Creating Waves Of Good Governance
BY LAWRENCE ANDREW FERNANDEZ
FROM THE POOL TO POLITICS, MALOLOS COUNCILOR JV VITUG III CONTINUES SWIMMING FORWARD WITH HIS EYES ON THE PRIZE— CHANGING THE LIVES OF HIS FELLOW BULACEÑOS.
Swimming became John Vincent “JV” Gatchalian Vitug III’s ticket to success. Paddling through Olympic-sized pools helped him earn a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Major in Financial Management degree from the
University of Santo Tomas (UST). Mastering the strokes also earned him medals in the Central Luzon Regional Athletic Association (CLRAA) and the Palarong Pambansa.
However, the vigorous servant admits that his days as an athlete are over. The sport has run its course and it’s time to chart another path as a councilor for the City of Malolos, Bulacan. But in retrospect, his journey in public service is comparable to an endurance swimming event. He went through several laps to ascertain his dedication to lending himself to the people, starting when he was still an elementary student.
LAP ONE: BUILDING HIS FOUNDATION
While a never-ending debate persists on whether leaders are born or made, Vitug manifested that he had the DNA for imparting positive impact. Aside from being an athlete for the Montessori School of Malolos, he also became the Grade 4 level representative. He continued to devote time to the student body in Grade 5. Wearing multiple hats was challenging, but Vitug is grateful for the experience because it helped build his character.
“Very thankful ako naging athlete ako kasi doon ko natutuhan ‘yung discipline and ‘yung integrity na baon-baon ko sa pagiging public servant (I’m very thankful for becoming an athlete because that’s how I learned discipline and integrity, which I continue to uphold as a public servant),” he says.
Beyond school, his other interests and encounters fortified his core being. He became an altar server in the church for two years, but had to quit because Manila became his home base.
Nevertheless, Vitug knows that a greater being is pleased as he attends to his constituent’s needs. He also imbibed charity from a young age with help from his parents.
“Noong lumalaki kami, my parents used to bring me to charity programs para ma-expose kami sa mga tao. Tinuruan kami na tumulong sa tao na walang hinahanap na kapalit (When we were growing up, my parents used to bring me to charity programs to help expose us to interacting with other people. We were taught to help without seeking anything in return).”
The solid foundation of his values brought positive outcomes. His discipline made him an Academic Excellence Awardee from the Immaculate Conception School of Malolos (ICSM) and a dean’s lister at UST. But lending a hand to those with more significant needs inspired him to pursue a nobler purpose.
LAP TWO: TESTING THE POLITICAL WATERS
Vitug started to get involved in politics in 2016 when he actively campaigned for certain candidates in Malolos, giving away flyers and encouraging people to vote for their mayoral and vice mayoral candidates. Being a staunch supporter became an eye-opener as he hoped to join the ranks of the politicians he helped. But in swimming parlance, he strived to become more than just a relay man. Instead, he wanted to dive into servant leadership.
It took two years for his opportunity to arrive when the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections were again held in 2018 after the ratification of Republic Act No. 10742, popularly known as the Sangguniang Kabataan Reform Act. He became the SK chairman of Barangay San Pablo in Malolos, a position he diligently fulfilled.
As a student-athlete, it is no surprise that Vitug’s programs revolved mainly around sports, education, and health. He spearheaded bloodletting drives in cooperation with Philippine Red Cross Bulacan and established the annual Youth Education Sponsorship (YES) scholarship program for high school, senior high school, and college students.
Vitug also initiated sports clinics for the youth and distributed bags with school supplies to 344 San Pablo Elementary School students from Kinder to Grade 6. The school also benefitted from the sports equipment donated by his office.
However, those projects were just the iceberg’s tip. Guided by his alma mater’s core values of competence, commitment, and compassion, he fulfilled his mandate further during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
LAP THREE: LEADING THROUGH TOUGH TIMES
The pandemic is an ordeal no one expected. The world was at a standstill during its height, and everyone was forced to adapt to the stringent health and safety protocols. However, Vitug and his staff found ways to help their fellow Maloleños deal with the uncomfortable realities of the COVID-19 virus.
As such, he forged forward by distributing 500 disinfectant kits for the youth. He also facilitated the distribution of 100 COVID-19 care kits in his barangay, which contained KF94 face masks, sanitizing kits, thermometers, pulse oximeters, and vitamins. He also initiated free trips for Barangay San Pablo residents to the public market and vice versa during their designated buying day.
“As SK chairman, even if public transportation isn’t our concern, we saw to it that they were still open to basic commodities. What we did was to provide free transport from our area to Malolos Public Market so that basic commodities remained accessible,” Vitug shares.
But granting livelihood to those who lost their jobs during the pandemic is one project that will have a lasting and multiplying impact. “Ginawa namin, bumili kami ng mga bisikleta. Kasi during that time, nauso dito sa Malolos ‘yung Foodpanda rider. Since hindi namin kaya mag-purchase ng maraming motor, bicycle units ‘yung binili namin. Kung hindi ako nagkakamali, mga 10 units din ‘yun (What we did, we bought bicycles. That time, Foodpanda was becoming popular here in Malolos. Since we cannot purchase many motorcycles, we bought bicycle units instead. 10 units, if I’m not mistaken),” he reveals.
Those two-wheeled means of transportation kept the wheels of sustenance going for the recipients. He shares the story of one athlete scholar who was a badminton player for San Beda University (SBU).
“At some point, his scholarship was revoked because the school cannot provide anymore. His parents were requested to pay for tuition and they weren’t able to do so. But because of our Foodpanda project, he was able to continue his education and graduate from senior high school,” Vitug shares. With restrictions loosening and way of life almost reverting to pre-pandemic conditions, Vitug never ceases to provide what is needed as he takes on a new role. While he admits to learning the ropes of being a city councilor, he will give his all through utmost dedication to his sworn oath.
LAP FOUR: DELIVERING BEYOND EXPECTATIONS
Vitug ran for city councilor despite initial apprehension from his mother. But even when he finally got her blessing, getting into the city council was an uphill climb. Thirty individuals, including nine reelectionists, ran for the 10 seats.
The odds went in his favor after garnering the second spot for the city councilor position with 53,830 votes. It’s a surprising feat, given that he was running for his first term and was not widely known outside their barangay. No one in his family previously held a public position as well. He struggled to identify the key to his successful campaign, but attributed his victory to being vocal about the programs he would pursue. Yet even though his role is mainly to pass resolutions and ordinances, his charitable and charismatic self exudes through when he meets his constituents. It’s the part of the duty he enjoys the most. No wonder he has never turned down anyone who would like to meet him during “People’s Day.”
“Usually during ‘People’s Day,’ we release the assistance based on the requests brought to us via letters. From July 1 to present, we’ve had 754 requests to our office. I am certain that I’ve met those 754 individuals one by one. I see to it to know more about the person, share stories with them, and find out how they are doing,” the 24-year-old city councilor says.
The requests he receives range from assistance for medical needs to financial grants for transportation and birthdays. Their limited funds hinder them from helping everyone freely. But instead of turning some requests down, Vitug always continues to find solutions.
“Sa dami ng nagre-request na constituents, na-realize ko na it’s a sad truth na hindi talaga lahat matutulungan mo. Pero I see to it, as much as possible, na kapag kaya ko tulungan, talagang binibigay ko ‘yung best ko. Nilalapit ko sa mga kakilala na maaaring mas mabigyan sila ng mas mataas na assistance (With the sheer volume of requests, I realized the sad truth that we won’t be able to help everyone. However, I see to it that as much as possible, I do my best to help them. I refer the request to friends who might be better able to give assistance),” he reveals.
Of course, Vitug always remembers his job description. That’s why he thoroughly reviews every proposed ordinance before discussing it with the city council. He also echoes the people’s voice, which he learns by attending meetings and events with groups from all walks of life, from business owners to senior citizens.
LAP FIVE AND BEYOND: ACHIEVING PROGRESS FOR MALOLOS
Vitug firmly believes in progress for all through transparency in government and participative governance. These principles he started to uphold when he took office almost a year ago.
“Papakinggan ko sila (I will listen to them) whenever they have a problem because I want to promote a participative type of governance. Hindi puro ‘yung kaming mga nakaupo lang ‘yung masusunod. Dapat inclusive, kasama po ‘yung mga constituent namin (It’s not right that only the ones in public office will have the final say. Our constituents should be included in the conversation),” he stresses.
Beyond the abstract ideals, Vitug sees the City of Malolos as comparable to Makati City, especially when the New Manila International Airport in Bulakan, Bulacan, opens. Though business will boom in the coming years, he stays true to his advocacies by having grand dreams for education and health in Malolos. Part of his initiative is establishing a separate college for Malolos residents to decongest Bulacan State University (BSU).
He wants to modernize rural health units and revive the city’s central pharmacy. Vitug will also push for a streamlined healthcare system by opening a city general hospital and issuing an identity card for easier access to medical services and needs. He also aspires for housing projects akin to Valenzuela City’s Disiplina Village for Malolos residents in coastal areas.
It may take time for his aspirations to materialize. But being new to the game, he will keep conquering the tides of public service.
After all, the “medals” he now pursues will be measured in the lives he positively influenced. As for his future in public service, Vitug confesses that it’s still too early to tell.
“I’m new to politics, first term as a city councilor. I’m still testing the waters; nothing’s definite [when it comes to running for a higher position]. It really depends kung ano ‘yung nakalaan sa iyo na position ni Lord. Kasi kapag para sa ’yo ‘yung isang bagay, darating ‘yan (It really depends on what the Lord grants us. Because if something is really meant for you, it will happen) at the right moment,” he ends.