Traversing Her Unusual Road to Public Service
BY FREDERICK CASTILLO
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DANIEL SORIANO
Public service was beyond her wildest dreams. But Cabadbaran City Mayor Judy Amante is going above and beyond to ensure that their family’s legacy will continue during her leadership.
The surname “Amante” is quite familiar in local (Agusan del Norte) and national politics, and Cabadbaran City Mayor Judy C. Amante is exerting the necessary effort to ensure that the legacy of the family name will continue during her leadership. In particular, she finds inspiration from those who came before her as she navigates the challenging responsibilities of an elected public servant.
UNUSUAL ROAD TO PUBLIC SERVICE
Amante admits that public service “was beyond my wildest dreams,” and that her “passion was always in business—buying and selling.” She was not born into a political family and her background is also not typically characterized as that of traditional politicians. “I grew up a simple girl with no clear ambition in life. My typical lower middle class family could barely provide for our needs. I remember I would even share with my classmate our recess time snack—half a piece of bread and half a 12-ounce bottle of soft drinks. We could only ‘wish upon a star’ for a new pair of trendy shoes.” Evidently, her road to public service was unusual, but even more unusual was her actual foray into the realm of electoral politics.
Amante shares that she met her ex-husband, former Rep. Erlpe John Amante, in college and eventually got pregnant at age 17, while still trying to obtain a degree. Inevitably, the challenges of juggling her responsibilities as a young mother and a student forced her to forego her studies and concentrate on her family. “We had lived a simple life—away from politics—until my ex-husband decided to run for governor in 2004. Even so, I stayed out of the limelight all those years.” Despite Amante’s effort to preserve her marriage, circumstances became challenging when they had their third child, ultimately leading to their separation. “I had to take care of all my children’s needs and attend to all of the important moments in their lives… alone.”
Thereafter, Amante’s world would radically change, as she was thrust into a new arena amidst her personal struggles: politics. In the 2016 local elections, her sister-in-law, then Governor Maria Angelica Amante- Matba, supported her bid to run for mayor against Katrina M. Mortola, who was supported by her exhusband and, at that time, rumored to be in a relationship with him. However, even the governor’s backing failed to ensure Amante’s victory as she lost by a slim margin to Mortola. Instead of losing heart, the setback appeared to further strengthen her resolve, as she again challenged the incumbent mayor in the 2019 elections. She eventually won by a landslide. Amante says that “God’s time is, indeed, the perfect time. It was truly a sweet victory for my slate as we all won in that election.”
‘AMANTE’ BRAND OF LEADERSHIP AND INSPIRATION
Amante confides that her decision to run as mayor was replete with difficulties. “For one, I didn’t have the slightest idea of how to run a city,” she admits. However, she drew strength from the support of her sister-in-law, who did not approve of her ex-husband’s alleged relationship with the former mayor. “She gave me the opportunity to redeem myself from all the shame that controversy had brought us and to correct what was clearly wrong.” Amante adds that her sisterin- law not only guided her while she was struggling in her married life but also served as mentor and inspiration in exploring her leadership potential and ability to serve. “She has not only followed and imbibed the legacy of genuine public service of her parents, but also raised the bar of public service even higher, creating a name for herself and making a brand of public service worthy of emulation, respect, and admiration,” the mayor elaborates.
Despite the difficulties, Amante stresses that challenges have “strengthened our resolve to really create meaningful projects that will help make our people survive during challenging times like the pandemic and the aftermath of a super typhoon.” Amante also considered the legacy of her parents-in-law—former Congressman Edelmiro Amante and former Mayor Rosario Malbas-Amante—in her public service endeavors. In particular, she personally witnessed the quality of public service, leadership, and dedication of her parentsin- law. They “had set the bar of excellence in the area of public service,” Amante proudly shares.
REALITIES OF PUBLIC SERVICE
Meanwhile, winning the elections is one thing but facing the serious tasks that come with it is another matter. Amante immediately met the harsh realities of being an elected public servant once she assumed office. Foremost among these challenges was proving her capabilities and her worthiness of her constituents’ votes. “The biggest challenge that I had to initially face was how to meet the expectations of the people regarding the quality of service and the kind of leadership I could offer. I knew that some of our constituents were still doubtful of my capabilities,” she admits. Despite the initial uncertainties and reservations, Amante immediately buckled down to work, emphasizing that she “cannot afford to slack off, perform lousily, and shortchange [her] constituents in terms of quality and meaningful service.” Her ability to learn on the job was likewise enhanced with the presence of supportive co-workers, who share her vision and goals in governance. Despite her initial success, little did she know that she was about to face the most difficult problem of her months-old leadership.
Similar to all local officials, Amante had to face the raging COVID-19 pandemic as the most serious challenge during her term. Given that nobody was prepared for it and there were no templates for procedures to follow, she and other city officials had to find ways to better mitigate the pandemic’s impact on people’s lives. “The last two years of my term were spent mostly on creating measures to survive and to fight a pandemic, managing meager resources to help our constituents survive on a daily basis,” the mayor confesses. Typhoon Odette did not help their situation, as Amante was again forced to address the people’s basic needs (i.e., food, shelter) while continuing to focus on pandemic response and local governance.
Despite the difficulties, Amante stresses that challenges have “strengthened our resolve to really create meaningful projects that will help make our people survive during challenging times like the pandemic and the aftermath of a super typhoon.” She likens these problems to her personal battles, in that there are silver linings that will enable her city to survive and overcome immense difficulties. In particular, Amante shares that addressing these challenges has honed her management skills on disaster and calamity response, as well as her ability to productively utilize resources, while continuing with normal local government operations.
PROGRAMS AND ACCOMPISHMENTS
Amante says that coming from a Chinese family and inheriting her father’s meticulousness in investments have helped her scrutinize the effectiveness of programs and projects funded by her administration. “I have always been concerned in the identification of priority programs and projects and also in the completion of flagship infrastructure.” Whether concerning social programs or public works projects, she consistently reminds her department heads to take risks “by thinking outside the box in terms of crafting more impactful and vision-oriented programs that will fast track development.”
To illustrate, Amante instructed those in charge of the city’s production of squash pancit to rethink their pricing scheme, marketing strategy, and production sustainability to maximize the potential of the product. Meanwhile, given that initiatives aligned toward the protection and preservation of the family have consistently been close to her heart, she is also proud of their mass wedding celebrations for those who cannot afford to spend for weddings on their own. She also supports livelihood programs to provide sustainable income for the underprivileged. “Let’s face it, love is not enough to keep the family going; there has to be food on every table to keep the harmony in the relationship.”
Equally important to Amante is the city’s comprehensive program for senior citizens, which was first introduced by then mayor now Governor Dale Covera. The program, she explains, represents the city’s token of gratitude to its senior citizens. Amante further honed this program when she took over the city government. Among the important components of this undertaking are free daily vitamins, quarterly birthday party for senior citizens dubbed “Pa-birthday ni Lolo ug Lola” medical assistance, Php5,000 mortuary assistance, social pension, and Localized Milestone Award for Centenarians (instead of giving a lump sum of Php100,000, the amount is given on a staggered basis beginning at Php20,000 when they reach 86 years old, Php30,000 when they reach 90, and the remaining Php50,000 when they reach 100 years old). The mayor proudly states that “in our city, we have always been believers that we can only be successful in the future if we know how to express our gratitude to our past (referring to senior citizens).”
Amante will run unopposed in the May 9 elections, but her focus and priorities remain centered on what she can give and offer to the residents of Cabadbaran City. “I am just on my first term… I honestly feel that there is still so much to be done, so I really want to complete three terms,” the mayor answers when asked about her future political plans.
In particular, she mentions institutionalizing the drive to strengthen micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to provide more opportunities that will lead to the creation of jobs, given that the country is now recovering from the pandemic. The city’s Work Internship Program is likewise addressing students’ needs for the needed work/professional experience before joining the workforce. More importantly, their funding initiatives for agriculture, which include investing on post-production and harvest facilities, will enable them to accelerate the processing of agricultural outputs into reliable income for farmers.
DRIVEN TO SERVE
Undoubtedly, Amante is a driven public official, and she acknowledges that apart from her children, what drives her to wake up each day and continue with this “exhausting job” is the idea that an entire city depends on her. She explains that “it is important to look after the general welfare of those who entrusted me with their confidence to make genuine change happen being their mayor.” Despite the difficulties associated with being mayor—constant public scrutiny, limited resources, continuously increasing needs of the people—Amante insists that being mayor gives her “the opportunity to change people’s lives, give solutions to their problems, provide them with their needs.”
Overall, Amante says that she is grateful to the people of Cabadbaran City for the trust and confidence they have given her. “As we continue to journey with our ‘Serbisyong Tinuoray, Serbisyong Walang Pili (Genuine Service, Service that Doesn’t Discriminate)’… I am highly optimistic that this will set a new direction for the way we deliver services to our people.” Given how Amante had adeptly navigated the challenges in her personal and political affairs, Cabadbaranons are undeniably proud that she is continuing the legacy of the family name that is synonymous to public service in their city.