SANTA CRUZ MAYOR EDGAR SAN LUIS
Simple and practical. These are the factors that shape Mayor Edgar San Luis’ projects for his town of Santa Cruz, Laguna.
BY KRISTEL DACUMOS LAGORZA
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROMEO PERALTA, JR.
Santa Cruz is a lovely, vibrant municipality in the province of Laguna, which sits adjacent to Laguna Lake. As its provincial capital, it is one of the key municipalities that is home to field offices of numerous national government agencies, banks, and businesses, making it an important governance and commercial center in eastern Laguna. In the past decades, Santa Cruz was considered a key trading post, where goods from Manila and around the region would be brought. And due to this, business and enterprises flourished. Santa Cruz idealizes the idyllic provincial life. It’s quiet and beautiful, but abuzz with dynamic economy.
Santa Cruz, Laguna Mayor Edgar S. San Luis, fondly called “Egay,” hopes to bring back the “good old days” by re-energizing several industries post-pandemic such as agriculture, fishing, and duck and poultry raising.
Reminiscing those days in his childhood, he starts: “I remember Santa Cruz, when I was in elementary, malakas ang fishing industry. We’re adjacent to Laguna Lake, but today, it’s not suitable for massive fishing. We were also a major supplier of salted eggs and balut at that time. And we are planning to bring all those back.”
Survival and Service
And these plans are timely, especially as many of Santa Cruz citizens have been adversely affected by the pandemic. Economy was significantly hit, needless to say, and the “normal way of life, lahat naapektuhan because we were caught flat-footed,” he admits. “Nobody knew how to deal with the pandemic so naging reactive.”
In the earlier months of the crisis, San Luis immediately responded and explored the different ways to help his people and launched the Kabuhayanihan initiative, with the sole focus to provide and help families with sustainable livelihoods during the pandemic. Seeing how unemployment was on the rise and people were on the brink of hunger, he scanned all the vacant lots in Santa Cruz, Laguna, especially the rural/agricultural areas and started a community garden program. “On these empty lots, we planted a lot of vegetables for families so they could have sustainable food.”
To date, the mayor is planning as well to place a moratorium on developmental subdivisions to focus on agricultural lands. “For Santa Cruz, our biggest challenge now is to help those affected by the pandemic and to re-engineer our plans. We have a lot of resources and agricultural areas. However, a lot of these [lots] have been converted into subdivisions. So my plan now is to place a [temporary] moratorium on developmental subdivisions and focus on the agricultural lands to help promote our ‘one town, one product,’ which is the kesong puti.”
“Our kesong puti is well-known. However, we don’t have kalabaws that produce milk, because our agricultural areas have dwindled. I hope to revive and bring this trade back. It may be a bit challenging, but doable.
The survival of his people and creating opportunities for livelihood is the mayor’s priority. In an another brilliant and thoughtful initiative, he launched the local egg machine project to supplement the needs of around 300 to 400 families. Through this, he distributed one egg machine to each family. The egg machine cost roughly Php20,000 per unit. “I gave them 20 layer chickens, which helped build livelihood for them, as they could sell these eggs. Can you imagine the impact? With chicken layers, every day nangingitlog yan, so meron ka nang almusal, tapos ang natira pwede mo pang ibenta,” he explains.
It was important for San Luis that he start with initiatives that offered immediate relief and support as those who work at the very bottom tier of industry like tricycle drivers, jeepney drivers, market sellers, and the lot suffered the most during the lockdowns. “Before, we were collecting around Php1 million a month from the public market, now we’re lucky to just to hit Php300,000,” explains San Luis, highlighting the stark effect of the pandemic on their local economy. “But we’re coping,” he adds optimisitically. “Ganyan naman ang mga Pilipino, very resilient.”
From community agriculture to poultry, San Luis is also considering reinvigorating the fishing industry in Santa Cruz. Laguna Lake, as of the moment is not suitable for massive fishing, but there is opportunity, he mentions. “It’s a dying lake because 50 years ago, it was very deep at around 15 feet. Today, due to siltation and such, it sits at just 3 feet deep. But fishing on a small scale can be done.” In addition, San Luis has high hopes for the lakes swift rehabilitation as the Laguna Lake is under the management program of the national government, led by the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA), the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the Department of Agriculture (DA), and other relevant agencies.
It is this nimble, practical, longterm thinking in times of crisis and compassionate leadership which has endeared San Luis to his people.
Family Brand of Service Egay’s father, Felicisimo T. San Luis, in fact, was a long-time governor of Laguna, and sat at the helm for 33 years, from 1959 to 1992. He died in service, and so it was Egay’s brother, Rodolfo “Boyie” San Luis, who followed suit.
His brother served as mayor, two terms as congressman, and ran for governor, but lost. His brother couldn’t also pursue politics further as he got sick at that time, leaving the 51-year-old Egay, who was in his prime, the unique opportunity to join public service.
“My brother said to me, ‘Brod, walang magtutuloy ng tradition natin. Bakit hindi ikaw ung magpatuloy?’ Though their family was deeply ingrained in politics, Egay had never considered the option for himself as “my father had the rule that while he was in power, nobody in the family should be in power, too. In short, ayaw ng father ko ng dynasty.” Family members could serve, but not at the same time.
“Honestly, hindi ko alam ang politika, kasi yung father ko binawalan kami eh. Very strict, very principled, and ideal ang father ko. Ang lagi niyang sinasabi noon, ‘Business and politics cannot mix. If you mix those two, it will be deadly.’ In Tagalog, ‘Ang serbisyo publiko at ang negosyo ay kailanman hindi pwedeng magsama, matatalo yung pagnanais mo na maglingkod sa bayan ng tapat at wagas.” History will tell us, a lot of politicians and even presidents, when they mix public service and business, issues always arise,” says the incumbent mayor.
For Egay, his background was primarily in TV, in sales and marketing and advertising. He served as president of RPN-9, one of the biggest TV stations in the 70’s-90’s, which sufficiently equipped him with the skills to become an effective local leader.
With his brother’s prodding and the sincere want to build a better, stronger district, Egay saw that he had a lot to contribute ran for a position in government in 2007. He won as congressman for the fourth district, and then later became mayor of Santa Cruz, Laguna in 2019.
When I entered politics in 2007, I was probably one of the wealthiest congressmen. I used a large part of my personal savings and resources to aid the underprivileged and provide solutions to the problem of my constituents.
When he went around his district, he was deeply affected by the scenes of poverty, helplessness, and hopelessness. At that time, he didn’t have the connections or the pork barrel to implement some of his plans, so he decided to respond to his communty’s needs by spending out of pocket.
“Ako, sabi ko, ‘may kaya naman ako, may inipon akong pera kaya ako na ang magpapagawa.” He repaired buildings, built roads and such, supplementing the budget provided by his office.
But his charity goes beyond simply in improving the infrastructure and the services of his municipality, he was sensitive to even the personal cases of his citizens. And he never sought repayment. He remembers one particular event: He was in Pila, Laguna where he saw a little girl, around nine years old. She was obviously sick as she looked purple. Fortunately, San Luis had medical staff by his side and asked them take a look at the child.
They soon confirmed the she had a heart condition that needed immediate surgery, and so Egay ordered them to bring her to the Heart Center and cleared her finances for the operation. Mind you, this was all from his own pocket. But no matter the amount spent, the value of saving a child’s life is priceless, he says. “We saw her again in 2019 at the municipal hall. She was healthy and vibrant, at around 17 years old,” he beams. There are many other stories of this kind. He’s come across a bit of criticism because of his generosity. At a certain point, he also had to sell off even his own house and lot, to generate funds for his initiatives. “Sabi nga nila, ako lang daw yung congressman na naghihirap,” he shares.
Like his father, San Luis wants to emulate the same leadership and values of really putting the people first. “First of all, I’m a servant leader; I’m not a politician. I believe in setting the example—kalaban man o kakampi tutulungan kita. Basta I will extend my help as a Filipino,” he says. He’s come across certain pushback as well from some local leaders he’s working with, but he’s continually seeking ways to build support. “It’s a challenge, I must admit, especially trying to convince them that we’re here to serve. We are not here to fight for personal interest. If you want, we can fight for 45 days next year [during the election period]. Doon tayo maglaban laban. But now, let’s join hands and be united against COVID-19 and the current problems of our municipality.”
An Optimistic Future
With mass vaccination rollout across the country, the people of Sta. Cruz are feeling hopeful, and San Luis is planning for their successful recovery post-pandemic.
“We’re planning a lot of programs here especially Sta. Cruz, which include establishing a command center, improving rescue and disaster management, crime prevention, and everything else. Of course, digitalization is one of our priorities. And another is to address the drainage issue of the municipality.” He’s proud to have made progress on his previous campaign promises: from one ambulance, the municipality now has nine, and they’ve also successfully built a new community hospital outside Poblacion. “One of my goals is to increase the number of doctors, as there are only two within the municipality. And my plan is to reach out to all residents who cannot afford expensive medicare. I want to invest in building a medical facility, with more doctors, better equipment, and improved testing capabilities.”
One of his other proud initiatives launched during the pandemic is the Hatid-Tulong Project for persons with disability [PWDs.] Through this, his office distributes wheelchairs, vitamins, and financial assistance to the vunerable and often underserved community.
It all started because of the voluminous requests for help that started to pour in through their Facebok page. “I then formed a group whose sole task was to collate and respond to their messages. And then we’d head out to the barangay with our team of doctors, supplies, medicine, and the like to serve those in far rural areas.”
“Di kami namimili ng tutulungan. Di namin tinatanong kung botante o nakakaboto siya. Yun ang akin lang, makatulong sa tao ng walang kapalit. I know sometimes it’s very idealistic. Pero sa akin, wala namang mawawala kung maging sincere tayo sa pagtulong. Nandito na tayo to help others, then why not do it with sincerity as well,” he says.
The key identifiers of many of Mayor’s initiatives is their practicality and simplicity. And solutions like these that are effective and quick to rollout are highly appreciated, especially in these times.
“Ang sa akin dito, ang advocacy ko talaga is to pave the way for the next generation of Filipinos that existing problems will not be inherited. I hope to help them gain a better understanding of how good governance should be. Governance with sincerity—with leaders not just looking to work for the next election, but for the next generation. Sa akin lang, sincerity and dedication (and fear of God), that’s what we all need.”