Through Trials & Triumph
FROM BATANGAS’ TAAL ERUPTION LAST YEAR TO THIS YEAR’S ONGOING PANDEMIC, BATANGAS STANDS STRONG THANKS TO VICE GOVERNOR MARK LEVISTE’S PASSIONATE LEADERSHIP.
BY MARANE A. PLAZA
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MANUEL GENEROSO
BORN TO BE A LEADER His grandfather, the late governor Feliciano “Mamay Sanoy” Leviste, was known as the “Father of the Masses” and the “Champion in Community Development,” because of his work and community development.
These became best practice, not only in Batangas, but in the whole country. “Tinularan ito ng mga lalawigan at ng iba’t-ibang LGU sa buong Pilipinas (These practices were emulated by different provinces and LGUs all over the Philippines). He passed away in 1976 before I was even born. Kaya ang sabi ng mga nakatatanda, ang kamatayan ni Sanoy ay ang pagkabuhay ni Marc Leviste (The elders say that the death of Sanoy gave life to) Marc Leviste,” he said. Even with his years of public service experience, Marc acknowledges that he still has a lot to accomplish and more so to learn. “I am humble enough to admit that malayo pa ako sa naabot ni Mamay Sanoy. Ika nga e, marami pa akong kakainin para mapantayan man lang, kung hindi malampasan ang kanyang gawain. Subalit, iyon ang aking inspirasyon para gumawa ng kabutihan sa ating mga kababayan at sa ating lalawigan (I’m still far from reaching what Mamay Sanoy did. As they say, I still have a lot to prove to even match, if not exceed, what he did. However, this is my inspiration to do more good for the people and province of Batangas).
At the very least, I don’t want to ruin the legacy of my ancestors, mainly my grandfather, and I want to preserve the good name of my family.” As a teen, Leviste was briefly based in Makati, Metro Manila to study where he also first officially pursued his passion and career in politics. He became one of the council members of Sangguniang Kabataan in Barangay Bel-Air in Makati. “That time, it was just logical for me to join Sangguniang Kabataan in Makati because I was based there, and it was practical and accessible for me to monitor the day-to-day activities. Imagine, if I took the opportunity to be in Sangguniang Kabataan of Lipa, my barangay in Batangas, I would be an absentee leader and that would be unfair. And I did not like that idea,” he said.
The vice governor shared his experience serving the two different localities. Makati and Batangas, Lipa in particular, had different cultures and political atmospheres, he says. In Makati, his boss then was former SK president and former Makati Mayor Junjun Binay. In Lipa, his boss was Vilma Santos, who was serving her third term as mayor of Batangas City, and Sen. Ralph Recto. “So from the little league to the big league!” he shared. “Other than my father and my mom, I have a few whom i consider mentors: Sen. Ralph Recto was my first political guardian. For a good 12 years, I learned from the ‘Ralph Recto School of Government.’ I equally admire Congresswoman Vilma Santos, because of her heart to serve and skills in communication. Currently, I am taking up my ‘master’s LEAGUE 27 degree’ in the ‘Mandanas Institute of Politics.’
The leadership of Governor Dodo Mandanas inspires me a lot. Long story short, my immediate superiors serve as my mentors, and I allow their greatness to mold me into a better leader. That’s the kind of follower and team player I am.”
The young Leviste went back to his hometown in Lipa, Batangas in 2003. “The People, the Batangueño Spirit; I love our people. They are the heart and soul of the province. Batangueños are recognized for their bravery (katapangan), wisdom (katalinuhan), beauty (kagandahan), industry (kasipagan), and bobility (kagitingan). And, of course, the fun part: the breathtaking sites and attractions, its rich culture and heritage, and the accessibility [of Batangas] from Metro Manila and the rest of South Luzon.
Everything about my hometown is to love—or to die for!” Of course, the young Leviste, coming from a proud lineage, is aware of the pressure; he had big shoes to fill. “There were huge expectations, kasi apo ni Sanoy, pamangkin ni José Antonio ‘Tony’ C. Leviste, at marami pang Leviste na naglingkod sa Batangas and ito nga ako, bata pa. Alam mo may kasabihan kami sa Batangas, ‘Maganda pa nga’t bata para maraming magawa’ (because I was Sanoy’s grandson, Jose Antonio ‘Tony’ Leviste’s nephew, and many more Leviste’s that have served Batangas and here I am, so young.
We have a saying in Batangas, ‘It’s good to be young because you can still do plenty of things),” Leviste quipped. The then 25-year-old Leviste started campaigning in 2003. Then, in 2004, he focused his efforts on cultural tourism.
In time, his work in building a more dynamic tourism culture in the region transformed Batangas into an even more popular tourist destination, known for its stunning beaches, cultural and religious sites, and foodie hotspots. TAAL ERUPTION 2020 At a time when the tourism industry in Batangas seemed robust, they found themselves in a standstill when the region was overwhelmed by the Taal Eruption in 2020.
Leviste was faced with heartbreaking scenes, with his people losing their properties and livelihood since their work and businesses were greatly affected by the calamity. “Prior to the eruption and COVID-19, I considered Taal Lake and Volcano as the heart of Batangas.
Geographically, it’s right in the middle of our province,” Leviste said. “Since time immemorial, Taal Volcano provided for the people of Batangas and the Philippines. Sabi ng Mamay at Nanay namin, our ancestors, kaya malusog, mataba, at maganda ang lupain lalo higit pang agrikultura sa aming probinsya ay dahil sa mga pagputok ng bulkan (Our grandmother and mother, our ancestors, used to say that the reason why our land is fertile, rich, and good for agriculture is because of the volcano’s eruptions).
It gave us the land and soil, which is conducive for agriculture. So talagang, marami ang nakinabang kaya’t itinuturing na buhay ang Taal Volcano, kaya nga puso ng Batangas (Really, plenty of people benefit from it. That’s why many consider the Taal Volcano their life, the heart of Batangas).” For both foreign and local tourists alike, Taal and its surrounding vicinity have become well-loved destination.
You can explore the lake, and when you get to the volcano island, you can go trekking or ride a horse going to the summit of the volcano. If you want a different type of experience, you can go directly to Crater Lake through San Nicolas. Leviste recalls the early hours just after the eruption. “I was in the main office and headquarters of DOST PHIVOLCS in Quezon City, closely monitoring the post-eruption activities of Taal Volcano. From there, I was able to coordinate with other government agencies and officials that were leading the recovery and relief operations. Naghati kami ng trabaho ni Gov. Dodo Mandanas para mas marami kaming matapos, magawa, at ma-cover, at matulungan na mga kababayan (Gov. Dodo Mandanas and I split duties so that we could cover, do, and accomplish more and help our constituents),” he said. Leviste explained that although
The Taal tragedy last year caused them so much anguish, in a way, it also prepared them for the pandemic, which would prove to be a more challenging crisis.“Anxiety and uncertainty were very much in the air, but it did not take long to overcome these because of the extraordinary and unprecedented show of support and compassion from our very own kababayans in Batangas and fellow Filipinos worldwide. Nakita at ramdam na ramdam ang pagmamalasakit at bayanihan spirit ng bawat isa (We saw and felt the compassion and bayanihan spirit from each person). This overwhelming response further inspired us [in government] to develop ways and means to reinstate and rejuvenate the economy as quickly as possible, and to do everything we can, in our capacity, to help each other stay healthy and safe.” “I believe that these experiences with the eruption of the Taal Volcano, and now the pandemic, prepared us to be more ‘barako’ in a good way; naging mas magiting at mas matatag ang mga Batangueño (Batangueños became braver and stronger).
We learned from the past, and we remember that this, too, shall pass.” The good news is that the region is already finding different ways and means to bounce back and restart the tourism activities in and around Taal Lake. “Today we are working towards the upgrading of our healthcare system and economic recovery for businesses. These are priorities at this time.
We need to develop health-related programs that are more attuned to the demands of the ‘new normal,’ and, at the same time, sustainable in the long-run. On the other hand, we need to help businesses and industries rebound faster in order to generate more jobs for our citizens.” A two-time COVID-19 survivor, Leviste understands the needs of the public. “During my ordeal, I have understood more the meaning and value of ‘quality of life’—what really makes life worth living.
I was deeply humbled by the experience of having gone full circle, from being a frontliner to a two-time survivor (experienced both asymptomatic and symptomatic). And this is something that I do not wish for anyone to go through, so I am committed to do the work to help protect others by urging everyone to trust the process!” He assures his people that all of the government’s resources and services are in place and made available to especially provide “convenience, comfort, and cure to everyone. I should know; I’ve been there and done that.” The citizens can be assured of full protection.
The Provincial Government of Batangas is fully committed to provide free vaccine to all. In addition to the vaccine roll out, “In the future, I will look into the expanding the development, and maximizing the utilization of the International Port of Batangas and Taal Lake. And last but not least, I will consider the idea of reapportioning or redistricting the current First and Third Congressional Districts of Batangas, which will help increase the provision of resources from the national government.” With Batangas also fulfilling an important role in the agriculture industry, the local government is seeking the balance to protect tradition and culture with industrialization.
“Sustainability is the key.
We must support our farmers with infrastructure and equipment, regulate importation, and encourage the youth to get into agriculture like farming, fishing or otherwise. Our plans must be ‘futureproof’ for the generations to come,” he adds. PASSION AND DUTY If there’s one thing that has kept Marc Leviste going, it is his passion to lead and serve. “For me, passion is the key to success; do everything with passion, or not at all! Love what you do and do what you love, then commit to it! Also, be humble. Humility plays a big role, and is actually the mother of all virtues. It is in being humble that our love and service becomes real, sincere and passionate.” It is this very passion that has him committed and driven to help his fellow Batangueños. It’s possible for leaders to stumble, he says, but what is important is that they learn from their mistakes and try to become better. “As they say, you can only prepare so much but you cannot prepare for everything,” he said. But every crisis becomes a learning experience, and the more lessons you embrace, the greater the wisdom you gain. And learning is something that Leviste bravely embraces. “I have learned that being a father and Vice Governor means that I have to be a worthy role model; be someone that my children and my constituents can look up to.
I guess the Spiderman principle is true: ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ Secondly, that the public eye doesn’t blink; and this is more true with the emergence of social media, so I constantly adopt an unrelenting focus on the quality of service that I provide. Lastly, that the trust and loyalty of the people may be hard earned, but easily lost—so I stay committed to being a true and Godfearing public servant. “In this pandemic, it became evident that the most energetic, active, and effective are the young leaders. You see the likes of Mayor Isko Moreno, Mayor Vico Sotto, and Mayor Francis Zamora not just in our country but also in other parts of the world. It’s really the younger generation’s time; it’s really our time to shine,” he says. “Though I don’t consider myself very young anymore, I am still very much influenced by the energy and mindset of the youth.” Tested by time and crises, Leviste has proven that he is fitting to be called a “true son” of the fathers of Batangas. From the rise and fall of tourism in Batangas, to its reawakening, Leviste remains steadfast in serving his people— and he hopes to continue to serve them in a second term. “God-willing, I will run for reelection [as vice governor].” The vice governor has one message for his people in Batangas: “Sa aking mga kababayan, keep the faith at manatiling magiting (To my fellow Batangueños, keep the faith and remain courageous)