A TRANSFORMATIVE AND COLLABORATIVE LEADERSHIP
Masantol, Pampanga Mayor Ton Ton Bustos is paving the way for a new generation of public servants in his hometown.
By Ryan Lao
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROMEO S. PERALTA, JR.
As we face the uncertainties that come with the new normal and the challenges brought about by economic
hardships, a leader with a firm determination, clear vision, and transformative leadership style is a must. Indeed, a man with a comprehensive awareness of the context and landscape of his beloved town, infused with the blood of altruistic public service and dynamic strategic approaches, is an imperative.
The above were clearly the very reasons why the people of Masantol chose Jose Antonio “Ton Ton” C. Bustos to be their new local chief executive. Elected at the age of 21, Bustos holds the distinction of being the youngest mayor in the Philippines today.
A new form of governance that is determined, collaborative, and empowering. These are the qualities of
governance mentioned in the core of Bustos’ inaugural address as he assumed office on June 30, 2022. After being sworn into office, Bustos eloquently said, “Ours is a participative local governance where people are empowered to collaborate with the local government. Ours is a transformative leadership where no one is left behind. Ours is a brand of governance where utmost efficiency, accountability, and transparency shall elevate the lives of our people.”
In his first 100 days in office, Bustos endeavored to set the definite path for “Bayung Masantol,” all through his brand of transformative and collaborative local governance geared toward the realization of his aspiration for the people of Masantol—young and old, women and children, the fisherfolks, the unemployed.
The young leader started by initiating reforms in the bureaucratic process of the municipal government and mainstreaming empirically based policy measures and prompt
“We embody Bayung Masantol as a home for everyone, isang tahanang ligtas, matatag at panatag (a home that is safe, stable, and peaceful). We want to ensure that every Masantoleno is taken care of and given the ultimate opportunities in life. Sanlibo man ang aking buhay, sanlibo ring ibibigay para sa bayan (Should I be given a thousand lives, I shall devote these a thousand times to our beloved people and Bayung Masantol),” Bustos underscores.
DETERMINED AT A YOUNG AGE
At the tender age of eight, Bustos was already firm in his aspiration to serve the people of Masantol. “My hope and prayer, my dream to serve the people of Masantol, began when I was still eight years old.
My memory is very clear, even then, I already wanted to be of service to our kababayans (townmates) and do something to improve their lives,” he shares. Bustos’ big childhood dream and aspiration never faded through the years. He remembers that whenever he was asked by his father, now PATROL Party-list Representative Jorge “PATROL” Bustos, his family, and friends, “Anong gusto mo paglaki mo (What do you want to be when you grow up)?” he would always answer, “Gusto ko pong maging mayor ng Masantol para matulungan ko ang mahihirap at ang mga walang ibang maasahan. (I want to be mayor of Masantol
to help the poor and the underprivileged and free them from the shackles of poverty and other difficulties in life).”
Bustos vividly recalls that when he was young, people would refer to him as “‘yoong batang cute na gustong maging mayor (the cute little boy who wants to be mayor)” and could not believe that several years after, by divine intervention and the people’s will, he will indeed lead Masantol as town mayor.
The leadership abilities and people-centered attributes Bustos now have were harnessed early on, during his elementary years. He became president of various school organizations, student council president, and later on, associate editor of their school paper. He actively participated in extracurricular activities, especially those that served as a means to serve his fellow students and the community. While busy performing his tasks as a school leader, the young Bustos, who had a passion for taking photos, was also the school paper’s head photojournalist. He shares, “Taking pictures of people and places makes
us closer to one another. Photos tell us the people’s narrative. They give lessons, create memories, and enable us to see the beauty of life.” Bustos’ concern for holistic physical development was also
evident even at a young age. As a young student, he loved basketball. He would devote much of his free
time playing basketball in and out of school as he believed that a healthy mind goes with a healthy body.
ALTRUISM AND LOVE FOR THE PEOPLE
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bustos had to take charge of PATROL Party-List Youth Sector as its national chairperson, Congressman Bustos, was preoccupied with the very demanding response efforts across the country. As the pandemic severely impacted many of his kababayans, the younger Bustos decided to focus his efforts in Masantol and realize specific programs to provide assistance to them. Believing in the spirit of bayanihan and volunteerism, Bustos gathered people from different sectors of the community to help in relief efforts. He ignited the sense of malasakit among the youth and other leaders and organized the distribution of face masks, face shields. They also brought family food packs to the very doorstep of every Masantoleno and went to every barangay to bring bags of rice and trays of eggs to alleviate the people’s situation. There were also instances when the hands-on mayor would personally assist and call hospitals to provide assistance to COVID-19 patients and their relatives. He completely empathized with them as he encountered people crying for not being able to access medical help they most needed. Exposed to and cognizant of the people’s plight and dire need for a new brand of local governance, Bustos heard the clarion call to offer himself in public service. As he filed his certificate of candidacy for the May 2022 elections, he stressed, “We need leaders who walk with their people, leaders who will not disappoint nor fail the people.” With Bustos’ monumental decision to run, overwhelming
support flowed in from the 26 component barangays of Masantol. Young and old, rich and poor, the people expressed their full support for the young leader who epitomizes public service and accountability in governance.
Though the campaign was mired with criticism questioning his capabilities owing to his age and relative lack of public service experience, Bustos believes that the people saw his sincerity as he went around to talk to the people. He modestly claims, “I may not possess long years of public service experience, but what I offer is a heart which truly cares and hears our people’s sentiments.”
As more and more people came to know Bustos, the “Anak Ning Masantol” phenomenon brought hope to the whole town and eventually resulted in his victory at the polls. “Our victory is the victory of the people of Masantol who long for change and betterment of their lives. We will never waiver. We will never abandon our people’s aspiration. Ipaparamdam po natin sa puso at isipan ng ating mga kababayan ang isang pamamahalang may malasakit sa taong bayan (We will let them feel deep within our brand of governance that is one with the people).”
SERVANT WITH A CLEAR DIRECTION
As Bustos continues to master the different aspects of local governance, he prioritizes the realization of basic government services and focuses on social service programs and initiatives by providing economic, medical, hospital, and educational assistance. In addition, he also puts a premium on disaster response and mitigation, climate adaptation, and massive infrastructure development.
Among the mayors’ achievements in his first six months in office is the monumental First Flood Summit, involving different stakeholders from national and local government agencies and instrumentalities, in order to address the prolonged and persistent challenges brought about by flooding in Masantol. He also ensured the construction of many pathways, rehabilitation of flood control gates, installation of streetlights, and renovation of various LGU facilities such as covered courts, schools, streets, and the public market. Bustos underscores, “Our strong linkages and networks with the provincial and national government and other sectors of our society enable us to realize our urgent projects for the people of Masantol.” As he gives prime consideration to transformative and collaborative governance, Bustos engages with various civil society organizations, barangay chairpersons and their councils, Sangguniang Kabataan leaders, church and religious groups, as well as national government officials. He stresses, “The maladies and failures of the past and the challenges of the present need a whole-of-nation approach. We cannot do these alone. It is clearly important for the government to work hand in hand with our people.” Guided by the above, Bustos gives top importance to involving all stakeholders in various consultative discussions. Prior to deciding on the direction to take, he also gives gravity to science-based explanations, to culture and history, as well as to the opinions and thoughts of the town’s elders and previous leaders. “Borne out of our respect and regard for our elders and those who have rendered public service before us, we involve them in decision making. I may have all the noble intentions and new ideas, but I believe that I do not have the monopoly of knowledge about solutions to our problems. That is why we want everyone to be part of our action. After all, we are One Bayung Masantol,” he emphasizes. Bustos strongly embraces the belief that a performing and excellent local chief executive has to work closely with the local legislature. With this, he works passionately and always in consideration of the members of the Sangguniang Bayan ng Masantol. As he fondly says, “Kakambal natin ang Sanggunian sa pagpapatupad ng kung ano ang nararapat para sa bayan (We are one with the municipal council in implementing what is best for our town).”
EQUIPPED YET HUMBLE
As a young local chief executive, Bustos admits sometimes feeling pressured as he works amidst veteran municipal and provincial officials. “Of course, pressure is always there because we want to deliver and to deliver something new. But far more than this, the gravitas of pressure comes as to whether or not our people’s lives are positively changed or have become better because of us.” Bustos declares that he is no longer afraid of those who doubt his ability or even prejudge his actions because of his youthful age. He is humbly convinced that he has surpassed his “baptism of fire,” and has proven wrong those who have previously opined that he would just be manipulated by others and could not make independent decisions. “We have surpassed that big challenge. What matters now is how we translate our election promises into reality. Our people have chosen me to lead them, and I shall lead them to greater heights,” he declares. Amidst some lingering criticisms, the confident young leader states: “It does not matter whether or not the glass is half-full or half-empty. What matters is we have the glass. For that alone, we are grateful. The opportunity to serve our people is a huge social responsibility and moral imperative entrusted to me. By divine guidance, with gratitude in my heart, I shall serve.”
A MAN FOR THE YOUTH AND FOR ALL OTHERS
Bustos emphasizes that as he works to steer Masantol to greater heights, he is now a man for the youth and for all others. He is determined to ignite the needed change in his beloved hometown and to render quality public service that will leave a lasting impact on the lives of all Masantolenos, regardless of political affiliation. He adds, “I even instructed our municipal engineer that the municipal hall be painted white. There should be no blue, or any other color that will make people recall political divisions that became evident during the recent elections.”
The youngest mayor in the country today believes that good local governance includes investing in the education of the young people. “We must endeavor to provide quality education for every youth in Masantol. It is only through quality education that we can give our young people the leverage and the courage to surmount the challenges brought about by poverty.” Bustos also echoes that environmental protection efforts and safeguarding the right of the people to a healthful and balanced ecology is not just a constitutional right but also an intergenerational responsibility. He is also convinced that proper attention should be given to providing basic social and health services to every Masantoleno, propelling infrastructure and economic development, protecting the environment, and espousing climate justice. His earnest advocacy for environmental protection and climate resiliency is now included in the Masantol Executive-Legislative Agenda (ELA) and in the many local plans such as the town’s Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) and the Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan (LDRRM Plan). He maintains that “The heart and soul of our aspiration towards transformative and collaborative leadership is social justice. Adulation and awards are only secondary, the litmus test of our public service is when we are able to live up to the principle of having public welfare as the paramount consideration.”
OTHERS ABOVE SELF
Bustos adheres to the principle of always going beyond oneself in every aspect of what one does. This is evident in the manner by which he leads the local government officials of Masantol. Many employees following his leadership and dedication to duty now also practice his habit of coming to the office as early as seven o’clock in the morning and leaving beyond office hours, in order to give Masantolenos the services they need. Because they treat everyone as family. Asked whether he is already contemplating on having a family of his own, Bustos says, “Ang love life ko ngayon ay ang Bayang Masantol. (My love life presently revolves around Masantol.) In everything that I do, I always keep in mind: All for Masantol.”