Did you forget about the books? There is an urban legend about a library that sinks a few inches every year because the architect forgot to account for the weight of the books. One small detail was forgotten and eventually, the entire building was condemned.

In her own way, Mayor Dahlia Loyola knows just how important it is to take everything into consideration.

“Your constituents are members of the society. When you lead, it should be inclusive growth where nobody is left behind,” Mayor Dahlia said.

Even before the interview officially started, Mayor Dahlia wasted no time in telling us about Carmona and how happy their citizens are. According to the mayor, the key is in their leadership style—participative and inclusive.

“Our leadership style is participative. We encourage the people to be a part of the decision-making because we believe that if they are a part of your program-drafting and services, they will be more than willing to participate in all of your activities,” Mayor Dahlia said.

Mayor Dahlia’s prime example is their community’s HIV testing; the local government managed to get Carmona’s entire LGBTQ community tested. Considering the stigma against the LGBTQ community and HIV, the simple accomplishment is nothing less than an astounding feat.

“We empower our people from all the sectors, including the LGBTQ community. We try to gather them, form organizations, and give them a chance to participate in our special bodies,” Mayor Dahlia said, enumerating the organizations in Carmona—department heads, NGOs, tricycle drivers, women’s group, PWDs, LGBTQ, senior citizens, etc.

Your constituents are members of the society. When you lead, it should be inclusive growth where nobody is left behind.

“A good leader is a good listener and follower,” Mayor Dahlia added. “So in policy-making, especially the ones with regard to a particular group, we consult with them. It can’t just be a one-man or one-woman rule here.”

On the day of our visit, the people of Carmona themselves showed the team how much they appreciate the mayor. In the guise of a photo shoot, the mayor and our team went to the basketball court across the municipal hall. Inside, the tricycle drivers had organized a birthday surprise for the mayor. Confetti rained down on everyone as they held a giant tarpaulin with a birthday greeting, a life-sized standee of the mayor, and a cake.

And very much the mother-figure that she is, Mayor Dahlia only had one thing to say for the smiling tricycle drivers. “Iwasan niyo na ang bisyo, (You should avoid your vices from now on,)” she said, earning a laugh from the crowd.

But what exemplifies Mayor Dahlia’s influence more was what happened afterwards. While the mayor was going around, talking to the drivers, some of them began sweeping up the confetti from the floor. And before we had even left the court, the place was spotless.

Prior to the impromptu celebration, Mayor Loyola confessed that she is very hands-on when it comes to her leadership. With her, no leaf is left unturned. Sometimes, this means literally. Her employees even share how the mayor is occasionally seen sweeping and taking care of the plants around the municipality.

But more importantly, Mayor Dahlia prides in shifting their mindset when it comes to the local government.

“I consider it my greatest fulfilment that we changed their attitude, from ‘We don’t want to go to the government, they can’t help with anything’ to ‘Let us go to the municipal hall to seek for help because we’re sure that they can help us’,” Mayor Dahlia said, emphasizing that people are easier to manage when they truly feel that their government cares for them.

And caring for her people is the very essence of everything that Mayor Dahlia does.

Beaming with pride, she tells us about their award-winning comprehensive program for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs). From detection and diagnosis to intervention, SPED tutorials, skills programs, and entrepreneurial opportunities, their program covers everything.

The program, “Your Embrace, My Hope” Comprehensive Framework on Education and Rehabilitation illustrates that Mayor Dahlia’s values inclusivity.

“These children are angels,” Mayor Dahlia said. “If we don’t help them what will happen to their future?”

The 1992 Magna Carta for Disabled Persons states that every PWD should be aided in their integration into mainstream society and provided with equal opportunities for employment. But Mayor Dahlia lamented that even though it is mandated, not everyone in the country is following it, let alone going above and beyond their call of duty for their special citizens.

“Not every local government has the passion to do it. They are appropriating funds, but the funds are not given to these children for them to receive a comprehensive program,” Mayor Dahlia added. “But here in our community, I am proud to say that each and every PWD in our town is happy because they are expecting a good life.”

Even after many years and awards, Mayor Dahlia admitted that she is often discouraged to talk about their program because of the lack of enthusiasm from fellow leaders.

“My only wish is for people to follow our program. I’ve declined invitations to talk because I get disappointed that my audience are often parents of PWDs and organizations when I’d like my audience to be local chief executives who are willing to allocate and disburse funds for these children,” she said.

After more than a decade of service, not counting the years she served behind the scenes alongside her husband, being the chief executive of Carmona looks like second nature to Mayor Dahlia. But a life in politics wasn’t a part of her plan.

An alumna of UP Los Baños and University of Perpetual Help Biñan, Mayor Dahlia was a doctor by profession. But the call to run as municipal mayor could not be ignored. Former mayor now Congressman Roy Loyola, her husband, was about to end his third term and despite her hesitance, she ran as his replacement.

“For nine years, I was behind the scenes. I organized medical missions, and people saw that I helped those in need. When Roy wasn’t around, I talked to them and they must have recognized my potentials,” Mayor Dahlia said.

Mayor Dahlia spoke highly of her husband, citing him as her main source of inspiration. From watching him lead Carmona from 1995 to 2004 and from 2007 to 2010, she learned how to become a tough leader while at the same time valuing each member of the community.

“From him, I learned that your ideas can’t always prevail. You also have to ask for the opinions of others…Even our toughest rivals from past elections, we slowly embraced them and integrated pieces of their advice. We also learned from them,” Mayor Dahlia said.

Currently, on her third term, Mayor Dahlia shared her plans to run for Congress while her husband returns to being Carmona’s mayor. And even after serving Carmona for 24 years, she said they still have plenty of plans for the betterment of the municipality and their people.

Sabi ni Roy, as long as you still have the energy and the intellect, put your heart into it and you will not stop from creating an impact and making a difference,” Mayor Dahlia said, noting the tirelessness of her husband when it comes to thinking of solutions and innovations for Carmona.

After years of service and turning Carmona from a landfill to a first class municipality, Mayor Dahlia considers her greatest achievement to be empowering the people.

“When I saw how many I motivated and how I taught them to empower themselves and the people around them, I felt extremely happy. The secret [in leading] is involving the people when you formulate plans, programs, and policies. At the end of the day, they are very much willing to help,” Mayor Dahlia said.

Mayor Dahlia even mentioned that at her age of 58 years old, she is hesitant to run. But what keeps her going is the fact that others around her are very enthusiastic in helping the people, even without the perks, salary, and position of a mayor.

“That’s the best part of being a mayor. You are able to change lives and make an impact,” Mayor Dahlia added.

In her many years of service, Mayor Dahlia who is also the president of League of Mayors of Cavite, strived to achieve what others fear is impossible. She was also named as Outstanding Woman Leader of 2018 by the provincial Government of Cavite. And if Carmona’s many awards are any indication, then she has undoubtedly accomplished her goal. How did she do it? Simple, she didn’t forget about the books. — HELEN HERNANE


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