Tony Cuenco: ‘A dedicated and conscientious public servant’
On June 30, former senator and congressman Eddie Ilarde informed me of the passing of our friend and former colleague, Antonio “Tony” Cuenco, a few days earlier in Cebu City. At the time of his death, Tony was a member of the Cebu City Council, elected in 2019 to represent the 2nd (South) District.
The sad news came as a shock, as only before the COVID-19 lockdown we had lunch together in Makati with old friends, including Eddie, a former representative of Rizal, and Raul Daza, a former representative of Samar and three-term governor of the province. We talked about the good old days and exchanged views on various issues.
I first met Tony when we were both elected to the 6th Congress in 1965–1969, representing Cebu City’s 5th District. He was only 29 and one of the youngest members of the House of Representatives then.
There were a number of us who were elected to a first term in Congress during the presidential election in 1965. Then President Diosdado Macapagal, who was up for reelection that year, ran with many young candidates under the Liberal Party, wanting to encourage the youth to enter public service.
Out of 104 congressional seats, 61 were filled by Liberal Party candidates and 38 by Nacionalista Party candidates. Five of the winners were independents.
For the first few months, we felt secure and safe as the House Speaker, Cornelio Villareal, or “Ka Kune,” was a very kind and fatherly leader to all of us, especially the young ones.
Deep baritoneTony was an active debater in the House. He had honed his skills in oratory as a practicing lawyer and while studying at Ateneo de Manila University, where he earned his bachelor and law degrees. A radio broadcaster and personality with a deep baritone, he easily made his audiences stop and listen. It was a joy to watch the debates as he presented the opposing point of view with eloquence and conviction.
Tony, along with Ramon “Mon” Felipe, who represented the first district of Camarines Sur, and Mitra made waves with their earnestness and zeal in the House debates and deliberations.
Tony was such a dedicated and conscientious public servant that he kept getting reelected until the declaration of martial law in September 1972. He was a member of the 8th, 9th and 10th Congresses (1987–1998) and the Batasang Pambansa (1984–1986).
Loyal to their partyWhen his wife’s term (1998-2001) as representative of Cebu City’s 2nd District ended, Tony ran to fill her seat. The district reelected him as its representative in the 12th and 13th Congresses; his last term ended in 2010.
Tony was a good friend—constant, reassuring and steady. He made our small band of Young Turks proud. We will always be grateful for that early introduction to local politics in the 1960s.
That small group of neophyte politicians not only remained loyal to their party but also continued to serve our country ably and with honor in different capacities.
Young TurksThe Young Turks consisted of, aside from Tony Cuenco and myself representing Zambales’ lone district (1965-1969), Amado Arrieta of Cebu, Roquito Ablan Jr. of Ilocos Norte, Magdaleno Palacol of Laguna, Andres Cosalan of Mountain Province, Ramón V. Mitra Jr. of Palawan, Eddie Ilarde of Rizal, Greg Murillo of Surigao del Sur, Jose “Peping” Cojuangco Jr. of the 1st District of Tarlac, Jose V. Yap of the 2nd District of Tarlac, and Vincenzo Sagun of Zamboanga del Sur.