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A RESILIENT Leadership

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Young but rich in experience, Barangay Magallanes, Makati Chairperson Alzona has successfully steered his community through the pandemic.

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BY CAMILLE CABAL

PHOTOGRAPHY BY DANIEL SORIANO

The COVID-19 pandemic that hit the country has become the primary concern of the country’s leaders, from national leaders to barangay officials since 2020. And as with other communities, Makati City’s Barangay Magallanes was not spared from the challenges brought about by the pandemic. However, the trying times proved how ready Barangay Chairman Jose Mari Alzona is.


Although new to the position when the pandemic struck, the young barangay chairperson of Makati says that having been part of the Sangguniang Kabataan and his experiences as a barangay kagawad prepared him for leadership in the face of a health crisis. Age also played a major role. “The age factor also helped me to think of ways on how to start mitigating the pandemic,” Alzona says, noting that youth became an advantage in plotting a pandemic response for his constituents.


AS ONE COMMUNITY

As leader of Barangay Magallanes, it is Alzona’s responsibility to provide food supplies and other daily essentials not just for his staff but also everyone in the barangay. He proved that his young leadership can do what is needed as long as it is supported with proper communication.


When news about the pandemic broke, Alzona called for a meeting together with other officials and stakeholders, started planning the modified traffic scheme and procedures in the area, and communicated it with everyone.


Strict health protocols were also implemented. Alzona immediately responded to his staff’s need for transportation by providing them with a service vehicle to and from the barangay hall. By doing so, Alzona ensured continuous, umhampered barangay services and his staff are kept safe by using barangay vehicles rather than commuting.


Alzona also shares how his constituents and the institutions within their barangay held onto each other during the most difficult times. When one of their own tested positive for COVID-19, Alzona proactively had every staff member tested to prevent further spread. Due to the lack of quarantine areas at that time, he found housing for his staff and the church also became their second home when nearby hotels refused to serve as quarantine facilities. Aside from the isolation area provided, Alzona made sure they are provided with food 24/7.

With one third of his staff quarantined, Alzona continued operations to serve the rest of the community. He analyzed ongoing projects and adjusted these to the prevailing situation. By bringing government services closer to his constituents, the young chairman made it much easier for the people to meet their needs during the pandemic.


For instance, a vacant lot owned by his friend was used as a location for a small market, barbershop, drugstore, and money remittance shop, while still observing physical distancing. A nearby school also lent their campus space so they can maintain proper physical distance while packing supplies. Alzona shares that they gave out three packages, one being a grocery package including two 7-liter bottles of water and the second a disinfection package. He adds that another round of packages was given away for the household helpers, which included face masks, face shields, laundry soap, alcohol, and toiletries.


When COVID-19 vaccines became available, Alzona, with the help of the city government, made sure that his constituents got not just what they needed but rather what they wanted. He made sure they were assisted by resident volunteer doctors to make them more comfortable in receiving the vaccine. He also shares that in their last booster vaccine drive, they were able to inoculate 3,000 residents within just four days.


COMMUNICATION IS KEY TO A BETTER COMMUNITY

Alzona shares that when some of his staff tested positive for COVID-19, he openly shared the information in order to facilitate contact tracing. The discrimination from the residents was inevitable. While the chairman was a bit upset by the discrimination experienced by his staff, he understood that everyone was just being cautious.

From planning the traffic flow to disclosing the COVID-19 situation in their barangay, Alzona showed that he understood the importance of being completely open to his constituents. Despite the challenges in disseminating the information and consequences of being transparent, he utilized all available resources so the people who needed his assistance could directly reach him. Alzona subscribed to a premium account in an online meeting platform and converted their regular Viber group chat into a community chat to make sure that everyone’s concerns could be properly addressed. He also let their meetings be aired live so that people could watch and listen to their discussions.


Alzona also made sure that Barangay Magallanes’ waste management system was strictly followed during the pandemic. Alzona still believes that as long as there is proper communication, residents will follow. He bought yellow plastic bins, which are also used in hospitals in segregating potential infectious and hazardous wastes. He mandated the environmental policemen to collect only wastes that are properly segregated. He stressed that residents should responsibly segregate their face masks, and other medical rubbish from any other wastes. The barangay gave citation tickets to those who did not abide by their waste management rules to make sure that everyone’s health is safeguarded.


Their summer cooking classes were also adjusted during the pandemic when mass gatherings were prohibited. “Everything was online,” Alzona says. He recalls that they would buy and repack the ingredients and bring these to the participants’ houses. Aristocrat owner Slyvia Reyes, who served as their cooking instructor, made sure that all participants learned from their sessions, aside from helping the youth cope with the stress of staying at home and having very limited physical interaction with others.


 Meanwhile, Alzona’s dream of having a festive fiesta celebration in Barangay Magallanes was also put to a halt. Left with no choice, he opted for an online concert cum fundraiser. The money raised was given to the church as the community’s way of expressing gratitude for opening their place to those in need and were afflicted with the virus.


THE CHANGES IN MAGALLANES

Having previously served the barangay through the Sangguniang Kabataan and as a kagawad, Alzona saw what Barangay Magallanes was lacking. Being the current chairman gave him the opportunity to fill the gaps—from having almost nothing to being fully equipped and capable. Alzona proudly shares that during his term, the barangay was able to buy its own ambulance and firetruck. He says that he doesn’t want to rely on the city and wait when an emergency happens. It also saved them from expenses of paying for an outsourced ambulance service.


He was also able to add another service vehicle and electronic bikes for the barangay’s environmental policemen. Although they have to keep using the old vehicles that the barangay owns, he is proud to provide these emergency must-haves. He says that the barangay is not dependent on the city since it is given the budget for its own needs. Being tagged as the “Gateway to the Financial Capital of the Philippines,” Alzona finds it contradictory if they wouldn’t have their own emergency vehicles.


Alzona admits that he is a hoarder and that could be because he likes keeping things he thinks he might need in the future. This is evident in how he is managing the barangay. He says he is a believer of Makati Mayor Abigail Binay’s thinking, “It’s better to have it and not need it rather than to need it and not have it.” True enough, their own firetruck came at a perfect time since it was also used during the pandemic.


LEARNINGS OF A LEADER

Alzona considers the pandemic a very emotional situation but there is no other way to deal with it but to act and be tough. One of his staff members also testified how Alzona’s character shone through as he led the barangay through the adversity. Early on in his term as barangay chairman, Alzona learned that being a community leader isn’t that easy. “It’s hard but you know, you have to do it, do everything by heart and with dedication,” he says. Alzona’s leadership style shows how age matters. He shares that he treats his staff as his friends. However, he encourages everyone to stay professional when at work. As a proud representative of his people and barangay, he says that Barangay Magallanes is the best place to live in and grow up in because of its geographical location, safety, and the bond shared by the people.

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