INTO THE HEART OF BIKOL AND THE WORLD
A Brief History of ROTARY CLUB NAGA Number 16989 District 3820 FOR seventy years, the first Rotary Club in South Luzon has highlighted the breadth of affinities between the individual and the community. It has done so by carrying out the essential vision that has inspired the first Rotarians at the beginning of the 20th century—Service above Self. Two world wars drastically changed the face of the earth. The last century despite wondrous technological inventions and economic catalysts that brought us to greater achievements also augured a period of great anxiety and upheavals. These happened in many parts of the world including the Philippines. Against the backdrop of a new world challenged by humanity’s longstanding ills, the story of the first Rotary Club established in Naga City, in the Bikol region in 1948, is worth telling. It is a narrative of hope and fidelity to the moving spirits that made the Rotary Club, one of the most enduring human organizations that has served the world in the last hundreds of years. Born After the War This was the scenario: The main actors of the war had declared victory; the supposed enemies had been defeated and surrendered. Such triumph was sweet but momentarily the actual work of reconstruction began. The most difficult part of the story came into the picture. How does one sustain the great spirit of victory amidst the rubbles and wounded memories brought by the recent war? How does one retrieve the lost three years of war that felt like an eternity? Three years after the liberation of Naga, the people continued to rise from their tragic situations with a newfound faith in the goodwill of humanity. The vibrancy and dynamism of those tears were unimaginable considering the trauma and losses suffered by everyone. In Naga, people decided to anchor their hope again to an illumined future. During these years of rehabilitation, non-sectarian educational institutions were established in the city. These institutions eventually became the University of Nueva Caceres and the Naga College Foundation. The Ateneo de Naga, which was used as a garrison, reopened. In the schools as well as in the civic discourse, the value of service and heroism were extolled to be the primary virtues for everyone. New edifices dedicated to commerce and governance were rebuilt. Cinemas and churches started to be filled again by patrons and devotees. Interestingly, the same key business leaders and prominent citizens who initiated such movement would be the first members and officials of Rotary Club of Naga. Founded on March 18, 1948, its first elected president was Rufino Sabino, with Lorenzo Ziga as the vice-president. Monico Imperia l became the first club secretary. The initial meetings were held in a local restaurant managed by the Dy-Liaccos. On the same year, the once-slumbering-town in Camarines Sur would also become the first chartered city in the Bikol region honoring the town’s maximum potential to define and chart the future for regional development. This would usher back the war-torn country back to its feet. In a tribute to his adopted city, the eminent poet and novelist Bienvenido Santos wrote a poem and called Naga, as the heart of Bikol, a title that every Nagueño continues to wear proudly on their sleeves. The Symbol of the Wheel: The Will to Serve As the wheel of history moved the newly chartered city into greater heights, the succeeding decades after the war were marked with various accomplishments in promoting civic consciousness among the people. Like its most prominent symbol, the wheel continued to propel and move towards spreading this idea of service above self, which immediately resonated in the deeply religious and highly sociable Bikolanos. Influential people in the city from the owner of the largest chain of cinema houses to the parish priest of Naga cathedral became past presidents of the Rotary Club. To this date, there are 113 clubs in District 3820 that comprises the whole of South Luzon area and 21 of these clubs are in Bikol region. For her part, the Rotary Club Naga has mothered seven other clubs, which include the two other clubs in Naga City (East and Metro Naga), in Legazpi City, (the other major city in the region), and in the towns of Daet, Buhi, Goa, and Virac in Catanduanes. It has also produced six district governors, namely Francisco Imperial (1967-1968), Oscar Ravanera (1981-1982), Heracleo Guballa (1988-1989), Philip Imperial (1997-1998) and Everett Olivan for the year 2019-2020. Over the last five decades, despite the strong optimism among the Bikolanos, many parts of the region are still considered as one of the most destitute areas in the country. There are multiple factors that one may cite to explain this socio-economic marginalization— the rapid environmental degradation and urbanization; the lack of access to good health programs and formal education; the traditional political system and the armed conflicts in the countryside, and the geographical vulnerabilities which make Bikol prone to typhoons and volcanic eruptions. It is in these areas of concern that the Rotary Club of Naga has articulated their vocation of service to their fellow men. With their networks from other parts of the world and in collaboration with the local government units and other implementing agencies, the Rotary Club of Naga has been very active and highly visible in their community service garnering recognitions and high esteem among their peers and the local communities that have benefited from these acts of generosity. Projects with maximum impacts and long-term benefits are prioritized as part of the most applicable strategies developed by its leaders and members through the years. In 1993, the club has paved the way to a reforestation project that developed a sustainable watershed program meant to address the lack of water supply in Naga City. The project generated considerable effect among the people as it helped improve the water supply in the city. Similar undertakings have been done in other municipalities in Camarines Sur to provide clean drinking water thru the Biosand Water Filter Project that started in 2007. In several occasions, the club has also organized medical missions, donated heath equipments and facilities to the underprivileged. The challenges are still enormous and yet the Rotary Club of Naga has been providing supply where things essential to life are dramatically lacking. Stronger at 70: A New Call to Action Since 1960’s, every January 4, the civic club spearheads the annual celebration in honor of the Fifteen Bikol Martyrs whose memorial plaza can be found in the city downtown. Eleven of these fifteen were summarily executed in Manila after being unjustly implicated in the 1896 revolution that broke in the capital. Noticeably most of the current members’ economic and professional backgrounds are similar to these venerated heroes. Of the fifteen, three were priests, two came from a rich clan of businessmen, and three worked in the public works department of Nueva Caceres, and another, a pharmacist. In the current composition of the Rotary Club of Naga, there are several Rotarians who are members of the local clergy while mostly are in the business sectors, medical professions and government service. Inspired by the heroic deaths of these local residents, the Rotary Club of Naga takes to commit to a new kind of heroism that responds to the urgent needs and situations of our communities particularly during moments of calamities. Year after year, the many parts of the country have been vulnerable to the challenges of climate change. The South of Luzon, the Bikol region in particular, is no stranger to these weather disturbances. Typhoons have become more ferocious. Drought has been experienced in agricultural communities. The sea level is drastically rising thereby threatening coastal and riverine municipalities. In these moments of crises, the Rotary Club of Naga has taken the initial steps in promoting local disaster risk management as well as the first to collectively respond and organize their relief operations. As the club celebrates its 70th founding anniversary, it gazes at its past with a deep sense of gratitude and an affirmed sense of its mission. A line-up of projects that will continue to involve local and international groups is now in the pipeline. It looks forward celebrating its Diamond Anniversary in the next five years by marrying time-tested experiences with a vigorous vision. The hard-earned lessons are put into concrete actions and best practices, with the fire of friendship and dedication to this noble cause constantly renewed by fellowships. To be the first Rotary Club in the heart of this region, it must keep its own heart beating and beating—drawing life’s lessons from its hearty sources of inspiration in Bikol and in the world.