Moreno of Misamis Oriental

By Ed Picson

WHEN THEN Rep. Oscar S. Moreno was appointed as part of the impeachment prosecution team against Pres. Joseph Estrada in the year 2000, I had already heard of the soft-spoken, mild-mannered ex-banker from Misamis Oriental.

I don’t know how or when I heard of him, but I remember thinking he was going to be a thorn on the side of the defense paired with such legal stalwarts as Joker Arroyo, Eduardo Nachura, Sergio Apostol, Salacnib Baterina, Sonny Belmonte et al.

With his keen eye for detail, honed by a background in law and a successful executive career in such banking institutions as Far East Bank and Trust Company, Bank of the Philippine Islands and Citibank, N.A., Moreno’s marathon presentation of the paper trail of the Jose Velarde account was to say the least, thorough.

An accounting ignoramus, I was nonetheless mesmerized by his monologue that lasted several hours, prompting Sen. Miriam Santiago to ask solicitously if he wanted to take a break. With his disarming smile, Moreno politely declined, saying he was prepared to go on and finish his presentation.

We all know how that case turned out, and the next I heard of Moreno, he was governor of his home province of Misamis Oriental, bedrock of distinguished politicians and legal luminaries such as Emmanuel Pelaez, Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Homobono Adaza.

I first met Gov. Moreno in person in early 2005, when he invited Fistorama to hold a boxing card in the capital, Cagayan de Oro City.

I was surprised to learn he was a big sports fan who played basketball regularly with his fellow provincial officials and friends as part of a team he formed called "the Executives".

In the next couple of years, I would get the chance to see Gov. Moreno several times in sports activities, including the 2006 PBA All-Star Week which he, together with his province mate Val Rosabal –basketball legend of the 60’s – worked hard to convince the PBA to hold in CDO.

Last Tuesday I had the opportunity to visit once again with the good governor, accompanied by Rosabal. We met up with him at the Capitol Grounds for the weekly flag ceremony. It was an interesting affair, vastly different from others I’ve seen. After the anthem and the pledge, the provincial treasurer made a detailed report of the province’s finances (quite healthy), the governor exhorted his fellow government workers, extolled the late Ninoy Aquino and at the end of his remarks, asked the week’s birthday celebrants to render musical numbers accompanied by a live band!

"It’s a great way for them to shed inhibitions and to start the work week on a high note", explained Moreno. Awhile back, he also explained to me that his regular basketball games not only provided much-needed exercise, but also healing of political wounds. Many of those they invited to play were of different political persuasions. Talk of innovativeness.

They had just successfully hosted the Philippine Olympic Festival (Mindanao qualifiers) and Moreno characteristically gave credit to the province’s organizing committee, taking none for himself. Of course, I heard differently from most people who said he was the driving force of the games.

Informed that there is a rising boxing star from Cagayan de Oro named Milan Milendo, Moreno waxed enthusiastic over the prospect of having the boy fight in his home town soon. He then introduced me to Board Member Pedro Unabia to explore the possibilities. It was a happy surprise to learn that Unabia actually owns the ubiquitous Sr. Pedro lechon manok (over 200 outlets nationwide), my family’s favorite.

Sensing my fondness for native fare, the good governor invited me to join him for lunch. After attending to his many callers, we met at his office pantry where we had fresh crabs just brought in from a trip to Zamboanga and a unique Mindanao chicken dish called "lagpang", a tasty, spicy broth of native chicken, ginger and other herbs.

That night, after their regular late afternoon basketball game, Moreno again asked me to ride with him to the house of businessman Eden Huang, one of the Gov’s regular basketball buddies. Huang surprised us with Cebuano-style "pochero" of Wagyu beef, which I learned was available in CDO by way of farms in nearby Bukidnon.

The night ended late after ice cream and a stop-over at the Pryce Hotel’s Comapadres lounge for another snack of cashew nuts and several glasses of…ice water. Honest. The governor then displayed his other talent on the bandstand, crooning some standards.

By 3:30 a.m. I was satiated after an engaging conversation about sports, politics, the law and Gov. Moreno’s vision for his province. The following day, I had to kick myself awake at 8 a.m. and as I made my way to the hotel café still in my slippers and disheveled hair, I saw Moreno waving at me as he boarded his car, looking fresh and none the worse for wear, ready for another hectic day.

If only I had half his energy.