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Through Trials & Triumph

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FROM BATANGAS’ TAAL ERUPTION LAST YEAR TO THIS YEAR’S ONGOING PANDEMIC, BATANGAS STANDS STRONG THANKS TO VICE GOVERNOR MARK LEVISTE’S PASSIONATE LEADERSHIP.

BY MARANE PLAZA

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY MANUEL GENEROSO

BORN TO BE A LEADER His grandfather, the late governor Feliciano “Mamay Sanoy” Leviste, was known as the “Father of the Masses” and the “Champion in Community Development,” because of his work and community development.

These became best practice, not only in Batangas, but in the whole country. “Tinularan ito ng mga lalawigan at ng iba’t-ibang LGU sa buong Pilipinas (These practices were emulated by different provinces and LGUs all over the Philippines). He passed away in 1976 before I was even born. Kaya ang sabi ng mga nakatatanda, ang kamatayan ni Sanoy ay ang pagkabuhay ni Marc Leviste (The elders say that the death of Sanoy gave life to) Marc Leviste,” he said. Even with his years of public service experience, Marc acknowledges that he still has a lot to accomplish and more so to learn. “I am humble enough to admit that malayo pa ako sa naabot ni Mamay Sanoy. Ika nga e, marami pa akong kakainin para mapantayan man lang, kung hindi malampasan ang kanyang gawain. Subalit, iyon ang aking inspirasyon para gumawa ng kabutihan sa ating mga kababayan at sa ating lalawigan (I’m still far from reaching what Mamay Sanoy did. As they say, I still have a lot to prove to even match, if not exceed, what he did. However, this is my inspiration to do more good for the people and province of Batangas).

At the very least, I don’t want to ruin the legacy of my ancestors, mainly my grandfather, and I want to preserve the good name of my family.” As a teen, Leviste was briefly based in Makati, Metro Manila to study where he also first officially pursued his passion and career in politics. He became one of the council members of Sangguniang Kabataan in Barangay Bel-Air in Makati. “That time, it was just logical for me to join Sangguniang Kabataan in Makati because I was based there, and it was practical and accessible for me to monitor the day-to-day activities. Imagine, if I took the opportunity to be in Sangguniang Kabataan of Lipa, my barangay in Batangas, I would be an absentee leader and that would be unfair. And I did not like that idea,” he said.

The vice governor shared his experience serving the two different localities. Makati and Batangas, Lipa in particular, had different cultures and political atmospheres, he says. In Makati, his boss then was former SK president and former Makati Mayor Junjun Binay. In Lipa, his boss was Vilma Santos, who was serving her third term as mayor of Batangas City, and Sen. Ralph Recto. “So from the little league to the big league!” he shared. “Other than my father and my mom, I have a few whom i consider mentors: Sen. Ralph Recto was my first political guardian. For a good 12 years, I learned from the ‘Ralph Recto School of Government.’ I equally admire Congresswoman Vilma Santos, because of her heart to serve and skills in communication. Currently, I am taking up my ‘master’s LEAGUE 27 degree’ in the ‘Mandanas Institute of Politics.’

The leadership of Governor Dodo Mandanas inspires me a lot. Long story short, my immediate superiors serve as my mentors, and I allow their greatness to mold me into a better leader. That’s the kind of follower and team player I am.”

The young Leviste went back to his hometown in Lipa, Batangas in 2003. “The People, the Batangueño Spirit; I love our people. They are the heart and soul of the province. Batangueños are recognized for their bravery (katapangan), wisdom (katalinuhan), beauty (kagandahan), industry (kasipagan), and bobility (kagitingan). And, of course, the fun part: the breathtaking sites and attractions, its rich culture and heritage, and the accessibility [of Batangas] from Metro Manila and the rest of South Luzon.

Everything about my hometown is to love—or to die for!” Of course, the young Leviste, coming from a proud lineage, is aware of the pressure; he had big shoes to fill. “There were huge expectations, kasi apo ni Sanoy, pamangkin ni José Antonio ‘Tony’ C. Leviste, at marami pang Leviste na naglingkod sa Batangas and ito nga ako, bata pa. Alam mo may kasabihan kami sa Batangas, ‘Maganda pa nga’t bata para maraming magawa’ (because I was Sanoy’s grandson, Jose Antonio ‘Tony’ Leviste’s nephew, and many more Leviste’s that have served Batangas and here I am, so young.

We have a saying in Batangas, ‘It’s good to be young because you can still do plenty of things),” Leviste quipped. The then 25-year-old Leviste started campaigning in 2003. Then, in 2004, he focused his efforts on cultural tourism.

In time, his work in building a more dynamic tourism culture in the region transformed Batangas into an even more popular tourist destination, known for its stunning beaches, cultural and religious sites, and foodie hotspots. TAAL ERUPTION 2020 At a time when the tourism industry in Batangas seemed robust, they found themselves in a standstill when the region was overwhelmed by the Taal Eruption in 2020.

Leviste was faced with heartbreaking scenes, with his people losing their properties and livelihood since their work and businesses were greatly affected by the calamity. “Prior to the eruption and COVID-19, I considered Taal Lake and Volcano as the heart of Batangas.

Geographically, it’s right in the middle of our province,” Leviste said. “Since time immemorial, Taal Volcano provided for the people of Batangas and the Philippines. Sabi ng Mamay at Nanay namin, our ancestors, kaya malusog, mataba, at maganda ang lupain lalo higit pang agrikultura sa aming probinsya ay dahil sa mga pagputok ng bulkan (Our grandmother and mother, our ancestors, used to say that the reason why our land is fertile, rich, and good for agriculture is because of the volcano’s eruptions).

It gave us the land and soil, which is conducive for agriculture. So talagang, marami ang nakinabang kaya’t itinuturing na buhay ang Taal Volcano, kaya nga puso ng Batangas (Really, plenty of people benefit from it. That’s why many consider the Taal Volcano their life, the heart of Batangas).” For both foreign and local tourists alike, Taal and its surrounding vicinity have become well-loved destination.

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