Serving San Juan
According to “San Juanenos,” the “First Lady” of this smallest city in the country has always been Guia Gomez, its present mayor. She may be on her second term at the helm of City Hall, but for many decades Mayor Guia has served San Juan in various, if unpaid, capacities.
She is the mother of its former mayor and congressional representative, JV Ejercito, who is now a senator. And while he was at the helm of the city where he began his political career, now Manila Mayor Erap Estrada counted on Mayor Guia for her advice and assistance, not to mention her presence beside him as they jointly served the people of San Juan.
For such a small city, San Juan occupies an enviable place in Philippine history and its present-day economy. For decades, San Juan served as a “weekend getaway” for wealthy families seeking relief from the din and heat of “downtown” Manila. This is the reason the city still bears vestiges of a genteel past, including crumbling mansions and parks now overtaken by a growing population. In historical terms, San Juan is best known as the site of the first battle between the Katipuneros and US forces, who had taken over the colonial Spanish powers. Nowadays, San Juan enjoys a strategic location between the northern part of Metro Manila including Quezon City and the southern hub of Makati, including the burgeoning district of the former Fort Bonifacio, playing host to high-rises and shopping malls.
In her decades of service to San Juan, Mayor Guia has played a huge role in burnishing the geographical fortune that the city enjoys, while defying political conventions to better serve her constituents.
During the Aquino administration, I was surprised to hear various Cabinet members extol Mayor Guia for her cooperation in putting into operation programs meant to improve the lives of urban poor residents living in dangerous areas.
For San Juan, these were the settlements on the riverbanks, where flood waters would inundate their flimsy homes whenever heavy rains fell. “I saw that this was what they needed for protection,” Mayor Guia explained recently, recalling how she cooperated with then Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and DSWD chief Dinky Soliman in convincing hundreds of urban poor residents to leave their dangerous home sites and agree to move into government-built housing.
In another instance, when San Juan was badly hit by a typhoon, she received a phone call from Roxas, who was then abroad, who wanted her to know that she could call on his underlings at the DILG for whatever form of help her city needed.
Indeed, so strong was the “partnership” between Mayor Guia and Roxas that she openly backed him in his presidential campaign—even if Mayor Erap had publicly thrown his support behind his godchild, Sen. Grace Poe, daughter of his best friend Ronnie Poe, and JV declared he was for now President and then Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
“I felt I owed him my support because he had done so much for San Juan,” says Mayor Guia, even if a savvier politician would have kept her choice for president a secret, especially from a passel of journalists.
For her pains, Mayor Guia and San Juan have received a number of awards and recognition for exemplary governance. Most notably, the local government has been recognized for its efforts to implement “in-city” relocation for informal settlers, searching for available government lands to provide socialized housing for the dislocated and homeless.
But strangely enough, Mayor Guia is now facing a “recall” campaign initiated by former San Juan vice mayor and defeated mayoralty candidate Francis Zamora. “I treated him like my son,” she says of the young man whose initiation into local politics she guided. She can only shrug at a young, ambitious politician too impatient to wait his turn at power. He could learn a lesson or two from the graciosa Mayor Guia who bided her time and generously served San Juan long before she received an official mandate.
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