BEING TRUE TO HIS NAME
Being a “Tol” means being someone people can depend on, a brother or a friend, and this guides Zarcal in
performing his duties as a district councilor.
By Ragie Mae Tano-Arellano
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROMEO S. PERALTA, JR.
“Tol” is a contraction of the Tagalog word “utol,”which is in turn derived from “kaputol.” It is a colloquial term that refers to a brother or sister. That is what Councilor Timothy Oliver “Tol” Zarcal wants his constituents in Manila’s 3rd District to remember him as.
TRUE TO BEING A “TOL”
“Sadya talaga ng magulang ko na ‘Tol’ ang pangalan ko eh. Timothy then ‘Ol’ from Oliver. Naisip na nila ‘yun months before ako pinanganak. Gusto talaga nila ‘Tol’ kasi sa Filipino context, it’s kapatid, kaibigan, tropa (They really decided on that name a few months before I was born because “tol” in the Filipino context means sibling, friend, or a peer). So I’m trying to exude my name,” Zarcal explains.
Given that his father is former eight-term councilor Manuel “Letlet” Zarcal, his name may have been a
preparation for his future in politics. Even though Zarcal was quite reserved as a child, his early exposure to the world of politics influenced his desire to serve as he was enlightened about life’s realities. “I was not a wallflower, though. I was willing to try different things. Up until high school, I saw and felt that I could do more for my friends and my family. My passion has always been to make sure that everything and everyone around me is okay,” says Zarcal.
Given that his father is former eight-term councilor Manuel “Letlet” Zarcal, his name may have been a preparation for his future in politics. Even though Zarcal was quite reserved as a child, his early exposure to the world of politics influenced his desire to serve as he was enlightened about life’s realities.
“I was not a wallflower, though. I was willing to try different things. Up until high school, I saw and felt that I could do more for my friends and my family. My passion has always been to make sure that everything and
everyone around me is okay,” says Zarcal.
PREPARATION FOR POLITICS
When he realized that he could do something for the people, he began to engage in extracurricular activities sports like basketball, baseball, and football. He later transitioned to hip-hop dancing. His participation in these various activities broadened his understanding of how, despite their differences, people share similarities, particularly in their problems. Additionally, how he is not alone, as he shares the same problem as the rest, particularly with his peers. Zarcal explains that he is comfortable with public service because he can always find a connection between himself and the people he meets.
SERVICE WITHOUT RESTRAINT
In the past, politicians were thought to be very intimidating and strict, but Zarcal wants to change that
perception. “I try to veer away from the intimidation factor,” he says, so he wants people to feel like the officials they voted into office are approachable. Even though he is eager to serve his constituents, he admits that meeting different types of people can be overwhelming. But he is constantly reminded by his mother to always show compassion and care. While it is not as simple as it seems, as his father would put it, he knows that in time, he can be like his father, who he looks up to. One advice the elder Zarcal would
always tell him is that in times of stress, calm down. “I think that’s sound advice for any politician or public
servant. We do as much as we can, and I said this in one of my talks, but the world that we live in is very toxic, tiring, and frustrating. Our job as public servants is to at least lessen that,” he says, referring to his father’s advice.
NEW GENERATION OF LEADERS
While Zarcal always had the inkling that his destiny is in politics, he never anticipated that he would be a part of it so soon. He saw himself running in his 30s or 40s; but he is currently 26 years old. Due to the stressful nature of the political environment, he stated that one must be very wellprepared. Initially, he would have desired a more active role with a government agency, so he could observe the various aspects or industries in the communities he wants to serve. However, former Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso encouraged him to run for office, and he grabbed the opportunity because he remembered that Domagoso also began his career at a young age. Zarcal says, “[Domagoso] may have seen something in me that I did not.”
“I think [keeping calm in times of stress] is sound advice for any politician or public servant. We do as much as we can... but the world that we live in is very toxic, tiring, and frustrating. But our job as public servants is to at least lessen that.”
Now that he is involved in politics, he realizes that his generation is indeed needed to promote change. 2019 may already be the turning point for change, according to Zarcal, because so many politicians his age entered politics that year, and he believes that they, too, can bring about change.
According to him, even though the new bloods are emerging, they should still heed the counsel of senior politicians. Zarcal is adamant that young politicians’ desire to serve the public should be bolstered because no matter how passionate they are, they will experience frustration. He believes that once in office, you have no opportunity to relax. One must always be on his toes and plan for the people’s immediate, medium-term, and long-term needs. He believes that politicians must have a strong will and an open mind because the public looks up to them. “Our smile, greeting, or sympathy to the people when we go out may not be much, but it is a big deal to them. And we are even more motivated to serve well if we see them happy with what we are doing,” says Zarcal.
“Seeing small wins is what keeps me motivated as a public servant. If I get to see that I was able to help in small ways and that I made someone happy on that day, that is already a big push for me. It keeps me going. The stamina and adrenaline of those in government service, the politicians, are extraordinary,” shares Zarcal.
UNITY CAN MULTIPLY THE EFFORTS
He takes great pride in claiming that Manila City Council members are all on the same page. Even in helping and providing medical, financial, and burial assistance, they collaborate on the governance model. By working together to assist their constituents, the effort is multiplied exponentially, especially since the vice mayor and mayor are also often involved. Additionally, they keep up the feeding program, particularly in and around low-income areas like Parola, Quiapo, and the border between Binondo and Tondo. Regardless of who is in charge, the Manila City government has continued to work on this program to fight malnutrition.
Although it can be difficult for them to provide funding for some projects that are carried out because their budget is insufficient to meet the Manileños’ needs, they are still able to continue these essential programs by working in partnership with private organizations.
REMINDER OF HISTORICAL ROOTS
The first-term councilor wants to concentrate on environmental concerns in Manila. He intends to propagate nilad plants throughout Manila to honor the city’s history. “Manila” is derived from the phrase “May nilad diyan” because nilad plants once flourished in the city. Zarcal claims that preserving this plant would also involve reliving the history of Manila. “It is very important to give importance to history because people tend to forget. It would be good if people knew where ‘Manila’ came from. We may not be the largest business hub, the largest in land area, or the most populous compared to other cities, but I can probably say that Manila has the richest history of all the cities in the capital region,” Zarcal says proudly. According to him, the city council has passed resolutions and pieces of legislation commemorating and promoting more of Manila’s historical landmarks, and giving greater weight to historical figures and events. Zarcal believes that people are more concerned with their economics than environmental issues. But he does not seek recognition for his efforts or initiatives to clean the air in Manila; his aim is for the people to feel that they are breathing clean air and to see that blighted areas have been transformed into something environmentally beneficial. He desires for his constituents to see that urbanization and environmentalism can coexist.
“What is most important to me is that they see how beautiful Manila is reflected in the walls. I believe that when people see a beautiful place, they will refrain from changing it because they will feel guilty. People will have the impression that if you take care of your surroundings, you are also taking care of them,” says Zarcal.
BEING YOUNG IS A CHALLENGE
Zarcal is doing his best to perform and implement significant projects that will have a positive impact because he believes that no matter how extensive the work that you did, people will forget your name. This is especially since he is still struggling to demonstrate that he, as a young government official, can effect change, contrary to the popular belief that millennials are idle and apathetic. He wants people to know that new leaders like him can make a difference.
That is why he wishes to be known as “Tol”—as a son, friend, and brother—because this encapsulates the essence of public service, and without these qualities, his efforts will be futile. While he believes that knowing the laws, properly governing government systems, and effectively utilizing government funds on projects are necessary for him to become effective, he also believes that these will not make him a true government official if he is not a brother to his constituents. “Minsan, aakalain ng mga tao siguro na nagpapakamartir tayo, pero talagang may passion lang tayo na makatulong sa iba. ‘Yun ang pinakaimportanteng aspect siguro. (Others may perceive this as being a martyr, but having the passion to help is an important aspect [of leadership]),” Zarcal says of being a public servant.
“Seeing small wins is what keeps me motivated as a public servant. If I get to see that I was able to help in small ways and that I made someone happy on that day, that is already a big push for me. It keeps me going. The stamina and adrenaline of those in government service, the politicians, are extraordinary.”