BUILDING THE FUTURE OF SAN FERNANDO
Neophyte councilor Brenz Gonzales seeks to build a concrete foundation for the City of San Fernando’s progress.
By Fraulein Olavario
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROMEO PERALTA, JR.
From supervising the production of building designs and accurate implementation of such as a civil engineer, Aurelio Brenz Gonzales now looks to building the future of San Fernando. This comes as the 26-year-old won his bid to be a member of the sangguniang panlungsod or city council in the 2022 local polls, ranking first in his first foray into politics.
“Sa mga Fernandino, I promise to do good. Talagang magtatrabaho ako at hindi ko sasayangin ‘yung 82,006 na mga botong ibinigay ninyo sa akin. And nagpapasalamat ako sa inyo sa tiwala na binigay ninyo sa akin, at syempre sa aking buong pamilya (To the Fernandinos, I promise to do good. I will work hard and I will not waste the 82,006 votes that you gave me. I am also grateful for your trust in me and my entire family),” Gonzales declares.
ON HIS OWN TERMS
The neophyte councilor is one of three members of the Gonzales political family who won local posts in the province. His father, Aurelio, was elected for a third and final term as Pampanga 3rd District representative, and his sister, Mica, entered the political scene for the first time as a provincial board member for the same legislative district.
Though he inherited the desire to become a public servant from his father, Gonzales says his decision to run was his own. “Hindi ako pinilit ng father ko (My father didn’t coerce me [into joining politics]). I was not forced, but I can say that I was inspired by him because ever since I was a child, my dad was already involved in politics. He became a board member in 2004. And then, 2007, he was elected congressman,” says Gonzales.
In his quest to serve, the civil engineer in him knows fully well the importance of building a solid foundation not anchored merely on his name, but on experience.
“If you look at it, being a councilor is one of the lowest positions in the local government [structure]. So, for me, councilor muna para mas matutunan ko ‘yung process kung paano [maging mahusay na lingkodbayan] (I ran for councilor first so that I could learn [how to be an effective public servant]),” Brenz explains.
Similarly, just as he was set to take over their family’s construction business after passing the Civil Engineer Licensure Examination in 2018 with a grade average of 84, he first gained on-the-ground experience as a site engineer for Megaworld Corporation’s luxury condominium project, Uptown Parksuites, in Taguig City. Afterward, he assumed the position of president and chief executive officer (CEO) of A.D. Gonzales Jr. Construction and Trading Co. Inc., which was built by his father. When Gonzales expressed his interest in running for city councilor in the 2019 elections, his father advised him to acquire exposure to government work first in order to get his feet wet. “Kinausap ako ng father ko, at sabi niya, ‘Brenz, kuha ka muna ng experience sa government para magka-idea ka kung paano ba ‘yung pagpapatakbo (My father talked to me, ‘Brenz, you should get some government experience first so that you’ll have an idea on how to run things),’” recalls Brenz, who then worked for his father as a political affairs officer at the House of Representatives from 2019 to 2021. “[Every congressman has] a chief of staff, and a sort of second chief of staff. [I was my father’s second chief of staff.] I was the one handling the meetings. Whenever he was away, I would attend committee hearings [on his behalf]. I would inspect and attend the launch of my father’s projects. I would talk to barangay officials,” explains the De La Salle University (DLSU) alumnus. “I gained plenty of experience managing people, talking to the public and barangay officials, and talking to agency heads. I [also] learned about public relations,” he adds. He also notes how his familiarity with legislation has significantly equipped him in fulfilling his responsibilities as a city councilor, which include enacting ordinances and approving resolutions for an effective city government.
PUTTING YOUTHFUL ZEAL TO GOOD USE
In the same manner, his emergence as topnotcher in the race for city council seats did not come as a matter of course. Seeing that he placed last in the first few surveys, he took to heart his father’s advice: “Kailangan mong magsipag [para pumasok ka sa top 12]. Kailangan mong magpakilala (You need to work harder [to break into the top 12]. You need to introduce yourself to people).” “So, as a newbie, as a neophyte, talagang nagpakitang-gilas ako (I had to show the people what I’ve got),” Gonzales shares, recalling how his father helped him and his sister visit all 35 barangays in the City of San Fernando to conduct meetings and hold caucuses. “In a span of three weeks, we were able to finish all barangay visits. We introduced ourselves, our background, and why we want to run. This was before the filing of [certificates of] candidacy. Gonzales saw his hard work pay off, as his ranking gradually rose from the bottom to the top five. Asked about what worked to his advantage, Gonzales, who was the youngest among the candidates for city councilor, says that it was likely his youth: “In the 45 days that I went around the town to campaign, lagi nilang sinasabi gusto nila bago naman, bata naman. Kasi ‘pag bata ka, mas agresibo sa buhay, tapos mas magilas, at syempre mas (they would always say that they want something new, someone young. Because if you’re young, you are more aggressive, more agile, and of course, more) innovative.” “I always say when people ask me why people prefer young politicians: It’s because we age every day, right? The world is evolving. There are so many new innovations, even the government uses new technology. Perhaps this is our way [to keep up with the times]—by trying young public servants.” The young councilor intends to showcase his fiery zeal and the zest of youth in his plans to help improve the Fernandinos’ access to healthcare services—the advocacy he says is closest to his heart—such as providing free medical checkups for senior citizens and persons with disability (PWDs); offering medical financial assistance to indigent residents; conducting monthly medical missions, something he has been actively taking part in even before the elections; and with the help of new City of San Fernando Mayor Vilma Caluag, setting up a free dialysis program in the city to address the increasing number of patients needing treatment for kidney failure. “We increase the [ability] of our constituents if we give them free checkups, free dental [care], free medications, free dialysis. Magagamit nila ‘yung pera nila sa ibang mga bagay na necessary to live life—pagkain, tubig, pambayad ng kuryente—imbis na pambibili pa ng gamot (They’ll be able to use their money for other things that are necessary to live life—food, water, payment for electricity— instead of using the money to buy medicine),” Gonzales emphasizes. A civil engineer by training, Gonzales believes that infrastructure should serve the needs of the people. His priorities include adding roads and rehabilitating existing ones to reduce traffic congestion and facilitate the flow of goods and services. He also intends, along with the mayor, to improve the drainage system and reduce flooding in the city. Additionally, he also wants to build infrastructure that will improve access to basic services for his constituents. He will file a resolution—in fulfillment of a campaign promise—establishing an annex campus of the Don Honorio Ventura State University (DHVSU) in San Fernando. He wants this campus to be located in the northern part of the city, where indigent residents are underserved by the existing city college, located in the southern part, due to difficulties in commuting. Believing that every Filipino deserves a decent home, Gonzales intends to file a resolution to rehabilitate Northville, a community of 11,000 beneficiaries of the National Housing Authority (NHA). He plans to work with the mayor and NHA to help improve the settlement, which has become cramped due to the number of people in the area. Finally, he wants his constituents to be able to talk to their representatives in the city council under better conditions. To resolve overcrowding at city hall, he plans to propose the construction of a legislative building to house the city’s councilors and the city council session hall, sparing both officials and constituents from the cramped confines under which they work presently. Beyond building schools, he also wants students to be able to study in those schools even when administrations change. To this end, he wants to institutionalize the city’s scholarship program, ensuring scholars retain their privileges for so long as they are qualified, even if there is a change in the political winds and a new administration is brought to power.
“Para ‘yung mga bata, meron silang peace of mind during the campaign na hindi porke’t eleksyon, baka maalis na ‘yung scholarship program. Dapat hindi natin dinadamay ‘yung mga bata sa pulitika (So that the children will have peace of mind and not worry about losing their scholarship after the elections. We should insulate children from politics),” Gonzales explains. The neophyte city councilor admits he has yet to learn how to balance his responsibilities as a politician and a contractor, while at the same time, allowing himself to enjoy his personal and family time. “Sometimes I focus on politics too much. Sometimes my business is relegated to the sidelines. But in time, I would be able to juggle and balance everything. And of course, I also need to give myself some time to rest and to enjoy,” he shares.
READY TO NAVIGATE THE LONG ROAD AHEAD
Even with the challenges, Gonzales does not fall short on motivation. He draws inspiration from his father, who has guided him consistently en route to his first taste of public service, and his late mother Elizabeth, who was among the casualties in the Resorts World Manila attack in 2017, where a lone gunman set the casino tables—and later on, himself—on fire. Turning sentimental, Gonzales recalls how he struggled to finish his studies five years ago after his mother died of suffocation. “Growing up, I was close to my mother. That’s why I get emotional telling the story. Then, after 2017, talagang mahirap (it was really difficult). She died in 2017 when I was still in school. And then, there’s the thesis and board exams. Then, instead of mourning the whole day, I told myself that I would just use her memory as inspiration so that she’ll be proud of me,” he says, adding: “You don’t move on eh. You never forget what happened [to you]; you just use it to be better. I just always think that maybe she’s very proud of me now with all that I have achieved.” The young councilor wants to establish his mark in public service, which he describes as a “sincere type of leadership” for the Fernandinos. He makes it a point to make his constituents feel his genuineness in the activities he takes part in, from extending financial assistance to visiting bereaved families, instead of merely politicking. “I don’t go there just for exposure… It’s a little cliché, but I really want them to feel my sincerity and passion. I want them to feel the love of Councilor Brenz Gonzales,” he says, adding how he would keep this in mind when preparing his speeches. With the long political road ahead of him, the young public official does not discount the possibility of aiming for higher office in the future. However, he insists that such is far from his mind at the moment, as he is focusing on fulfilling the promises he made to the Fernandinos. “Sa aking three years na mandate, bibigyan ko sila ng tapat, ‘yung tunay at sincere brand of leadership, ‘yung tama at wastong pagpapatakbo sa gobyerno (In the three years mandated to me, I will give them a true and sincere brand of leadership, an honest and rightful governance),” he vows. For now, the engineer will keep laying the groundwork to be the “best public servant” he can be—that which he did not simply inherit, but earned. “I want to be successful in life. I want to be the best public servant [I could be], someone deserving [of the position],” he declares. “I know that the time will come when I’ll be able to prove my worth.” “I always say when people ask me why people prefer young politicians: It’s because we age ever y day, right? The world is evolving. There are so many new innovations, even the government uses new technology. Perhaps this is our way [to k eep up with the times]—by trying young public servants.”