Ready to Fill Her Dad’s Big Shoes
Her vision for Guiguinto, her dad’s shining example, and the people’s trust and confidence will take her all the way to the municipal hall.
BY MARIDOL RANOA BISMARK
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROMEO PERALTA, JR.
With bangs framing her face, her lithe body cutting a familiar figure in the office of her father, Guiguinto mayor Ambrosio ‘Boy’ Cruz’s office, Atty. Agatha ‘Agay’ looks more like an on-the-job apprentice than the seasoned municipal administrator that she is.
You tell her so and she laughs, “But I’m already 41!”
Forty-one, with a string of achievements. But to run as Guiguinto mayor and fill her dad’s big shoes?
Atty. Cruz smiles. Youth, she says, is a blessing, not a curse in public office. Yes, it will be her first time to hold an elective post if she wins in May. But make no mistake. Daddy’s girl is battle ready.
First, she brings impressive academic credentials to the table.
She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Commerce, major in Marketing Management from De La Salle University (DLSU), where her thesis on market research got a gold medal. She bagged second honors when she finished her postgraduate studies at the Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU) School of Law.
Before passing the bar in 2008, Atty. Cruz interned at the Romulo, Mabanta Buenaventura, Sayoc, and De Los Angeles law firm.
Far Eastern University (FEU) Institute of Law dean Mel Sta. Maria, Atty. Cruz’s Ateneo professor, invited her to teach in the then newly-opened college. It required great sacrifice. But Atty. Agay felt honored to be invited as faculty member.
She herself drove from her native Bulacan all the way to Manila every day. Most of her students had day jobs and classes were held in the evening. So the tireless Atty. Cruz had to drive to Manila after finishing her work as municipal administrator in Bulacan.
The experience was rewarding. The young professor learned to translate the technicalities of the law into simpler terms students can understand. “I had to explain law in a way that would inspire students,” she recalls. The experience enriched her communication skills.
Atty. Cruz also learned compassion, especially for the students’ parents, who moved heaven and earth to finance their children’s costly law education.
“My mom was watching me checking my students’ essay answers when she told me to think about their parents. She was in her executive check-up. And she told me that the parents are sacrificing a lot for their children. She asked me not to give a failing grade.”
Thus did Atty. Cruz realize she may be expecting too much from her freshman students.
However, two years of shuttling from the province to the city and back, spending for gasoline and paying toll fees, and, most of all, losing sleep, proved too much for her. Thus, Atty. Cruz bid teaching goodbye.
Besides, work was waiting for her in her dad’s office. Mayor Cruz asked her to resign from the Ponce, Enrile, Reyes & Manalastas law firm, where she handled corporate, civil, intellectual property, labor and arbitration cases. Then municipal administrator got sick, and the mayor needed someone he trusts to take over, as soon as possible. He was then working at getting the Seal of Good Local Governance (SGLG), which the municipality won for four straight years.
Up until then, Atty. Cruz (and her siblings) had taken the backseat in Guiguinto’s official affairs. “I was very careful to stay in the background. I didn’t want people to have the impression that I will run [or public office]. I didn’t even have a Facebook page at the time the social media platform was at its peak,” she says.
Atty. Cruz told her two older brothers that she wanted to be the Gina Lopez of the family. Like the late environmental activist, Atty. Cruz’s dream was to put up a foundation that would serve as the corporate social responsibility (CSR) arm of the family’s real estate, construction, and general services business.
She launched Presam Foundation Inc. in Guiguinto (Presam combined her parents’ names—Prescila and Ambrosio). It granted scholarships and espoused women’s causes.
But Atty. Cruz was not meant to stay in the background. When Mayor Cruz came asking for help one morning, his only daughter and youngest child could not say no. She resigned, against her boss’ wishes. Besides, Atty. Cruz figured she can return to law practice any time.
She buckled down to work as municipal administrator, overseeing the nitty gritty of the mayor’s multi-layered job. Deep into his second year in office, the older Cruz found someone who took over gargantuan tasks like disaster response, financial housekeeping, and social services. Atty. Cruz met these and other criteria for good governance, and Guiguinto bagged its first SGLG from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). Guiguinto is now a Hall of Famer.
Under her watch, Guiguinto got a Blue Certification from the Office of the Ombudsman (“Blue” is the opposite of “Red,” which signifies red tape in the bureaucracy).
She also worked hard so Guiguinto can bag the coveted ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certification from TÜV Rheinland. Thus Guiguinto became the first ISO-certified municipality in the region, and the Most Business Friendly Local Government Unit, as adjudged by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI). She cut the red tape in business transactions. This meant fighting corruption, using computerization, and hiring the right people for faster services and less backlog.
Atty. Cruz was pleased with the fruits of her labor for two to three years. It dawned on her that destiny was calling. “The Lord is sending that path for me. I never planned on joining politics. My only participation during election back then was to act as my dad’s election lawyer, train poll watchers, and oversee vote canvassing.” Atty. Cruz admits she has big shoes to fill. But like her dad, she’s doing her best. She spent the love month of February organizing mass weddings (kasalang bayan) and serenades (harana) for PWDs (persons with disabilities), members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, and senior citizens. Members of these usually neglected sectors also received flowers as proof that they are loved.
March, she points out, is dedicated to women. Speaking of women, Atty. Cruz supports Bahay Pangarap Women’s Foundation Inc. for abused young women, and Tahanang Mapagkalinga ni Madre Rita for abandoned children. She also granted people’s requests for sphygmomanometers so they don’t have to step out of their homes and go to the health centers to check their blood pressure. Atty. Cruz formed the sectoral movement Kaagapay sa Buhay. This group is made up of young volunteer leaders who handle projects on health, education, inclusivity, and environment, among others. On the day of the interview, the volunteers were walking down the streets and singing a happy tune. Upon seeing their group’s founder, they paused, smiled, and waved at her. The light, breezy exchange shows how Atty. Cruz treats her volunteers: as equals, not subordinates. “I want to empower them. The elected leader per sector trains his volunteers. We have lots of activities. A while ago, we had something for barangay health workers (BHWs). I’ve met with the youth, solo parents, and PWDs and asked them what programs they want to come up with. We’re doing something every day,” Atty. Cruz says.
Like a proud mom, she adds that these volunteers can already work without supervision. She just pops in during their activities to show her support. Atty. Cruz also believes in leadership by example. She donated blood to show her kababayan that she not only preaches compassion. She practices it.
NEXT DESTINATION: MUNICIPAL HALL
The mayoral aspirant has big plans up her sleeves. Her long-term goal is to make Guiguinto a progressive city, after her father transformed it from a third-class to a firstclass municipality. She knows it requires a lot: from more service to access to bigger funds. But like her father, Atty. Cruz is aiming for the sky.
She dreams of turning Guiguinto into the happiest place for a child to grow up in. This ambitious plan calls for a low or zero crime rate, the assurance that mothers get the nutrition they need to bear healthy children, a well-equipped school and day care center, zero flooding, a job after graduation, and technology.
“The Lord is sending that path for me. I never planned on joining politics. My only participation during election back then was to act as my dad’s election lawyer, train poll watchers, and oversee vote canvassing.”
Atty. Cruz promises to prioritize health in this time of COVID-19, as well as infrastructure and environment. She aims to consult people, to wield her persuasive power and find a middle ground in resolving inevitable conflicts. Authoritarian rule is not for her. “You have to find a win-win solution between two parties,” she declares. To do so, she will reach out, even to non-allies. Atty. Cruz has done this before, thereby getting a thumbs up even from her father’s political rival. “My mandate is to get the cooperation of all members [of the party] and have ‘One Guiguinto.’” Is this a mouthful coming from a young political newbie like her? Atty. Cruz doesn’t think so.
“Yes, I’m a newcomer in politics,” she admits. But passion and idealism are on her side. She insists that she’s no jaded politician and she can bring “a different dynamism into public service.”
Her role models, Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto and New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, have proven that now is the best time for young leaders to step up. Their political will and examples of good governance make Atty. Cruz dream big and work harder. She knows her greatest achievement is yet to come. Until then, Atty. Cruz hopes her vision for Guiguinto, her dad’s shining example, and the people’s trust and confidence will take her all the way to the municipal hall.