Posted 6 years ago

Cool and transparent: By being every man to all Olongapeños, Mayor Rolen Paulino becomes THE man – the kind of leader the city needs in these trying, changing times.

By Percy Roxas

Mayor Paulino: Cool and transparent.

Down-to-earth is a description so overused these days it is almost cliché. But no other word comes close enough when describing the present mayor of Olongapo City, Rolen Paulino. From this entire countenance to his manner of speaking and his distinctive brand of leadership, Paulino breaks away from the mold we create for ourselves about how our leaders should be. Whether he is doing it consciously or not, Paulino is Olongapo’s “every man.” And by being every man to all Olongapeños, Paulino becomes THE man – the kind of leader the city needs in these trying, changing times.

“I’m easy (hindi ako mahirap kasama), I’m just cool (cool lang ako), and I really don’t want anything more than I have right now (hindi ako maluho),” he said. “I’m not after fancy cars, and I still live in our old house, in fact.”

How down–to-earth is Paulino, really? Ask him what he considers his best achievement as mayor so far and he will reply: “Yung nabigyan ko lang ng tulog ang mga taga Olongapo (That I was able to give Olongapeños sound sleep),” referring the sleepless nights the populace would spend during rainy season for fear that floods and other disasters will hit their city again. A disastrous flood “traumatized” Olongapo residents in 2013.

Characteristically, his simple answer belies the fact that the city went through a comprehensive river-dredging program that continues to this day, along with massive complementary programs to involve the public in river cleanups, beautification, and related awareness campaigns.

Similarly, he calls his administration “cool and transparent lang.” In fact, Paulino would be the first person to deny that he is doing anything more than do what was entrusted for him to do as city mayor. But his track record proves that there is more substance to the man than even he himself cares to admit.

Fact: When he took over as mayor in 2013, the city only had PHP 25 million in the bank against a debt of PHP 5.1 billion (due to unpaid power consumption in the city) and a looming power crisis. By July 2016, the city’s cash in bank had jumped to more than PHP 700 million. Revenue from business permits alone have increased to whopping 27 percent already, he told us by the time of the interview.

Fact: From 2013 to 2015, the city government of Olongapo had cemented 4,753.19 meters of road, while as of July 2016, a total of 10,662.30 meters of roads were cemented – for a grand total of 15, 413.49 meters of equivalent when you drive from Olongapo to Castillejos or Olongapo to Dinalupihan end using SCTEX. “This year alone, we’re working simultaneously on some 49 roads,” he said.

Fact: During his first four years in office, Olongapo has been recognized as the most peaceful city in the region. “It’s not a zero crime rate,” the mayor said, “but compared to other cities in the country, we have the lowest crime rate today.”

Fact: Implementation of projects have become a main anchor under Paulino’s administration, the highlights of which includes improvements at the James L. Gordon Memorial Hospital, which became more competitive and is now considered the second best government-run hospital in the country, after Davao’s. And these are just a few.

The city seems to be on a roll in fact, with the numerous projects underway and being lined-up at the moment: A new SM City – expected to change the face of the city – is rising, Olongapo’s entry into the digital arena is on track, and more infrastructure and development projects — like the Kalaklan Ridge project, the program for senior citizens, etc.– are afoot.

Yet Paulino is not one to show-off his achievements. At his office, visitors will not find any trace of his photos receiving awards or highlighting what he has achieved for the city. It’s not his style. He doesn’t’ even put his name — as is the age-old habit in Philippine politics — in public work projects being undertaken around the city.

“Awards and recognitions are good, but I’d rather that Olongapo residents are happy because their government is working for them,” he said. “I’m after the public’s satisfaction.”

With the city’s apparent vibrancy both physically and otherwise, Olongapenos have been stepping up and making their city proud. Just recently, athletes from Olongapo City bagged three golds in the recently concluded Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur.

True-blue Olongapeño
Paulino’s rise to the highest position in the city wasn’t planned. “Ni wala sa hinagap ko noon na tatakbo ako ng mayor (Not even in wishful thinking have I thought I’d be running for mayor),” he said “But I’m very idealistic. And when my idealism became frustration, I decided to run for public office.”

Paulino was actually one of the first volunteers of the then ARGO, which eventually became Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA). He was executive assistant to then mayor and now-senator Richard Gordon, and when he joined SBMA, became in-charge of sports.

In 1998, he was invited to become part of the slate of former mayor Kate Gordon, but some things went out of hand, he says, and so he decided to run as independent in 2004. Mitos Magsaysay won as congresswoman, James “Bong” Gordon won as Olongapo mayor and he won as vice mayor.

“I extended my hand for reconciliation and supported Bong during his first term, because, after all,” he said, “it’s all politics.”

In 2007, he ran for mayor but lost. Then he became running mate of Vic Magsaysay (who lost). He won. “Sinuwerte tayo (I got lucky),” he quipped. His platform: “Sabi ko hindi ako magnanakaw (I said I will not steal). When I was vice mayor, I saw how Olongapo was plunged into debt and how its power situation became a major problem.”

The reason he ran was because he doesn’t want to regret what could have been. “So I tried, and binigay naman sa akin ng Panginoon,” he said. “I want to know what I can do as mayor and that’s what I’ve been doing to this day.”

His baptism of fire arrived early. His first test as a mayor was solving the looming power crisis. “Immediately after taking my seat, I went to the National Power Corporation. They were then cutting power left and right. It wasn’t easy, but eventually we were given a preferable term to pay our debt.”

After two months in office came another test: the waist-high flood that sunk the city – which necessitated what is now called a “rebirth.” And two weeks after the cleanup, came the “leptospirosis” attacks. Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that can lead to kidney damage, meningitis (inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord), liver failure, respiratory distress, and even death.

Thus, the following year, the city government started a major public work projects and campaign to avoid a repeat of the previous “disasters.

As can be expected, not all sectors were happy with what was being done, Paulino said. But again, the mayor said, “OK lang. Because, for example with leptospirosis, how can you argue with the fact that with 600 cases prior to our efforts, we had zero case the following year?”

“When you’re in a race, you just focus on the finish line; you don’t let the bystanders distract you,” he said. “Of course you have to know who they are, but you can’t be onion skinned when somebody hits you.”

But Paulino admitted that it has become relatively smooth sailing after those ‘tests,’ and he was able to push through with other developmental projects needed by the city without much hurdle. He refuses to take all the credit for himself though: “Lahat ng maganda sa mga Gordon pinulot ko, hindi ko lang ideya lahat ng ito, and I’m proud that we have people like them from Olongapo and Zambales that we can be proud of. One of the best senators (Richard Gordon) is from here – which proves that Olongapo is a good breeding ground — and one of the best presidents (Ramon Magsaysay) we have ever had is from Zambales. That should inspire us all.”

So today the “cool” mayor is quite “happy” being where he is and doing what he does. “But not so happy,” he was quick to add, “because there’s so much more to be done and our job of serving the people really never ends. Ang sa akin lang, pahabain sana ang buhay.

“I live my life on a day-to-day basis,” he continued. “I’m not even sure if I’ll continue running for public office or not; but I do my best from day to day. I’m not perfect. I make mistakes too. But I don’t regret anything I’ve done.”

Besides enjoying his family time and treating Olongapo like a house he should be taking care of 24/7, Paulino’s passions these days include motorcycling, tennis, and golf. But he considers himself first and foremost, a public servant.

“I’m just a public servant,” Paulino – probably one of the only few mayors who wears ID tag to work every day — reiterated. “This office is not mine; I’m just being used by someone up there (God) to help others and do what must be done. And that’s what I will continue to do while I’m in this office.”


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