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Honoring Cebu’s leaders who passed on

By: Morexette Marie B. Erram - CDN Digital Multi-Media Reporter | November 01,2021 - 09:00 AM

CEBU CITY, Philippines — Once again, Filipinos will be venerating their dead in a socially distant manner this 2021 as threats of COVID-19 still linger.

No doubt the years 2020 and 2021 were heartbreaking, and Cebuanos were mourning not only those who left due to the pandemic but also public servants who departed our midst.

In this article, CDN Digital honors and remembers notable leaders in Cebu who passed on during these uncertain times.

Antonio ‘Tony’ Cuenco, former ASEAN Sec-Gen, and Cebuano Freedom Fighter



COVID-19, at its height in 2020, claimed the life of one of Cebu City’s legislators – Councilor Antonio ‘Tony’ Cuenco.

The Cuenco family confirmed that their patriarch succumbed to the complications brought about by the infection.

A scion of one of Cebu’s most influential and prominent political families, he was the son of the late Governor Manuel Cuenco and the grandson of former Senate President Mariano Jesus Cuenco.

Cuenco, a seasoned public servant, was also appointed as Secretary-General of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Inter-Parliamentary Assembly from 2010 to 2013.

He was also one of the youngest members of the 6th Congress in 1965 – at 29. He served there until 1969.

During Martial Law, Cuenco was among those who opposed the dictatorship of former President Marcos.

In particular, he helped former President Corazon Aquino seek asylum in Cebu City during the days leading to the 1986 Edsa Revolution.

It was Cuenco who personally drove Aquino to the Carmelites Monastery in Brgy. Mabolo, which formed part of a strategy to ensure the latter’s safety.

A photo of his meeting with Aquino and his brother Peping Cojuangco, Nene Pimentel, Monching Mitra with the Carmelite nuns can be searched online.

READ MORE: Cebu officials mourn over Councilor Tony Cuenco’s passing

READ MORE:  Councilor Tony Cuenco succumbs to COVID-19

Sonny Osmeña, former Senator, the ‘Lone Ranger’

Toledo City Mayor John Henry “Sonny” Osmeña faces a one-year suspension and a criminal indictment for withholding the real property tax share of Barangay Daanlungsod in Toledo City.

Former Senator John Henry “Sonny” Osmeña succumbed to colon cancer last February 4. He was 86.

Until his death, Sonny was the last surviving pre-Martial Law Senator.

The grandson of former President Sergio Osmeña Sr., Sonny had a colorful life as a politician. His last stint was as mayor of Toledo City.

His career in politics started began in 1963 as a councilor for Cebu City. He was elected as Vice Mayor in 1967 and a member of the House of Representatives in 1968.

Sonny served as a senator from 1971 to 1972, 1987 to 1995, and 1998 to 2004. During his term in the Senate, he gained the reputation as the ‘Lone Ranger’ and ‘graft-buster’.

Incumbent Senate President Tito Sotto described the late Senator as having “independent-mindedness and stance even if the odds were not in his favor.”

“[He was the] man behind numerous Senate investigations of government offices and officials, who were involved in irregular and anomalous transactions,” Sotto said.

READ MORE: Senate Honors Ex-Senator Sonny Osmeña

READ MORE: Former senator, Cebu political star John Osmeña; 86

Raul Del Mar, former Cebu City Congressman, father of CPA, MCIA, ‘Champion of the Media’

Rep. Raul del Mar

Del Mar passed away last November 2020 while serving his last term as Cebu City’s 1st District Representative. He was 79.

In his political career, Del Mar pushed for legislation advocating and promoting the rights and welfare of journalists, earning him the title of ‘Champion of Press Freedom’.

He penned Republic Act (RA) No. 11458, effectively expanding the Sotto Law which grants journalists exemptions on divulging their sources acquired in confidence.

Del Mar was the son of a journalist and a manager of a local paper, La Prensa.

He was also regarded as the father of the Cebu Port Authority (CPA) and the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA).

Del Mar was credited for successfully forming the administrative bodies that will manage two of the country’s largest seaports and airports, respectively.

He began serving in the House of Representatives in 1987 and has since been undefeated.

His children, Dr. Raoul “Ranny” del Mar, and Rachel “Cutie” del Mar succeeded him when his terms ended.

In 2013, 2016, and 2019 elections, Del Mar ran and won again.

READ MORE: Cebu City Rep. Del Mar Passes Away

READ MORE: Del Mar returns home, honored as ‘father’ of CPA, MCIA

Benhur Salimbangon, former Cebu 4th District Congressman, ‘Leader of the North’

Former 4th District Representative Benhur Salimbangon | FB Photo /Francis Salimbangon

Another Cebu politician succumbed to cancer.

Former 4th District Rep. Benhur Salimbangon passed away last December 2020 after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 75.

His family said their patriarch died peacefully in his sleep, with them by his side.

A local of Medellin, a second-class municipality located approximately 120 kilometers north of Cebu City, Salimbangon was first elected to the House of Representatives of the Philippines from 2007 to 2010 and from 2010 to 2019.

Benhur was also member of the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi) and the One Cebu party founded and led by the Garcias.

His wife, Janice Salimbangon, currently serves as congresswoman of Cebu’s 4th District.

After news of his death was made public, constituents of Cebu’s 4th District took to social media to pay their tributes.

In particular, they remembered the late congressman as the ‘Visionary Leader of the North’ for implementing various infrastructural projects and promoting tourism destinations in Cebu’s northern towns.

READ MORE: Former Cebu congressman dies

Lito Osmeña, former Governor who ushered ‘Ceboom’

Former Governor Lito Osmena chooses Chiz Escudero as his vice-presidential candidate during a press conference. (CDN PHOTO/TONEE DESPOJO)

COVID-19 also claimed the life of another influential political figure in Cebu this 2021.

Ex-governor Emilio Mario ‘Lito’ Osmeña succumbed to the infection last July 2021, his family confirmed. He was 82 years old.

Lito was remembered most especially as the architect behind the rapid economic development Cebu experienced during his term as governor, from 1988 to 1992, which was also known as ‘Ceboom’.

With him at the helm, the Capitol was able to push and complete multiple infrastructural projects including the Transcentral Highway, modernization of the Cebu International Airport (now named Mactan-Cebu International Airport), concreting of provincial roads, expanding telecommunications network in the province, to name some.

In politics, Lito was also known for rebranding the word ‘promdi’, a colloquial term associated with individuals residing in a city but who hailed from the province.

He founded the Progressive Movement for the Devolution of Initiatives (PROMDI), a local political party in Cebu, that advocates devolution. Devolution, as defined by Britannica, is ‘the transfer of power from a central government to subnational (e.g., state, regional, or local) authorities’.

Lito ran as Vice President in the 1992 elections. He was the running mate of former President Fidel Ramos but lost to Joseph Estrada.

He faced Estrada again in the 1998 Presidential election but like in the previous Presidential polls, he was defeated.

As a member of the influential Osmeña clan, Lito was the cousin of Sonny, former Senator Sergio ‘Serge’ Osmeña III, and former Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña.

READ MORE: Cebu officials mourn Lito Osmeña’s passing

READ MORE: Cebu province mourns passing of Lito O

Pabling Garcia, former Governor who made Cebu the wealthiest province in PH


In 2021, Cebu lost two former governors.

Former Governor Pablo ‘Pabling’ Garcia passed away last August 18, barely a month after Lito’s death.

Often referred to as ‘Noy Pabling’ or ‘The Great Pabling’, Garcia served as governor of Cebu from 1995 to 2004. He was succeeded by his daughter, incumbent Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia.

During his administration, Cebu became the wealthiest province in the country, the result of his efforts in ensuring that the island province will be financially stable.

He was also known as the ‘Boy from Dumanjug’, owing to his humble beginnings in Dumanjug, a third-class municipality located roughly 78 kilometers west of Cebu City that has a population of 57,800 as of 2020.

Garcia’s first stint in local office was in 1951, as a municipal councilor in Barili, the neighboring locality of Dumanjug. At that time, he was among the topnotchers of the 1951 Bar Examinations, landing 3rd.

The University of San Carlos (USC), where he finished his law studies, recognized him as one of their pioneering bar topnotchers.

Garcia then became Vice Governor from 1969 to 1971.

He was also elected as a member of the House of Representatives of the Philippines for several terms.

He served as a representative of the third district of Cebu from 1987 to 1995, and the second district of Cebu from 2007 to 2013.

The Garcia family, where Pabling serves as the patriarch, founded the local One Cebu political party.

One Cebu was made in response to Sugbuak, a political movement that sought to divide Cebu into separate provinces – Cebu del Norte/Cebu Boreal, Cebu Occidental, Cebu del Sur/Cebu Austral, and Cebu Oriental.

Sugbuak, which was first introduced in 2007, never took off.

READ MORE: Former Governor Pabling Garcia laid to rest beside his wife on August 21

READ MORE: Garcia on necrological service of Pabling: One of the most difficult tasks to do as governor 

Florentino Solon, former Cebu City Mayor, Father of Nutrition’ who helped catapult Sinulog to fame

Dr. Florentino S. Solon, former Cebu City mayor. | Nutrition Center of the Philippines

Cebu City also lost a former mayor in 2020.

Dr. Florentino Solon, who was the city’s local chief executive from 1978 to 1983, passed away last June 2020. He was 88.

Solon began his career in public service as a nutritionist – as a municipal health officer of Carmen, a third-class town situated around 42 kilometers north of Cebu City, and in the regional office of the Ministry of Health.

He would also become the first executive director of the Nutrition Center Philippines in 1974.

In 1978, then-President Ferdinand Marcos appointed him as mayor of Cebu City. Two years later, he joined the National Elections and was elected as mayor.

Aside from being a renowned nutritionist, Solon was also known for catapulting the Sinulog Festival into fame.

His administration worked with David Odilao Jr., who was the regional director of the then Ministry of Sports and Youth Development, to hold the first Sinulog Grand Parade in 1980.

Schools in the city participated in the parade that would eventually grow as an attraction that lures millions of tourists both local and international every year.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sinulog Grand has been temporarily canceled since 2020.         /rcg

READ MORE: Archbishop Palma: Solon and Cuenco were great leaders deserving of Cebuano gratitude

READ MORE: Former Cebu City Mayor Solon passes away at 88

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