FOR THE CHILDREN
As an expectant mother, Calamba City Congresswoman Hernandez is focused on making sustainable, longterm improvements for the city—progress that would benefit current and future generations.
BY HELEN HERNANE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DANIEL SORIANO
At eight months pregnant, Congresswoman Charisse Anne “Cha” Hernandez-Alcantara of Calamba, Laguna understands that many expect her to rest and not strain herself too much with work. Hernandez also admits that she finds it somewhat difficult to juggle public service and carrying a child, especially during the third trimester. But she fervently believes that every child, including hers, is a blessing and also, a lucky charm, as many people have often told her.
“During my campaign, I would go around every day and meet people face to face from morning to night,” she recalls. “And I think [me being pregnant] solidified my message that I am just like them. My situation reflects most women’s lives; I’m not the first woman working at eight months pregnant.” Not even a month after the elections, Hernandez is already out and about, connecting with one sector after another. LEAGUE trailed after the newly-elected congresswoman who spent the entire morning listening to farmers, who launched a seminar, and the fisherfolk, who held a boodle fight with her for lunch. Her arrival and presence in each meeting lacked the pomp and circumstance often associated with political bigwigs. On the contrary, her simple outfit, visible baby bump, and calm, caring voice (with a forceful undertone) made her appear less of a politician and more of an ordinary Filipino mother.
Pregnancy, the congresswoman shares, also gives her a different sense of focus that helps push her forward in striving for a better City of Calamba. Her internal motivation is to create a clean, thriving city for her son and for others of his generation to inherit.
“Also, I want my children to be proud of me, that someday they could say that I did my best and worked hard even while pregnant. I want them to be proud of the city we helped build when they grow up, to have people tell my children that I did my best as a public servant. I think that’s one good motivation for me,” the neophyte congresswoman reveals.
Hernandez, however, also had big plans for Calamba even prior to her winning the seat in Congress. As a councilor, her vision was mostly fixing the major issues that the city faced—traffic, environment, waste management, and more. While her current position enables her to improve the city through legislation, she stresses that she still wants to be involved in the planning and execution of local programs.
The 28-year-old public servant shares that she is in close collaboration with Mayor Roseller “Ross” Rizal and Vice Mayor Angelito “Totie” Lazaro Jr. In the latest election, they all ran under the banner “Team CalamBAGO” under PDP-Laban. Their partnership, she shares, allows them to centralize their programs into one vision and align their projects accordingly.
Among her many plans for the city, Hernandez shares that she wants Calamba to be a “smart city” centered on people and technology. As a millennial, the congresswoman of the city’s sole district wants to push for automated processes in the local government offices.
“When they go to the office to request for assistance and other basic social services, I want it to be convenient and hassle-free so that they don’t have to wait in line for hours. And it is to promote transparency. I’m in consultation with different data and system developers to create a data-driven office. With this, we will be able to provide reports and updates on social media and also through offline means to inform the people.”
The congresswoman is also seeking to apply technology in their local tourism sector which is famous for their hot spring resorts. Hernandez is also eyeing Calamba to be the “Resort Capital of the Philippines” and streamlining their services through a mobile application or website wherein accredited resorts will be listed for people to book.
“With an app or website, people would be secure and safe because it’s the only accredited and government-approved booking system. It would be easier for them to find the perfect resort that fits their requirements. Resorts, on the other hand, would also have to meet a standard in order to be included,” she states.
LEGISLATIVE FOCUS In order to boost the local economy, Hernandez highlights the need for more investors. And in order to attract more business, her priority would be to eliminate corruption in the local government. As a legislator, she shares that she would be supportive of any transparency bill, saying “I’d definitely be the first one voting yes for [the passing of a transparency bill], if not sponsoring it. There are already many drafts of this bill, what’s important is for one to be passed, especially in the Lower House [of Congress].”
Her very first priority as a legislator is ensuring that the city has funds for their projects, one of which is the creation of a public hospital for Calamba. The Letran College Calamba alumna emphasizes that her priority are pieces of legislation that would benefit their city, but she assures that she would not be a liability in Congress.
“As a young representative, I would want to be an asset that gives voice to the minorities, someone who would be an inspiration to young leaders,” Hernandez muses.
The young congresswoman confesses that she finds the transition from being a city councilor to being a district representative challenging, citing the need for plenty of connections and appealing to fellow lawmakers. Hernandez also feels some pressure to deliver, acknowledging the expectations that people have considering her young age and as someone different from “traditional politicians.”
On the other hand, her relative inexperience in conventional politics allows her to have a fresh take on being a representative. Hernandez seeks to create a “people’s council” which she would consult regarding monumental laws, fund allocations, and nearly every decision she would make in Congress.
“Every decision or vote I would make [in Congress] is an accurate representation of what the people or what the constituents would want, not what I would want. It will be consultative and I would be at people’s disposal,” she reveals. “As a representative, I was put here by the people. Not by big money corporations or rich donors. [My position] is their chance to be heard in Congress. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. Everything I’ll do would represent their sentiments.” Hernandez proudly supports the minorities in her district, especially the farmers and fisherfolk. She professes that these sectors are close to her heart because she feels at home with them. The congresswoman shares, “With them, you don’t need to dress up and put up a front. Whatever you wear, even if it’s just slippers, they’ll accept you. As their representative, they have expectations but I’ve learned that if you serve them faithfully, they will support you wholeheartedly. Constantly engaging with them also humbles me—they want to work hard for their families and in turn, I want to work hard for them.”
With her new position in government, she assures the people of Calamba that no community, no minority would be left behind. Her message, “Kasali lahat. Tayo ang magdadala ng pagbabago (Everyone’s included. We will all bring about change),” would include everyone, even her critics. She says that her office welcomes everyone and constructive criticism is also necessary in order to progress as a leader.
REPRESENTING CALAMBA What made her enter politics, however, was public clamor for change. She was 21 years old, working in the private sector (San Miguel Corporation) and had zero experience in public service.
But her personal charity work within the city gained the attention of some people who then pushed her to go into politics. Hernandez said her last name, which is popular in the area, also incited the people’s call for her to serve. Before filing her certificate of candidacy (COC), however, she prayed and eventually realized that this was one opportunity that would never come her way again.
“Wala namang mawawala (I’ve got nothing to lose). I could go back to my private life [if I lose],” Hernandez says. Filing her COC was only the beginning and the then-aspiring councilor had to face the next challenge—running a political campaign. As someone with virtually no resources and machinery, her first election foray was an immense trial but fortunately, she was supported by the people. What she lacked in money and resources, she made up for in time and effort. “We would have 14 events in a single day. A total of 12 barangays, 14 events— from dawn until midnight. And I would have so much energy because, even if I’m an introvert, I like listening to people. As someone who grew up in a church, I was taught to bring light everywhere I go,” she shares.
Her hard work paid off and she was elected as a councilor, ranking 5th in her first electoral contest. Hernandez considered the second election as the moment of truth, a test of whether her first term was effective and if it resonated with the people. Fortunately, she won again and ranked 2nd—securing over 110,600 votes, only 550 votes shy of the top position. In some ways, she says, it was also a confirmation that her “practice” of serving, no matter the season or weather, works.
Yet her time as the youngest councilor was not free from struggles. She shares, “My experience was no different from that of other millennials. We need to be more diligent, always hungry to learn, and [be] humble at the same time. In general, you’ll always be challenged, looked down on, and excluded. Politics, as they say, is a ‘big boys club.’ But I always focus on the people, not the critics. My work is for the people anyway, in making sure that their welfare is taken care of. The fulfillment from helping people outweighs the negative experience every time.”
As someone born and raised in Calamba, Hernandez effortlessly connects with the people and knows the struggles of the city—especially since she was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Her mom is a church pastor and her dad is a ‘raketista’ or someone who does odd jobs or takes on short-term projects. But they did their best to give her a shot at life and she ended up as the first one in her clan to earn a college degree. With this simple background, Hernandez often quips that she shouldn’t be involved in politics. This recent election further highlighted the stark contrast between her and the image of a traditional politician as she went up against a Chipeco,
the political dynasty that ruled over Calamba for decades, and won. But it was a relatively close fight—Hernandez garnered 113,130 votes (46.13 percent) while Chipeco received 105,723 votes (43.12 percent). “I don’t come from money or power. But I believe that God destined for someone like me to be here. I just wanted people to have an option, someone they could relate to. It’s actually my message during my campaign, ‘Kahit simple, posible.’ Because it was a David and Goliath fight—David was a nobody but he was chosen by God,” she shares.
Her giant-slaying moment, Hernandez underscores, was only possible with the help of the people. With their overwhelming support, the congresswoman promises that she’ll strive for the change they deserve.
“Thank you for entrusting the district to the leadership I promised you. The three years will definitely be challenging and I call upon the Calambeños to be with me in advocating for an efficient and progressive government. Kasama ko kayong lahat sa layunin na ito, [at dahil dyan,] kaya natin ito. ‘Yung pagbabago na gusto natin, tayo mismo ang magdadala kaya kayo ay magtulungan. Kailangan natin ang isa’t isa (I’m with you in our goal and I know we can do it. Together, we will bring about the change that we want. We need each other),” Hernandez ends.