A NOVEL WAY OF LEADERSHIP
Despite being a new member of the House of Representatives, Congressman Cheeno Miguel Almario takes satisfaction in the work he has been performing.
By James Steven Batucan
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANDREW BASTES
The SIM Card Law, according to one of its main proponents, will help the Philippines’ standards in information technology catch up with those of the rest of the world.
Filipinos can now hope to be protected from crimes perpetrated through the use of unregulated subscriber identity module (SIM) cards as legislators made way for the passage of Republic Act (RA) 11934, or the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) Card Registration Act.
Congressman Cheeno Miguel Almario of the 2nd District of Davao Oriental is new to the House of Representatives, but he prides himself in what he has been doing, especially since he is one of the principal authors of the abovementioned law.
RA 11934 mandates that direct sellers and telecommunications companies (telcos) demand legitimate identification documents before selling SIM cards. Existing SIM card holders must register with their respective telcos within a specific time or face the consequence of having their SIM cards deactivated. Telecommunications companies are required to maintain records of subscriber SIM cards. They are required to submit a list of all nationwide authorized dealers and agents quarterly to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).
Athough received positively by many, the law raises concerns among human rights advocacy groups. Leaders of such groups say that although they understand the concerns about online scams, they are worried that the data privacy of citizens will be compromised, as SIM card registration entails sharing private information.
Almario understands the privacy concerns of these progressive organizations. According to him, however, the government prioritizes the safety of its citizens. “There are provisions of the law that protect citizens and their private information from being used without their consent,” he guarantees, adding that the National Privacy Commission’s (NPC) input was taken into account to further protect the privacy of citizens.
As one of the law’s principal authors, Almario believes that the SIM Card Registration Act addresses the security risk posed by unknown phone numbers in the current system. “We can also see that in the current setup, some SIM cards are used as numbers to extract information from unsuspecting citizens,” he laments.
In other nations, especially in developed countries, the registration of a citizen’s SIM card with his or her national ID has historically reduced the use of fraudulent numbers for criminal or fraudulent acts, Almario says. After the full implementation of the law, the government and its law enforcement agencies will be able to immediately determine to whom or what entity any numbers used in criminal or fraudulent activity is registered.
Along with Almario, House Speaker Martin Romualdez and Representatives Sandro Marcos, Jude Acidre, and Yedda Romualdez are some of the principal authors of the law. He considers it as a major contribution to the Philippine government’s effort to protect citizens from fraudulent acts perpetrated through phone calls and text messages. He hopes that the 105 other bills he has authored and co-authored will similarly be enacted soon.
As someone who grew up fascinated by the wonders of technology since the early days of Windows 95 and 98, Almario advocates for and believes that the growth of technology is something that the Philippines needs.
ACHIEVEMENTS IN PUBLIC SERVICE
The 30-year-old congressman is currently the vice chairman of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Committee in the Lower House, and he advocates raising the Philippines’ standards to be at par with those of the rest of the world. He thinks that the communication sector, in particular, can use information technology to bring people who are apart closer together.
“We were able to see this in full swing during the pandemic, wherein people would resort to video calls, and students would learn through Zoom and [other platforms]. There was no more apt time to use technology than during the height of the pandemic from when students had purely online classes, up to when schools transitioned to blended learning. It is important to bring the Philippines up to world standards [in the field of telecommunications] as it will really help improve the quality of life of Filipinos. That’s what we’re trying to do now,” he adds.
Almario is extremely proud of his accomplishments from the time when he was still a councilor in the City of Mati, in addition to the bills and programs that he has filed in Congress. One of them is the expanded Asenso Sa Edukasyon Scholarship Program, an ordinance he authored that shows how inventive laws can be used to benefit specific beneficiary groups or sectors.
In the above program, the local government gives an additional amount of scholarship assistance to students who enroll in courses whose graduates could help fill up human resource requirements for specific localities. “For example, if you are lacking in engineers in your city, then we add an additional scholarship fund for students taking engineering courses so that at least it fills the void [caused by a mismatch between available manpower and job openings]. So that was one of my proudest moments in public service as a legislator,” he adds, as he recalls the project. Almario believes that the Asenso Sa Edukasyon Scholarship Program that they institutionalized through an ordinance is something that, if replicated by other local government units, would be very beneficial because different areas can specialize in different fields, depending on employment opportunities. “Specific to the area, you may have people that can specialize in engineering, nursing, medicine, and other professions. If that particular ordinance is replicated, then we would have very good employment rates all across the nation,” he adds.
He says that something that started on a small scale, if replicated nationwide and hopefully becomes successful in other localities as well, would ultimately be very beneficial to the whole country.
Almario describes himself as having a “new type” of leadership style as a legislator. He believes that this may sound vague because we are used to a traditional set of values when it comes to politics and leadership, but his kind attempts to provide an inclusive one. A salient part of this is being part of the solution, not just using the solution. On a typical day, he would be with his staff and also talk to people on the streets. The congressman also likes
being in the moment, which is something he was used to doing when he was still a private citizen and which he later brought to his job as a congressman.
Almario shares that he likes to be with the people, to know first-hand how things are, how people feel, so that he could fine-tune the services he offers in response to what they need. It is through this that he is able to interact with people who need the help of the government, to be able to help them directly, and to see the benefits of projects he has
initiated. On the other hand, he finds each day at the office as a memorable experience because that’s where he is also able to gauge what public service really means; how rewarding it is. Challenges are part of the congressman’s daily life, but he considers politics a major problem. For him, public service is different from politics because anyone can have the opportunity to serve, but not everyone can give the kind of public service that the people need. He believes that if you put politics into public service, things become less dynamic. “Resistance will arise, regardless of how good a program’s objective is, no matter
how good your intentions are. For example, no matter how much I would want a program to benefit students deserving of scholarships to be implemented, when other politicians would rather channel resources to other projects, that becomes disappointing and challenging. I welcome such challenges, nonetheless, as they also help me find creative ways to implement the programs that I wish to bring forth to our constituency,” adds the congressman.
LEGACY IN THE MAKING
Almario comes from a prominent political family that has produced leaders for generations. His grandmother, Thelma Z. Almario, served the people for a total of 34 years as mayor of Mati, vice governor of Davao Oriental, and congresswoman of the 2nd District of Davao Oriental. His father, Joel Mayo Z. Almario, is a former vice governor of Davao Oriental and
a former congressman with over 24 years of public service experience. “Growing up, I was exposed to my dad’s work because he would involve the family in outreach programs. For example, if the congressional district had a feeding program, we would be the ones to scoop the food and give it to the people.” Almario also recalls going around town with his father, with his dad pointing out projects he had spearheaded and explaining how these benefit the people. This kind of experience inspired him to try to reach out to the people.
The kind of exposure he had early on prepared Almario for what he had to face later on as a member of a political family, which includes interacting with the people and getting to know their concerns and needs. This also prepared him for the adjustments he had to make from time to time. “Coming from a political family also comes with so much pressure because
people expect you to live up to the achievements of and to follow the path that your predecessors laid out for you,” says Almario.
With deep ancestral roots, Almario is also related by blood to the late Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez, who served as the Philippines’ second-highest elected official from 1961 to 1965. “I learned that the mother’s side of my grandfather is Pelaez; apparently, we are directly related to the former vice president. It’s a lineage I can be proud of,” he adds.
Although he descends from a prominent political family, he never intended to enter public service. After earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Marketing
Management degree from Far Eastern University, he joined Magic, Inc. as training director, where he proved his mettle as a leader.
Almario’s father would visit him almost every day after his work shift and try to persuade him to run for public office and use his leadership abilities to help more people. His father advised him to consider it as a way to express gratitude to the people for everything they have done for them, as well as for the support and loyalty they have shown. He initially refused the offer, but eventually gave in to the call of duty. Almario ran for office as Mati City councilor in 2019 and ultimately captured the people’s votes just as he had previously captured their hearts. He later entered and won the race to represent Davao Oriental’s 2nd District in Congress. “Four years later, here we are. I started out in 2019 and then I slowly grew to like what I was doing. As city councilor, there were things that I liked, things that were rewarding. I grew to love the job, so I stayed on in the field of public service,” he
Almario believes that life is short, but one’s political life is even shorter. As a congressman, one has only three years to render service before running for re-election or election to another position. Hence, everything is temporary in nature, which means that the things that he does, the projects that he launches, and the programs that they try to institutionalize are also temporary as well. So he is making the most out of the opportunity to serve the people of the 2nd District of Davao Oriental.
The neophyte congressman is firm in his conviction that he is doing the right thing as a public servant, and does not regret anything, including leaving the corporate world to serve the people. According to him, what is most important is the constituency that he serves, as they don’t seem to see how really important they are to him and his fellow public servants. Because without a constituency, there is no leader either. “You look at what’s best to do next so at least you can also improve your life and the lives of others. It is more about just being kind; being a neighbor to others. It really boils down to that simple idea. When everybody keeps that in mind and lives by it, then everything will eventually be better for
everyone. It may be simple, it may be cliché, but it is really what’s needed,” Almario adds. Asked about his message to his constituents, Almario answers with his tagline: “Ang inyong amigo sa tanan maging cheeno ka man (Cheeno is your friend regardless of who you