Cristina Gonzales Romualdez is one of many figures in government clustered in the “actor-turned-politician” category. A city councilor for two terms since 2007, Tacloban’s current mayor—who had just completed her first 100 days in her new mandate—is hopeful that her almost decade-long brand of public service places her on the positive side of the often criticized bunch.
To be fair, Gonzales has long been exposed to the political arena, what with her father, former ‘60s matinee idol Jose Mari Gonzales voted in 1998 as the lone congressman of what was then the municipality of San Juan, Metro Manila.
At that time, however, Gonzales had chosen to pursue her father’s first profession as an actor. Starting out as the singer Kring-Kring Gonzales in the early ‘90s, she went on to become an actress in almost 30 movies including Bad Boy 1, Bad Boy 2, Bikining Itim, Nimfa, Kailangan Kita, and Sana Kahit Minsan.
At the height of her career, however, she met then Leyte Congressman Alfred Romualdez, for whom she left show
business to marry and raise a family. As fate would have it, it was her husband rather than her father who piqued her interest in politics.
When their two daughters Sofia, now 17 and Diana, 13 were old enough, Gonzales followed her husband’s footsteps, ran for councilor and won in her first try. Serving under Romualdez’ administration for six years, she finally ran for mayor in the last elections and took over her husband’s post with a lead of 20,000 votes against her opponents.
In late September The Sunday Times Magazine joined a contingent of Manila-based entertainment writers and editors to visit Tacloban’s new Mayor Cristina Gonzales Romualdez, and ask after her first few months as the city’s shepherd.
Looking back at how her life progressed from showbiz to politics, she admitted that as different government is from entertainment, she cannot deny that being an actor once before gives her an advantage as a public servant.
“It really helps being from the entertainment industry because as we all know, Filipinos often vote for people whom they already know. But I think more than just the advantage of popularity, people somewhat see you to be more approachable, easier to talk to and to reach out to when they need you,” she opined.
“My exposure to showbiz continues to help me in dealing with all kinds of people in my constituency. I’ve always been a compassion person and I’ve taken that and nurtured it even more as a public servant.”
As for changes from being councilor to mayor, Gonzales immediately pointed to a more demanding schedule as head of the city.
“I rarely get ‘me time’ and ‘beauty time’ now,” the ever-attractive mestiza joked. “To be responsible for the city at the executive level means being in control of everything, so that event after I get home at night, I have to think about everything that took place that day and everything that I have to work on the next with the endless notes I take down while I work,” she related.
“Thankfully I have a great team of advisors, including my legal team, capable department heads whom I listen to so we can all decide on what is best for the city. I make sure I have a handle on everything, which is why they now call me Tacloban’s mother.”
First 100 days
Since assuming the city’s mayoralty, Gonzales has made it her habit to wake up at the break of dawn to maximize her time.
“Often times I get home by 9 p.m.,” shared the wife and mother. “But I already told my family from the start that the first 100 days are crucial and already apologized from the very beginning that I’d be missing out on spending time with them,” she said.
Proudly, Gonzales reported that her first 100 days have seen many accomplishments. In support of President Rodrigo Duterte’s fight against illegal drugs, she immediately launched a project dubbed, “Transformation Inside Out,” an alternative and holistic program to promote change in the lives of all users and pushers who voluntarily surrendered in Tacloban City.
According to the mayor, more than 1,250 drug users and pushers showed up at the Tacloban City Astrodome sometime in July to sign up for her program.
“We mounted the transformation project in cooperation of the Philippine National Police of, and with the support of both the private and government sectors, as well as pastors and priests who counseled those who surrendered. We even conduct music therapy and zumba sessions for them, and more importantly, we’re finding ways to keep them from going back to the streets and their former lives with livelihood once they’ve recovered.
Besides her administration’s anti-illegal drugs programs, Gonzales conveyed that Tacloban is still focused on rebuilding “a better and stronger” Tacloban three years since the city was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. Under her leadership, they are working towards a “Clean, Green and Resilient Tacloban City.”
Of course, disaster preparedness also remains a priority project of the City Government of Tacloban. In place according to the mayor is a text-alert system that delivers warnings to the public.
“We call it the Community Climate Guide and Response (CCGR) Text Alert System. It is a centralized pre-disaster text alert system that monitors the city and operates 24/7. The CCGR has text blasting advisories most ideal for Disaster Risk Reduction and Management through the two major mobile networks,” she explained.
“Among the critical information disseminated through text blasting are weather updates, suspension of classes, and the call and location for typhoon, flood and tsunami evacuation and centers by barangay, among others.
The system goes both ways in that it also allows the residents of Tacloban City to directly text specific offices during emergency situations, among them the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, Bureau of Fire, Tacloban City Police Office, and the Tacloban Rescue Unit.”
As victims of the effects of climate change, Gonzales is a staunch environmental advocate today, and makes sure her government takes care of Mother Earth.
“We’ve started with tree planting and waste segregation. We’re closing our landfill while we continue to train all 138 barangays to segregate their trash. We’re also finding ways to generate livelihood out of recycling to complete the process,” she expressed.
According to Gonzales, Senator Loren Legarda is her number one advisor when it comes to creating environmental projects for the city.
“She’s my tutor in taking care of our environment, what kind of projects we should have and how best to implement them,” the mayor gratefully shared.
‘Ilaw ng tahanan’
Using the proverbial Filipino concept of mothers as “ilaw ng tahanan” or a home’s guiding light, Gonzales said that her top priority is ensuring the well being of the family unit in Tacloban.
She is relentless in her goal to provide all those who were displaced by Typhoon Yolanda with homes to start with.
“We’ve met with the National Housing Authority and they have allotted 15,000 houses for us to be built by next year. So far more than 2,000 have been turned over, and come November—the anniversary of Yolanda—the 300 families still in temporary shelters and bunk houses will get to move to their permanent homes.”
Besides the houses, the city’s mother is also planning to build more parks around the city so that families have a place to bond.
“Right now we have two parks—the Rizal Park and the Astrodome Park—and we’re taking good care of those and looking into having more in the city soon.”
Asked to share what kind of a mother she is to her two daughters, Gonzales describes herself as a bit less “OC” as she is as mayor.
“I am not strict. I’d rather talk to them and be a friend. Because when I was young, I hid some things from my mom because I thought she might get angry,” the 46-year old mother confessed with a laugh. “In my experience, if you have open communication lines with your kids then you can give them good advice and teach them good values.”
She is also supportive in whatever path they decide to take, just like with her eldest Sophia whom she has allowed to join show business.
“It was her choice and she’s so excited about it. She told me thought she doesn’t want to be an actress but she
wants to focus on singing because composes, she has a good voice, and she plays the piano, guitar and the ukulele. I never learned any of those when I was in showbiz!”
Gonzales said she completely understands how her daughter needs to express herself as an artist as she did once before.
“What’s important is to have passion for anything you do—whether showbiz or in my case, politics. Because that’s how you’re sure to do things right and to do things well,” she ended.