Always for the People
BY KAREN ROJAS
PHOTOGRAPHY ROMEO PERALTA JR.
Get to know Marikina City 2nd District Councilor Joel Relleve, a doctor and public servant.
Marikina 2nd District Councilor Joel Relleve was always passionate about helping people, thus, he became a doctor. Even as a pre-medicine student, he was always a natural leader, but entering politics was never in the cards. Little did he know, years later, he would find his calling as a public servant.
THE SPARK THAT STARTED IT ALL
Relleve, who was born and raised in Atimonan, Quezon, describes himself as a “typical probinsyano.” Although not the youngest of four siblings, Relleve has always felt as if he were the bunso (youngest) in the family, being the last of the Relleve children to finish his studies as a medical doctor.
He took his time pouring in work to establish his own career. While he was focused on being a young medical doctor, he also spent his free time taking gigs as a singer. In one of the events Relleve performed in back in 2010, he met former Vice Mayor Jose Fabian Cadiz by chance, and Dr. Cadiz somehow took a liking to him. After knowing he’s also a doctor, Dr. Cadiz reached out to Relleve trying to convince him to work with him. “Ang offer niya sa‘kin [was] (His offer was for me) to manage all his private clinics,” Relleve shares.
Relleve didn’t even know that Dr. Cadiz had served as vice mayor then. The politician would often call him to ask where he was and suggest meeting as he had a “proposal.” Months later, Dr. Cadiz’s persistence finally bore fruit and Relleve met with him personally in Marikina City. It was only when Dr. Cadiz invited his fellow doctor into his office that Relleve figured out who he was.
During that time, Relleve was not yet based in Marikina but coincidently, he previously bought a house in the area and was actually planning to move to the city.
Although Relleve had so many responsibilities then, also teaching in universities while practicing medicine, he ended up saying yes to Cadiz. “In 2011, officially, sabi ni [former] vice mayor, bibili raw siya ng L300 na tatawaging Kalusugan.
DECIDING THE FIRST STEP
From the field of medicine to politics, although very different fields and somewhat on opposite ends of the spectrum, Relleve was always ready to take on a challenge for the benefit of the public.
In time for the campaign season in 2013, many saw Relleve’s potential as a politician. But he himself tried not to think about that just yet. As the 2013 and 2016 elections came and went, Relleve heard the encouragement of his peers to run for a position. “Pero ‘di ko pa pinapansin (But I paid them no attention),” Relleve says.
“[Eventually] I started to appreciate the work of Vice Mayor Cadiz,” Relleve mentions. But Relleve had his worries about running, as his family had neither riches nor political background. In addition to that, he wasn’t even from Marikina originally. It was then that Dr. Cadiz assured him to follow in his footsteps and run for a position regardless.
“He always told me, once Ang taga-Marikina, pag nakita nila ‘yung dedication mo sa public service, mamahalin at mamahalin ka. Same ng nangyari sa kanya (Once Marikeños see your dedication to serve, they will love you even more.’ Same thing happened to him),” Relleve shares.
Still unsure of his next move, Relleve decided to take up a Master’s degree in Public Administration at Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Marikina. When he finished the program in 2018, he finally realized what he wanted to do moving forward.
When Relleve finally decided to run for a position and won, he didn’t expect his term would coincide with one of the most challenging in the country’s history, governance-wise.
“Kami ‘yung mga pandemic termer eh (We are the pandemic termers),” the councilor explains. “July 2019, I assumed my post as a newly elected councilor. I very eagerly studied the work [of a councilor]. I worked for the passage of ordinances, I was so idealistic,” Relleve adds.
Sadly, the Marikina community and the local administration’s attention was abruptly diverted—firstly because of Typhoon Ulysses, then the COVID-19 pandemic.
Relleve and the other councilors share disappointment and pressure to up their game and go beyond their job description to serve the people. “The pandemic made people demand more from us. They see you as not good enough if they don’t see you around,” Relleve says.
When the national government initiated the lockdown, Relleve was quick on his feet to make sure the vulnerable are attended to. One of his projects, was to give out free prescription medicine to senior citizens. “Senior citizens weren’t allowed to go out during the lockdown, so what I did was I had their medicines delivered to me. Afterward I delivered the medicine to their doorstep,” the councilor narrates.
The doctor-councilor also made sure to continue former Vice Mayor Cadiz’s legacy of health-related projects such as free medicine for the public, free check-ups, and regular medical missions. Of course, these are more challenging to implement now that there are health restrictions to keep everyone safe, but Relleve and his team made sure to plan every detail of the project to ensure that the people continue to receive public service, while also being safe from the virus.
Another problem that they pointed out is the public’s hesitation to go to hospitals bearing in mind that they could contract the virus and go home sicker than they initially were. To address this, Relleve started an initiative to provide nebulizers, oximeters, and oxygen tanks to barangays for the use of the community. These are fruits of the councilor’s partnerships with various organizations.
As donations came pouring in, volunteers—whose number also continuously increased—made sure that these would reach all Marikeños. “Bunga ng tiyaga ko sa mga organization ko. Kasi ‘pag nakikita talaga nilang tumutulong ka, mas gusto rin nila tumulong (That’s the fruit of my perseverance towards my organizations. Once they see that you are really helping, they’re also more willing to extend help),” Relleve says.
Months after the pandemic hit the country, all the projects Relleve started still stand strong and continue to serve the locals. “Sabi ko nga, mapagbigyan lang ako, hindi ako titigil (As I said, if they give me a chance [to serve them], I won’t stop),” the councilor assures.
As a doctor and the current director of the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) Marikina Chapter, Relleve is very passionate about highlighting the importance of knowing your blood type. In fact, every time Relleve has the chance to speak and talk about his platforms, he always proclaims “Walang Marikenyong hindi alam ang blood type (No one in Marikina is unaware of their blood type).”
From his experience working with the PRC, he noticed a lot of people needed blood from the blood bank, and as per Red Cross policy, you would have to donate blood in exchange for the bags of blood you will get. But a lot of individuals did not know their blood type and this worried Relleve.
Because of this, the “TYPE KITA... Hindi mo lang alam” blood typing census was implemented by Red Cross volunteers led by the doctor-councilor. This program is done per barangay in Marikina City and is open to the public and is often done simultaneous with Relleve’s other projects. Blood typing census is a community project spearheaded by Relleve in partnership with the PRC-Marikina Chapter.
“Marikina is a disaster-prone area. What if there’s an earthquake, and many of us are brought to the hospital? In triage, since I know my blood type, they will treat me first,” Relleve shares. “‘Kasi ‘yang blood type, hindi ‘yan magbabago eh. Pagkatao mo ‘yan (Because your blood type won’t change. That’s part of your identity),” he adds.
He became more eager to push for his advocacy when it was announced that the National ID is starting to be implemented. “I heard that they will implement the National ID system, and do you know that one of its components is the blood type? I don’t want people to put ‘I don’t know’ or guess,” the councilor says.
To add, Relleve shares the importance of knowing your blood type in the context of fatal COVID-19 conditions saying that when you need a plasma transplant, you would first be asked what your blood type is.
SHIFTING CAREERS, SAME GOAL
From being a medical doctor to a university professor, then a public servant, Relleve realizes the importance of people-oriented skills and public speaking. The work he did for each field he has ventured in is different, producing different outputs, but talking with people and building relationships is an everpresent responsibility. It wasn’t always easy and he had to learn along the way but it’s as if his previous experiences in different setups molded him to be the person he is today. He might have shifted his career but the purpose is always to serve the people.