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The Sarmiento Brothers

THEY all came from a modest but distinguished patriarch, a municipal judge who lived a simple life.

Their mother (the Vergaras) is from Baras, another family branch (the Tejadas) is from Bato and they all came to be known as part of the Sarmientos from Virac.

The municipal judge was the late Juan Sarmiento and he fathered four boys (Jorge, Rene, Cesar and Totoy (Juan Sarmiento, Jr.) and a girl (Joy who has moved on).

As fate would have it, all the three boys became lawyers (except for one, Totoy who turned to journalism). The only girl became a dentist.

You can see the kind of upbringing they have when you see pictures of the venerable judge pinning ribbons on his sons during their grade school years at the Immaculate Concepcion Academy.

There is a deep sense of filial ties among the brothers and a sister and you see this when they visit the grave of their father on death anniversaries and lately to be with their only sister, Joy, in her last moments on earth.

Monday last week, two of the late judge’s sons (Jorge and Cesar) braved the sudden morning downpour to file their certificates of candidacy at the provincial capitol. You feel the ties as Jorge’s son Franco (also a lawyer) kept watchful eye over his father and Uncle Cesar.

Before going to provincial capitol, the Sarmiento brothers started the day with a prayer as they heard mass alongside their friends and family.

All at once, you see two generations of lawyers looking at a good chance to serve the island.

Brother Rene (a former Comelec Commissioner) and who is married to San Narciso (Zambales) Mayor La Rainne Abad-Sarmiento gives a cue on how the brothers got hooked on public service. “When we were young boys in Virac in the ‘60s, our father would tell us about serving people, about education as the best preparation for public service while huddled in the family bedroom. This scenario sank deep in in our tender minds.”

As it is now, the brothers have many things in common.

Says Jorge: “I would say compassion for fellow men and the passion to serve. The ability to listen to others and to take note of their daily concerns are almost always second nature to us. You have to constantly know what the common man’s worries are. My brother and I know how it feels because we came from a simple family with its own share of financial woes. We all have to work very hard to get a better life.”

The same compassion he likes to think applies to his profession. “You can never become a true lawyer without truly understanding the plight of others. In the same manner you can never become a true journalist without connecting with the lives of your subjects. My journalist-brother (Totoy) serves the public by telling the news and stories of other people with integrity. My lawyer-brother Rene has found his place in defending the weak and the oppressed. My lawyer-public-servant-brother Cesar serves by pushing for the primary interests of the island in whatever way he can. As for me, I have served the country for the last thirty years in the judiciary, the executive and legislative branch in various capacities. Without compassion and the passion to serve others, I would not have lasted this long in public service.”

Brother Cesar -- who has served three terms as representative -- has this piece of simple advice to his brother Jorge when he decided to give public service another try. “I just told him to do what he thinks is right. He knows the island inside and out and he knows what he can add to what I have accomplished.”

The congressman knows what’s admirable about his brother Jorge. “He is a natural. Since our younger days, people can connect to him in a special way without trying very hard. I like to think he is a natural leader and for a good reason. ‘Manoy Boy’ as we call him is a source of positive energy. Not many people know this but my brother has helped the island in so many ways. On top of that, he is a true son of the island. He has achieved so much and has a whole lot to offer but he remains grounded. He gets the work done. He brings in the results.”

Jorge admits belonging to a family of lawyers is both simple and complex. “Simple because it’s expected that there will be legal discussions, legal questions and, occasionally, legal debates. Complex because legal questions can oftentimes have several answers. We must remember that the law is there to facilitate how various concerns and differences can be settled short of resorting to violence. That is the beauty of the law. It gives us the rules on how to disagree. Agreeing to disagree is a very delicate thing but it can be done peacefully, which I guess is the fun part of lawyering. If you think being a brother to two other lawyers is simple and complex enough, imagine being a father to two lawyer children! My son and my daughter are both lawyers and it is interesting, to say the least.”

How did the brotherly consultations look like when they decided to run for congressman and governor on the same elections?

Jorge admitted there was little drama involved because he knew it was the right thing to do. “People know that I have been helping the island all throughout my career as a public servant. After years of helping out the island behind the scenes, I guess it is time to give public service a new face by applying all my knowledge and expertise to bring the island to another level of progress. As for my brother Cesar, his accomplishments in the last nine years as congressman can speak for itself. We also remember our late sister Joy who is a true proud daughter of Catanduanes herself. It is unfortunate that she is not by our side in this journey.”

The brothers have remained close to each other even as they pursued separate lives late in their respective careers.

What kept them together?

Jorge can only single out the word respect. “While love for each other is a given, respect for what each brother stands for and for what we have achieved is what keeps us united. I do not doubt my brothers’ integrity and ability not only because we are related. I take pride of them all because of the men they have become.”

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