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The Family Legacy of Transformation


Former Board Member Nehemias “Nene” Dela Cruz and former Mayor Cynthia Dela Cruz, who were activists during the Martial Law years, were strong political advocates for communism within the rebel organization Communist Party of the Philippines—New People’s Army (CPP-NPA). Their political activism and participation in the organization inspired the nomenclature of their eldest son, Mayor Laurence Marxlen Dela Cruz, the incumbent mayor of Don Salvador Benedicto, Negros Occidental. "Marxlen" was derived from the communist ideology of Marxism-Leninism, while Laurence came from his grandfather's name. Mayor Marxlen claims that the writings of Vladimir Lenin and the book by Karl Marx influenced his late father.

The Dela Cruz couple decided to free themselves from the communist group and concentrated on building Don Salvador Benedicto. When Don Salvador Benedicto became a townin 1983, the late Board MemberNene served as its first mayor.They began to build Don Salvador Benedicto by expelling insurgents from the town, including their own comrades in the CPP-NPA. It was the senior Dela Cruz who initiated the peace negotiations with the breakaway faction of the CPP-NPA, the Revolutionary Proletarian Army- Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB), together with their chairman,Arturo Tabarra, Nilo Dela Cruz, and now Abang Lingkod Partylist Representative Stephen Paduano. The government and RPA-ABB reached a peace agreement in 2000.

According to Mayor Dela Cruz, his parents’ activism, particularly his reading of Karl Marx’s books and his study of Lenin’s works, shaped his political beliefs. He states that his parents’ activism drew him towards socialism and the idea of being pro- people. “Insurgency is a rarity here in Don Salvador Benedicto, and we are a fast-booming tourist destination,” he claims.


Even though his parents were already active in the political scene, Dela Cruz never desired to become Don Salvador Benedicto’s chief executive. His parents’ activism may have influenced this decision. “I would hear them react against the government. And, of course, the first thing I learned was to hide from the government. When we were kids, we learned to remain inside the room during guests’ visits. It took me a while to adjust, as I grew up as an aloof child,” he shares. However, he most admires his parents’ teachings about the freedom to speak and standing up for what is right. And he is convinced that serving the people is indeed in the blood.

Even though he was initially reluctant to join public service, he served as Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) federation president for eight years. Then he rose to the positions of vice mayor, and then mayor. He served as vice mayor for six years and is now in his last term as mayor. Dela Cruz simply accepted the positions because, having grown up in a family of political leaders, he felt that this was already his destiny. Despite his reluctance, he accepted the role of public servant to set an example for his siblings, being the eldest of the three. His brother is now the town’s vice mayor. Their only sister never involved herself in politics. “People expect me to prove my leadership skills, especially since my parents are great leaders.”

As time went on, he began to embrace the responsibilities and found himself committed to serving the people of Don Salvador Benedicto. He took on the biggest responsibility when he became mayor in 2007. “It just started as a duty, then became a passion, then became a conviction.” Dela Cruz describes how he realized his purpose and mission. “I educated myself, thenI went above and beyond in service, and I came to understand that perhaps this is my life purpose. I also feel great, proud, and blessed. I am overwhelmed and amazed every time I see the people and the town,” he reveals.

Growing up in a family of political leaders, Dela Cruz’s journey in public service was not one of being being served success on a silver platter or blindly following political elders, contrary to what many may assume. Even during his time as councilor, he would have disagreements and arguments with his father, who was then serving as town mayor, over various government policies and issues. This may be because of their upbringing in the Dela Cruz household, where they are taught to speak and challenge authorities when they think that things are not right. “He had resolutions that I opposed. So sometimes he would get mad. Perhaps our upbringing instilled in us the notion that saying yes to things is not enough,” he recalls.

The mayor reveals that the weight of continuing his family’s legacy is heavy. He reveals that he feels pressured to follow in his parents’ footsteps. However, the responsibility for the Salvadorians is greater. This is what keeps him going. He admits that there were times when he considered pursuing his own interests instead of public service. However, he realized that doing so would disregard the sacrifices his parents made for the town. He acknowledged that his parents had sacrificed a lot for the town and that continuing their work was critical for its development. Dela Cruz states, “If I had been selfish, I would have pursued my own desires. One of my desires would have been to live a private life. However, the sacrifices made by my parents would have been in vain if I had chosen that path.” He emphasizes the importance of honoring his parents’ commitment to Don Salvador Benedicto, saying “They sacrificed their lives for Don Salvador Benedicto.”

People used to perceive the Dela Cruz family of Don Salvador Benedicto as a political dynasty, particularly given their leadership role since the town’s founding in 1983. This was not a concern for Mayor Dela Cruz, however. They believe that maybe it was because there were no potential leaders who were capable of leading the town during that time. “What would have happened to this place if my father had not discovered it? This could have been still a haven of insurgents,” Dela Cruz speaks highly of his late father and the work he did for Don Salvador Benedicto. The late Board Member Dela Cruz, according to his son, was a visionary, and it was a very ambitious move to establish a town, especially since his father did not come from a pedigreed political family of leaders, for they belong to a clan of labor leaders and union workers. “It was truly a challenging task. But, it was fortunate that there were leaders who had faith in him, believing he could transform this place into something truly remarkable. And look, what is it now?”



For decades, the Dela Cruz family’s leadership and reign over Don Salvador Benedicto seemed unshakeable. However, a surprising turn of events led to the family’s first electoral defeat in the 30 years since they began their political careers. In 2013, Mayor Dela Cruz aimed for reelection for his supposed last term but faced defeat. His father, meanwhile, lost his congressional bid in the First District. His mother, former Mayor Cynthia, also lost in the vice mayoralty race, and his brother Nehemiah Jr. made it to the local council. Mayor Dela Cruz describes it as a painful experience for the family, but it was also a humbling defeat. “We cried. We did not know what to do. However, I reminded myself not to question the Lord about why it happened, as I had never asked him about my victories,”he says. They acknowledged that they may have been overly complacent. They believe that their political lieutenants may be ineffective in the community, and their political machinery may be very old already. Their defeat was also an opportunity for them to discover who their true friends are. They lost friends. However, they came to enjoy this experience, as they were able to discern which of their friends were truly loyal to them. “In that situation, there are people who can’t stand up again because no one will help them. I am thankful that I have good friends who have supported me, and I still appreciate our friendship.” According to him, this circle of friends were the ones with whom he spent time to unwind from work stress and pressure. He adds that the defeat was a breather for the family, and they learned to value their private lives. It gave them time to focus on farming. According to Dela Cruz, the defeat transformed him into a positive person. He learned to see the beauty in losing. “I became a different person. I am not insecure anymore. I don’t fear losing because I have already won. I believe that I am good at winning,” he stresses.

Then came the 2016 elections. One of his best friends, former 4th District Congressman and now Negros Occidental Vice Governor Jeffrey Ferrer, urged him to try running for the mayoralty again. Dela Cruz tells LEAGUE that he thought of withdrawing days before the filing of certificates of candidacy. In 2016, he emerged victorious in the Don Salvador Benedicto election. He says that he reorganized and rebuilt the town and built a new political machinery.He says that his defeat was a great lesson for him. “This victory is really sweet. It became much sweeter after experiencing the pain of defeat,” he shares. He believes that everything happens for a reason. It took him a year, however, to realize and see the upside of losing. “Had I won back in 2013 for my supposed last term, I would not have been the mayor today.”


Don Salvador Benedicto is known for its scenic landscapes and cool climate. Before it became Negros’ summer capital, it was just a simple town that served as a pass-through to the northern parts of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental. It lacked the infrastructure and amenities needed to attract a significant influx of tourists. When Dela Cruz returned to office in 2016, he focused on the need for development to improve the town’s infrastructure and tourism. He said that he just continued the infrastructure projects initiated by his late father and boosted his mother’s tourism efforts. But what motivated him the most was the Salvadorians’ desire for change and development. Since the town is in the highlands, he maximized the lush greenery and scenic spots along the highway to attract investors. Restaurants, mountain resorts, spas, and other tourism activities slowly flourished in Don Salvador Benedicto. Now, it has gained a reputation as Negros Occidental's summer capital. It has become a must-visit destination for both local and foreign tourists visiting Negros. The mayor is not taking credit for himself alone, but for the support and cooperation of the townspeople that made the place a well-known destination. According to him, the transformation is a reflection of how authentic the Dela Cruz family's brand of leadership is in Don Salvador Benedicto. He hopes that with this change in the town, the economic progress and lives of the Salvadorians will continue to improve. “I can see how happy they are with the transformation. I want to see my fellow Salvadorians succeed in life.” He knows that if his father were alive, he would be very proud of what happened to the town he founded more than 40 years ago. “What we’re doing now as leaders of today is still continuing the work he left for us because this is still an unfinished work. The next generation of leaders also has to continue the work he started.”

He is also thankful that he was mayor during the COVID-19 pandemic. Had he won in the 2013 elections, he would not have had the opportunity to lead during the crisis. The pandemic, according to him, was a test of his leadership as mayor, just like other mayors. He was able to discover his strength in dealing with crises, especially since the people were very dependent on the mayor’s decisions during those times. “I feel that I was a battalion commander in an invisible war during that time,” he says. He takes great pride in his ability to successfully navigate the pandemic, as Don Salvador Benedicto boasts the lowest number of COVID-affected individuals.

The mayor also takes pride in his move to purchase 13 units of vehicles for various departments in Don Salvador Benedicto, including the police, municipal health office, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) through a loan from the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP). According to him, a fourth-class municipality loaning Php21 million from DBP is an ambitious undertaking.

Dela Cruz acknowledges that economic progress is now inevitable in his town. But they need to strike a balance between preserving the town’s natural beauty and economic development. “We also have to be cautious. We don't want our town to boom and bust like other tourist destinations in the past.” That’s why they want Don Salvador Benedicto to just naturally and slowly develop without destroying the place’s natural beauty through sustainable tourism. He hopes that

the next leader who replaces him will make this a priority.



The local chief executive is now in his last term. With the transformation that he and his family have brought about in Don Salvador Benedicto, he has declared that he will not seek a higher position in the province as he plans to retire soon. He remarks that his 29-year career in public service has been rewarding, and he is certain he has already done what is necessary for the people of Don Salvador Benedicto. Dela Cruz clarifies that he did not intend to follow the traditional path of politicians leaving office and moving up the political ladder. He wants to live a quiet life away from the spotlight, pursuing his personal goals.

Though he hopes that no powerful person will put him in position to reverse his choice of leaving politics, his decision is definitive. "If I were to close doors, especially with individuals I respect and trust, I would have second thoughts.”In the event that he chooses to retire and live in privacy, Mayor Laurence Marxlen Dela Cruz wants to be known as a leader who did a good job of loving and serving the people of Don Salvador Benedicto. “Loving your fellowmen is the foundation of our duty. When we are in power, we should not be selfish, as that is what makes politics right because power intoxicates. Indeed, the Salvadorian victory being enjoyed by the town is truly party of the Dela Cruz family legacy and of my magnum opus” he concludes.


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