Some people buckle down under pressure; some wouldn’t even think of going through it and quit. Only a few dare venture and come out of it victorious. One of them is Christian Natividad, the incumbent mayor of Malolos City.
The son of the late Congressman Teodulo “Teddy” Natividad, Christian grew up with his grandparents, mother Matilde, and brother Chester. He only saw his father once or twice a year on special occasions as his father had to attend to his busy political life and his first family.
Despite that, Christian didn’t hold any grudge against his dad but looked up to him with much pride and reverence. During the interview with LEAGUE, his face beams as he reminisced about his father, his accomplishments and vision for the province of Bulacan.
“The greatest inheritance I got from my father is not the material things he gave me but my character. Who I am now is because of him,” says the local chief executive.
It was no surprise that at age six, he wanted to be a politician like Cong. Teddy; he wanted to be a mayor. His father was against it and so were the odds. With his stature then, it proved to be a difficult climb. As it was with transforming Malolos into a progressive city that it is now.
A believer in the importance of education, his parents ensured he received the best education. He went to private schools up until college.
At 19, this third-year college student had to man up when his dad died of prostate cancer, leaving him and his family with nothing. He promised his mom that he would send his younger brother, then on his third year in high school, and himself to school. He learned to juggle work and his studies selling encyclopedias during the day and was the guitar man for a band at night. He followed a punishing schedule; leisure became a luxury.
His class at UST was from 3PM to 7PM and show time started at 9PM. By 3 or 4AM, he would be riding a jeepney from Manila back to his home in Bulacan. His tired body would summon rest between 6 to 7AM. By noon, he would be up and out of the house with his books and his guitar by 1:30PM. Then there was his responsibility to the community.
Christian had his first taste of public service during his college days when the mayor at that time appointed him as Sangguniang Kabataan chairman because nobody ran for the post. With his community projects, including setting up with fellow leaders a campaign against drugs known as KAPANALIG or Kabataang Panlalawigan na Nagkakaisa Laban sa Ipinagbabawal na Gamot—which earned him a citation from the Philippine National Police in 1998—people started to notice him.
Fresh out of college and after his SK term, 20-year-old Christian became the youngest municipal councilor in 1998. The untiring public servant continued to juggle his time when he entered law school. By 2001, he again ran and won as councilor in Malolos; landing the number one slot for the second time. It seemed like things were falling into place for the boy who wanted to be mayor. But three years later, his political career took a screeching halt when his first bid for mayoralty proved unsuccessful in 2004.
“I lost by a small margin but it taught me a lot about politics,” says the third-termer local chief.
He used this time to recoup. He taught at the Southeast Asian College, Inc. from 7AM to 5PM and transferred to FEU Law School where he attended classes from 6PM to 9PM. Driven to succeed, this Dean’s Lister read for six to eight hours every night and graduated at the top of his class in 2007.
In the same year, he was invited by the governor to join his slate for the provincial board. But this new lawyer was reluctant to get back in the game. “Coming from a loss, I hesitated 30 or 40 times. I said I wanted to be a lawyer at NBI or be part of the National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM), the agency that my dad created and loved so much. That’s what his dream was for me,” he recalls.
Somehow, he couldn’t say no to the people’s clamor and when they had spoken, he became number one provincial board member in the first district of Bulacan. From then on, success came one after the other. He passed the Bar in 2009 and a year later, at 32, without money for the campaign, the charismatic public servant pulled it through and became the youngest ever elected mayor in the history of Malolos.
That’s probably how he earned his moniker, “Agila ng Bulakan.” For he soared above the overwhelming challenges fate threw at him. But apparently, his trials didn’t end when he realized his dream.
It was another uphill climb. When the new mayor took his seat, the city hall’s financial state was in the red. On his first week, he had to negotiate to keep its electricity running. The numbers in the education sector looked appalling.
“The ideal classroom to student ratio is 1:45. In Malolos, the ratio that time was 1:96. How can the students learn? Also, we had the highest dropout and incompletion rates in secondary school,” he says.
Agila ng Bulakan knew exactly what was expected of him—a lot of hard work—something he has been doing all his life. Again, he took up the challenge, not for himself or for his family but for his city.
EDUCATION IS KEY
Mayor Christian believes in investing in human capital. “In the long run, the return of investment is higher if I spend more on the people—on our youth, the family.”
For starters, he explains, “After two years as mayor, we erased those numbers. We built more classrooms and our ratio now is 1:40; even better than the standard. Now, we have one high school for every three barangays and we’re still constructing.” Local budget is also allocated for technical-vocational and college scholarships.
He also talks about changing the mindset of the people, especially the youth, to eradicate poverty. “We should teach them to dream. I wanted to build a city that people can call their home, one with a good standard of living where they plan their dreams. I say plan because they know that in Malolos, their dreams can happen. They can achieve their dreams. `Di lang basta pangarap.”
If you go to the city of Malolos today, you will find yourself in a place bustling with energy and enthusiasm. You can sense that excitement in the air and in the faces of its folks. All sorts of businesses line up the busy highways and the inner roads.
Under the able leadership of Mayor Natividad, Malolos received several citations that are noteworthy, like the Seal of Good Local Governance and Seal of Good Housekeeping from the DILG and another from the BIR as one of the top LGUs that contributed significantly to the enhancement of the agency’s tax administration and operations; these aside from the tourism and festival awards.
Browsing at the numbers will show the city’s transformation in a span of eight years. Malolos does not solely depend on its IRA or internal revenue allotment. By introducing reforms, it has improved its income by leaps and bounds and it even makes more than its share from the national government budget.
How did the city do it?
“For one, businesses are declaring their actual income. More opened shops because they say, we energized the city. People have confidence in our governance. We know how to manage our money. Compared to others, our income is small and yet we are able to provide better social services than the bigger cities,” says the local chief executive.
The city’s programs and projects for farmers and fisherfolk, senior citizens, education, healthcare, and other social services including rice subsidy for bereaved families are exemplary, according to the standards of the Association of Local Social Welfare and Development Officers of the Philippines Inc. and the DSWD such that the Malolos’s three-term mayor has been awarded as the Most Oustanding Mayor thrice and now belongs to its Hall of Fame.
In crafting policies, the mayor likes to engage and involve his fellowmen. “I like consulting with the people when it comes to policies. I let them give solutions to their problems. For example, if it’s a traffic problem, I convene those in the transport sector—even the tricycle drivers. When it comes to farming and fishing, I listen to farmers and fishermen because I know that a lawyer like me can never be wiser than them when it comes to their livelihoods.”
In 2010, Malolos was number 23 among the 24 local government units of Bulacan in terms of harvest or yield per hectare. After dialogues, reforms, and actual implementation of existing laws like collecting taxes from idle lands to encourage landowners to start planting, the city, like its topnotch mayor, became number one in this category by 2013.
To engage the youth, he brought in basketball, extreme sports, and other activities that attract attention to the city.
With its resources, infrastructure, and a promising future, the historic Malolos was recognized as one of the Top 10 Next Wave Cities in the Philippines by the DOST-ICTO, Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP), and Leechiu Property Consultants in 2016.
Now it is happening. The Malolos City Central Transport Terminal was inaugurated this January. The mayor reveals, “We were able to put up this project worth P350 million, without spending money from the city coffers but through the public-private partnership (PPP) with Xentro Mall. My vision is now a reality.” The impressive structure houses not only public utility vehicles but it also serves as a business center that offers more than 3,000 jobs for Bulakenyos.
Mayor Christian has another PPP project in the works, which is worth P2.2 billion—the Heritage Center of the Philippines —which will also house a techno-hub for the private component that is estimated to attract new businesses, 12,000 new jobs and taxpayers for the city.
It is no secret that Malolos’s beloved and pride is now setting his eyes on the gubernatorial seat. But if it were up to him, he would rather exit the political race and focus his attention on his children. “Speaking from the heart, I really want to devote time for my kids. I want to spend more time with them while they’re young.”
But that would also mean leaving his bigger family, his higher calling.
Twenty of the 24 mayors in his home province, including congressmen and women and other prominent officials, have appealed to him to lead them for they believe in his innovative management style. “They say I am a risk taker and I have unorthodox ways. I like to experiment. It’s really my personality,” he says.
So far, his experiments seem to be working his way and that of his people. He has energized the sleepy Malolos, and even the adjacent towns are reaping the rewards.
As in his student days, the mayor continues to be creative, resourceful, and persevering in his ways. What he did for Malolos, the local leaders and most likely the Bulakenyos, trust he can do for their province also. And so does he. — RHODA OSALVO