A Striving Pioneer in Public Service and Governance
BY ROSY MINA
MAYOR ART MERCADO USHERS IN A NEW BEGINNING WITH GREATER HEIGHTS FOR SAN PEDRO CITY, LAGUNA.
For decades, the mayor of the City of San Pedro in Laguna just came from two clans, until a new political name emerged in Art Joseph Francis Mercado
“Mayor Art,” as he is popularly called, considers his breakthrough victory in May 2022 as the most memorable moment in his political career because of the odds that he had to overcome.
Getting into public service was never part of the plan, as he was focused on continuing his family’s business and having his own family.
He simply tried his hand in politics after a family friend, Barangay San Antonio Chairperson Jun Ynion, invited him to run for councilor.
“With the support of my family, especially my wife, I ran and won. And the rest is history,” he says.
After serving as councilor for one term and vice mayor for a single term, the 33-year-old is now at the helm of San Pedro City with a brand of leadership that promotes inclusivity, development, and excellence.
He explains that the ‘Art Mercado brand of governance’ is aimed at providing realistic, long-term, and sustainable policies and programs that may address the current and future challenges to be encountered by the city.
“It also includes cooperation and transparency as its foundation to build trust between the city government and the residents, and pursue a shared goal to build a new and better city of San Pedro,” he adds.
“WE REALLY DID NOT EXPECT TO WIN BY SUCH A LARGE MARGIN. MY ONLY PRAYER AT THAT TIME WAS TO SERVE THE PEOPLE, AND GIVE EVERYONE A NEW BEGINNING. BECAUSE THERE WERE ONLY TWO FAMILIES FIGHTING FOR THE MAYORSHIP HERE FOR THE PAST 50 YEARS.”
A PURVEYOR OF GOOD EDUCATION
“Una sa Laguna (First in Laguna)” is the slogan of San Pedro City, and Mercado is proud to share that his education-related project of providing free school bags and school supplies to all students has become a first in the province of Laguna.
He beams that all students from kindergarten through senior high school, from public and private schools, became project beneficiaries, and he hopes that other Laguna cities can replicate this initiative so that there will no longer be children without bags or school supplies.
Education has been one of Mercado’s advocacies as a public servant, and he believes what the elders say: that it is the only thing that parents can pass on to their children that can never be taken away from them.
“And I really believe that education is a key that can open doors to the success of every child,” he adds.
Because of this, there is a plan to launch the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng San Pedro next year to provide constituents with more educational opportunities.
BIG GOALS FOR THE CITY
Agritourism is another area of focus for Mercado, as the city government is reviving the sampaguita industry to give livelihood to his residents and provide products to also increase tourism in their city.
San Pedro is known as the capital of the Philippine national flower, with an annual Sampaguita Festival to boot. Promoting the local economy is the number one target for Mercado as an economist.
Mercado notes that healthcare is another priority; a public hospital is in the works and will hopefully open within two years to provide free health services to constituents, especially indigents.
He really wants to address the city’s water supply and flooding problems, and admits that they need time, resources, and long-term solutions.
“We are in the process of reviewing our Land Use and Urban Development Plan. We are also in communication with different water service concessionaires to ensure that there will be an adequate water supply for our residents,” Mercado explains.
He also wishes to make San Pedro a business-friendly city by attracting investors. Mercado wants his constituents to work in their city, so and not go far to find jobs.
Ultimately, Mercado hopes for San Pedro to be a globally recognized Smart City by 2032.
“Yes, it is a grand dream, but this will serve as an inspiration and a challenge for every one of us to strive harder and be better every day,” he comments.
He explains that their brand logo, “Una Sa Laguna,” speaks of what they want to happen. They aspire to be the first in everything in Laguna; that’s why they want to give the best services to the people of San Pedro and make it the number one city in the province.
A FAMILY MAN AT THE CORE
With all his achievements, ongoing projects, and promising plans, what keeps Mercado going?
“My wife and kids inspire me to work harder and to be a better leader. My dream is to have a better world for my kids to grow up in, and if I can do something about it, I will take every opportunity I can,” Mercado shares.
The father of two continues, “I’m sure every parent would want that for their family. At the end of the day, I am first and foremost a husband and a father.”
Coming from a close-knit clan, Mercado values the importance of family by nurturing his familial ties. And he has brought with him his family-oriented nature to politics, citing that he considers the success of his free school bags and school supplies project as among his proudest moments as a public servant.
“The look on the faces of kids is priceless. I pray it will inspire them to study harder and strive for a better future for their future families. I pray, too, that they can also help their parents, just like my wife and I try to provide everything for our kids,” Mercado shares.
Despite the daunting and demanding task of being mayor, Mercado holds on to his mission of helping make the world a better place for his children.
“I really look forward to making a difference not just in our city but also in the world. I want them to grow up in a country or world where they can be themselves. I want to make sure that they are safe and happy,” he says about his dream for his children.
He continues, “Maybe that is why I am in public service now—because through this, I can [help] change the world for my children.”
PURPOSEFUL SERVICE TO THE PUBLIC
With his hands full in his first term as mayor, Mercado is not too keen on discussing his political plans.
“I believe na si God lang ang nakakaalam kung saan Niya tayo ilalagay (I believe that only God knows where He wants us to be). To be honest, being a politician was not even in my plan; hindi ko rin siya pinangarap (I also did not dream of it). I believe na nilagay Niya lang ako rito (that He also just put me here) to serve my purpose—to serve the people. And to serve the people is to serve God,” the young mayor states.
Whether he gets to serve for one, two, or three terms, what is essential is Mercado’s unrelenting desire to serve his constituents. He says, “Seeing them happy will make you fall in love every day with public service. You may not be perfect, but still, some constituents will appreciate all your efforts and make sure that they will support you all the way.”
“I BELIEVE, IT’S ABOUT TIME TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE. BEING PART OF THE GOVERNMENT, AS A PUBLIC SERVANT, THIS IS WHAT I CAN SAY IS MEMORABLE. THIS IS SUCH A BIG BLESSING THAT EVERY DAY I STILL CANNOT FATHOM.”
As he continues to work for the betterment of the city, he envisions a prosperous San Pedro where there is complete and efficient provision of social services and everyone has jobs or a livelihood. He has always wanted to transform their city into a more progressive place.
THE CALL FOR POSITIVITY AND COOPERATION
For Mercado, doing public service work, however, is not always rosy and sunny as critics and haters try to spread falsehoods and bring about discouragement.
“The biggest challenge for any public servant is ‘quieting the noise,’” he states.
According to Mercado, this very challenge allowed him to gain selfcontrol and learn how to focus on the very reasons why he is the mayor of the city. He says that the challenge allows him to pray harder as he asks for God’s wisdom to focus on why he had been placed in the position.
He says that he doesn’t get upset by criticism because he sees it as a normal part of democracy.
“I focus my energy on being better and listening to the needs of the people. Their complaints make us better than before,” Mercado declares.
The youthful mayor also believes in the importance of unity, cooperation, and collaboration, which is why he chooses to use positivity when responding to negativity.
“As a Christian, always love your neighbor. No matter what they do to you or what they say or say against you, love them,” he points out.
Mercado explains that he never responds to any political mudslinging or any form of trolling from his political opponents and will continue to do so. This is because he believes that at the end of the day, compassion and love are the keys to having a peaceful and happy life.
He then enjoins his constituents to join in his call for patience, harmony, and solidarity to make San Pedro the foremost city in Laguna. Mercado believes that nothing will be impossible if they unite and help each other to achieve their goal.
“Promise namin, unti-unti niyo pong mararamdaman ‘yung pagbabago dito sa ating lungsod. As long as magtulungan po tayo, magkaisa tayo, magmahalan po tayo para ang Lungsod ng San Pedro ay talagang tayo ang magiging tunay na Una sa Laguna (We promise that you will gradually feel the changes here in our city. This, as long as we help each other, unite, and love one another so that the City of San Pedro will really and truly be the First in Laguna),” Mercado assures.