The Exceptional One
The goal is to unite people and promote peace, says Taytay Councilor Cabral. With all the undeserved hate and critique she gets, it’s a feat in itself that the world hasn’t managed to break her spirit.
BY HELEN HERNANE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROMEO PERALTA, JR.
It’s politics,” Taytay Councilor Sophia Priscilla “Pia” Lopez Cabral says, her two words a catchall reason behind her opponents’ mudslinging and rude actions.
Aside from projects, initiatives, and personal posts, the councilor’s Facebook page also contains some video evidence of her opponents’ dirty moves. Among these are blocking her entry into the session hall, turning off her microphone while she presents, and one councilor dancing as she talks on the podium. She shares that they also removed some of her staff, office, and funds. They also removed her as the chairperson of the committees on education and infrastructure.
As the sole councilor not under the banner of the incumbent mayor, these tactics do not surprise nor faze the 28-year-old public servant. Many may cower and accept these circumstances, but Cabral refuses to give in to their bullying. After all, she’s been bullied many times since her childhood and these hardships only made her stronger.
“Our Lord prepared me to be tough. When I was in elementary school, I was frequently bullied. That experience made me stronger, but I never let it alter my values. My character has been forged by fire and time, but whatever it is you throw at me, I’ll never do the same to you,” the native Taytayeña stresses. “It’s tempting sometimes, honestly, to fight fire with fire. But I just focus on serving the people of Taytay.
‘Di lahat ng issue dapat sagutin. Sagutin mo nalang (Not all issues have to be addressed. Just answer the accusations) through your actions.”
TAYTAYEÑOS OVER POLITICS
As a young female public servant, she fully recognizes how her success may intimidate traditional politicians or trapos. After all, how often do you encounter a town councilor who has managed to reel in more than half a billion pesos worth of funds and projects for the
benefit of Taytayeños?
“At my age, as a councilor, I’m the only one who was able to accomplish that in the entire history of Taytay local governance,” she proudly states.
With her fellow councilors and leadership working against her, Cabral has had to turn to national government agencies and even President Rodrigo Duterte and Senator Bong Go in order to accomplish her projects for the municipality. Since the first day of the pandemic, the University of the Philippines (UP) alumna has strived to provide for everyone’s needs. Then Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Undersecretary Aimee Torrefranca-Neri helped her with SM groceries, rice, and other basic needs, while Senator Manny Pacquiao, as a Jollibee endorser, helped provide thousands of frozen chicken joy. Inter-agency Task Force (IATF) Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. pitched in and provided 5,000 RT-PCR test kits.
“Using funds from my own pocket, I was able to buy rice worth half a million pesos which we distributed house-to-house personally. We were also able to provide pneumonia and flu vaccines. So, little by little, Taytay was able to withstand the effects of the pandemic,” Cabral shares.
Apart from these short-term solutions, Cabral also fulfilled one of her dreams for the town—its own sports facility. With the help of President Duterte and Senator Go, Cabral shares that Taytay Sports Complex is already being constructed. Hopefully, she says, it will be ready for opening by the end of this year.
The visionary leader explains that the complex will help bring in plenty of jobs. In addition, when the complex is used for events such as Palarong Pambansa, then tourists will flock to the town and multiple industries will benefit from these—food, garment, tourism, and more.
“Local businesses will thrive [because of the Sports Complex]. Here in Taytay, we don’t have beaches or mountains. Our main driver for tourism is our garment industry. It’s what I want to further showcase,” she explains.
With all these accomplishments that go beyond her legislative wins, it’s no wonder that Cabral is set for more responsibilities. In the upcoming May elections, she is running for vice mayor and confidently stresses that her experiences and time have shaped her for the role. Taytay’s mayor and vice mayor have to have a vision, she says, and it’s something she believes the incumbent lack. For example, she shares that the current leaders didn’t expect that their local garment industry will grow. Their seamstresses, according to Cabral, supply clothes for stores in Baclaran, Greenhills, and Divisoria. Tourists are often surprised how affordable their clothes in the Taytay tiangge are and she says that it’s because the price just covers costs for the fabric, labor, and rental for the most part.
“This all started during my term in 2016. When we saw how the garment industry was growing, we decided to have a tiangge in Manila East which contains around three to five thousand stalls. Until now, every December, millions from all over the country visit here for clothes. Our leader lacked vision and failed to see the concerns that would come with this: traffic, peace and order, and more,” Cabral reveals.
“I want to instill in my fellow Taytayeños that our leaders should be able to think in advance. Looking not just at the present, but also provide long-term solutions. Proactive, not reactive. Taytay is already the garments capital of the Philippines, but someday I want to have entire buildings devoted to this industry. Maybe someday even have a university like SoFA (School of Fine Art Design Institute) here in our town. This is the gift of our people, we need to capitalize on it. Focus on this so that our people will thrive where they live.
Apart from this, Cabral also focuses on delivering more basic services to Taytayeños and developing transparency in governance. She vows to question any irregularity, and fight for the needs of the people, such as an adequate housing program, a clean public market, and more access to government subsidies for food, education, and livelihood.
BALANCING GOALS AND UNITY
If ever elected as vice mayor, Cabral also stresses that if members of the other party are elected, she will respect their opinion and not exact revenge. As presiding officer, she acknowledges that her job is to remain neutral during council sessions. Whatever the majority decision is, then it will have to be implemented.
“I don’t have to go down to their level just so I can prove myself. Because first and foremost, in that scenario, I will already have been elected by the people which means that I’ve gained their trust. So why would I perform the same dirty tactics that they’re doing to me right now?”
But she believes that whatever their project is, it will have to be consulted with the people of Taytay. Cabral believes that while there are many projects worth emulating, they may not necessarily be something that the people need or applicable to multi-sectoral sitios or puroks .
Last February, the councilor posted on her Facebook page: “We all have our freedom to support political candidates which we believe can make this country a better place to live. We don’t need to destroy friendships and relationships just because we are supporting different candidates. Peace.”
Cabral also believes that the same could be applied to their local elections. At the end of the day, she stresses that they are still Taytayeños. As leaders, the goal is to unite people and promote peace. Leaders, she further explains, should not divide because that would make it difficult to implement programs and serve.
This resolve to focus on the people pushes the female politician to ignore negative campaigns thrown against her online and offline. “Not everyone will like you. But for every voter that is against me, I’ll work even harder to gain ten votes. I’ll have to gain more people’s trust and inspire more to vote for me,” she says.
Her youth and gender are not lost on her and she admits that many find her intimidating because of this. “Plus, I have thick eyebrows,” she jokes. But instead of letting fear take over, Cabral uses this as a motivation to go down to the masses and prove her opponents wrong. Fortunately, she shares that every time she visits various communities, many continue to support her. Cabral, however, laments that public servants like her have to face so much criticism and have to hurdle so much skepticism merely because of their age and gender.
“I may not have the wisdom and experience of an elder politician, but what I lack in those aspects, I make up for with vitality, energy, ingenuity, and modern, forward thinking,” she stresses. “Though we’ve accomplished much in terms of equality, many still see being a woman as a weakness. Some still do not take us seriously as leaders. No matter how much we’ve accomplished and contributed to improving the lives of the people, there are still those who will look past how far you’ve gone and will put you down as just another ‘pretty face.’”
With all the undeserved hate and critique she gets, it’s a feat in itself that the world hasn’t managed to break her spirit. She explains that her critics actually push her to do her best and serve even better. In her own way, she wants to inspire young girls to also dream big and work hard.
Grounding herself in service is also a manifestation of her Christian upbringing, Cabral shares. As someone who grew up in a very religious household, it was instilled in her from a very young age that she should follow the ways of the Bible.
“Every day, in school, we were required to memorize Bible verses. The wisdom and knowledge I gained [from that inspires] how I serve my community until today,” Cabral reveals.
But it was never in the cards for the councilor to enter politics. In fact, it was her dream to become a doctor, a dream shared by her grandmother. But when college entrance examinations time came, she qualified for Ateneo University and De La Salle University wherein she applied for pre-medicine courses. As an incumbent SK chairman, however, she was entitled to free scholarship if she went to UP Diliman instead. But her course would pull her away from her dream. Her parents insisted that she study at the UP much to her dismay.
“But I guess there’s a reason why that happened,” Cabral muses. “I may not be a doctor who’s able to prescribe medicine to people and heal people. But, in a way, through my projects and everything we do, I am able to help an even larger population and heal, not only their physical illnesses but also their other problems.”
MAKING A STAND
In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, the incumbent mayor of Taytay held a meeting that included all the councilors, department heads, and barangay captains. All, except for Cabral. She reveals that she was not invited to nor informed in any way about this important meeting about the pandemic.
The mayor posted on Facebook: “In fairness, lahat nakikipagcoordinate (everyone’s coordinating), except one.” Cabral knew that the post was meant for her and people were curious about what her rebuttal would be.
“That time, I knew for a fact that the mayor was in America. Which is why our town was unprepared for the pandemic, unlike our neighboring towns and cities. Cainta and Pasig, they were able to place advanced orders for goods, rice, etc. Napag-iwanan ang Taytay kasi nga wala yung mayor (Taytay was left behind because our mayor was missing). Then when he went home from the United States, he did not undergo quarantine and met with the governor. A few days later, he turned out to be [COVID-19] positive. That tagline: ‘Except One’ actually went viral. Because I defended myself and told them that they got rid of my staff and have been sabotaging me. I needed to speak up for myself, otherwise my fellow Taytayeños will think that I’ve not been working.”
And as they continue their negative campaigning against her, Cabral admits it’s not something she wants to participate in. All she wants is to serve the people, but she concedes that it’s politics and sometimes you have to fight back. Not fight back with the intention to hurt, like they do, but just to defend your reputation and honor as an honest-to-God public servant.
Her party’s tagline is: Sagip Taytay (Save Taytay). Cabral clarifies that the town is not necessarily drowning or dying. But saving in terms of fixing the system, which, for her, is the number one enemy. Not any single person or the opposite party, but the system itself.
“We used to have over 170,000 voters, but now it’s only 130,000. Many moved to neighboring towns because our town has failed to improve over the two decades that the incumbent has ruled. But for me, I’m not against anyone. The system is the enemy. If it’s the same system, then no matter who wins, our situation will still be the same. If people want change and hope, then they have to vote for people who will bring about this change. That’s the battle cry of the people of Taytay and I know that because this is my hometown.”
Taytayeños, for Cabral, are more than just votes. They are her friends, schoolmates, neighbors, people she grew up around and with. As long as she has their trust, then her critics do not matter. They may exempt her in the office, but she is loved in the streets. And the young politician has faith that the people know Cabral for who she is: an exceptional leader.