As the first woman mayor of Laoag City, Chevylle Fariñas has broken stereotypes that the highest government position in this part of Ilocos belongs only to a man. She had been a known figure in the city’s political scene as the public servant’s wife—to late husband Michael Fariñas, who served three terms as barangay chairman of Brgy. San Jacinto and mayor of Laoag City, before his untimely demise on June 6, 2018; he died in a car crash.
The lady mayor fondly refers to herself as her husband’s “reliable spare tire” when he was still in position. Performing the role of a dutiful wife and the mother of the city, she was there to support her husband in all his programs, especially those related to women.
She was his executive secretary, public relations officer, and cheerleader rolled into one. “My husband was the quiet, serious type, so I used to be the person who would go to the people and talk to them. Perhaps it helped that I was an advertising graduate, I knew quite well how to advertise him,” she says.
When her husband became mayor and would get swamped with obligations and commitments, Fariñas would gladly pitch in for him. “There are 80 barangays in Laoag City, so you can just imagine during Christmas season when all of them are having their programs, the mayor cannot attend to all of them. I had to be there for him. And that was how I got into the consciousness of Laoageños. That’s how they realized that the mayor’s wife can do so much more,” she says.
TAKING THE HELM
Fariñas knew for a fact that staying in the sidelines won’t get her anywhere if she wants to do more for the people of Laoag City. “Kahit magaling ka, kung walang opportunity na maibibigay sa’yo, wala rin. (Even if you are brilliant, if you are denied opportunities, your brilliance will be useless.) You have to create the opportunity yourself. Seize the moment. And when there’s an opportunity, never let it pass because the same opportunity will not come twice,” she quips.
Driven to continue what her husband has started, she ran as barangay chairperson of San Jacinto in 2004 and served for three consecutive terms. She was “Apo Kapitana” to many, like a mother you’d call in times of need and distress. “You know, one of my frustrations in government is that there are so many tedious processes that people have to follow in order to avail of services,” she admits. So when a constituent needs help, many times, she would just extend personal help. “I cannot always rely on government because baka mamatay na `yung humihingi ng tulong sa akin bago ko siya matulungan (an ill person could die before government aid reaches him).”
During her stint as barangay chairperson, she was also elected as president of the Association of Barangay Councils (ABC) in 2006. “My fellow barangay officials told Michael that they wanted me to continue what he had done in order to sustain it. Because it was during his stint when all 80 barangays had become united; before, there would be factions. So after Michael, I took on the challenge and served as ABC president. I told myself, I can’t let my husband’s efforts be put to waste. I have to find a way to strengthen the organization and make it better,” she says.
When her husband finished his third term as mayor, Fariñas stepped up to the plate and ran for the mayoralty post. It was a tough call, so to speak, because she had to run against Michael’s uncle, former mayor Roger Fariñas, and another former mayor, Cesar Ventura. She prevailed in the said election. Michael went up against Atty. Kris Ablan for vice-mayor, and won as well.
BREAKING THE MOLD
Mayor Chevylle Fariñas is not your typical mayor. For one, you’d most likely find her in ripped jeans, rubber shoes, and shirt almost on a daily basis. “I go to the barangays more often. I hate being alone in this office. I love being with people,” she tells us.
On her first year as mayor, one of the foundations she set was strengthening the relationship of the government with the grassroots. “I wanted the people to have confidence in their government. Here is an administration wherein the people can readily talk to the mayor for any concerns, meet her in the office or anywhere. My office is not the city hall, [it’s where the people are],” she says.
Mayor Chevylle Fariñas is not your typical mayor. For one, you’d most likely find her in ripped jeans, rubber shoes, and shirt almost on a daily basis. “I go to the barangays more often. I hate being alone in this office. I love being with people,” she says.
Fariñas likens herself to a mother. “When you’re a mother, you have to have a lot of patience for the people, you have to be able to understand them and put yourself in their place, and be there for them all the time. That’s why my flagship program is “Agserbi 24/7” (Provide Service 24/7). I want all the services of the city government to be brought to the barangays, so they have no reason to say that they weren’t able to avail of such services because they are not aware of it.”
Keeping the welfare of Laoageños in mind, Fariñas established the Agserbi 24/7 birthing facility, Bahay Pag-asa (for juvenile delinquents), and a retirement home/daycare for senior citizens.
The lady local chief executive notes that many of Laoag City’s barangays are located in outlying areas. So she’s glad that the employees of the city government decided to accept her suggestion to work on Saturdays, even for just half a day. “Many people, even my [late] husband [former Mayor Michael Fariñas] told me before, ‘Are you sure of what you want to do? You might get the ire of the employees.’ But I told them it should be ingrained in the minds of the employees that our salaries come from the people. That we are not here because we are brilliant and skilled but because we are willing to go out of our way, go the extra mile, and sacrifice. Pero baka lang gusto na akong sakalin ng mga tao, ‘di lang nila magawa (They may already want to strangle me, but just couldn’t”) she says, laughing. “You have to show them that you are also doing it yourself, so they follow your lead.”
She admits that time with family is inevitably sacrificed, but she would always remind herself of the reason she’s in the position—first, because of the people; and second, because she wants to keep the legacy of her husband alive. “The foundation has been laid down [by my husband], and it’s a very strong foundation. The challenge is how to sustain and how to innovate, so that our projects stay relevant to the times.”
Fariñas is also a staunch advocate of gender equality. One can easily observe this at the city hall, which employs a mix of men, women, and LGBTs. She’s not the type to limit career opportunities to a particular gender. “I don’t want people to think that a particular position is only for guys. If you check the city government now, many of our department heads are women. The head of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) is a female. The city agriculturist is a female,” she cites. “Hindi naman ako galit sa lalaki. [I don’t hate men.] I would just like people to remember my stint as the administration that opened doors for women and the LGBT community to shine.”
EMPOWERING THE PEOPLE
Learning from the calamities that badly hit the city in 2018—Typhoon Ompong and heavy rains brought by the southwest monsoon (habagat)—Fariñas has ensured that they have a very good disaster and risk management program. They conducted trainings in all the 80 barangays, and made sure that each barangay (which has at least seven sitios) has at least 21 rescuers.
“This is one good example of empowering the barangays. My thinking is: it will be easier for the city government to deal with calamities if the barangays are trained on what to do and how to save lives, because the government alone cannot do it. We have staff, yes, but it will take longer for us to rescue more people, as compared to when there are respondents in the different areas,” she points out.
Those who were trained are required to undergo regular proficiency tests to ensure adeptness in their rescue skills. The barangays are also equipped with mini defibrillators and multi-patient rescue vehicles for faster response in times of accidents and disasters. For these efforts, the city was awarded last year as the second most livable city and as the champion in disaster management during the Philippine Model Cities and Municipalities recognition ceremonies. The city was recognized for its improved emergency response and rescue operations during disaster incidents, and its aim to create a sustainable and livable environment for both locals and visitors.
I want everybody to have a share, to have a responsibility—not only the barangay officials. I want everybody to know that this is their government. That elected officials are placed in office to represent them.
Fariñas also made sure that they have strong linkages with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private organizations and companies, since the local government has limited funds and national government is slow in providing aid. “Up to now, we have not received any assistance from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for the houses that were damaged in the past typhoons. One thing I have learned being a public servant is that I have to rely on myself to get people to help me,” she laments.
She’s quick to add that she isn’t the type who takes credit for the help provided by others. “I make sure that the NGOs and private corporations and organizations have a representative when we distribute the goods, and most importantly, they are acknowledged and thanked,” she says.
CALL TO SERVE
Inclusivity has played a crucial role in the success of Fariñas’ governance and she wants to keep it that way, should she be allowed to serve another term. “I want everybody to have a share, to have a responsibility—not only the barangay officials. I want everybody to know that this is their government. That elected officials are placed in office to represent them,” she declares.
To her, being the mother of the city is giving voice to the Laoageños, encouraging them to speak, and always considering them in all of her decisions. She says of her inclusive style of leadership, “I rely on each Laoageño to push the city forward. I’m the driver and the people show me the way. They can tell me if I’m driving too fast or if I’m taking the wrong way. The government should be by the people, of the people, all the time.” — LAKAMBINI BAUTISTA