In just the span of a few years, Brgy. Poblacion has rapidly grown into a thriving business and cultural hub that caters to tourists and locals alike. With its streets full of restaurants and bars, the once sleepy barangay has transformed into the place to be, especially for foodies and alcohol enthusiasts. And in the center of it all is none other than Brgy. Capt. Benhur L. Cruz.
Since assuming office in 2010, Cruz has actively sought for a change in Brgy. Poblacion’s image. For him, pre-existing establishments, such as El Chupacabra and Heckle and Jeckle Sports Bar, are huge factors on how Poblacion achieved the “facelift” it needs. But he knew that in order to flip its image completely, he would have to open its doors to everyone. In the barangay’s mission and vision, you could clearly see that one of their objectives is “conducive environment for business to flourish.”
As the center of Makati, its prime location has not gone unnoticed by entrepreneurs and so it didn’t take long until its streets were crawling with people in search of great food and drinks. Dozens of establishments have opened up in Poblacion since Cruz became barangay captain.
Of course, hand-in-hand with its development, a problem arises for the community and his office to resolve—noise pollution. “Poblacion is like a province within a city. We’re used to the silence,” Cruz says. He notes how drunken customers would often make noise until the wee hours of the morning. “So the once quiet Poblacion is now disturbed,” he adds.
With peace and order as his top priority, he encouraged the people to participate in keeping the barangay safe. Through Crime Watch, he handed out radios so that the residents can do their part. But aside from making sure that the neighborhood is peaceful, Cruz also aims to keep the streets clear from drugs. With the recent news of multiple raids into bars within the area, keeping Poblacion drug-free is one of his major goals.
According to Cruz, Poblacion has changed significantly since the launch of President Duterte’s drug war. He also notes the huge drop in crime rate as one of the top results of the anti-drug campaign. For its residents who, in his words, “have lost their way to drugs,” Poblacion has a Comprehensive Rehabilitation Program that gets them back on track. This initiative partially secures another one of its objectives, which is a “safe, secure, eco-friendly neighborhood,” proving once again that its mission and vision statements are more than just platitudes for people to gloss over. For Makati, or at least here in Brgy. Poblacion, they aren’t just words.
OLD AND NEW
Despite all the changes in Barangay Poblacion in recent years, one thing remains, which Cruz is adamant to maintain—culture. More specifically, religious events which are not commonly witnessed anymore in the bustling streets of Metro Manila.
As Makati’s center of culture and tradition, the barangay has big shoes to fill. And every year, especially during Holy Week, the residents wear it with a smile. They hold an annual Lenten Procession and also celebrate the Dance of the Virgins, which praises their patron saints—Peter, Paul, and Virgen de la Rosa or Lady of the Rose. More than just a tradition, the community’s devotion to upholding Holy Week traditions is initially what inspired Cruz to keep striving for a solid neighborhood.
When asked about his projects, Cruz emphasizes the unity of the community. “The magic of this place is the residents and what we do, which is to include them in everything. We make sure they’re involved,” he proudly says. In order for every project to be carried out perfectly, his office coordinates with the SK or Sangguniang Kabataan and church-based institutions within Poblacion to make sure that everyone is working towards the barangay’s improvement.
Now, the barangay is as solid as a rock. After sitting for a few minutes in the lobby of Poblacion’s quaint barangay hall situated at the corner of J.P. Rizal and Mabini, one could arrive at the conclusion that this community is genuinely tight-knit. Everyone seems to know each other by name and sincerely cares for one another in a way that makes even passing visitors feel at home almost immediately.
But then again, it didn’t always start out that way. Cruz had his fair share of frustrations, especially at the beginning. “When I was elected, what I saw was a divided barangay. And no matter what the government does, if there is no unity, nothing will happen. So it became my mission to unite the community, because when they’re united, everything [else] will follow.”
And so, One Poblacion began. It was, and continues to be, his most ambitious project. He also considers it as his biggest achievement to date, despite numerous awards the barangay has received. “That became my project—community and government working as one,” he says.
Another point of pride for him is his ability to communicate openly with everyone. This includes people who competed against him and even those who curse him. “It’s not easy for us public servants to swallow our pride so we can do what we need to do for the barangay,” he quips. “But get rid of politics…For me, everyone is on equal footing.”
If there is no unity, nothing will happen. So it became my mission to unite the community, because when they’re united, everything [else] will follow.
Public service is not glamorous, but what makes it all worth it for Cruz is quite simple. It is seeing the happy, grateful faces of the people he serves. For him, the best aspect of being a barangay official is taking part in Poblacion’s rescue team. For eight years, prior to becoming the barangay captain, he served the community by driving ambulances and volunteering as a fireman.
“When you see the people you’ve helped, there’s no need for them to say ‘thank you.’ It’s enough that when you get home, you think to yourself ‘I helped someone today…I helped their family members and loved ones get home safe’,” Cruz says.
Many of his ongoing projects also help to improve the lives of the barangay’s residents. Adopt a Student program provides monthly allowance to its scholars. Another that has been in operation since 2017 is the Nobody to Somebody program, a rehab program done in cooperation with Makati’s Anti-Drug Abuse Council. The participants get to participate in worthwhile activities such as recollection, field trips, and painting.
Upon entering his office, you will immediately notice two things—the life-size statue of a saint facing the door and the multiple picture frames decorating the wall, most of which feature his family. A loving husband to his wife, Rizabele, and father of four adorable children, Cruz effortlessly recites their complete names: Marvin Dexter, Xebastian Carlisle, Xamantha Ckishe, and Xabino Clyve Benhur.
Every politician and public servant knows the struggle of finding time to spend with family and friends without compromising his or her duties to the people. Cruz shares that he initially set Sunday as a day for his family, but he soon realized that it is not possible.
“For example, I’m not doing anything. I don’t have a schedule and I’m waiting for something to happen or an emergency for me to attend to, I give them my time,” he says, referring to his family. After all, serving the people knows no schedule. But with years of experience, also comes wisdom.
The University of Santo Tomas alumnus has been in public service since he was 19 years old. After joking that he chose the course with the least math involved, he confessed that he didn’t have a goal and took whichever was open. And so he graduated with a degree in B.S. Commerce, major in Management. During his time in college, he served as an SK (Sangguniang Kabataan) Chairman. After which, Cruz was elected as a kagawad for three straight terms. It seems public service came to him naturally.
When asked about his inspiration for becoming a public servant, Cruz considers his grandfather as one of his biggest influences. His grandfather is none other than the former barangay captain of Brgy. Poblacion—Melecio Laurente, who served during the time of former Makati City Mayor Nemesio Yabut. But their similarities don’t end there. Many residents note that Cruz is just like his grandfather, referring to their shared tendency to not charge small-time stores.
Excellence, Service, and Unity. These are the three core values of Barangay Poblacion. With Benhur Cruz at the helm, these values are not only put up in a plaque for display purposes, they are exemplified in everything the barangay does. Together with its residents, Cruz has awakened the neighborhood into what it is today—a cultural tourist hub frequented by food and beverage lovers. More importantly, it is a united community brought together by kindness and dedication. It is One Poblacion. — HELEN HERNANE