HIGHLIGHTING VALENZUELA’S HIDDEN GEMS
Valenzuela 2nd District Councilor Carreon proves that through passion and determination, one can revitalize tourism in a city even during a pandemic.
BY CAMILLE CABAL
PHOTOGRAPHY BY IVAN LLANETA
The city of Valenzuela has an interesting history. Formerly called Polo as it was then believed to be an island because of the surrounding rivers, the city eventually came to be named after Dr. Pio Valenzuela, part of the Katipunan triumvirate together with Emilio Jacinto and Andres Bonifacio. After a series of unification and division into separate local government units (LGUs), Valenzuela’s population eventually grew and its economy progressed, making it qualified for cityhood. From being a part of the province of Bulacan, it became part of Metro Manila.
Fast forward to the present, Valenzuela has further developed and is now dubbed as the Northern Gateway to Metropolitan Manila due to the major highways bridging it with neighboring places. Valenzuela is also known as a top manufacturing hub because of the growing number of factories in the area. Quite a few historical, cultural, and religious establishments in Valenzuela have also become popular tourist spots. Determined public servants in the city, however, are convinced that Valenzuela has more to offer tourismwise, and are bent on making the city another major tourist destination in Metro Manila.
Discovering a place to convert to a new tourist spot in big cities is a serious challenge since historical, cultural, and other sites have already been previously identified and developed. But for Councilor Chiqui Carreon, the work doesn’t end where history did. As a tourism graduate, one of her goals is to give Valenzuela a new character by looking for more places in the city that she and her team can convert into tourist spots, providing a living for Valenzuelaños.
TAGALAG FISHING VILLAGE
Unlike other places where pandemic stories include accounts of local tourism suffering, Valenzuela has a COVID-19 success story centered on Barangay Tagalag. Carreon shares that during her first term which commenced in 2019, no one was choosing the city council’s Committee on Tourism. She believed that as a tourism graduate, she could handle the committee excellently. “At first, I considered it a challenge to boost the city’s tourism. But when I assumed the position, we discovered a barangay that we could develop into an eco-tourism zone,” Carreon shares.
Formerly known as Taga-Ilog, Barangay Tagalag is a hidden gem in Valenzuela with access to aquatic resources coming from three interconnected rivers. Tagalag residents live a simple day-to-day life and earn a living through fishing. Every May, they celebrate their festival through a fishing contest but in 2020, Tagalag was given a new face.
The once sleepy barangay in Valenzuela has now become a go-to place for visitors to the city. Carreon and other city government officials worked on developing Tagalag into the Fishing Village that it is now. It has a floating restaurant, eateries varying from casual to formal, a park, a boardwalk, and souvenir shop. Tagalag today is living proof of how Carreon lived up to her campaign promises to Valenzuelaños.
Valenzuela earned the 2021 Galing Pook Award because of the positive impact of the development of Tagalag on its residents. The Tagalag Fishing Village was among 11 innovative local governance programs all over the country that caught the attention of Galing Pook, a resource institution recognizing outstanding initiatives of local governments. Awardees are searched nationwide and go through a rigorous multilevel screening.
VALENZUELA’S INFLUENCER Carreon is consistent in promoting the city’s tourism sector through her channels. She has vlogs featuring the Tagalag Fishing Village and other go-to destinations in Valenzuela, truly embodying her mission as head of the Committee on Tourism. The development of Tagalag Fishing Village is just the latest of Carreon’s initiatives as a city leader.
The second-term councilor entered public service at the young age of 15, as Sangguniang Kabataan Chairperson of Barangay Mapulang Lupa. Since then, she stood out for spearheading various projects in the community. One of those is Chiquiting (chikiting, a colloquial word for little kids) project, consisting of reading and art sessions dedicated for the children of Valenzuela. From a modest barangay project, Carreon brought this to the city level when she became a city councilor.
Carreon admits that she loves kids and this is one of the reasons she was able to establish Chiquiting. Before the pandemic, Chiquiting was held every summer, with books and art materials for children. But when lockdowns were implemented and children were stuck in their homes, the Chiquiting program prepared reading and art kits which were delivered to the homes of the children. They also gave kits to those kids who were isolated due to quarantine restrictions to ease their boredom and to divert their attention from their predicament. Carreon shares that Chiquiting was adapted by other non-government organizations (NGOs) in other places. Organizers reached out to her and she willingly helped them by providing them with information on how she established the project.
In addition to that, Carreon is also an Action Officer for Out of School Youth (OSY). Through her, OSY of Valenzuela were given the chance to go back to school. They also partner with public organizations like the City Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWDO) which help them identify the needs of every OSY and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) which provides training. As of now, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is their dependable partner, helping them provide educational opportunities and later on, productive jobs for OSY. In her first term alone, Carreon was able to help over 400 OSYs, with most of them now on clear paths toward a bright future.
Because of her projects, Carreon has become a role model, an inspiration that the youth of Valenzuela look up to. She shares a touching story of a father who approached her to ask for a video greeting for her daughter, “A father approached me and told me that his daughter wanted to ask for my video greeting because she finished college and she was inspired by me.”
CARRYING ON WITH THE WORK
Even as a child, Carreon was no stranger to public service. Growing up, she saw her grandfather, Pio Carreon, serve as a councilor of Valenzuela. She believes that she takes after her grandfather, in whom she saw genuine concern in serving Valenzuelaños.
With a number of tourism-related projects in her 12-year career as a public servant so far, Carreon has earned the label “Kampeon sa Turismo.” After playing a major role in launching Tagalag Fishing Village, Carreon, along with other city officials, is getting ready to launch another tourism project. The Fatima Avenue rehabilitation project is expected to bring more tourists since the avenue provides access to three of the biggest institutions located in Valenzuela’s District 2: Fatima University, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, and Museo de Valenzuela.
Having received a fresh mandate, Carreon has vowed to continue guiding the city’s OSY, who she says need to be pushed forward and given continuous encouragement. She looks forward to seeing more OSY beneficiaries continuing their educational journey and having an improved quality of life.
CHECK SA SERBISYO Despite the challenges that come with her job as city councilor, Carreon says she has come to enjoy public service. Looking back, she thanks the city’s senior leaders who helped shape her into the leader she is today. Of course, she says she owes much of her success to every Valenzuelaño who has given her the trust and confidence to serve them. Her goal now is to return the favor by giving her constituents the projects they deserve.
As Carreon sets out to do her duties every day, she always puts the welfare of her constituents first. Her daily reminder of what being a public servant means is quite simple: “[Being a councilor] is not just a job but a responsibility I have to fulfill in exchange for the trust that Valenzuelaños have given me.”