ACING THE MAYORSHIP
He never eyed being a public servant, but Bocaue, Bulacan Mayor Eduardo “JJV” Villanueva, Jr. is surpassing expectations.
By Camille Cabal
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROMEO S. PERALTA, JR.
It is often said that we could never have too much of a good thing. Bocaue, Bulacan residents, however, have chosen to have more of a good thing—good governance, to be precise. With 12 years of experience as local chief executive of Bocaue, Bulacan, Mayor Eduardo “JJV” Villanueva, Jr. is back to continue the projects that his sister, the late Mayor Eleanor “Joni” Villanueva- Tugna had started.
Villanueva’s sister was known as Bocaue’s “toss-coin mayor” as her 2016 victory was determined by a coin toss after she tied with her opponent. With her first term being marked by relentless efforts to serve her constituents, she went on to have a landslide victory in her 2019 reelection bid.
The lady mayor, however, succumbed to an illness barely a year into her second term. When she died, Villanueva believed that there was no one else better to continue her journey but his brother-inlaw. However, the latter suggested that Villanueva come back and continue the family’s tradition of public service.
Villanueva felt it best to answer the call to service. As before, he could not leave the people of Bocaue in someone else’s hands, who does not have the same heart for them as he. After all, he had been the city’s mayor for three terms prior. About two decades ago, Villanueva was practically shuttling to and from the United States (US) where his family was based. When he finished his first term as mayor in 2004, he thought he was done for good and would be able to enjoy the rest of his time with his family in the US. He, however, came back to serve Bocaue once again as mayor from 2007 to 2016.
THE MAYOR’S JOURNEY
The young Villanueva had only two dreams: to be a lawyer and a basketball player. His college days at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) gave him hope he can achieve both. Unfortunately, he was forced to stop going to school because of an unforeseeable
Villanueva, who was not just a student but also a varsity player, was severely affected. Due to
his strong desire to continue his basketball career, Villanueva transferred to the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP).
When he got there, the only courses left available were mass communication, engineering,
and political science. “Napilitan akong mag-PolSci (political science). Kumbaga, talagang pilit lang; wala talaga, ‘di ako interesado. Para lang makalaro ako ng basketball dahil hindi pwedeng hindi ako enrolled. So ‘yun ang nangyari (I had to settle for PolSci. I really was not interested in it but I took the plunge so I can play basketball. Because I cannot play if I were not enrolled. That’s how things went),” Villanueva shares.
In his second year in college, Villanueva wanted to shift to another course but his professors and classmates convinced him not to. His attachment to them, who supported both his studies and career as a varsity player, made him stay. Villanueva built connections not just inside his classroom, but also with the residents around the university. Surprisingly, those informal settlers near the railway in Sta. Mesa were relocated to Bocaue, Bulacan. Villanueva
claims that many of those relocated residents from the railway area in Sta. Mesa—who also became his friends back in his college days—contributed a number of votes when he ran for the mayoralty. “Talagang destiny, ‘di ko inakala talaga. Yun ang isang story na lagi kong shine-share sa mga nakakausap ko dahil kumbaga hindi ko naman talaga pinili ‘to, ‘di ko pinangarap pero nangyari (It was really destined although I didn’t expect it. This is a story that I always share with people because I never really planned to be here but it happened),” Villanueva recalls his journey to where he is now.
Villanueva’s political career started when he ran for the position of municipal councilor back in 1998. He looks back to the time when his parents brought up this idea. During that time, he was just spending a vacation here in the Philippines with his family. His parents, who could not say no to then-Governor Josie Dela Cruz, volunteered Villanueva.
Villanueva admits he was angry at his parents for deciding for him. But, out of obedience, he followed his parents and ran as a councilor for the first time. As a neophyte candidate, he earned the highest votes among those vying for the position of councilor. After one term, he decided to run for higher office, this time, as mayor. Villanueva reveals that before running for mayor, he had to once again weigh his priorities. As he was so close to reaching his dream of becoming a Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) player, his father made him choose.
When Villanueva told his father he can balance the two, his father said, “Kaya mo talagang pagsabayin ‘yan pero ‘di ka magiging great sa kahit alin dyan dahil hati ang atensiyon mo, so pumili ka (You can really engage in both at the same time, but you will never excel in either because your attention will be divided, so you have to choose),” Villanueva remembers his father’s advice. His father explained to him the impact that he can have for Bocaue and its people should he choose to run. With a heavy heart, Villanueva dropped his basketball training to follow the path of public service.
Changing his priorities proved fruitful for Villanueva as he captured the mayoralty in 2001.
As he approached the end of his term, Villanueva persuaded his sister Joni to continue what he had started. The obedience-led Villanueva brand of service continued when his sister succeeded him as mayor. After a few years, Villanueva had to go back and continue what he started after his sister died. This, as Villanueva feels partly responsible for the death of his sister. After all, he was the one who had persuaded her to leave her comfort zone.
THE ‘JJV’ LEGACY
Asked about his proudest moments in public service, the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) Bulacan Chapter president is quick to answer with some of his major accomplishments for Bocaue. First is the reclamation of the public market. Villanueva recounts that when he became the mayor, he worked on putting the ownership of the public market back to the government because he believes this is how it should be. He reveals that the public market was pawned by the former mayor to a private businessman.
The agreement was 45 years, but three years into the agreement, Villanueva successfully reclaimed the public market. He admits it was a long process but after obtaining the return of the public market, Villanueva built another public market. He says that the old public market was not readily accessible through public transportation, so the new public market was strategically placed along McArthur Highway. As such, when the people are done buying goods from the market, they could easily take a ride home.
Villanueva also credits the building of a new municipal hall to his office. He shares previously being ridiculed for envisioning walking on a paved road near the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), toward a building that would be the center of the municipal government. In time, he was able to prove naysayers wrong. What’s more incredible is that Villanueva was able
to get the lot on which the municipal hall was built for free. He reveals that when he was searching for a lot, he met a Japanese business owner who bought multiple lots in Bocaue. “‘Di kami gumastos; hiningi ko. Sabi ko lang sa kanya, ‘tutal dito ka namili ng lupa sa amin, ibig sabihin may puso ka para dito sa bayan na ‘to so para maging mas makabuluhan yung pag-stay mo dito, baka pupwede kako mag-donate ka ng kapirasong lupa na pagtatayuan ko ng munisipyo na kung ganon, maging bahagi ka rin ng kasaysayan namin (We did not spend a cent, as I obtained it for free. I told him, ‘Since you bought numerous lots in Bocaue, that means its people have a place in your heart, so to make your stay more meaningful, why don’t you donate a piece of land where we can build our municipal building? That way, you will become part of the municipality’s history’),” Villanueva recalls. He shares that the Japanese was delighted with what he heard and willingly gave a
portion of his land to the municipal government.
A major accomplishment of Villanueva is making the municipality achieve first-class status from it being a third-class municipality. He emphasizes that this is important since the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) or the local government unit’s share of the revenues from the national government, also increased. As an effect, more projects and services will be delivered to the people. Also one of the most treasured achievements of Villanueva is being awarded the Seal of Good Housekeeping (SGH) by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
BOCAUE, A CITY-TO-BE
In spite of the countless projects that Villanueva has worked hard to bring to Bocaueños, he believes there is more to get done on his part. Right now, the goal of the reelected mayor is to push for the cityhood of Bocaue. “Gusto ko maging city kami. Gusto ko mawala na totally ang mga informal settlers sa ‘min. Gusto ko lahat ng Bocaueño may sariling bahay na matatawag nilang kanila (I want Bocaue to be a city. I want all informal settlers in Bocaue to have a home they can proudly call their own),” Villanueva says.
He says that the decision depends on Congress but as a town, they are doing what they can do to push for the cityhood of Bocaue. He shares that the only thing they need to work more on is increasing the income of the municipality. Other than that, Bocaue is more than ready to be a full-fledged city. Road-wise, they already paved a lot while the construction of McArthur Highway going to the airport is already in the works. As to what else he wants to do for Bocaue, Villanueva shares that he wants to add a dialysis center in their newly opened Joni Villanueva General Hospital, a project he and his sister started and was later named after his late sister. He wants dialysis patients to get the necessary services for free, or at a very minimal cost. He also plans to transform rural health centers into super rural health centers and add one more to the two existing in the municipality. He said that health centers should offer more than just simple checkups or medication for fever and ordinary sicknesses. In the field of education, he claims that the scholarship grants stopped when the late and former Mayor Joni died but he wants to bring this assistance back to deserving students from Bocaue.
The mayor calls on his constituents for more patience, saying that the progress of a town does not happen overnight but involves careful planning and takes time. He also encourages the people to cooperate and participate in the programs of the local government because it is the best way for the municipality to move forward especially from the impact of the pandemic. Villanueva reassures Bocaueños, “Ang inyong punong bayan ay laging nakaagapay sa inyo, laging handang tumulong sa abot ng aking makakaya. ‘Yun ang gusto kong iwan sa inyo at gusto kong sabihin na ginagawa ko ang lahat para maging karapat-dapat akong punong bayan sa inyo (Your mayor is always here to support, ready to help in the best way I can. That’s what I want to leave to you, and I want you to know that I am doing my best to be more deserving of the position as mayor).”