(99th birth anniversary of a great Ilocano leader)
Antonio Valentin Raquiza Sr., a true son of Ilocos Norte, rose from the ranks of the peasantry to occupy pride of place in both provincial and national politics. Even at the peak of his career in public service, he never forgot his roots and always tried to repay the trust vested in him by his kababayans with devotion and commitment.
Tata Tony, as he was fondly called, was born on February 28, 1908 in Piddig, Ilocos Norte. The son of a poor farmer, he supported himself through his college and law school years, and eventually earned a degree from the prestigious University of the Philippines College of Law—even then, the training ground for our country’s future leaders.
Tata Tony was never one who walks away from a fight. During World War ll, he rose to the rank of Major and earned a reputation for bravely leading Filipino troops into battle atop his signature white horse. After the war, he opened a criminal law practice, devoting himself to defending the rights of the less fortunate.
Thinking back about his impoverished, humble beginnings, he would describe entering Chinese restaurants to put ketchup in his pandesal to add flavor to his lunch. Even after being elected to Congress, his life was marked by comparative poverty and personal humility: during his first term, he would arrive at the legislature in an “owner type stainless steel jeep.” His home in Manila was an open house for any Ilocano who happened to be in the nation’s capital while he spent his time in the province visiting homes of his constituents. For him, his wealth laid in the relationships he developed with the people.
It was precisely his habit of identifying with the masses that endeared him to Ilocanos—so much so that for almost three decades, he never lost an election. He rose to a position of utter and complete mastery of Ilocos and national politics. Tata Tony became Governor in 1955 and was the only known politician at that time to resign his post even before his term had ended to run, in the next elections, for a different position.
Tata Tony became Congressman in 1949, 1953, 1957, 1961 and 1965. Even in national politics, however, Tata Tony sponsored laws that brought benefits to Ilocanos. He teamed up with fellow representative Simeon Valdez, and pushed that then Ilocos Norte High School be converted from a provincial to a national high school, which is now called Ilocos Norte National High School. They also sponsored a law creating then Laoag town to Laoag City, which was then the biggest city in the Ilocos region.
Apart from electoral office, he also served his country in appointive executive office. During his long tenure in the House of Representatives, he struck a friendship that would alter the course of his life, and of Philippine history. His new friend: Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.
In 1966, President Marcos asked that he accept the position of Secretary of Public Works and Telecommunications. During his tenure in the Department, he oversaw the development and construction of several landmark programs in Philippine infrastructure, including the North and South expressways, the Guadalupe Bridge in Makati, and the Cloverleaf in Nagtahan Bridge in Manila. In recognition of the quality and integrity of his work in the realm of public works, he was one of only two Filipinos to receive a 19-gun salute by the American government at the Presidio in San Francisco. The other Filipino was Ramon Magsaysay, one of the Philippine’s more popular past presidents.
In his later years, Tata Tony went back to elective office: he won a seat in the National Assembly in 1976, 1978, 1984 and 1986. During this decade-long run, he ran under the Kilusan ng Bagong Lipunan, which he helped build under Marcos’s leadership. Up to his last days, he stayed loyal to KBL.
Asked to explain his political success, Raquiza would generally deflect the question, explaining only that it had always been his sincere desire to serve. Indeed, in all the government positions he occupied, Raquiza maintained a humble and unassuming disposition. His popularity with and support from the masses remains unrivaled, a lasting legacy of his unending quest to abolish poverty and uplift the lives of the less fortunate.
After a long and full life of public service, Tata Tony passed away on Christmas Eve, 1999. As a fitting recognition to his years of devotion to his country and his people, he was buried in The Libingan Ng Mga Bayani, where he lies in the company of the nation’s pantheon of heroes.