December 5, 2022

When Benjamin Magalong ran for mayor of Baguio in the 2019 elections, we endorsed him over good friends from Baguio because, among all of the candidates, he was the only candidate for mayor, who had a comprehensive plan of running our city in addressing traffic problem, water shortage, garbage disposal, eco-tourism, housing, communications system, etc.
The others were just mouthing motherhood statements without concrete goals and direction.
We met for the first time after he was elected as mayor, when he visited me and laid out his 15-point program with confidence and enthusiasm that he can realize his program within his one term.
He then said that he would not run for any re-election to avoid any “disruptions” in the performance of his official duties. I told him not to even promise or declare to the public that he will be a one term mayor because three years is not enough to realize or achieve his 15-point program.
Mayor Benjie then thought of creating an advisory council to be composed of some leaders in the community who could offer comments and suggestions about his performance towards implementing his 15-point program.
However, the onset of his first term was met by the life-threatening Covid-19 virus which spread so rapidly that national health authorities declared an epidemic and soon World Health Organization declared a pandemic.
We were so much relieved that at the helm of the city was Mayor Benjie who is a no-nonsense leader who anticipated the consequences of the situation and with the guidance of the Inter-Agency Task Force created by the government to address the pandemic, ably and aggressively implemented mitigation actions to manage the spread of the Covid-19 in our city.
Through his leadership, our city effectively implemented lockdown, quarantine and health protocols.
In fact, his contact tracing strategy was acknowledged not only by our country but by the other Southeast Asian countries. When the vaccines were discovered, Mayor Benjie did not just rely or wait for what vaccines could be allocated by the national government to our city, but he developed an independent vaccine procurement that made Baguio as among the first cities to attain herd immunity. So too is Baguio among the cities with the lowest mortality rates.
This sterling leadership cannot be overshadowed by his being “strict” and appear to be making our city a “military camp”, that his detractors are now complaining about. His being “strict” is in fact a reason why he was able to instil discipline among the citizenry during the pandemic specially in the implementation of health protocols.
A couple of glitches in the implementation of Covid-19 health protocols that his detractors are now making balloons out of cannot overshadow Mayor Benjie’s huge success in managing the health of the city during this time of crisis.
It came to our mind that, had it been the “I kin-nat do anything” attitude of a past hizzoner that handled the pandemic, maybe Baguio may now be a virtual cemetery.
Although we have great concern about the public market development, we know that Mayor Benjie shall make use of his second term to reflect on the legacy that he will leave behind and use the golden opportunity to realize the yearning to return that “Baguio feeling” the moment you step into the public market. I remember tourists telling me that it was enough experience for them to go around the market to tell their folks back home that they have been to Baguio – the melting pot of cultures from the lowlands and the highlands.
The huge concrete box building presented by SM is definitely not representative of Baguio’s market charm and mystique. We are dead certain that such kind of development will definitely be embraced by an “I kinnat do eniting” executive.
Baguio is home to many young and imaginative artists and architects imbued with a sense of history and culture, among them national artists, who can conceive and design that kind of public market that is definitely and uniquely Baguio.
As to the other come-backing candidate, he must realize that he had all the decades of opportunity to improve Baguio, ever since he sat down as mayor, but he failed to do so. He proclaimed himself as the “Janitor of Baguio” but he did not know where to throw the garbage that kept on piling rapidly because he allowed trees to be cut and instead let concrete buildings grow in their place. That was his idea of progress, or was it “stomach progress”?
John Maxwell’s famous quotation on leadership comes to mind: “A leader is someone who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”
In the short three years that Mayor Benjie is in office, he proved that he has a clear vision of what Baguio will be, he is following that vision should we give him another term, and he has been inspiring and helping the community to find their paths towards that vision.
As to the other candidate, I am told that he has none but a personal desire to be back in office to lick his wounded pride of having lost in the last electoral exercise. A good leader knows when he should rest and let others lead the people to a better Baguio.
One last note when the polls open: Let us learn from the lessons of history. We cannot commit a mistake twice. Another Marcos presidency is much too much a burden for the Filipino people to bear as we are still paying for our country’s loans brought about by the plunder and kleptocracy of the Marcos family.
As the chant of the youths to whom the future belongs goes: Leni be! Leni be! Leni be! (DEL CLARAVALL)