In the service of the public since twenty-seven (27) years ago at twenty-nine (29)S, Atty. Manuel Laurio Fortes is simply Wowo to locals, to co-workers in government, and to co-civil servants in Manheim, Germany where he took a course in public-private partnership. He is Manny to college friends in Ateneo de Manila University Philosophy Department and San Beda College of Law.
Early on, Wowo dabbled in the academe, teaching.
His political life began when he traded his first lawyer job in the judiciary to become a municipal councilor of the Municipality of Sorsogon, Province of Sorsogon — in 2001, the said Municipality of Sorsogon and another municipality, the Municipality of Bacon, were merged becoming Sorsogon City.
Following that merger, Wowo served as the first City Administrator of Sorsogon City wherein he worked out the orderly placement of functional offices and personnel into the newly created city government which translated into sustained delivery of basic services.
Alongside, he practiced law specializing in election laws.
Wowo’s legal expertise that spelled political gains to the powers that be, his sense of duty, and his work ethic subsequently paved the way for his serving as Provincial Administrator of the Province of Sorsogon.
In that capacity, the presence in him of clear strengths and competencies and a big heart for the people he served, shined. People’s circumstances and those of the barangays they live in defined his day-to-day work. He listened to their [sad] stories and created solutions in various forms to uplift them — through assistance in cash or in-kind, legal advice, setting the table of context, liaising, or lending them a sounding board.
Known to be adept at public service, and seen as a charismatic leader, a bigger role to serve the public and community from another vantage point, presented itself to Wowo. In 2010, he was elected mayor of the Municipality of Barcelona, Sorsogon.
In the span of nine years, or three consecutive terms as mayor, Wowo, in the best ways, impacted Barcelona and its people. Focusing on results, and pursuing harmonious complementation with government functionaries, Wowo pursued good governance and prioritized infrastructure, agriculture, health, and education.
*Infrastructure projects included road opening and road concreting of farm-to-market roads, bridges, river flood control, sea wall protection, school buildings, irrigation canals, drainage system, and street lights.
*Community-based banana production or lakatan plantation, a flagship public-private partnership program wherein communities and farmers were organized, assisted, and funded by the local government, to propagate and sell mature tissue-cultured lakatan. To support lakatan farmers and their organizations, a trading post was established.
*DepEd’s Brigada Eskwela program received a huge push by pioneering the institutionalization of BE in local governments. With LGU support for education, Barcelona Central Elementary School achieved the prestigious Brigada Ekwela Hall of Fame Award for its sustained three consecutive wins at the national level.
*Katarungan Pambarangay lecture series capacitated Punong Barangays and Barangay Lupon Members, in collaboration with then City Judge Cynthia Falcotelo-Fortes, now the Mayor of Barcelona.
*A stand-alone program on health is the FORTES Advocacy or FOR the Early Identification of Children with DisabilitieS. It is a family-funded program that served children with disabilities like Autism, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder, and Learning Disability. A team of experts extends free consultation, evaluation, assessment, therapy, and lectures to parents, caregivers, and daycare workers, with accompanying home programs for children with special needs.
*The Department of Finance ranked Barcelona 1st in the Bicol region in local revenue collection.
*The local government unit consistently received DILG’s Seal of Good Financial Housekeeping and the Seal of Child-Friendly Municipality.
*The local government unit received DILG’s 2015 Seal of Good Local Governance.
*Wowo represented Barcelona and led as League of Municipalities-Sorsogon Chapter President.
*He represented Barcelona and the province of Sorsogon in the League of Municipalities-National as National Spokesperson.
WOWO sa KAPITOLYO
By 2019, Wowo, has shaped the future of Barcelona with programs, projects, and activities with measured and visible results thus, countless recognitions of his effective leadership — documented, in the form of plaques and trophies, or otherwise — abound. A good reputation in local governance precedes him.
Humbled by getting into the good graces of Governor Chiz Escudero who handpicked him to be his Vice-Governor, Wowo valued the out-of-the-box team-up. He understood that work has to be done and done properly on time so he did exactly that, promptly delivering desired outcomes.
In law-making, forty-one ordinances and resolutions were passed promoting good governance and institutionalizing causes in the fields of health, education, tourism, and security. One innovative and inclusivity-promoting ordinance penned is the Pederasyon ng mga Sangguniang Barangay Kagawad. This piece of legislation went not without obstacles thrown its way by the very same functionaries tasked to promote inclusion and welfare of people but, Wowo, the lawyer that he is, fighting for the marginalized barangay kagawads.
With the blessing of the good governor, Wowo initiated the Masarig na Salud, Masarig na Barangay” program providing rice and assistance to health centers and patients; and the “Pundasyon ng Matibay at Matatag na Barangay” program helping barangays achieve their infrastructure goals like a pathway, foot road, water system and water pump, generator set, street lights, light bulbs, and basketball courts.
He also fostered education with an emphasis on non-readers and slow-readers through his “Project WOWO (We Offer Wonderful Opportunities)’’, assistance to college students, and construction and painting materials for schools.
WOWO sa KONGRESO
Equipped with multiple strengths, especially in the context of character and personal capability, and with years of work history in good local governance as an effective leader, Wowo has committed his life to continued public service — this time, as Congressman of the 2nd District of Sorsogon.
A productive political life does not happen overnight. Wowo had diligently undergone the process, with proof of fruits to boot. In the long journey behind him, he found out first-hand how much of a vocation being an elected official is. He has actualized the understanding that it is a calling that transcends one’s own self. It is all about serving others.
Ascending into the Halls of Congress, Wowo shall carry in his heart and mind a vision for the 2nd Congressional District: A community-driven barangay development, with upskilled officials for efficient service linkages that redound to the benefit of the residents.
His ways forward to realize that vision are: Assessment of grassroots needs during barangay visitations, monitoring and measuring outcomes, and highlighting sustainability.
The wisdom and track record of the former 2nd District Congressman Deogracias “Ding” Ramos and that of the late Congresswoman Bernardita “Ditas” Ramos are Wowo’s guideposts. He is humbled by, and grateful for the goodness of their persons and their selflessness, bestowing upon Wowo the Ramoses’ faith and hope to carry on their legacy of unparalleled service to the district.
The 7K (Kabuhayan, Kadunungan, Kalusugan, Katrangkiluhan, Kalinigan, Kagandahan at Kalokasan) program of Mayor Edwin “Boboy” Hamor, who is seeking the gubernatorial post, shall play out as well.
Evidently, Wowo is a worthy representation of, and for the people and the 284 barangays of the 2nd Congressional District and a good addition to the intellectual minds of the coming 18th Congress.