Subtlety of Siquijodnons (2)


Another Siquijodnon who has carved a niche for himself, thus, making his province mates proud is Atty. Cesar Arcamo Ontal. The eighth in a brood of 12 of parents Felix Laxina Ontal and Maria Lumingkit Arcamo, he belonged to a family of professionals and politicians.  Three lawyers comprised the family – Nickarter, Guillermo, and Cesar himself. A brother, Alexander, is a mechanical engineer, while the youngest brother, Patsy, is a doctor. Arturo, Victoria and Cristita are teachers.

Politicians likewise dominated the family. The eldest brother, Arturo, became mayor of the municipality of Lazi for one term in 1947-1950. Another brother, Guillermo, was the mayor of the municipality of Aurora, Zamboanga del Sur in 1951. Cesar, himself, was the third politician in the Ontal family.

He went to the Lazi Elementary School, growing up just like any youngster – full of childish pranks and fond of telling tall stories. It was said that he once failed grade school when he went out playing billiards.  However, he was able to complete Grade 7.

The only secondary school at that time was quite far, which was the then Larena Sub-Provincial High School, situated at the old capital town of Larena. From his home town in Lazi to Larena, the young Cesar and his friends trekked the 21- kilometer distance twice a week via Basac every Sunday and Friday afternoons. The long hike was doubly difficult because on one’s head was the bundle of clothes and provision for the whole week. However, the heavy load and weary legs were lightened by Cesar’s constant light banter and funny jokes. The arduous journey to and from Larena was repeated for four long years. This was ended when he graduated secondary school in 1942.

The Gates of Opportunity of then Silliman Institute in Dumaguete City beckoned Cesar to enroll at the College of Law. He was conferred the degree of Bachelor of Laws in 1954, successfully hurdling the bar examinations the following year.

While studying in Dumaguete City, he stayed at the residence of a relative, Restituto Ybañez. He fell in love with one of the daughters, Rosalyn. They were married on April 25, 1955, but no offspring was sired in their 24-year union.

Atty. Ontal’s life as a politician began when he ran as a Special Board Member in 1956 under the Nacionalista Party. His opponent was a brilliant young lawyer, Atty. Ponciano L. Dueñas. It was during this political bout when his skill in public speaking was noticed. In fact, Atty. Dueñas conceded that Atty. Ontal won because he was an eloquent public speaker. He held his audience spell-bound for hours on end.

It was in the middle of his third term when then Governor Eulogio Omictin went to the US for an official visit. Atty. Ontal was made acting Governor for a few months. In order to leave a lasting legacy to his constituents in Lazi, he renovated the old social quadrangle. The renovation was continued by the officials who succeeded him. In 1987, the town officials spearheaded by Congressman Orlando Fua and Mayor Cesar J. Marchan, named the quadrangle the Cesar A. Ontal Memorial Social Center. The spacious, concretely paved social center stands to this day as the hub of the municipality’s social events and other important gatherings.

Before his third term as Special Board Member expired, Atty. Ontal quit the Nacionalista Party and switched to the Liberal Party. He ran for the position of municipal mayor in his hometown of Lazi in 1969. However, being in the opposition, he lost to the administration candidate, Cerino P. Ligutom.

After that devastating loss, Atty. Ontal returned to Dumaguete and was appointed Provincial Attorney, a post he held from 1972 to 1979 until his untimely passing on September 17, 1979, ironically “Araw ng Siquijor,” the place that held a lot of promise for his dreams and vision. – NWI