THE PEOPLE’S MAYOR
Marikina City Mayor Marcelino “Marcy” Teodoro reveals his simple yet effective approach to governance.
BY GODFREY DANCEL
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROMEO PERALTA JR.
Commonsense governance” is how Marikina City Mayor Marcelino “Marcy” Teodoro describes his leadership style. This may not sound good enough or even familiar to most, especially those who have been accustomed to the complicated yet ineffective style of other local leaders. Teodoro’s style, however, has proven effective in making Marikina a liveable city, maintaining its parochial vibe even as it embraces development. Among others, the City of Good Conduct stands out as a city where discipline and citizen involvement play major parts in the success of local government programs.
“You simply do what is required by common sense,” Teodoro states when asked to elaborate about his leadership style.
“We’re grounded; we simply need to connect with people. We tend to consult experts in urban planning and governance, but more importantly, we do genuine dialogue with the people. It is from them that we derive our programs; it is from their ideas and suggestions that we derive and establish our government policies.”
As for policies and programs, Teodoro knows fully well that these should not be static but rather dynamic. “They should be able to evolve with the needs and urgencies of the people,” he stresses. “Nakikinig lang kami sa mga tao. Ganon ang aming ginagawa. Ganon kasimple (We simply listen to the people. That’s how we do things. It’s that simple).”
With this, Teodoro underscores the need to keep in touch with the people: “Very clearly, there should be no cordon sanitaire (barrier). The connection should be there; it has to be personal.”
He reveals how, when he and other city officials are discussing a program, they don’t simply discuss such in the boardroom or in a conference area, or talk among themselves. He points to a “very simple exercise” that has become an integral part of their decision-making process. “We tend to go outside the city hall, talk to people in the streets, go to their communities, try to immerse ourselves in their activities,” he reveals.
Indeed, connecting with the people is no problem for Teodoro. He is one of them.
“That is not a problem because I live in a neighborhood where I can engage with the people as their mayor and as a neighbor. [I see the problems, and] I find them basic. The place is dark so there’s a problem with peace and order. So if the place is dark, what should be done to solve the problem? Quite simple. Lagyan ng ilaw ‘yung poste. Kung pundido ‘yung ilaw, palitan (Install lights on the lamppost. If the lightbulb is busted, replace it). If the drainage is silted [and contributes to the flooding woes], declog it. Those kinds of things [get noticed and addressed fast enough because we see them firsthand],” Teodoro adds.
Marikeños, in return, have responded positively to Teodoro’s simple yet effective approach to governance. “[It is because] the people feel that we are one with them,” he shares. “There’s this sense of community prevailing in Marikina.” This sense of community based on a common vision and shared experiences has become a key element in the local government’s ability to provide the necessary services to their constituents.
COMMONSENSE GOVERNANCE IN ACTION
Teodoro’s commonsense governance proved useful at the height of the pandemic, particularly in November 2020 when massive flooding in the city caused by Typhoon Ulysses made rescue, response, and evacuation efforts especially difficult.
This governance challenge proved a test of the mayor’s leadership and organizational dexterity, especially since at the peak of the crisis, there was a shortage of COVID-19 medicines. Like other local governments, the city government of Marikina, as grassroots service provider, was hard-hit by the impact of the crisis as its constituency suffered from the infection, mobility restrictions, and financial woes. For Teodoro, time was crucial and he had to be assertive and aggressive. “Hindi dapat patagalin at baka ‘di umabot, ‘di mapakinabangan (You shouldn’t dillydally as the supplies could arrive late and thus prove useless),” he stresses.
Recognizing testing as the foundation of any COVID-19 surveillance system and the most logical and common-sense response, Teodoro stood firm on putting up the pioneer local government-established and managed molecular diagnostic laboratory conducting compliant RT-PCR testing, saying: “I simply followed the logic that we need to have our own testing laboratory to avoid dependency on other LGUs. We wanted to ensure that all Marikina residents will have access to COVID-19 testing and we cannot guarantee this without our own testing capacity. Empathy is at the forefront of our every decision. We recognize the value of a fast and efficient testing system which results in less quarantine time for suspected cases; and immediate isolation, treatment if needed, and contact tracing for positive cases. The pandemic has significant effects on mental health and with our quick delivery of results, we hope to alleviate mental suffering.”
Teodoro immediately ordered the setting up of the COVID-19 health facility and training of the medical personnel, as well as readied the logistical requirements for the operation of the center. However, the Department of Health (DOH) accreditation of the center was delayed, prompting Teodoro to relentlessly lobby. Shortly after then-DOH Secretary Francisco Duque himself visited the facility, he declared Marikina’s molecular laboratory as a “gold standard facility.”
A LIFE OF PUBLIC SERVICE
The third-term mayor should know how to respond to the people’s needs. After all, the University of the Philippines (UP) and Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU) alumnus has been in public service for three decades.
He first joined politics in 1992, successfully landing a seat at the Marikina City Council. The then-22-year-old AdMU philosophy instructor felt that he needed to be in government and as an educator, he also wanted to be somewhere he could apply all the theories he was teaching his students. After three consecutive terms, he served as chief of the Marikina Settlements Office, where he attended to the needs of informal settlers. He made a political comeback in 2007 as Congressional representative of the 1st District of Marikina, serving for three terms until 2016. His successful bid for the mayoral seat in 2016 paved the way for him to apply his learnings in public service, this time as local chief executive.
This sense of community based on a common vision and shared experiences has become a key element in the local government’s ability to provide the necessary services to their constituents.
He notes how, today, he is better able to relate to their lawmakers and other local government officials. “Today, when I speak with our congresswomen, mas naiintindihan ko sila (I understand them better). ‘Pag kausap ko ‘yung mga konsehal, ‘pag mayroon kaming priority agenda sa (When I speak with coucilors regarding our priority agenda in the) council, I understand them better because I was once a part of the council.”
With Teodoro’s commonsense style of governance comes a clearer understanding of what is happening in the city and what needs to be done. “What I have learned is that you should always have the ability to listen to everybody. You should have tolerance to accept the opinions and recommendations of your co-workers in government. Ang importante, pakinggan mo ‘yung sinasabi ng ordinaryong kawani ng pamahalaan. Siguro ‘yun ang na-develop sa akin (What matters is you listen to what ordinary government employees have to say. I think I developed that attitude) having served in both the legislative and executive branches of government,” he muses. The well-loved mayor goes back to a constant in all the roles he has performed in the city. “One thing remains the same,” he says. “It’s the people. I serve the same people.”
For all his—and members of his slate’s— efforts, Marikeño voters gave Team Marcy a resounding victory last May. The landslide victory, however, is more than just a simple testament to the Marikeños’ trust and confidence in Teodoro and his team’s competence and dedication to service.
“It comes with a greater responsibility,” Teodoro stresses. “We believe that every Marikeño has a stake in every activity, every event happening in Marikina. So they expect more, actually. They expect [the local government] to help them fully recover from the effects of COVID-19. There are great expectations with regard to economic recovery, job generation, mitigating the effects of flooding in the city. These are things that are expected from us.”
The people’s expectation of Marikina being as liveable as possible for the greater number of people is not lost on Teodoro either. With this, he strives to make Marikina “remain as a place they could live in conveniently, safely, and peacefully; a place where they could raise their family, where they could work and play at the same time.” This, he adds, is the reason the city government is “developing our parks, establishing park connectors, developing open spaces. We’re developing Marikina as a community where you could safely be with your family.”
To live up to the people’s expectations, Teodoro sees the need to continually improve the city government’s organizational capability. “Programs should be institutional and not reactionary. Programs should be conceived not only to win elections but rather institutional and sustainable,” he asserts.
Indeed, institutional and sustainable programs are what are needed to address two of Marikina’s major concerns today: leading the city into the new normal and lessening flooding.
“It’s a day-to-day challenge,” Teodoro says when asked about plans heading into the new normal. “We need a roadmap, and that roadmap we’re [currently] trying to determine. We should be able to establish a resilient healthcare system, efficient public transportation for everybody, a COVID-free workplace. We should be able to safely open our schools so our children could resume learning. And we should be able to provide a safe and conducive learning environment for them. Also, we need to energize employment and economic activities.” He recognizes that resilience would help Marikeños get by, but just as he did during the most difficult days of the pandemic, stresses that it is government’s responsibility to ensure the common good.
Meanwhile, flooding is a perennial problem that confronts Marikeños. With Teodoro’s holistic approach, however, the city’s residents have reason to believe that this may eventually become a thing of the past.
“The approach really is generational,” stresses Teodoro. “It’s inter-generation. The problem started during the time of the previous generation, and whatever solutions we come up with now, the effects will be felt by the next generation.”
The mayor points to the concept of stewardship as being central to efforts in solving the problem. “We are mere stewards of this Earth. A reforestation program is very important. But reforestation cannot be done in Marikina. Marikina is a valley surrounded by the Sierra Madre mountains. So if the Sierrra Madre is denuded, the water will flow to our place.”
Interconnectedness is another concept Teodoro identifies as being crucial. “We are one Earth, one ecosystem. Our problem of flooding is not a standalone problem. The water that floods Marikina comes from upstream. Marikina River being a downstream river is part of a river system that comes from Antipolo and Sierra Madre. So geographically, it’s really a problem not only of Marikina. So the approach and solution to the problem of flooding should not come simply or unilaterally from Marikina,” he explains. He points to the construction of a water retention dam being built in Montalban, Rizal as a perfect example.
Among the interregional solutions that the people’s mayor identifies as part of a holistic approach to flooding are proper garbage disposal and desiltation. He notes how garbage dumped upstream will also adversely affect people living downstream. As water from Marikina flows to Manila Bay and Laguna Lake, siltation in these outfall areas will mean continued flooding in Marikina as the water cannot be discharged properly.
With clear plans in place to address the above concerns, Marikeños could look forward to continued improvements in their individual and collective lives. They are also sure to respond positively to their mayor’s call for them to “be one, [to] work as one community” and to “identify what is beautiful, what’s good, and what is needed and work together towards that goal.” After all, Teodoro is one of them. He is the people’s mayor.