Women have a place in politics. As the first-ever female chief executive of the “Tiger City of the Philippines,” Mandaluyong Mayor Carmelita “Menchie” Abalos believes that men and women make equally good political leaders.
Mayor Menchie’s leadership style contrasts with that of her husband Benhur, whom she succeeded as mayor in 2016. As the mother of the city, she strives to give her constituents the same care and attention as she does in her own household. “Yung husband ko kasi, siya ‘yung tatay na tatay. Ako naman ‘yung nanay talaga—mas metikuloso; every detail, nakikita (My husband is very fatherly, while I’m more like a mom—more meticulous and detail-oriented),” she says.
Now on her second term, Mayor Menchie plans to continue the Abalos brand of leadership that Mandalenyos have grown to know since Benhur’s time which started almost two decades ago. It’s a legacy, she says, and Mayor Menchie is duty-bound to not rest on her husband’s laurels but rather match his accomplishments.
THE UNEXPECTED LEADER
It never occurred to Mayor Menchie that she’ll eventually dip her toes in politics. “Talagang wala sa vocabulary ko ang [politics]. Support lang ako dati kay Benhur during his stint as mayor. (Politics was never in my vocabulary. I just supported Benhur during his stint as mayor, that’s all.) I never planned or dreamed of it. I enjoyed being out of the spotlight,” she confesses.
“Sabi nga nila, if he was Batman, I was his Batgirl. Ngayon, iba na—nag-180 degrees shift kami. Ako naman ngayon si Darna at siya naman ang aking Ding! (They said, if he was Batman, I was his Batgirl. Now it’s different—there’s been a 180-degree shift. Now, I’m Darna and he’s my Ding),” she laughs.
The mayor was content being Mrs. Abalos—a wife, a mother to six children, and a businesswoman. Her typical days would revolve around her family, which in a way, honed and nurtured her leadership qualities. Growing up in a very spiritual family, the values of faith, humility, and resilience were instilled in her early on. “Perhaps it was God’s will and the incessant clamor of the people of Mandaluyong that made me decide to take the place of my husband. Considering my knowledge in social service and witnessing firsthand how Benhur triumphantly brought the city to the limelight from its humble beginnings, I thought to myself that I could bring and introduce a new flavor to the robust leadership of my husband,” says Mayor Menchie.
Suffice it to say, she draws inspiration from the city’s former mayors Benhur and Benjamin Abalos. They were, and still are, her idols in public service.
“I was so conscious to be tagged as the living shadow of my husband, who is a prolific leader and lawyer. But I realized that there’s no need to fear or dwell on comparison. What’s important is the heart and the desire to serve more and uplift the lives of people.”
While she was initially struck with fear during her first stint as mayor, the lady mayor used this feeling instead as her motivation in improving the lives of Mandalenyos. “I was so conscious to be tagged as the living shadow of my husband, who is a prolific leader and lawyer. But I realized that there’s no need to fear or dwell on comparison. What’s important is the heart and the desire to serve more and uplift the lives of people,” she says.
FROM FIRST LADY TO CITY CHIEF
As First Lady of the city, Mayor Menchie was deeply immersed in several projects and programs. “I have been very much involved with the mission to empower women and children in the city and to see and assess their situation, whether they were adequately served and mainstreamed,” she says. She served as president of the largest women’s organization in Mandaluyong called the Kababaihan Kakaiba ng Mandaluyong (KKM); an exponent of the city’s Girl Scout Movement; a pillar of the Samahan Ng Mga Inang Ulila sa Anak; and the City Nutrition Action Officer and the President of the Nutrition Action Officers of the Philippines (NAOPA).
The efforts to fight the prevalent malnourishment among children, though, are closest to Mayor Menchie’s heart. Health and nutrition programs had been a top priority, earning Mandaluyong City the Green Banner Award for three consecutive years (2010-2012) for its outstanding nutrition program management and implementation. Eventually, the city took home the Consistent Regional Outstanding Winner in Nutrition (CROWN) Award the following year from the National Nutrition Council. They also achieved the 1st Year CROWN Maintenance Award in 2014 and the 2nd Year CROWN Maintenance Award the following year, and finally bagged the highest award in nutrition, the Nutrition Honor Award in 2016.
“It was the biggest challenge for me before. I wasn’t a mayor yet, but I focused on it already. I reached out to each barangay. Now, even when you go to depressed areas, you won’t see anyone malnourished. For me, that’s a great fulfillment—to see the children healthy and active. You see, when children are healthy, they perform better in school,” she points out.
Under Mayor Menchie’s leadership, Mandaluyong continues to reap recognitions not only in the area of health and nutrition, but also in governance and other aspects. The city was a four-time recipient of the Seal of Good Local Governance, a two-time Presidential Awardee as the Most Child Friendly City, a PLDT BOSSING Awardee, and a Wealth Center Awardee, among others.
MOTHER OF THE CITY
Take away all the trophies and plaques, and Mandaluyong City’s “Ina Ng Bayan” still shines in her simplest. With her hair tied up in her signature pusod, with little makeup like a typical mom, action and leadership are in utmost order. The “children of the city” would call her “Nanay Menchie;” she treats her constituents as an extension of her family.
“I have been very much involved with the mission to empower women and children in the city and to see and assess their situation, whether they were adequately served and mainstreamed.”
If my schedule permits and I still have the energy, I try my best to visit my constituents in their homes—whether it be a birthday, a wedding, a baptism, or there is a sick member or death in the family. I want to let them know and feel that I truly am one with them—like a mother to her children.
Perhaps this is where Mayor Menchie’s power lies. She describes her leadership as intimate, filial, friendly, and responsive. Under her guidance and influence, people can rest assured and safe in the comfort of the home the chief executive officer has built for them.
“I constantly leap over that imaginary wall, to break that traditionally perceived barrier between an official and a constituent, as there shouldn’t be in the first place,” she stresses. The mayor conducts the Ugnayan Sa Barangay (USB), consisting of weekly visits to regularly hear her people out—get to know their problems, listen and take note of their needs, and go down and be there for moments of celebration or despair.
“Kung kaya ng schedule at ng katawan ko, hangga’t maaari ay mabisita ko ‘yung constituents ko sa kanilang mga tahanan. Mapa-kaarawan, kasal, binyagan, o ‘yung mga may sakit at nakaratay sa higaan, ang makiramay sa mga nagluluksa. (If my schedule permits and I still have the energy, I try my best to visit my constituents in their homes—whether it be a birthday, a wedding, a baptism, or there is a sick member or death in the family.) I want to let them know and feel that I truly am one with them—like a mother to her children,” says Mayor Menchie.
A particularly memorable encounter during one of her usual rounds around town happened during the wake of a student who committed suicide because the kid’s parents can’t afford her uniform and school supplies. Mayor Menchie promised, then, that no child would ever have to suffer the same fate. This led to the launch of the city government’s “free uniform, school supplies, shoes, and bags project.”
Other advocacies the motherly mayor has mounted dwell on the “Mandalenyo Disiplinado” way, putting a premium on healthy lifestyle and nutrition, and pushing for more programs for PWDs and senior citizens. Mayor Menchie is also proud of other successful programs that the city government is able to implement and sustain. There’s Project TEACH (Therapy, Education, and Assimilation of Children with Handicap), a community-based program that directly benefits indigent youth with disabilities. The Task Force Batang Ina and Code of Parental Responsibility also headline the mayor’s initiatives.
MORE LIKE FAMILY
Now serving her second term as local chief executive, Mayor Menchie admits that holding a position that entails such a big responsibility still hasn’t fully sunk in. “Minsan nga, kapag tinatawag ako, ‘Mayor!’ hindi ako lumilingon. Pero ngayon, nasanay na ako kahit pakonti-konti. (At times, someone would call me ‘Mayor!’ and I won’t look back. But I’m slowly getting used to it),” she smiles. “Kasi ang turing ko sa kanila, family lang. ‘Yun naman ang importante. Kailangan naka-ground pa rin (I treat them like family. That’s what’s important. Keep your feet on the ground.)”
Mayor Menchie’s foremost goal is to better the lives of Mandalenyos—just like how a mother would want to see her children thrive and succeed in life. After all, her motherly care is what makes her governance nurturing and progressive. — MARIEL ABANES