Heralding Breakthroughs In Congress
BY JULIA GARCIA
LA UNION 1ST DISTRICT REPRESENTATIVE FRANCISCO PAOLO P. ORTEGA V EMPHASIZES THE IMPACT OF A NEW BREED OF LEADERS IN CONGRESS.
Coming from a lineage of public servants, La Union 1st District Representative
Francisco Paolo P. Ortega V had the invaluable opportunity to witness the profound evolution in the approach and engagement of politicians from previous generations to the present day.
“When I was younger, our family house served as the [informal] office of the congressman, barangay chairman, and mayor. People would bring letters to talk to them,” Ortega recalls.
Ortega’s father, Pablo C. Ortega, was the congressman of La Union’s 1st District from 2016 to 2022 and is an incumbent councilor in the City of San Fernando, La Union. The younger Ortega says that unlike his father, he is more outspoken and at ease when delivering speeches. While his father’s work always put premium on his extraordinary personal relationships with his constituents.
Differences aside, the young congressman fused the best parts of his father’s work ethic and attitude toward public service with other learnings he’s been gaining from his fellow leaders.
As an example, while people used to send formal letters to his office, Ortega shares that nowadays, they simply chat with him directly on Messenger to ask for assistance. Adjustments are necessary to make the congressman’s office accessible for individuals. While old practices in politics are still helpful, he adds, it’s also best to infuse modern technologies and perspectives to maintain a fresh take on governance.
“Mixing the traditional style [of serving] with the modern approach is my style. Hardly anything has changed in the country’s politics since then, things just became faster now with the help of technology— improving our office’s responsiveness helps build trust with our constituents,” Ortega adds.
Mixing the traditional style [of serving] with the modern approach is my style. Public service is still true to its core, but it is a lot faster since then, things just became faster now with the help of technology— improving our office’s responsiveness helps build trust with our constituents.
DESTINED TO SERVE
“Growing up, I wanted a different path. It was a dream for a lot of people to work and live abroad. I longed for a more Westernized way of living, the kind you see in movies. Pero siguro may guhit talaga ‘yung palad (but maybe our fates are written on the palm of our hands). Destiny will still intervene,” Ortega shares about the beginning of his political journey.
He studied Marketing Communications at San Beda University because this was one of the few courses offered to student-athletes. After graduating, Ortega was able to practice his profession at San Miguel Corporation as a salesman for a few months, and then for two years as a salesman and marketing officer at the Coca-Cola Company.
After his brief experience in the corporate world, Ortega entered politics as a barangay kagawad. He shares that when he was playing basketball one day, he was called and urged to run for barangay kagawad because his political party at that time only had six barangay kagawad candidates and they needed one more.
Although it seemed like an unexpected opportunity, Ortega admits that he enjoyed his job as a barangay kagawad. This allowed him to have a grassroots perspective and better gauge of what’s needed for the people. From there, he served as a councilor from 2010 to 2019 and became an ex-officio provincial board member for one term, and another term as an elected board member before running for the position of congressman.
While it is inevitable to acknowledge that he is a member of a long-standing political clan in La Union, Ortega proudly says that his father kept his hands off his decision to enter politics. So the young Ortega claims that all of this is a result of his hard work, “I really studied the science of politics, little by little, either in school or by myself.”
CHANGING THE LEARNING SYSTEM
When Ortega won as councilor, that was also the period when the election for Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) was put on hold because it was undergoing some reform. Ortega, who was 21 years old at that time, projected himself as an SK representative and focused on sports and education, but added twists to make the programs more beneficial.
For education, Ortega supported school clubs where the youth developed their skills in language, public speaking, and debates. If the students need to enhance their English language, for example, that’s where his help comes in.
When it comes to scholarships, he believes that they should be sustainable. “Nagbigay ka nga ng scholarship one time lang tapos wala na, di mo na na-track kung saan na nagpunta ‘yung estudyante (You provide a one-time scholarship, [but] then nothing came of it [because] you were not able to track the progress of the student),” Ortega says. So, when it comes to their programs, they make sure that they support a student from grade school until he reaches the jobhunting period.
Ortega admits that sports and education are special for him because “education is the key to rising above poverty.” He believes sports and education are interconnected, having personally experienced securing a scholarship through sports during his student years. “They are really my personal advocacy, they’re my soft spot because that’s where I came from. When I got into sports, I became disclipined to maintain my scholarship,” Ortega adds, that sports can open doors to other opportunities beyond education for individuals.
Usually, only those who score high in their classes are given the opportunity to avail of scholarships or financial support. According to Ortega, those who are good at sports are usually cast aside but he argues that they are equally deserving of scholarships. This is one of the highlights of Ortega’s advocacy, another improvement on the usual system.
As of the interview, Ortega shares that he is also working on building two sports complexes. One is for the Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University (DMMMSU), La Union’s public university, and another for the entire province. The sports complex for DMMMSU already has an initial budget of Php11 million for its site development and is targeted for completion within Ortega’s first term. Meanwhile, the sports complex for the province is still waiting for three to five hectares of available land where it will be built.
NOT LEAVING OTHER SECTORS BEHIND
Although Ortega was consistent in his initiatives focusing on youth, he assures LEAGUE that he is not leaving other sectors behind. In fact, Ortega’s staff vouched for his efforts in helping the people of La Union when it comes to their medical needs.
“Dinidiskartehan talaga niya (he really finds ways),” one of his staff said. Ortega reveals that when their medical assistance program opened to the public, many cases can only be catered to by specialty hospitals like the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) and Philippine Heart Center. Although they were able to provide enough funds for the provincial and district hospitals, some procedures that the constituents needed were still not available.
With this, Ortega sought the help of the Department of Health (DOH) for funds to shoulder the medical needs of residents referred to specialty hospitals. “That’s one aspect of the congressman’s job. Aside from legislations, we have to be effective in lobbying because you are securing assistance for your district,” Ortega says, adding that almost half of his constituents who visit his office every day have medical concerns, and this initiative has been very helpful to them. As long as there are remaining funds, they extend the help to accommodate the entire
Aside from this initiative, Ortega authored House Bill (HB) 06901, preventing the increase of adolescent pregnancy by pushing for the availability of modern contraceptives to girls aged 10 to 14. This is to acknowledge the country’s societal problem of teenage pregnancy and to educate the youth on how the bill can protect them. HB 06901 was chosen as the final substitute bill for the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Act, which is still pending on the Congress’ Committee on Youth And Sports Development’s end.
Another remarkable contribution Ortega left during his term as a provincial board
member is the staggered incentives for centenarians, which is now being implemented in the first district of the province. According to the Centenarians Act of 2016, Filipinos who reach 100 years old and above are entitled to Php100,000. But Ortega pushed for staggered incentives for soon-to-be centenarians so they can receive and make use of their benefits while waiting for their centennial birthday celebration.
‘PAO-WERFUL’ KIND OF SERVICE
When asked to describe his leadership style, Ortega defines it as adaptive, responsive, and consultative. Adaptive because he still uses what he learned from the previous public leaders. At the same time, he makes sure that he is responsive because people, especially the youth, nowadays want everything done fast, and he’s eager to keep up with his constituents of all ages.
Another thing that sets Ortega apart from others is that he has set his own timeline in public service. “Hindi ko ma-imagine ‘yung sarili ko na parang ‘yung mga older na mga Ortegas na 30 years, 45 years (I can’t imagine myself eventually becoming like the older Ortegas who have been in public service for 30 years, 45 years),” Ortega admits. Setting a deadline for himself works as a reminder to not waste any opportunity so he can walk away anytime, fulfilled that he has done his best.
Being a congressman is not a monotonous endeavor but is always dynamic, relying on collective input and consideration of different perspectives of the people. Ortega emphasizes the importance of the public’s assistance, even in the smallest of ways, to support their elected representatives.
“Usually sila ‘yung nanghihingi ng tulong, so ako hihingi ng tulong na suportahan ninyo ‘to, na tulungan niyo kami, na ganito ang gawin niyo. ‘Yun din ang message ko sa kanila na tulungan nila ako kasi nga ‘pag tinulungan nila ako, mas marami akong matutulungang tao (Usually, it’s them who ask for help, so I will ask for their help too, to support us, to help us, to do this certain thing. That is also my message to them, to help me, because if they do, I will be able to help more people),” the congressman says.
“This is what it means to have a ‘PAO-werful’ service, calling upon the people to lend their support and aid in making a greater impact. If they do, together, our collaborative efforts can transform our district for good,” Ortega concludes.”