BY ROGER M. BALANZA
Garcia, 82, whose political career spanned 30 years, died from heart attack morning of Thursday, July 31, 2014, at the Cardinal Santos Hospital in Mandaluyong City.
Dabawenyos would remember Garcia, popularly known as “Nonoy” as one of Davao’s enduring politicians who devoted his life to public service.
The deceased is survived by wife Linda, sons Mariano, Manuel Jr., Dennis, Michael and Vincent, and daughters Mylene and Maryrose. Vincent followed in the footstep of his father in 1998, with his election as Second District Congressman. After Vincent served three terms, daughter Mylene, the now incumbent congresswoman, continued the family’s political hold on the district.
Garcia is the fifth child of former Davao City Mayor (1946-48) Leon Aquino Garcia of Tanauan, Batangas and Milagros Suazo Monteverde of Davao.
He studied at Davao City High School, Ateneo de Manila (A.B. Literature, L.L.B) and Columbia University (Master of Laws).
Garcia was among the ‘pillars’— that included the late Senator Alejandro Almendras, the late Third District congressman Elias B. Lopez and businessman Robert Limso — of the hurriedly-formed opposition political bloc Lakas ng Dabaw that backed the victorious mayoral bid of then interim vice mayor Rodrigo Duterte against interim mayor Zafiro Respicio in the post-EDSA local elections 0f 1988.
Garcia left his imprint not only in national and local politics but as well as in pieces of legislation and advocacies that ranged from sports and environment, to business and education, among others.
He was instrumental in seeking congressional funding for the improvement of the Francisco Bangoy International Airport (Davao International Airport), the establishment of the state-funded Philippine Science High School (Mindanao) and the University of Southeastern Philippines (USeP) in Davao City and the construction of Mindanao’s first flyovers (Buhangin and Agdao flyovers) and the Buhangin Underpass, also a first in Mindanao.
He was an advocate of the conservation and protection of the Philippine Eagle and was deeply involved in the conception of the Philippine Eagle Foundation and the establishment of an eagle sanctuary in Barakatan in Toril in the early 80s. The PEF has transferred the sanctuary to Malagos in Calinan. He chaired the foundation for many years.
Garcia’s youth and sports programs covered a wide range of disciplines, but his pet project was amateur boxing. He was behind the creation of the local chapter of the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines (ABAP), which was nurtured by his personal funds and love for amateur boxing by then city councilor Bing Reta who headed the city chapter of the amateur boxing group until his untimely death in 1994.
Garcia’s civic involvement, among others, includes the Hijos de Davao (the association of Davao City’s oldest families); the Davao Jaycees and , Rotary Club.
In business, he was a prime mover in the birth of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry which he served as president for years, the local office of the American Chamber of Commerce and the Davao City chapter of the Coconut Federation (Cocofed).
Garcia was first president of the Davao City chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and which he had also served as Mindanao governor. He was managing partner of the Garcia Inigo de Guzman Law Firm.
The lawmaker first entered politics as elected city councilor of Davao City in 1967. He also served as member of the Interim Batasang Pambansa in 1984, and congressman of Davao City’s second district for three terms (1992, 1995 and 1998). He served as deputy justice minister in 1985 at the tail-end of the Marcos rule.
Perhaps, Garcia should be remembered most for his role in the early political career of incumbent Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
Garcia, then of the Nacionalista Party (NP) and markedly politically aligned with the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, joined forces with the late congressman Lopez and the late Senator Almendras (both also belonging to Marcos’ NP) and the business community headed by then appointed city councilor Robert Limso, to organize the opposition local bloc Lakas ng Dabaw for the 1988 elections, the first local elections after the 1986 People Power Revolution..
Duterte, then the appointed interim vice mayor of the Cory Aquino administration, defeated then interim mayor Respicio, who was backed by the formidable administration UNO coalition of Aquino, in a tight contest.
With Lakas ng Dabaw’s uncontested political grip behind him coupled with his brand of governance, Duterte would serve as mayor for three terms up to 1998. He staged a return to City Hall in 2001 to serve another three terms that ended in 2010; he returned to City Hall in 2013 after daughter Sara Duterte served a singled term from 2010 to 2013.
Even after his political retirement in 1998, Garcia remained an influential force in the Lakas ng Dabaw. and until health problems overtook him, in the local bloc’s offsprings — the Alyansa Dabaw (formed in 1995) and the Hugpong sa Tawong Lungsod (2001).