Leaving a Mark in Bagong Silang
Barangay Chairperson Villanueva talks about his brand of leadership and the legacy he wants to leave behind.
BY KAREN TERESE ROJAS
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROMEO PERALTA, JR.
At 26 years old, Mark Anthony Villanueva became the youngest barangay chairperson of Brgy. Bagong Silang in Imus, Cavite. Many who are at that age would often get married, start building their own families, and begin a new chapter in their personal lives. For Villanueva, a neophyte public official, this was the time for him to start introducing a young, new brand of leadership and service to his kababayans in Imus.
FOLLOWING IN HIS FATHER’S FOOTSTEPS
Villanueva is the son of Edward Villanueva, the first barangay chairperson of Brgy. Bagong Silang established in Imus. The former barangay chairperson was appointed by the late Governor Johnny Remulla, the father of incumbent Cavite Governor Jonvic Remulla.
“Back in the earlier days, our general area in Cavite still had that notorious reputation as ‘tapunan ng mga pina-salvage (dumping ground for victims of extrajudicial killing),’” Villanueva says. He further says that during his father’s time as barangay chairperson, funds were close to none as their barangay had just been established. “Walang pondo. Abono dito, abono doon (We had no funds. We had to dig into our own pockets),” he adds.
“Noong bata kasi ako, every time may session [‘yung] daddy ko, may meeting sila, nandoon lagi ako sa tabi niya nakabuntot ako. Kahit nagse-session sila, doon lang ako sa tabi niya, nakikinig lang ako so medyo maaga akong na-expose (As a young boy, I would tag along with my dad whenever he had meetings. I would also listen in during council sessions, so I was exposed [to the job of a public servant] at a young age),” Villanueva shares.
As he grew older, his eyes were opened to the difficult and challenging job that a public official had, and the responsibilities it entails. Villanueva saw how his father had to work tirelessly to help remodel and change their province’s reputation. What he saw from his father was what inspired the kind of leadership he now embodies. “Actually, na-challenge muna ako, hindi inspired kasi nakita ko ‘yung hirap ng father ko noon (I was actually challenged first rather than inspired because I saw the hardships my father had to face),” he says. With his new brand of politics, Villanueva wants to continue what his father had done for their community. “The main challenge for you as a leader is how you can work on what you have and constantly improve from where you are now. Like my father, I also wanted to be part of the progress nitong lugar namin (of our community),” he shares. “Hindi kami Caviteño, pero Caviteño by heart kami,” he opens. “Four years old ako dumating kami dito…dito na talaga ako halos lumaki (We are not Caviteños by blood, but Caviteños by heart. I was four years old when we settled here. I actually grew up here).”
But of course, introducing a new kind of leadership to a community that has been under the reigns of a veteran politician can be tough, especially when you are elected at such a young age.
“I’m the youngest barangay captain so ‘yung challenge ko talaga ay hindi ko alam papaano pasusundin sila, how to start, paano ko gagawin ‘tong pinasok ko na ‘to (the challenge for me was how to make the other officials abide by me, how to start, how to go about my duties),” Villanueva shares. He adds that the challenge was more difficult because of his young age.
“Growing up here, ‘yung mga kagawad ko [are] way older than me. Mas matatanda sila sa’kin and lumalaki ako, I call them tito, tita, tapos suddenly, ako ‘yung kapitan, I have to lead. Hindi ko alam kung papaano ko sila papasundin kasi bata ako tapos matanda sila (My councilmen are older than me. Growing up, I would call them tito, tita, then suddenly I am the barangay chairperson. I did not know how to deal with the situation because of the age difference),” he says.
Villanueva says that there were instances where he would do things himself rather than ask the other officials to do so, as most of them are older than him. For instance, he would be the one to sweep and clean up particular areas during cleanup drives.
“Ako ‘yung magwawalis tapos makikita nila, sasabihin nila sa’kin, ‘Kap, bakit hindi mo kami sinabihan para natulungan ka namin?’ Hindi ko alam paano sasabihin sa kanila na hindi ko po kasi alam kung paano kayo ia-approach (When they see me cleaning, they would ask me why I did not ask for help. I had a hard time telling them I didn’t know how to approach them),” he explains.
However, according to him, once people see you are an effective leader and public servant, they will listen to you and support you.
“Basta makita ka nilang maayos na (If they see you as a good) leader, eventually, they will follow you,” he states.
Villanueva wants to continue what his father had done for their community. “The main challenge for you as a leader is how you can work on what you have and constantly improve from where you are now. Like my father, I also wanted to be part of the progress nitong lugar namin (of our community),” he shares.
Villanueva is a former basketball player for Colegio de San Juan de Letran (CSJL) and San Beda College Alabang (SBCA). He was a student-athlete back in high school in Letran, and continued to play college ball for SBCA.
“‘Yung pagtanda ko, more on basketball talaga. Umikot ang mundo ko sa bola (Growing up, my life revolved around basketball). I played basketball since late elementary up to high school, then college,” he shares. He also played in commercial leagues and had a short stint in the Philippine National Basketball Youth Team until he unfortunately got injured.
Villanueva now coaches basketball teams as a hobby. This is one of the main reasons why his advocacy in his constituency is promotion of sports.
The barangay chairperson holds basketball clinics and other sports events in Bagong Silang to make children see the benefits and engage in sports. Villanueva also prioritizes the rehabilitation of sports facilities such as basketball courts and gyms.
“[Katulad nito,] dati itong basketball court na ‘to walang bubong,” he mentions. “Nag-focus ako sa sports, tapos itong infrastructure na iniwan ko, kasi akin na lahat ‘yan, ‘yung mga nakikita mo diyan (This basketball court originally did not have a roof. I focused on [sports] infrastructure).” “Sabi ko sa sarili ko, gusto ko lahat ng gagawin ko, ‘yung gusto ko. Kasi kahit anong swerte ang tumama sa buhay ko, di na ko aalis dito eh. Dito na ‘ko tatanda, so ayoko naman na lumalaki ‘yung mga anak ko na sasabihang, ‘Wala namang nagawa ‘yung ama mo,’ (I resolved to go ahead with the things I want to do. I plan to stay here for keeps, and I don’t want my children to have to explain why I do not have anything to show for all those years I was a public servant),” Villanueva explains. Apart from doing his passion, Villanueva admits that being part of Rotary Club—he was elected as President of Rotary Club Imus East under Governor Joyce Ambray—made a big factor in doing his community service. He also shares that being an athlete ingrained in him the discipline he now possesses and the sense of camaraderie he constantly shows to his fellow public servants and constituents. “Hanggang sa naging kapitan ako, ‘yun [discipline and teamwork] ‘yung naging baon ko (I kept those values intact even as I became barangay chairperson),” he says.
The young barangay chairperson admits it was hard to believe that he won the election at age 26. Running against a veteran female leader in their community who had served for 13 years was an uphill battle for Villanueva. On top of that, their family had wanted to stay away from politics, and that their father’s service to the people of Brgy. Bagong Silang was already enough. “My [predecessor] was unchallenged all these years and to be honest, I never expected na mananalo ang isang bagito sa kanya (a neophyte politician [like me] to win),” he opens. “My candidacy simply offered a young, new breed of service and leadership, if they are willing to take a chance on what I can bring to the table.”
Villanueva shares that his proclamation is a day he will never forget. He explains that even after his proclamation, his victory did not easily sink in. “Hindi pa din ako makapaniwala (I still could not believe it),” he notes. Later on, Villanueva paid a visit to his ninong, Governor Remulla, who had supported him throughout his entire candidacy. After the visit, he went home with a lesson that has guided him throughout his years as a barangay chairperson. What the governor said resonates in him to this day. “Oh, andiyan ka na. Isa lang ang bilin ko sa’yo, irespeto mo ang oras. Maliit o malaking tao man ang kausap mo, harapin mo sa tamang oras kasi hindi lang oras mo ang mahalaga. Hindi mo din maibabalik ang oras na nawala sa kanila (You’re now a public servant. I have only one piece of advice. Value other people’s time as you value yours. Whatever the person’s status, show up on time. Time wasted cannot be recovered),” he says.
LEAVING HIS MARK
Villanueva is now on his last term as barangay chairperson, which is why he hopes that his successor continues his programs and projects that he sees are beneficial to their community.
“Wala na kasi siya halos gagawin eh. Lahat nakatayo na, lahat bago. Gusto ko na lang mag-focus sa services ngayon… Kung wala na ‘ko, andiyan na ‘yung services, nakalatag na sa kanila, itutuloy na lang nila (They have practically nothing else to do. The infrastructure are there. The plans are there. I just want to focus on services now. After my term, they will just have to continue providing such services),” he confidently shares.
Every year, he says, he would have a goal for infrastructure in their barangay. And for his last term, his goal is to rehabilitate their chapel. “Every year tuma-target ako pagdating sa infrastructure. Gusto ko this year, halimbawa itong building na ‘to kailangan magkaroon ng magandang court, magandang park. This year, isa na lang ang target ko, rehabilitation ng chapel kasi medyo may edad na ‘yung chapel namin (Every year, I have a target with regard to infrastructure. For example, I set out to build a quality [basketball] court, a neat park. This year, my one target is to rehabilitate our old chapel),” he says.
Aside from the structures he has helped build, Villanueva says the continuation of his programs and projects will form part of his legacy to his constituents—a legacy that his three children will be proud of. “Gusto ko kasi lumaki ‘yung mga anak ko na proud sa ’kin na may iniwan akong legacy, ‘Yung tipong sasabihin ng mga tao na ‘Oh ito, project ng tatay mo, project ng tatay mo ‘yan (I want my children to be proud of me, of my legacy. I want people to tell them, ‘This is your father’s project)’,” he proudly says.