on the air. but I doubt if they will discuss issues and programs in an open forum.
Sysop: Well, will see about that. Lastly Governor… Speaking as an Abrenian. Why will I vote for you?
GAV: Because am your hope. I am you. Would you not want your aspirations a reality? if so, then vote for me. Plain and simple. If we don’t act now, it will take decades or even centuries before any transformation can happen in Abra. That’s the reason why I will be your Governor. The people are already exhausted with the kind of situation we are in. When you’re tired you embrace change without hesitation. So am looking at the situation that Abrenians are awaken long enough. I will make sure i can convey that message. I am very excited about my chance.
During this election time, I can assure you that I only advocate peace. Join me in developing our province. I offer world class leadership. I want to make sure that I will run the affairs of the Province the way people of Abra wants it to be.
S: Thank you General for this opportunity. I wish you luck. And I hope that It will be a peaceful election
GAV: Thank you so much Eric