A Pillar of Dignified Public Service
BY GODFREY T. DANCEL
I will give the best service that I can give to the people that I serve.” This is the guiding principle that has shaped the kind of service Quezon City 6th District Congresswoman Ma. Victoria “Marivic” Co-Pilar has given her constituents through her almost three decades of public service. Through those years, she has lived up to the tagline Marangal na Paglilingkod (Dignified Public Service), being a dignified leader doing her best to give back to her constituents.
“Yung marangal na pinuno, pinagpipitaganan hindi lamang dahil sa kaniyang posisyon kung hindi dahil sa kaniyang mga nagawa at kontribusyon sa lipunan. Pinili ko yung Marangal na Paglilingkod dahil 'yun ang gusto kong ibigay na serbisyo sa tao, hindi lang basta-bastang serbisyo lang. Gusto kong ibigay yung pinakamarangal o pinakamabuting paglilingkod na maibibigay ko sa aking mga kadistrito. (A leader is looked up to not just because of their position but their projects and contributions to society. I chose Dignified Public Service because that is the kind of service I want to give the people that I serve. I want to give them the best service that I can give.)”
Co-Pilar became the top kagawad (councilwoman) of Barangay Pasong Tamo, Quezon City, in 1994. By then the 19-year-old neophyte community leader was still studying Legal Management at De La Salle University.
Joining politics was not really in Co-Pilar’s plans. “I did not expect to be a public servant since all my family members were in business,” she reveals. “Up to now, I am the only one in the [Co] family who is in public service.”
The well-loved leader points to an event that lit the flame of wanting to carry on in the field of public service in her. She recalls a demolition operation in Pasong Tamo where affected residents fiercely fought for their right to keep their houses. Despite the residents’ efforts to stop the demolition team and their police escorts, they lost their houses.
“There was this child tugging at his mother’s skirt,” CoPilar recalls, “asking her whether he will be able to go to school the next day, where they will spend the night, what they will do as they had lost their house. The child’s father, crying in desperation, was hitting a tree with his bolo knife. At that moment, I knew that I needed to do something to help them and people like them,” she relates.
The young leader went on to become Pasong Tamo’s youngest barangay chairperson, holding the position for three terms spanning 13 years. With her reputation as a grounded leader who delivers on her promises, Co-Pilar made it to the city council as one of the district’s councilors.
Simultaneous with her early years as public servant, she continued to pursue her education. After finishing her degree in Legal Management, she took up Public Administration at the University of the Philippines Diliman and Law at the San Sebastian College Institute of Law. Mixing theory with actual practice, Co-Pilar became even more adept at local administration and legislation.
SIMULTANEOUS WITH HER EARLY YEARS AS PUBLIC SERVANT, CO-PILAR CONTINUED TO PURSUE HER EDUCATION. MIXING THEORY WITH ACTUAL PRACTICE, SHE BECAME EVEN MORE ADEPT AT LOCAL ADMINISTRATION AND LEGISLATION.
FROM LOCAL TO NATIONAL
With her second term as councilor about to end in 2022, an opportunity to serve her district in another capacity came about. The congressional seat was to be vacated by the termlimited Congressman Jose Christopher “Kit” Belmonte.
The same desire to bring about relevant change—this time not just to her district constituents but even to similarly situated communities in other parts of the country—led CoPilar to join the congressional race in Quezon City’s thirdmost populous district. Although pitted against two former members of Congress, both with deep political roots, Co-Pilar knew she stood a real chance of making it to Batasan. After all, her exemplary record of public service was her main campaign material.
In the end, the grateful electorate of the district chose CoPilar to represent them in the 19th Congress. Hers is a clear mandate, having garnered 60 percent of the votes cast.
The neophyte congresswoman points to two factors that somewhat affected her transition from being a local lawmaker to national legislator. First, there is a big difference in the size of the QC Council and Congress. With over 300 members, the latter is almost nine times bigger than the QC Council. “It takes time to familiarize myself with the other members, get to know them [and their style of working],” Co-Pilar shares. Second, the lawmaking process at the national level is much more complicated and takes a longer time compared to local legislation. For instance, deliberations take much longer, approved bills have to be elevated to the Senate, and bicameral meetings have to be done in case of differences in the two chambers’ approved versions.
LIVING UP TO EXPECTATIONS
Despite the above, however, Co-Pilar has lived up to expectations. In her first year as congresswoman, she became involved in 139 legislative measures, with 129 as principal author. These cover 103 bills of national importance, 24 bills of local importance, and 12 resolutions.
House Bill (HB) 6608, of which she was a principal author, has been enacted into law as Republic Act (RA) No. 11954 or the Maharlika Investment Fund Act. More of her co-authored bills are expected to be signed into law soon.
Among the bills she has filed and considers closest to her heart are those relating to disaster resilience, cancer treatment and research; care for the elderly; and provision of affordable housing.
HB 2803, or the proposed Department of Disaster Resilience Act, aims to establish a department that will take the lead in mobilization and intervention during times of disaster. The bill puts forward a comprehensive framework for disaster management, which includes the use of modern technology to forecast disasters and help the people to prepare for such. Said framework involves holistic and properly coordinated intervention by the national government, local government units, local communities, and the private sector.
“Dapat, upgraded na 'yung ating mga kagamitan sa pag-monitor at pagtugon sa mga disaster tulad ng bagyo at pagbaha. At naniniwala ako na kaya na natin ngayon (We need upgraded facilities for monitoring and responding to disasters like typhoons and flooding. And I believe that we are capable of such right now),” she declares.
HB 2802 or the National Cancer Research Institute of the Philippines Bill seeks to create the National Cancer Research and Treatment Institute of the Philippines, which shall construct, maintain, and operate specialized institutions meant for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer as well as the care and rehabilitation of cancer patients. Said institution shall also promote medical and scientific research with regard to the prevention and treatment of cancer, as well as assist higher education institutions, hospitals, and research institutions in their studies related to cancer.
“This bill is close to my heart because my father died of cancer, and I am a cancer survivor,” Co-Pilar reveals. She points to the growing number of cancer cases and the inability of ordinary citizens to afford treatment. “Many cancer patients aren’t able to get the treatment they deserve. They do not seek treatment because of lack of finances. Hospitals even turn them away. Meanwhile, if we have hospitals that could accommodate them, they will be taken care of and given a new lease on life.”
Meanwhile, HB 7448 or the proposed Senior Citizen Care Act aims to provide proper care for another vulnerable sector of society. Co-Pilar points to an inevitable fact: All of us are going to get old and we will need the assistance of and proper care, not only from our family members but also from the community and all levels of government.
The bill, in general, seeks to promote the physical, mental, emotional, and social wellbeing of senior citizens and to ensure their protection and safety. It provides for, among others, programs to reconnect abandoned, neglected, frail, abused, or exploited senior citizens with their nearest relatives; establishment of a nursing home for abandoned and homeless senior citizens in every municipality or city; and the establishment of community care facilities manned by volunteers. The nursing homes and community care centers shall provide those under their care with basic needs, like comfortable living quarters, adequate and nutritious food, health care, as well as recreation activities, counselling, literacy education, and cultural activities.
A staunch advocate of providing Filipinos affordable yet decent housing, Co-Pilar has filed a number of pertinent bills. Among these are HB 1238 and HB 05.
HB 1238 or the Rental Housing Subsidy Program Bill aims to provide informal settler families (ISF) social protection and support in accessing the formal housing market. This option shall be made available for ISFs displaced by natural or man-made disasters. Eligible ISFs will receive a rental subsidy, the rate of which shall be determined by the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD) and the National and Economic Development Authority (NEDA) after considering the prevailing minimum wage and rental rates.
Meanwhile, HB 05 seeks to amend RA 7279 or the Urban Development and Housing Act, providing for a clear local government unit-led resettlement program for ISFs. Under said bill, off-city resettlement shall be resorted to only when on-site, in-city, or near-city relocation is not feasible. Proper consultation prior to relocation and provision of livelihood opportunities as well as other social services shall also be made mandatory.
The vice chairperson of the House Committee on Housing and Urban Development is confident that the two measures, once enacted into law, will help solve the country’s housing problem.
In all, the above-mentioned bills and Co-Pilar’s other legislative measures seek to provide Filipinos with opportunities to enjoy a life of safety and dignity.
Complementing Co-Pilar’s legislative efforts are her various projects in her district.
In her first year as congresswoman, she was able to allocate almost Php1.5 billion in infrastructure projects. This amount covers the rehabilitation of more than 100 kilometers of roads, erection of 17 multi-purpose buildings to house disaster operation centers, construction of five major flood control structures, and a housing project in Barangay Baesa.
Opening this year is the district’s first madrasah or school for Muslim learners. The learning center will offer specialized curricula from memorizing the Qur’an through reading, reciting, and writing; up to higher studies in Islamic theology.
Soon to rise in Barangay Sauyo is the 6th District’s first Kabahagi Center for Children with Disability. The center will provide free healthcare, empowerment and livelihood services for children with disability. Their family members will also benefit through hands-on therapy training, community engagement activities as well as livelihood and skills training. The project is part of Co-Pilar’s efforts to help provide persons with disability equal access to opportunities, rights, and privileges as other Filipinos, in line with the vision of Quezon City being a place where inclusivity, sustainability, empowerment, and people participation are a way of life.
The congresswoman’s biggest infrastructure project so far is the Tandang Sora Hospital and Medical Center, which is envisioned to be a premier hospital providing state of the art medical care not only to residents of the 6th District but for all QCitizens.
Beyond the obvious physical transformation of the district, however, is the continued flow of assistance in various forms. In cooperation with the Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the congresswoman’s office has facilitated medical assistance and vaccination services to almost 15,000 patients. Still in coordination with the DSWD, 20,000 individuals in crisis situations have been given assistance.
Almost a thousand beneficiaries were given assistance in availing of scholarship benefits under the Commission on Higher Education’s (CHED) Tulong Dunong Program, while more than 800 students were given educational assistance by the lady legislator’s office. Meanwhile, more than 5,000 residents were given assistance in availing of the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) Program.
Thousands of tricycle drivers and hundreds of solo parents were also given financial assistance to help them make ends meet.
RECOGNITION & AFFIRMATION
Co-Pilar’s performance as a member of Congress has not gone unnoticed. In its June 25 to July 5, 2023 nationwide Boses ng Bayan survey, RPMission and Development (RPMD) Foundation found the neophyte solon at second spot, with a performance rating of 93.22 percent. This put her in a statistical tie with seven other district representatives from all over the country. The survey asked constituents to rate their district representatives based on ability to act and speak on their behalf; performance in pushing for pieces of legislation; and ability to provide different services to constituents.
She also emerged as a top performing legislator for the National Capital Region (NCR) in the RPMD survey conducted from September 20 to 30, 2023, garnering a job performance rating of 94.8 percent. Prior to this, she landed in a statistical tie for third place in the firm’s survey for the country’s best performing neophyte lawmakers held in the first quarter of the year.
“I feel blessed,” Co-Pilar says in reaction to the affirmation of her work. “I feel grateful that even if I’m a neophyte, my work is noticed. My sincerity to serve the people is recognized. I feel so blessed by God because He gave me the chance and privilege to serve the people of my district as a congresswoman. With this, I will not waste any time and opportunity that I could be able to help and make a difference [not only for my district but for the whole country].”
The recent survey results come as no surprise, as Co-Pilar had received accolades from various institutions during her time as councilor. Among the awards she received are the PAMANA (Pagkilala sa Mabuti at Natatanging Pilipino) Award as Huwarang Lingkod Publiko, Tandang Sora Leadership Excellence Award, and the DILG’s Excellence Award in Good Governance for NCR.
Her survey performance and formal awards notwithstanding, Co-Pilar considers the continued support of the people of QC’s 6th District as the biggest and most heartwarming affirmation of her performance. She points to trust and credibility as the biggest factors for this. “Number one is credibility,” she declares. “When you talk about credibility, the people will judge and scrutinize you first. And all through the years since I was a kagawad, they know that when I say something, I will do it; that I’m sincere when I say I will help them and I will do something about their problem. That’s why every election, they vote for me because they trust me. They know they can depend on me.”
PARTNERS IN GOOD GOVERNANCE
It takes more than one government official to tackle a community’s concerns, and Co-Pilar is privileged to have familiar faces to help her out. Quezon City 6th District Councilor Emmanuel “Banjo” Pilar and Pasong Tamo Chairwoman Stephanie Tricia Co-Pilar serve as her co-pillars of good governance and genuine service. Konsi Banjo, who served as three-term chairperson of Barangay Pasong Tamo, has taken his Kidlat sa Serbisyo brand of leadership to the city council. He has proven his mettle in local legislation, aside from continuing to provide various services to his constituents. Kap Tricia, on the other hand, previously served as barangay kagawad and acting barangay chairperson before receiving an overwhelming mandate to lead the barangay. Her Tapat na Paglilingkod brand of leadership now benefits nnot just primarily the youth but all residents of Pasong Tamo.
With Konsi Banjo and Kap Tricia also serving the district, CoPilar is confident that the 6th District is in good hands. “From the city council, Banjo can perform as a legislator and also provide the necessary projects for our district, and Trisha could take care of the barangay,” she says. “Barangay Pasong Tamo is my ‘baby.’ It is the biggest barangay in District 6. [Having Konsi Banjo and Kap Tricia is] important for me because I know I have somebody I love and I trust, who will also take care of the barangay that I love and cherish. With that, I am assured that there will be good governance and continued quality service not only in Barangay Pasong Tamo, but also in the 6th District through the coming years.”
With a clear vision for the district, Co-Pilar sees the 6th District soon becoming the face of the northern part of the metropolis.
“The district will be very progressive economically, with numerous business and job opportunities,” she says. “I see our district being fully developed in terms of infrastructure because of Congressional Avenue Extension, Mindanao Avenue Extension, and Visayas Avenue Extension, even C-5 Road. These major routes will bring in economic opportunities for us.”
Co-Pilar sees not only business establishments but also homes rising in the district. “One of the main problems in the 6th District is housing. I intend to work with the local government and the national government to provide socialized housing for our constituents,” she shares.
“Of course, I’m expecting that the first hospital for the 6th District will be completed before May 2025 as this is my main project for my first term,” she adds, again underscoring the need for affordable quality health care. “I hope to see Tandang Sora Hospital and Medical Center being operational before my first term ends.”
Guided by the same principles that have guided her from her time as kagawad to her stint as city councilor, Co-Pilar is expected to continue bringing about principled service to her constituents. “Never believe in the impossible,” she says. “Even if a project seems hard, you have to try your best to achieve it. Second, [optimism must be accompanied by] hard work and determination as these will help you achieve what is good for your constituents. Third, be brave. I always speak my mind and I think people love me for being very authentic and not sugarcoating things. I say what I feel and I mean what I say. My constituents love me more because they know I will not play politics but tell them the truth so that I could go ahead and give them the principled service they deserve,” she ends.