Championing Change: Girlboss Rising
BY RAGIE MAE TANO-ARELLANO
CONGRESSWOMAN ANIELA TOLENTINO OF CAVITE’S 8TH DISTRICT LEAGUE TAKES A CLOSER LOOK AT ONE OF THE COUNTRY’S YOUNGEST AND MOST PROMISING LEADERS
Girlboss is often used as a term of empowerment; this is how you can describe Congresswoman Aniela Bianca D. Tolentino in a nutshell. Once a reluctant politician, this first-term legislator is
now an empowered leader, proving her worth as a public servant for the 8th District of Cavite, keeping true to her passion to serve. The path to entering politics appeared to be set for Tolentino.
But little did her family know that she initially felt like it was a burden to enter politics. Tolentino was 26 at the time when she was asked by her father, then Deputy Speaker Abraham “Bambol” N. Tolentino, if she could run for Congress. The older Tolentino was on his last term as congressman, and he believed that his eldest daughter has the required dedication, spunk, and heart to serve his constituents. Conflicted with her dream to succeed in business and her desire to continue the family’s public service streak in Cavite, Tolentino flew back to Canada.
“I was still reeling with uncertainty, so I decided to go back [to Canada]. I just thought then that there’s always a right time to immerse myself in politics,” Tolentino says.
DECISION FOR PASSION, NOW
Tolentino vividly recounts her flight back to Canada after her father asked if she could run for Congress. This is so she could collect her thoughts about a possible candidacy in the 2022 elections. She said that she was sitting beside a stranger on that fateful flight, with whom she shared some small talk, eventually leading Tolentino to share her dilemma on entering politics. Her seatmate, who turned out to be a Canadian lawyer, gave her a copy of a book, “The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment” by Eckhart Tolle.
After finishing the book, Tolle’s publication became Tolentino’s “North Star” and inspired her to finally run for Congress. Tolentino shares that the book reminded her to live fully present in the moment. “I’ve always had the passion for helping people; it was just a matter of fully committing to turning this energy into reality. Tolle’s bestseller pointed me to the right path, which is being a leader to help my community, my hometown,” Tolentino reveals.
Tolentino adds that whenever she is facing difficulties, she reminds herself of the learnings the book taught her. Tolentino claims that it made her a better problem-solver and decision- maker, and she is truly grateful for the stranger who gave her that book.
The legislator from the 8th District of Cavite has a Philosophy Degree, with Business and Law Certificates, from Queen’s University in Canada. She also attended and finished programs in Philosophy at University College London in the United Kingdom, and in Politics at Dublin City University in Ireland. After her graduation, Tolentino buckled up and started working hard to fulfill her business goals. She immediately established an environment-conscious fashion company in Canada that recycles plastics into clothing, congruent with her advocacy for the environment. She also runs businesses in the food and beverage industry—one is a craft brewery in Tagaytay City named Papa Bolo.
Tolentino owns and manages several businesses in the Philippines and abroad. She shares how she worked so hard to establish her Pinay entrepreneur persona, a big factor that complicated her decision to become a public servant. At the center of her plans was to achieve great things in the field of commerce, until she answered the call of public service. However, Tolentino was not entering unfamiliar ground when she entered the public service sector. Prior to starting her entrepreneurial career, Tolentino also worked in a law office in Dublin, Ireland. The law firm specialized in protecting whistleblowers, and her job was to take calls and provide legal advice. There, she was trained in dealing with various issues and given a good background in the legal field.
“It was a bit of a culture shock when I worked in Ireland. I was not that familiar with their laws, their legal system, but I managed with a lot of research and mentoring. The experience really built my character and background, and helped me develop how I deal with people, especially with problems in their lives,” Tolentino reveals. She also served as a political affairs assistant for the 8th District of Cavite during the 16th Congress. She helped with administrative and legislative duties, like doing research and handling constituent matters. The experience gave her a bird’s-eye view of what a congressman does and helped her in refocusing her life goals to public service.
“It was not just my desire to serve, there was also a lot of personal and work experience which guided me to the path of public service,” she adds. The transition from handling business to committing herself to public service was also somewhat eased because of Tolentino’s family background. Tolentino’s parents, Bambol Tolentino and Dr. Agnes Tolentino, are also renowned public servants in their own right. Bambol Tolentino’s leadership is credited with the Philippines’ superb performance in the previous Olympics, which earned the country its first gold medal in history. Dr. Agnes Tolentino served as mayor for three terms (and is now the current vice mayor of Tagaytay City), and Tolentino’s sister, Athena Tolentino, is the current vice governor of Cavite.
Aside from her parents, she is also the niece of Senator Francis N. Tolentino. Her grandfather, the late Isaac Tolentino, worked as the longest-serving mayor of Tagaytay City. She grew up seeing her family helping many people, and witnessed the progress in her community. This background built Aniela Tolentino’s desire to continue her family’s legacy in governance now that she is in the mix herself.
“It was not just my desire to serve, there was also a lot of personal and work experience which guided me to the path of public service.”
Almost a year in office as Cavite’s 8th District Representative, she has blazed as a leader. As of May 25, 2023, she has been part of 129 legislative filings in the 19th Congress. Based on its website, she has 98 principal authorships and 31 co- authorships. Tolentino was also chosen to handle several key positions in Congress. She is the vice chairperson of the Committee on Youth and Sports Development, the Committee on Public Works, and the Committee on Science and Technology. She is also a member of the committees on Trade and Industry, Inter- Parliamentiary Relations and Diplomacy, Natural Resources, Rural Development, and Foreign Affairs. Tolentino was likewise elected by her colleagues to become an assistant majority leader, which entails her to speak for matters concerning the advocacy of the members of the majority in the House of Representatives (HOR) during plenary sessions. This task also requires her to always be present at meetings of the Committee on Rules. Tolentino can often be seen present in plenary sessions and speaking to advance the causes of the majority.
Aside from her duties as an active member of the majority, Tolentino is also focused on pushing laws relating to the environment—the advocacy closest to her heart. Some of the bills she filed in the 19th Congress include House Bill No. n 956 (An Act Regulating the Disposal of Electronic Equipment at Solid Waste Management Facilities and Requiring the Establishment of Recovery and Collection Facilities therefor) and House Bill No. 958 (An Act Allowing the Use of Waste to Energy Technology in Electricity, Fuel, and Heat Generation, and for Other Purposes).
“I think the Philippines has so much delay on this law. Other countries already have mechanisms that allow the conversion of trash into energy and electricity. The bill I filed includes systems that will allow the conversion of garbage into energy while remaining environmentally friendly. I am fervently praying that this could finally become law,” Tolentino explains on her waste-to-energy (WTE) proposed legislation, which was already transmitted to the Senate for further deliberations.
Tolentino is passionate about the environment, but she emphasizes that she is not ignoring other concerns such as employment, economy, health, education, and peace and order. Rather, she is shining a light on an issue that has a significant impact on people’s lives that many people might be unaware of. “I want to bring more awareness, and for us to take it more seriously because waste, garbage, directly impact people’s health and lives. I firmly believe that we are all interconnected with the environment and that taking care of these is so much important for younger and future generations,” Tolentino stresses.
Her thought process in wanting to lead when it comes to environmental issues shows her vision in handling issues, seeing concerns as whole, while keeping inclusivity at the forefront. Tolentino’s holistic approach is evident when she handles her constituents’ concerns and she advocates change that will bring about what is best for the people. Recently, Tolentino’s proposed bill caught people’s attention. She proposed an increase in the number of justices in the Court of Appeals (CA), remarking that it has been decades since the country increased the number of appellate justices. She filed House Bill No. 4033, which aims to increase the number of justices from 69 to 78. The same proposed law will also set up CA divisions in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, and Davao City.
“Our population has increased, the economy has grown, it is just logical that problems and legal disputes have also increased. Congress must take the lead in addressing this need in the judiciary and also ease the troubles of litigants. My proposal to have physical offices and justices in the north and south of the Philippines is also part of nation-building, so that we can tell all the Filipinos that we are indeed progressing and not just in Metro Manila,” Tolentino says.
“I believe that there is hope for a more progressive Philippines with the next generation of leaders.”
PROUD DAUGHTER OF CAVITE
As a woman who juggles a lot, Tolentino asked LEAGUE to run the interview as fast as possible because she needs to attend to equally important matters. Her schedule is usually filled to the brim. From her legislative duties in Batasan to her constituent duties, Tolentino shares that it is challenging to manage her time and make sure that everything is taken care of. The congresswoman allocates two to three days a week to take care of concerns in her locality. Cavite’s 8th District is composed of Tagaytay City and the municipalities of Alfonso, General Emilio Aguinaldo, Magallanes, Maragondon, Mendez- Nuñez, Naic, and Ternate. Aside from pushing for bills of local application, she is also busy with taking care of the needs of her constituents, providing medical, educational, and financial assistance. Tolentino usually holds a People’s Day every Thursday so that she can personally see and hear the needs of her constituents.
Tolentino can also be seen in various public events in Cavite, including feeding programs, medical and dental missions, and wellness caravans. “As I mentioned, though issues about the environment is the topic that I would like to shed light on, still the closest to my heart are matters that touch the lives of people I work for—the people of the 8th District of Cavite. I will make sure that their livelihood, peace and security, disaster preparedness, employment opportunities, education of the youth, and medical needs are all taken care of,” Aniela ended the session with LEAGUE on this note.
Tolentino is one of the youngest legislators in the 19th Congress of the Philippines, but this does not and will not stop her from taking charge. Her pedigree, education abroad, work experience, unbridled confidence, and full commitment to serve are good news not just for her constituents, but also for the entire country. The female solon ushers in a new breed of young and dynamic female leaders that the Philippines needs for further nation-building. It is no longer just girl power when it comes to lady leaders like her. Tolentino is the definition of a girlboss—driven, decisive, in control, and empowered.