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Lakay Morris

On Oct. 10, we will celebrate the birthday of the father of Baguio City, Atty. Mauricio Gamsao Domogan. He is called Mauricio by his lovely, kind, gentle, and supportive wife Rebecca or Becky; Papa by his daughters and son in-law; Morris or manong Morris or MGD by friends. But in a book published in collaboration with Art Tibaldo and Rosemarie Humilde, he was called “Lakay” – a tribute to a man and a leader “whose love for service is a fervent passion.” This was a message lovingly dedicated by wife Becky and daughters Janice, Jillian, and Joy. And may I add son-in-law Mark Dy and three-year-old granddaughter Siobhan Easter, who the mayor calls “Eusebia” after his mother. Siobhan is undoubtedly the apple of the mayor’s eyes.

Becky recalls that she met the young lawyer Mauricio through her real estate mother Ignacia in the early ‘80s. She was beguiled by his gentle manners and intelligence. The elders proudly told her that he was a good man – a man of character, honesty, and integrity. They would soon exchange letters and married in 1982. The couple is blessed with three daughters.

Lawyer Janice Marie, the eldest of the daughters, wrote: “At a very young age, although I could not fully comprehend it back then, I saw my father’s example of what it meant to be mindful of one’s actions, always. He is the walking, talking, living, and breathing epitome of the slogan, “Be good, even if others are not, even if others cannot, and if others will not.”

Jillian April, middle daughter, now serving in the U.S. military, remembers the sweet gesture of her father of trying his best to comb and tie her hair. At a young age, she realized that her father would do anything for his family.

And lastly, youngest daughter Joy Allison, who is a nurse like her mother Becky, calls her father “Popsicles,” a pet name she gave him because he was her security and fulfillment. Joy said the biggest lessons she learned from her father were lessons in humility and perseverance. “My father says that it is not the numerous awards that count, but how you keep your feet grounded even with all the things that you have accomplished.”

All three would remember the wit and humor of their father and how he would regale them with stories of his childhood.

Voluminous articles have been written about the mayor, mostly about his life in public service, his awards, and what he exemplifies as a leader, as a person, and as a friend. This is after he dedicated 18 years of his life as a labor lawyer, protecting the rights and interests of the labor sector. You will see his name in most of the local papers. You cannot quantify the achievements of this man either as a mayor or as a congressman in two or three pages, and yet this is an attempt.

In an article written by his good friend, the late Max Soliven of the Philippine Star in 1993, he said that Morris was born in the remote Sitio of Bab-asig, Patiacan, Quirino (formerly Angaki), in Ilocos Sur. This is a place near the boundary of Mountain Province and Abra. He is the son of Benito Domogan and Eusebia “Sebia” Gamsao. His mother died when he was two years and eight months old because of the lack of doctors in the barrio then. Younger sister Juana was only five days old at that time.

His was a proverbial Cinderella story. He walked to school barefoot in his elementary and high school days in his short pants. He was the son of a miner. Despite these circumstances, he graduated at the top of his class at the Patiacan Elementary School. At the Lepanto High School in Mankayan, Benguet, the young Mauricio had a life changing and humiliating experience from his “snobbish” date, the daughter of an executive, during their junior-senior prom.He recalled that instead of putting her hand on his arms during the procession and dance, she warily held his sleeve, as if to imply something, which embarrassed and taught him a very painful and valuable lesson in life, “to strive for the best, especially in grades and academics, if only to be accepted by society.”

He finished his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Baguio and Bachelor of Laws at the Baguio Colleges Foundation, now University of the Cordilleras. He worked his way through high school and college as a miner, construction worker, and caddy in golf courses.

No wonder the mayor has a penchant for playing golf. He even carved from wood his own golf club, according to the late Col. Marion Lardizabal.

My late father-in-law Turiano de Guia, who Mayor Domogan used to call Manong Tur, was a great believer and often said Morris was a good player. They were good friends. Actually, I came to know more about then councilor Mauricio Domogan, through Papa Tur who would talk endlessly about his honesty and how he would always pick up Papa Tur from the house very early in the morning to play golf. They were called “early birds.” Papa would narrate how the game of golf brought out the best in people, about their character and their honesty. Papa was very fond of him. And so during the mass before Papa Tur’s burial, Mayor Domogan sang the most beautiful uggayam.

Did you know that the good mayor also plays the bandurria (the local banjo), similar to the mandolin? It is a Spanish stringed musical instrument of the lute family, with a design derived from the cittern and guitar. He used to play with the Baguio Tech Rondalla as a scholar.

Did you also know that he once caught a python and put it around his neck in Patiacan?

Proud of his culture and heritage and since he belongs to the Bago ethnolinguistic group, he also used to dance and sing when requested to present their culture.

Morris helped put Baguio City in the map. Under his stewardship as “janitor” of the city, Baguio won numerous awards. Most notable are the successive “The Cleanest and Greenest Highly Urbanized City in the Philippines Award” from 1994 to 1996; a Hall of Fame Award in 1996, and another Hall of fame award in 1997 for sustainability, Gawad Pamana ng Lahi and Likas Yaman Award.

As a congressman, he won the Ten Most Outstanding Congressmen Award for three consecutive years from 2001 to 2004 and the Congressional Hall of Fame in 2004.

With the help of his congressional funds, the Baguio Museum was completed at its present site, 10 years after the July 16, 1990 earthquake devastated it.

He proudly wears his g-string or bahag, serving as an inspiration to the young members of the indigenous community to wear their heritage with pride. He would walk barefoot during big parades and celebrations in the region representing Baguio, which gathered admiration from the crowd. I remember seeing him in the 1995 National Lingayen Gulf Landing parade in Pangasinan during President Fidel Ramos’ term. Morris Domogan would also wear his indigenous barongs in many occasions.

The reluctant Domogan’s political career began in 1988, when he, representing the indigenous community with Jaime Bugosen, ran for councilor and mayor, respectively, and won. In 1992, Domogan ran for vice mayor through the prodding of friends, while his friend Tony Boy Tabora ran for mayor. Jun Labo won, but was disqualified by virtue of his citizenship. A “providential” event happened 15 minutes after Vice Mayor Domogan was sworn into office on June 30, 1992: He took his oath as acting mayor by virtue of the disqualification of mayor-elect Jun Labo. Then outgoing mayor Bugnosen turned over the gavel of responsibility to him. In October of 1992, Mayor Domogan took his oath as permanent city mayor by virtue of a Supreme Court ruling disqualifying Labo with finality. He was reelected in 1995 and 1998.

Some of his closest friends Engr. Felino Lagman, Judge Heilia Mallare Philips, Col. Marion Lardizabal, Dr. Jimmy Cabfit, Herr Bautista, Rep. Bernardo Vergara, the late vice mayor Daniel Fariñas, Atty. Edilberto Tenefrancia, Atty. Carlos Canilao, and Atty. Rodolfo Lockey recounted the diligence, humility, integrity, and the leadership of their friend. They all had great respect for him. After all, when the mayor talks, you have no recourse but to listen. And just like the python that he caught in his younger years, one is caught by the sheer strength of his convictions and his eloquence.

Happy birthday Lakay Morris – Mayor Mauricio Domogan!

Happy birthday or orbit, too, my panganay na anak, Arthur Rhubnash “Nashi,” my pamangkins Kawayan and Anna Aurora, our inaanak Bree Hamada, our cousin Kidlat Tahimik, mom Ursula, Sir Orly Abinion, Anna Sionosa, Pete de Jesus, and my husband Ed. Feliz compleanos!

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