PROVING HIS METTLE
Soco’s background and experience in business prove useful in his current capacity as a public servant.
By Edward James Castro
PHOTOGRAPHY BY STEVEN JOHN PASCUA
British statesman and writer Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” These words have served Provincial Board Member Glenn Anthony Soco of the 6th District of Cebu and Lone District of Mandaue City well in his years of dedicated public service. He has taken it upon himself to achieve clear goals for development, advocate for just systems, and bridge the gap between government and the people.
WOKE AT A YOUNG AGE
In an interview with LEAGUE, Soco recalls his early experiences and tries to pinpoint where and when his passion for public service began. He was able to dig a quarry of fond, humble memories— such as how he would skip public transport and walk a good five kilometers every day, just to be able to save his allowance.
Aside from these, sports played an important role in Soco’s personal growth. He possessed not only good volleyball skills but also the right attitude to back these up. “I learned so much from my coach. In sports, discipline is important,” he fondly reminisces. With the ups and downs of his life as an athlete helping shape his life philosophy, Soco was able to handle pressure at an early age.
Soco’s talent for volleyball also helped him earn athletic scholarships in high school and college, which eased the financial burden on his parents. At home, Soco helped out as much as he could with his mother, who ran a small janitorial services agency, and father, who was then a Mandaue City councilor. He witnessed how his parents worked hard to succeed in their respective careers, and the experience shaped his work ethic growing up.
While most teens his age were busy with age-appropriate concerns, the young Soco found more productive ways to channel his youthful energy. In his hometown in Barangay Labogon, Mandaue City, Soco ran and became the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) Chairman from 1992 to 1998. As a youth leader, he was exposed to a score of real-world experiences and problems faced by the masses. This fueled his desire to help bring about change in his community.
“At the barangay where I came from, poverty is really prevalent; I saw that every day,” he laments.
Soco completed his college program and graduated from the University of San Carlos with a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering. Diploma in hand, he was ready to face the world. When their family business was struggling, Soco stepped in and helped his parents turn it into the manpower services agency it is today which caters to a variety of industries, from hospitality, food and beverage, to construction and even healthcare.
He has also opened another company, Powerline Human Resource Management, Inc., which provides human resource solutions to companies. Under his watch, he has managed more than 8,000 people, servicing more than 100 clients within the country.
FROM BUSINESS TO PUBLIC SERVICE
Aside from helping his parents with their business, Soco also decided to launch his own, as he wanted to create something “from scratch.” The year 1996 marked a milestone for Soco as he ventured into the coffee industry. He launched a simple kiosk in Ayala Center Cebu using his personal savings as capital. As this was before specialty coffee consumption became a lifestyle, Soco’s move was a high-risk business decision. His gamble, however, paid off as he eventually saw his business grow and have 42 branches all over the country.
Through their efforts, Soco soon saw himself managing multiple businesses—convenience stores, restaurants, cinemas, and a rural bank. His experience as an entrepreneur exposed him to the edges of a major issue that faces the country: skills mismatch in the Filipino labor force.
“It dawned on me that my drive from within, why I launched all of these things—the cinema, cafe, restaurants— was because I find joy in creation and improvement. It is fulfilling for me to create something that people would like and along the process, create opportunities for others,” Soco shares.
Aside from his business acumen, Soco’s leadership qualities also shone early on through his involvement in private sector organizations like the Rotary movement where he served as charter president of the Rotary Club of Cebu Business District, a club he co-founded with other civic-minded individuals. He likewise served as president of the Cebu Volleyball Association (CEVA) for 10 years as his way of giving back to the sport which he once played.
It didn’t take long for award-giving bodies to notice Soco, and he was one of the finalists nominated by Earnst & Young (EY) for the 2005 EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. In 2006, he was also dubbed by Entrepreneur Magazine as one of the top 10 entrepreneurs and one of the 75 most admired entrepreneurs in the Philippines.
His life is nothing short of colorful, and Soco admits that for most people, he has seemingly achieved his dreams. “To them, I have already achieved a lot but I felt that I could still do more for our people and our country. I believe that the people needed a new brand of leadership. A brand of leadership that I can contribute given my experience in the private sector,” he confesses, explaining his decision to enter politics.
In 2010, Soco was invited by reelectionist Governor Gwendolyn Garcia to run alongside her as the vice gubernatorial candidate. He went up against the incumbent vice governor and unfortunately lost by a small margin.
“But I knew that I had to run again. The loss only fueled my passion for public service,” he shares. In his second attempt, this time as an independent candidate in 2013, he came in as a close second in a three-way contest despite logistical challenges.
The 2013 campaign has been etched in Soco’s mind as his most memorable experience in the field of politics thus far. As an independent candidate, he had to personally do most of the groundwork. This did not stop him from touching base with people from all walks of life, informing them of his vision for the province, at times speaking only from the back of a pickup truck, sometimes ending up spending the night in a supporter’s residence. “I have visited so many barangays, even the remotest and most far flung barangays in the province.”
With this second loss, Soco was convinced that politics was not meant for him and resolved to focus on business. In 2016, he became president of the Mandaue Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It was in the same year, during the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte, that he was elected as a private sector representative to the Regional Development Council – Central Visayas (RDC 7), and was tasked to head
its Infrastructure Development Committee (IDC). This role provided him the chance to showcase his leadership style in handling infrastructure development projects.
As the highest planning and policy-making body in every region, RDC serves as the counterpart of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Board at the sub-national level. As part of RDC 7, Soco became involved in stakeholder’s meetings and in scrutinizing infrastructure projects, making sure that these would really address the problems confronting Cebu and the entire Region 7.
His philosophy, which he adheres to up to today, is simple: Do the right projects the right way.
Fast forward to 2019. In his third electoral contest, Soco finally became an elected public official, having won as a provincial board member of the 6th District of Cebu. With his excellent performance, he successfully clinched another term in the May 2022 polls. This time, his area of jurisdiction had become the 6th District and the Lone District of Mandaue City.
Soco’s philosophy is simple: Do the right projects the right way.
A few months into his first term, Soco secured the approval of important pieces of local legislation. For starters, he shepherded Cebu’s supplemental budget for 2019, which was approved in a record-breaking six minutes. The measure, as endorsed by Garcia, provided for a substantial increase in the incentives for barangay frontliners: health workers, daycare workers, animal health aides, and barangay nutrition scholars. For good measure, he followed this up by filing the Barangay Workers Act of 2019, an ordinance which institutionalized such incentives and increase.
Soco also authored the resolution declaring a “traffic crisis” in the province. He cited a 2018 Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) study which placed the economic cost of traffic congestion in Cebu province at Php1.1 billion per day. The resolution paved the way for the national government and other stakeholders to give more attention and support to Cebu in terms of addressing the traffic problem.
A program that has become synonymous with the Soco brand of leadership is Trabaho ug Asenso (Work and Progress). What started out as a personal effort on his part has grown into one of his primary advocacies, run by dedicated staff. The program provides basic skills training, livelihood support, entrepreneurship training, and other interventions to a broad spectrum of individuals and groups who need such.
“A lot of people are unemployed. But when they apply for jobs, they are unskilled or underskilled and they don’t get hired. I saw that there was a clear gap between the labor force and the job market. I believe government can help address the gap,” Soco stresses.
Another program that he hopes to soon launch is the Barangay Employment Services Program (BESP). As can be gleaned from its name, the program connects people to job openings, trains them in basic skills, and increases their chances of getting hired, all the while reducing costs that accompany pursuing one job opening after another. Soco, being well-versed in business, knows very well that proper preparation greatly increases the chances of getting hired.
He emphasizes that while there is a demand for workers, one problem which hinders jobseekers from being hired is their lack of training regarding the job application process. To remedy this, BESP aims to help jobseekers in crafting a résumé, preparing for an interview, or making a general presentation. From the name itself, this will be primarily implemented by the barangays since they know first-hand which families or individuals need assistance.
“Government should be the link between their people and the private companies and other [institutions offering] job opportunities so that everyone, especially those in farflung areas, do not aimlessly look for jobs in the city. They are guided and it saves everyone’s time and effort,” he says.
“I’ve consulted with the barangays within my district [regarding BESP]. Their concern is their workload; they are loaded [with duties]. They like the idea but it boils down to implementation.”
First and foremost as well, Soco reveals that BESP should be instituted first with the right local ordinances. It would also be better if they receive backing through a national law, like Republic Act (RA) 11261 or the “First Time Jobseekers Assistance Act.”
While the Public Employment Service Office (PESO) under the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) exists, Soco laments that they lack the initiative and that things could be done better according to their mandate. “[PESO] needs to do more. They have plenty of resources to work with. It’s a matter of streamlining the system and having the right mindset, not just merely doing job fairs and posting job offers, waiting for walk-in applicants.”
Meanwhile, the Go Livelihood for Entrepreneurship, Enhanced Net Income and Nutrition (GLENN) Program serves as a complement to BESP. It is his personal and office initiatives to tap government, the private sector and even his personal funds. Soco goes directly to different barangays once a week to provide a variety of services. The program includes, but is not limited to: feeding, medical missions (blood sugar and blood pressure monitoring), providing free vitamins and medicine; free assistive devices to persons with disability (PWDs), free food packs, business skills development, free legal assistance, and even financial and burial assistance. It is his way of bringing government services closer to the people.
“[The GLENN Program] has been happening even before I entered politics. But of course, now I’m able to maximize the resources of the government to further expand the program’s reach and provide more services. I’m efficiently using my office to alleviate the plight of the people,” Soco explains.
TOWARD HOLISTIC DEVELOPMENT
As a public servant with a solid background in business, Soco has fully recognized Cebu’s boundless potential for advancement. The challenge is how to create or take advantage of opportunities in order to realize such potential.
In relation to this, Soco plans to build upon his achievements when he was with RDC 7. For instance, he took an active part in pushing for the Metro Cebu Expressway Project under Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” program. This major infrastructure project aims to dramatically reduce the average travel time from the northern part of Cebu to its southernmost tip. The 73-kilometer highway will not only significantly lessen the congestion in narrow streets and old roads, but also make commuting around the province more efficient and convenient. He takes planning and development seriously and believes that stakeholders should focus on making Cebu more liveable and sustainable to complement its growth. He shares his experience as a member of the JICA study team that went to Japan for the Metro Cebu Urban Transport Masterplan Study, saying that “Everything could be done with proper planning and implementation. I am hopeful that we could see these changes within the near future.”
Under the administration of Garcia, the board members and the vice governor were involved in identifying infrastructure projects in their respective legislative districts. This gave Soco the opportunity to implement meaningful projects, like multi-purpose covered courts, daycare centers, road concreting projects, solar street lighting projects, barangay water systems, and other support infrastructure projects that the barangays need.
His office has likewise effectively implemented priority programs of the provincial government, like the Sugbo Negosyo (an entrepreneurial development program) and the Sugbo Kahanas (a scholarship and skills development program) in partnership with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
THE ROAD AHEAD
Public service and business, Soco states, may appear to be two different worlds, but lessons learned from both can be utilized to bring about meaningful change in society.
“I remind my staff that there are measurable goals and objectives] that we have to be accountable for. There is no room for a lackadaisical attitude in public service,” the board member stresses.
As for running for higher office, Soco says, “Wala naman kaming malaking pangalan [sa politika] (My family doesn’t have a big name [in politics] that I can boast of.) I will just do my best and God will do the rest. I’d like to think that everything I’ve achieved is because of my hard work and where I am today is a result of my passion to help people.”
But whether he continues to be involved in politics or reverts to the world of entrepreneurship, it will always be full speed ahead for Board Member Glenn Soco, a good example of the true mettle of a man.