Vice Mayor Wilson Wenceslao is no longer a stranger to public service after having served three terms, or nine years, as mayor.
But his journey from the private sector to being chief executive of Santander was not an easy one. The road to his victory against a sitting decades-old dynasty was marred with tension and social unrest because of the resistance of the old leaders.
Although Santander was a small, fifth class municipality then, news of the fierce political battle in this Cebu’s southernmost tip filled the airwaves and newspapers. It was all about goons and guns, and even the town priests had to arm themselves for the battle. With his mother as runningmate, his campaign against the ruling Abines clan was one filled with drama that could have come only from the movies.
He was only 31-years-old in 2001 when he edged out the Abineses, whose political stronghold not only covered Santander but the rest of the 15-town second district. He ran against his brother-in-law, former mayor James Arnold Abines. James’ father was former congressman Crisologo Abines, the known district political lord. The rest of the Abines family members were scattered in neighboring towns also as elected officials. Vice Mayor Wilson’s victory then against James Arnold signaled the death of the Abineses’ monopoly of Santander that spanned several decades.
His first months in office were tricky: he had to contend with what remained of the Abineses clout at the local council, take over a bankrupt local government unit that was stripped of its major properties as a last-minute move of the defeated Abines clan, and find ways to heal an emotionally scarred town while parrying threats of violence.
With perseverance and a firm resolve to change his politically-battered town, he achieved several strides for Santander’s basic services, peace and order, and economy. He fought and won legal battles to retrieve municipal properties such as the municipal port.
He lifted the cloud of monopoly that was hounding Santander’s businesses and opened up the town to investors. Resorts started coming in, providing livelihood opportunities for residents in the tourism industry as well as local taxes coming in for the municipality. New ports opened so more passengers could be served by ferries, fastcrafts and other seagoing vessels. In his first few years he delivered the most basic need for the town: roads and water systems. What used to be water rationing in the town became a 24-hour water distribution service that had the elderly experiencing for the first time how is it to use a shower instead of plastic pails.
He took every chance he got to promote Santander. Agricultural products were proudly displayed in exhibits and fairs, and Santander even bagged first prize in a provincial contest. He also pushed for the creation of Santander’s own festival, the Tostado Festival, which took center stage in the world-popular Sinulog festivities.
When he assumed as mayor the town’s ambulance was stripped of its tires and other valuables. But now, thousands of indigent families in Santander are enrolled in a medical insurance program. A couple of times, he made an effort to drive the ambulance himself so a patient could be taken to the hospital.
He has traveled over the world and is adept at city life. But a true bloodied and down-to-earth Tanyonganon, he also takes great pride and joy in going to the mountains to see the fruits of his farms.