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Mayor Oliver Pascual reveals that despite criticisms and insults, he stays calm and patient. For him, bringing their town to new heights requires an approachable leadership style




The 2022 Elections is drawing near and troll accounts have been very active in posting false accusations or defamatory remarks on social media. Nowadays, turning on the television also mostly means encountering heated political arguments with criticism that are mostly thinly-veiled insults. For incumbents like Mayor Oliver Pascual of Lal-lo, Cagayan, this chaotic circus isn’t really surprising at all. Thus, he always addresses such with calmness and patience.

“Of course, criticisms really hurt, because whatever you do, there will always be complaints and critics will always exist. But I just keep in mind my father’s advice that I have to decide consistently for the good of the majority. Unceasingly bank on what is right and you will never go wrong” Mayor Pascual shares.

However, the young mayor of Lal-lo is far from being closed off from hearing thoughts and ideas from his townspeople. He also shared that pre-pandemic, he’d been very active in joining celebrations in which he would often have comfortable and honest discussions with his constituents.

“Mas nararamdaman ko yung sinasabi ng tao. They can easily say what they think—positive or negative. Sometimes, I hear their thoughts and feedbacks; their opinions over my ideas and projects. I usually take it as constructive criticism. Kung meron man silang sasabihin na hindi maganda about the administration, at least we can discuss it over a friendly conversation. If I see the point in their arguments, then I patiently listen and talk to them on how we can solve the matter that is being raised,” Pascual adds.

Finding Balance

Mayor Oliver comes from a family of politicians that have previously led the municipality—his great grandfather, former Mayor Lucilo Pascual; his grandfather, former Vice Mayor Inocencio Pascual; his father, and his mother former Mayor (incumbent Vice Mayor) Maria Olivia Pascual. Mayor Oliver admitted that his father, Lal-lo former Mayor Florante Pascual, does not concur with some of his ways of connecting with people. But Pascual is adamant on leading in his own way, distinct from his parents’ leadership style.

“My dad is very traditional; he’s very calm and seldom gets angry. My mother on the other hand, was extremely strict. Kung baga sa principal, a terror one. Actually, they have opposing styles. When I entered politics, I promised to myself that I would try to find balance in their leadership styles” the young mayor shares. “Everyone knows that they can easily approach me with their problems, and if I can do something about it, I do immediately respond. Likewise, as a millennial, I am definitely open to alternative ways of solving difficulties. It’s okay to be guided ‘by the book,’ as long as it does not limit me from hearing other perceptions. No matter what style, I want to make a difference.

Despite this, the young mayor knows how to pay respect to his parents by constantly consulting them on his decisions. And whenever they give him their vote of confidence and acknowledge his growth as public servant, he admits that he’s delighted. While they are openly supportive of him now, Pascual shares that it wasn’t always the case, because his parents kept their distance when he first thought of entering politics.

Pascual was studying in Manila when his father became the town’s mayor in 2001. He had witnessed his father’s compassion to serve his people and the ideals of progress he had for their town. These eventually drove him to return home.

After finishing my secondary education, I studied in Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Manila (PLM) and took up engineering because my dad was into the construction business. However, I was halfhearted with my studies; I wanted to be like my dad, a Certified Public Accountant,” he reveals.

After three semesters, Pascual decided to transfer to the Philippine School of Business Administration where he studied for two semesters. After which, he decided to go back to Cagayan and transfer to Lyceum of Aparri to finish his degree in Accountancy.

Going home had led him to run for a position in public office as Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) Chairman. However, the law was then amended and unfortunately, the age limit was lowered to 18 years old. As a 21-year-old, he was no longer qualified, but he patiently waited a couple of years to run for barangay captain instead. When the young mayor told his parents about his decision, they both challenged him to campaign alone. His mother was the Lal-lo mayor that time.

“They didn’t tell me, ‘Go ahead and run we will help you’. No, that wasn’t the case. They told me, ‘If you really want to become a public servant, do it yourself. You have to prove that you really want to serve and you’re willing to work hard for it, not because your mother is the mayor and so was your father.’ After I filed my candidacy, my parents left for America. Honestly, I was so nervous back then. Nevertheless, I had mustered courage and ran—to prove myself, to prove that I really want to serve my people,” Pascual stresses.

In 2007, he won as barangay captain of Bagumbayan, and eventually became the president of the Liga ng mga Barangay and ex-officio member of the city council. During this period, he as well obtained his master’s in Development Management and Governance at University of Makati. After two consecutive terms as barangay captain, he aimed for a higher position. He was then elected as vice mayor of Lal-lo in 2013 and 2016, then mayor in 2019.

Pascual is definitely aware of his privilege, saying that the recognition of their name is an advantage but one that also comes with a price. He added that “During elections, we always expect [that] people will try to destroy our name and reputation. The last election was particularly challenging; we even had to file cases against our opponents.”

Anyhow, he is still grateful that the election was still relatively peaceful. “Battle of Words” he says, but not a “bloody war.” Mayor Pascual also added that this is to be expected because Lalloqueños are peace-loving citizens.

“It is just so disheartening that the latest election was particularly dirty. But thank God, nothing [dangerous] happened. As I always point out, when dealing with this kind of situation, we have to stay patient and calm in making decisions. Decisions made during outbursts of emotions will always lead to bigger problems,” Pascual emphasizes.

When asked about what motivates him to continue his work, Pascual’s answer is simple—his passion to serve his people and solve their town’s problems.

But as with any other job, there is always a sacrifice. For him, he has to sacrifice his time with his family since all of his five children are Manila-based. But because of the pandemic, his two children are staying with him and studying online.

“Sacrificing your time is part of being a politician. I am just so grateful that my children are very understanding of the situation. Sometimes, they find the situation difficult, however, whenever they get to spend their vacation with me, they witnessed the work I do and they always tell me that they’re proud.”

Pascual also revealed that some of his children have expressed their intentions to follow in his footsteps. For him, it’s the ultimate sign of respect—his children not only understand the importance of his work, but they also want to serve in the same manner. Now that they have shown interest, he wants to mold his children by letting them strive for their aspirations—in the same way his parents did.

He said that he understood the intention behind his parents’ action back then, and wanted his children to learn beyond the lesson too. He further pointed out that “If you do not work hard for your position or dream, you will not appreciate it and you will not be as dedicated. Kapag pinaghirapan mo at ibinuhos mo ‘yung time and effort mo, you will enjoy every second of serving the people. You will surely have the passion and the heart to listen to your people and be driven enough to solve their problems, even personal ones.”

As for his personal aspirations, he wishes to continue serving his town, Lal-lo. Further, he also shares that he has definite plans and projects in mind to continuously develop the municipality. Pascual also shares that someday he would like to run for higher office. “It would be hypocritical of me to deny that I don’t want to [run for higher office]. Politicians, whenever they feel like they’ve done their best in their jurisdiction, feel the need to do it on a bigger scale and help more people. And if I would be given the chance to do so, why not?” he says.

Destined For Greatness

The Municipality of Lal-lo was one of the first four cities in the Philippines and was established in 1581. It was formerly known as Ciudad de Nueva Segovia.

As one of the first four cities in the Philippines, Lal-lo is determined to promote their town’s historical significance and restore its cityhood. In 2012, Pascual’s father started the town’s petition to restore its cityhood. He wasn’t alone in this endeavor, as the former 1st District of Cagayan Representative, Juan Ponce Enrile, Jr. was also pushing for the same.

Under the Local Government Code, municipalities must meet certain requirements—average annual income of at least Php100 million in the last two consecutive years and either a contiguous territory or land area of 100 square kilometers (certified by the Land Management Bureau) or a population of at least 150,000 people (certified by the Philippine Statistics Authority). This year, however, the House of Representatives passed on third and final reading House Bill 8207 which revises the requirements. Under the bill, a municipality (or a cluster of barangays) may turn into a city if it has a population of at least 100,000 or a contiguous territory of 100 square kilometers. Having met either, the LGU must also generate a yearly income of Php250 million in the past two consecutive years, as certified by the Department of Finance. Nevertheless, there is another way. In the 1990s, both Naga City (Nueva Caceres) and Vigan City (Ciudad Fernandina) were converted into cities by applying for their historical rights. The town of Lal-lo hopes to achieve the same, once they find one basic requirement—an authentic historical document that proves their former city status.

City or not, Lal-lo has always celebrated this historical event and was supposed to gear up for the town’s 440th Patronal Town Fiesta this 2021, which was cancelled due to the pandemic. They are also working on boosting and developing the town’s historical (and religious) tourist spots. Among the sites that they wish to promote are the Tocolana Ruins—a church and hospital that was destroyed during the world war; and the Shell Midden—a heap of various shells that have been studied for centuries since they are considered as cultural deposits. These middens often contain bone artifacts, food remains, and even ceramics.

Pascual shares that the National Museum personnel have been digging in areas where those shell middens were located and they were able to retrieve artifacts, such as old pots. These historical relics were brought to Manila for safekeeping and for further study. Once Lal-lo is able to establish its own museum, the National Museum assures that they will provide replicas of the items. The original pieces must stay in Manila since Lal-lo doesn’t have the resources to maintain the fragile items. The young mayor believes it is alright since the goal is to preserve such delicate items and educate the public, which can be easily achieved through replicas.

The people who live here, especially the children, should know the past of our town. Even at an early age, they should be taught about our culture and history. If we don’t ensure this passing on of knowledge, from generation to generation, time will come that the people will outgrow our history and eventually, it will be forgotten,” the mayor asserts.

Apart from the historical sites, Lal-lo is also looking to boost its natural tourism destinations. Even during the pandemic, the local government has been pushing forward with its development with the hopes that local and international tourism will soon be restored, especially now that vaccines have been rolling out. The idealistic leader also endeavors to train local tour guides that will have in-depth knowledge of the town’s history and culture. Around three years ago, they first eased the people into knowing more about their past by launching a quiz bee during fiestas. With this, they have gathered potential guides who were already historically well-versed. While the pandemic has halted events, Mayor Oliver is hopeful that things will jumpstart again, when everything returns to normal.

Lal-lo is also working on its infrastructure, such as river control projects. While the plan has clear benefits on minimizing flood damage during typhoon and rainy season, another goal is to create a place for locals and tourists to relax and have fun.

“We requested funds for the river control project. This includes turning the place into a boulevard, like a boardwalk. People could utilize the place to bike, jog, children could play, and it could also be a performance ground,” Pascual shares as the team explores the site. “We are also planning on putting up a gazebo, wherein people could conduct photoshoots, have gatherings, and even weddings.”

The municipality also has its own international airport which was inaugurated on August 18, 2019, during Mayor Oliver’s incumbency. The Cagayan North International Airport is located between the Barangays of San Mariano and Dagupan, and it has been built to support the Cagayan Special Economic Zone in conjunction with Port Irene which handles the seaborne traffic.

Our Country’s Future

Pascual is also focused on the holistic growth of their town’s youth and children. Aside from honing their historical knowledge, the young leader strongly encourages the [youth] to get into sports. He shares that before the pandemic, he used to join in local basketball games (liga) in order to bond with his fellow Lalloqueños.

Under his father’s leadership (with him as the vice mayor) in 2018, they inaugurated the town’s multi-purpose gymnasium which seats up to 2,000 people. The mayor, who is an avid sportsman himself, wishes to get more children interested in trying out other types of sports, not just basketball (although the gym is fitted for that sport).

“I’m really concentrating on the youth and getting them involved in sports. Because aside from the holistic development it may give, it’s also our way of supporting the national government’s efforts towards eradicating illegal drugs and discouraging the youth from using such,” he iterates.

Pascual also envisions constructing an even larger stadium in town, which could someday host the Palarong Pambansa. It is another project in pursuit of the town’s goal of enhancing its growth potentials which is emphasized by their vision—Lal-lo Shines. It’s a four-in-one plan— encourage the kids to try sports; further develop town’s local athletes’ skills; bring tourism and business into the town when they host national (and even international) sports events; and lastly, keep people away from illegal drugs.

Centuries ago, Miguel de Cervantes said, “Forewarned, forearmed; to be prepared is half the victory.” With all the concrete plans and projects underway or ready to be unveiled, the Municipality of Lal-lo is simply biding its time during this pandemic. As the world trudges towards eradicating the virus, the town patiently waits for its chance at the limelight.

With the leadership and guidance of Mayor Oliver Pascual, the town is surely prepared; Lal-lo is halfway to victory.

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