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Senator Sherwin “Win” Gatchalian’s two-decade career as a public servant has been marked by his relentless pursuit of his vision for better governance.




The LEAGUE team arrives at the Senate building on a cloudy midmorning in October. The place is uncharacteristically quiet. Conspicuously absent are senators and their staff hustling from their offices to the session hall, officials from the executive branch attending hearings, foreign dignitaries paying courtesy visits, reporters trying to get a scoop, and ordinary Filipinos seeking an audience with particular senators.

In a conference room at the second floor, however, a bicameral conference committee meeting is going on. It’s a hybrid meeting, with most participants—congressmen and senators, supported by their staff— participating online from their homes. Such has been the practice since COVID-19 radically changed the way we live, including the way Congress works. One senator, however, is physically present: Senator Sherwin “Win” Gatchalian, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Energy.

Swiftly ironed out during the meeting were some inconsistencies in the House and Senate versions of the Microgrid Systems Act, the Upper Chamber version of which was primarily authored by Senator Win himself. The act is expected to fill the legal and policy gaps that have hampered the government’s total electrification program.

 “He’s the only senator who still physically reports to the Senate to hold hearings and meetings [despite Metro Manila being placed under Alert Level 4],” one of Senator Win’s staff members says. “He wants to have instant access to information during hearings.” Ever mindful of the value of time, the senator wants to be able to look at documents and confirm matters with the secretariat whenever the need arises—something he could not do if he were working from home. Clearly, it’s a win-win situation: all stakeholders remain safe from COVID-19 (strict health protocols are also being implemented at the Senate building), and legislative work goes on as it should.

This comes as no surprise for those who know the senator well. Senator Win is a known workaholic, and also wants solutions implemented as soon as possible.

Entering Public Service

Senator Win’s two-decade career as public servant has been marked by his relentless pursuit of his vision for better governance. From his initial foray into politics at the age of 27, he has proven to be an effective public servant both at the local and national levels.

“I went into public service because of many frustrations at that time in Valenzuela,” he says of his decision to run as Representative of the 1st District of Valenzuela in 2001. “I was then working in our family business, and I got to interact with the local government unit of Valenzuela. There were a lot of frustrations. It was a tedious task to secure a business permit, you had to talk to fixers, the process was confusing.

Instead of just complaining, the young Win did what he thought was best. “Out of frustration, not only mine but that of everyone in Valenzuela, I presented myself as part of the solution. I was given the chance to serve one term as congressman and three terms as mayor, [and I used these opportunities] to provide solutions. Because I really believe that if you keep on complaining, nothing will happen. So you just have to do your share, do whatever you can to solve problems. Of course, you cannot solve everything all at once. But at least you’re there to lead the way.”

He would later on return to the Lower House, serving for another three years. By then, he had become known for championing good governance and quality education, and fighting corruption.

“After my stint in Valenzuela, I learned a lot… and I thought, maybe I can make a difference using that experience, this time on a nationwide scale. So I tried my luck. I ran as senator, despite the odds. Dahil yung surveys ko malayo. [Survey results had me trailing.] It was a blessing that I was given the opportunity to serve,” he recalls.

Guiding Principles

Senator Win describes his leadership style as “basic.” “I lead by example. I believe that every leader should be a good example. In the way you dress, the way you follow simple office rules, the way you come in early for work, that’s an important trait in a leader,” he shares. “At the same time, you have to shun corruption. If the leader is corrupt, everyone in the organization will be corrupt for sure. [Good governance] should start from the leader.”

Senator Win also keeps in mind valuable pieces of advice from former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel. “Pag mapakinggan mo sya, marami kang matututunan,” he says. “I also watch a lot of videos of Barack Obama because everyone’s mesmerized with his eloquence. But at the same time, his policies as well as the way he handles crisis situations is admirable considering that the United States is a complex country. Then his way of analyzing and dissecting problems and executing solutions is also quite admirable.”

The above, combined with his experience as top executive of a number of their familyowned businesses prior to 2001, have helped Senator Win remain true to his promise of being part of the solution to the nation’s problems.

Prioritizing Education

Education reforms have always been among Sen. Win’s advocacies. “In 2016, I campaigned under one advocacy: to remove tuition fees in state universities and colleges,” he recalls. “At that time, that was unheard of because people thought it’s financially and fiscally impossible.”

Seven months into his term as member of the Upper House, Senator Win filed, together with Senators Ralph Recto, Joel Villanueva, JV Ejercito, Bam Aquino, Kiko Pangilinan, Sonny Angara, and Loren Legarda, Senate Bill 1304, which sought to provide full tuition subsidy to students enrolled in state universities and colleges (SUCs). After another seven months, the bill was signed into law as Republic Act 10931.

With the law, almost 1.7 million students in SUCs, local universities and colleges; and state-run technical-vocational schools now enjoy full tuition subsidy.

“Malaking bagay yan (That is significant) because college was viewed as being for people who have the financial capacity. But now college is viewed as being for those who are qualified and should be supported [to have a better future] through a college diploma,” he explains.

As chairperson of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture, Senator Win is also well aware of the problems in the field of basic education. For one, he has a very firm stand when it comes to errors in basic education textbooks. “[Such errors are] definitely unacceptable,” he asserts. “We need to improve the quality of our textbooks and reading materials. I have flagged the Department of Education many, many times, to ensure quality and to ensure that the books are reviewed many times before these are released to our learners.”

Highlighting the Need for Energy Transition

Another of the senator’s advocacies is clean energy. While describing the move to clean energy as an imperative, he also cautions against haphazard steps that may prove costly in the long run. He has highlighted the need for a comprehensive transition plan that takes into account our bureaucratic structure, consumer welfare, and the fight against climate change.

“Going renewable is inevitable. The whole world is moving toward that direction. It’s really just a matter of how fast we can do it. We cannot do it fast. That’s why the buzzword now is energy transition. We have to do it in a just and economical manner. In other words, we cannot rush into shifting to solar and wind. That will take time to build and the cost is substantially high,” he explains.

All things considered, the senator is pushing for a well-studied transition plan that has to be implemented as soon as possible. “So it’s a transition, and we need to start that transition already. Unfortunately, our country has not yet started significantly, meaning we have the laws, some mechanisms in place, but a formal transition has not yet commenced. So that’s what I’m pushing for right now. To jumpstart the Philippine-style energy transition,” he stresses.

Senator Win points to consumers’ price sensitivity, limited technology, and a complex bureaucracy as among the things that the legislature, the Department of Energy (DOE), and energy experts must take into account as we set out with the transition.

Looking Ahead

With a little over half a year left before the elections, Senator Win remains hopeful that key bills will still be approved by Congress. One such proposed law is Senate Bill 726, which seeks to penalize nuisance political candidates. The importance of tackling this bill, which he refiled back in July 2019, became more obvious recently, as almost a hundred personalities filed their certificates of candidacy for president. “Hopefully, that would get approved,”he says of the bill which he originally filed in 2016.

“Parati kong pinupush yung nuisance candidate bill. Nakakainis na kasi yung mga taong pupunta tapos nakacosplay costume (I’ve always pushed for the approval of the nuisance candidate bill. It’s annoying to see people coming in as if they were going to a cosplay event),” he stresses. More than the physical appearance, however, it’s the intent that bothers him. “It’s really annoying to see people mocking the elections, mocking the system, and mocking our country, to be honest about it. It’s sad, but it’s the reality. Like this time, 97 persons filed their candidacy for president. Alam naman natin maraming matatanggal dyan. Ilan lang yung matitira. [We know that majority of them will eventually be disqualified.] People are just mocking our elections.”

Still on political reforms, Senator Win co-authored a bill banning substitution of candidates due to withdrawal. With him as Senate Bill 2439 co-authors are Senators Migz Zubiri, Nancy Binay, Grace Poe, and Joel Villanueva.

“Recently, substitution became some sort of a political strategy,” he says. And it doesn’t only create instability in the process because obviously you cannot print the ballots right away. But again, in the same manner [as nuisance candidates do, substitution due to withdrawal also] creates a mockery of the elections.”

The senator wants to avoid a situation where unscrupulous individuals would not only make a mockery of the system but actually benefit financially from it. “There could come a time when placeholders (those who file their candidacies but have no actual intention of running), would put their slots up for sale. So before it becomes that bad, we’ll remove that feature in the law,” he explains.

Man on a Mission Senator Win has come a long way since entering the field of public service in 2001. One thing, however, has remained constant: his silent yet effective and dedicated style of public service has consistently borne practical solutions to the nation’s many problems. Buoyed by this, he has pledged to continue with his mission of helping bring about a worldclass yet affordable educational system, a competitive and investor-friendly energy sector, and electoral reforms.

In the end, every piece of legislation Senator Win is able to steer to enactment into law, every improved government policy he is able to contribute to, every problem he is able to offer a solution to, is not only a personal victory for him. It is also a check mark in the win column for every Filipino.

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