“Serbisyo lang po.”
This is the guiding principle of Mayor Edwin Olivarez in discharging his duties as the elected chief executive of the urban hub that is Parañaque.
As host city to Terminal 1 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, high-end establishments and the entertainment and gaming havens of City of Dreams, Solaire Resort and Casino and Okada Manila; as well as the keeper of the perpetually busy hubs of Baclaran, Sucat and SM BF, Parañaque is also the fastest growing area in the metropolis in terms of population. However, only 20-percent of its inhabitants today are taal or inborn, trivia that only a true-blue native of Parañaque like Olivarez will readily know.
Notwithstanding that his father, medical doctor Pablo Olivarez, was mayor of his beloved city from 1992 to 1995, and his mother, the late Rosario de Leon Olivarez, was the city’s first and most popular obstetrician-gynecologist, the incumbent tells The Sunday Times Magazine in this sit-down interview he had never been involved in local politics in his younger years.
Curiously enough, the mayor’s first foray into politics was as board member in the Province of Laguna where he operated a “small business.” He was taken in by Joey Lina’s party when the former senator ran for governor.
“Senator Lina wanted a group of young turks full of idealism and vigor to bring change to the province,” he related.
The party won, and Olivarez emerged number one. From there, he developed a passion for public service, which subsequently earned him the post of vice governor. But after one term at the provincial capitol, his real
estate business needed his attention and he had to put on hold his political career.
It was not until 2010 that Olivarez was able to return to public service, and this time—to the approval of the people of Parañaque-he finally ran as representative of the city.
With his family name beloved in Parañaque, Olivarez easily clinched a seat in the House of Representatives thanks to the trust of the first district’s constituents.
In 2013, Olivarez had an overwhelming victory over the son of a decade-old political dynasty in Parañaque, securing 27,000 more votes than his contender.
It was his sincere and meaningful campaign platform “Bagong Parañaque” that won him the race, that which brought change to an otherwise rich but impoverished metropolitan area because of a P4-billion debt incurred by the previous administration.
Nevertheless, Olivarez decided, “We didn’t put any blame on anybody. We just had to move forward and do the best we can to make the lives of our constituents better.”
Of the said amount, by the way, Olivarez’s leadership had already paved the way for a P3-billion payment, and since then, the local government had never incurred any additional debt, running efficiently and effectively on its own collected revenues.
Expectedly running unopposed on his second term in the 2016 elections, Olivarez continued to run the bureaucracy with the same dedication and competence as before. For one, doing business in the city is a breeze under his administration, with no traces of red tape to be found in any part of the process. Securing a business to be specific is down to only three steps from a staggering 19 when he took over the mayoralty.
Not one to take the credit for Parañaque’s prosperity, Olivarez humbly said, “We are lucky that our city is situated along the bay. If you look around, the most progressive cities, which became mega cities around the world, are those with shorelines.”
He continued, “Coupled with our location, our innovation in the processing of business permits, I believe, has greatly helped in attracting a lot of these high end establishments to build their properties and operate in Parañaque.”
A hands-on manager, Olivarez is a graduate of the De La Salle University with a Bachelor of Science in Commerce and a Major in Management. He also has a Master of Business Administration from the family’s Olivarez College.
Despite a privileged life, the son of noted doctors has always been concerned of the welfare of others, notably the youth and the elderly. He carried this attitude wherever he went, especially so when he entered the realm of public service.
“Running the city is just like running a business, only with human touch. It’s important to apply the principles of the corporate world to get things done, but the difference in an elective post is that the welfare of the people should be the main and foremost consideration,” Olivarez stressed.
As such, the mayor and his staff regularly go around the city to listen to the problems of his constituents, unlike other politicians who only show up during the campaign period. Olivarez personally visits the different barangay communities and makes sure that the concerns of residents are addressed as soon as the local government can.
On top of his current priorities are the education of the youth, and the safety and health of Parañaque’s growing population, particularly those in the lower strata.
According to Olivarez, the prevalent concern of parents whose children are unable to go to school is the cost of transportation on top of tuition and other miscellaneous fees.
To address this, he resolved to build a day care center, and an elementary and high school building in each of the city’s 16 barangay communities.
“Pamasahe pa lang papuntang eskuwela problema na nila, so we made it a priority to build learning centers for their children, as well as facilities for out-of-school youths and continuing education for adults. In fact, we also plan to build our own university, the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Parañaque, to give everyone the opportunity to finish college,” the mayor explained.
Since 2014, within a year after he took his oath as chief executive of the city, Parañaque already took on 6,223 scholars, easily a record number among Metro Manila municipalities. As of May 9 this year, 439 more applicants for scholarship have been accepted at the city hall from the different barangay communities.
According to the mayor, the gratitude of the citizens who were able to finish school for free comes to him in surprising ways. One such story he shared with The Sunday Times Magazine was over lunch at a buffet in City of Dreams, when he noticed how the chef would cut many more pieces of roast beef for him and in much thicker slabs.
Wondering about the gesture, the chef told him it is because of the mayor’s education and employment program that he landed a job at one of the country’s premier hotel and entertainment complexes.
For his very effective endeavor, Parañaque was given the Education Hub Award at The Manila Times’ “The Philippine Model Cities: Beyond the Most Livable Urban Centers” forum held on May 11 at the New World Manila Bay Hotel in Malate, Manila.
The citation read, “The Education Hub Award is given to the city who has set its sights and heart on giving the best education to its constituents. With its leaders having high regard for education, the city aimed to provide quality yet affordable education and even made it a priority to build a public day care center, elementary school and high school in every barangay.”
Still on the citizen’s welfare, and as someone who grew up in a city that could easily be submerged by flood, Olivarez had to come up with a quick and efficient solution to the persistent problem.
“We studied it. On my first year in office, it was my birthday in fact, on August 20 , naglilipat kami ng tao, but we could not get to the other side because the water was chest deep. Sucat Road is the catch basin, so when the road is flooded, the whole of Parañaque is flooded,” he related.
By sheer political will three years ago, he was able to build a flood diversion channel in San Dionisio approximately 150 meters long and 35 meters wide, with heavy equipment on stand by, thus allowing water to subside fast during heavy rain.
For the informal settlers, many of whom were around the area where the structure was built, the city offered a cash out of P18,000 per family. Whether they accepted or resisted the offer, the city government pushed through with the project for the good of everyone.
Thankfully, there were no clashes during this relocation, like what normally happens in violent dismantling of shanties in other areas. And eventually, the affected families were thankful to Olivarez and his staff for the program that ensured their safety.
More infrastructure, services
To serve the close-to-a-million population better, Olivarez is further building a six-story hospital, with immediate plan for Ospital ng Parañaque 2 in the second district.
Early this month, groundbreaking for the LRT Cavite Line has also been done with Department of Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade. The mayor was excited to share that out of the eight stations in the 12-kilometer stretch, five stations are located in his city.
Also, Ayala Land Corporation has already cleared the land to build its biggest mall along the Special Investment District, to complete the ongoing Entertainment City plan.
Business friendly climate
Looking forward, Olivarez promised that even when he completes the three-term limit set by the Local Government Code, he will work for the continued development of the city of Parañaque.
“It is during our incumbency that we can see the renaissance-the resurgence-of Parañaque. As you know, this place used to be dotted with rice fields and salt beds because of the Manila Bay. Then it became a residential hub, with many workers in Makati and Pasay residing here,” he related, scanning memories from his growing up years.
“Dati, there were only two reasons why people would come to Parañaque, and it was either to take a flight at
the airport or go to the grave of a loved one at the Manila Memorial Park,” he chuckled.
“It’s different this time, you can call it urban renewal. The business hub that is Sucat is really commercially viable. Vehicles and car dealers are here. Condominiums have been built and continue to be built in our city. Call centers have sprouted all around and we even have the foodie paradise, which is Aguirre district, also the Special Investment District [SID], along Macapagal Avenue. You see, what’s going on really complements our vision, especially with the Skyway connecting the Entertainment City from the airport,” he detailed.
Olivarez also said that the city is now earning two-and-a-half times as compared before when he took the reins of the city leadership. Their revenue target for the year is P6 billion.
Best of all, in doing business in Parañaque, he remarked, the tax remains the same.
“There’s no need to increase the rate, which is the reason why Parañaque is the favorite place of many investors. In turn, this also means more job opportunities for our people.”
Ribbed that he may be ready to take a national post with the growth and development of Parañaque City, Olivarez laughed and said, “Pang-local lang ako [I’m only for local office]. I’m happy to serve my citymates. I’m especially happy and thankful that I have been given the opportunity to serve two LGUs – from one LGU [in Laguna]to another LGU [in Parañaque].”
Being a second-generation politician, Olivarez said he has no plans to build a “political dynasty.” His eldest son Paolo, a licensed civil engineer who finished cum laude at the Michigan State University in the US as a tennis scholar, is not being groomed as his heir.
“Hinahayaan ko lang siya [I just let him be]. For me, you need to make your own family comfortable first before embarking on government service. How can you serve other people or put the welfare of your constituents if you yourself are struggling to meet the needs of your family?” So dapat stable muna ang family mo before even considering to join politics,” he said.
Looking back at his life, this is exactly what Mayor Edwin Olivarez did, which enabled him to effectively function in his elected posts. Truly many can learn from this man’s sound advice, practicality and honesty, which all together allow him to build a stronger and more prosperous Parañaque.
With optimism and determination, he ended, “I see Parañaque in the future not only as top model city or a premier city, but as the Mega City By The Bay. I see it happening within the next 10 years.”