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For a week now, I’ve been wracking my brain about something dramatic to write on my first foray into opinion writing until I gave up and decided on the politically correct thing to do.  That is to acknowledge and pay homage to the newly installed leadership in the city.

For the record, I am joining the thousands of Zamboangueños who rally behind Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco during this honeymoon phase of her administration.  Although  a serious case of corruption might not have been a problem of this city, everyone must agree that Zamboanga, officially categorized as a highly industrialized urban center, has to do a lot of catching up on several areas of development.

From the looks of it, it is not that difficult to proclaim personal support for the lady chief executive.  Apart from having a squeaky clean image, it would seem that the only quality she is bent on taking on from her predecessor is an exceptional work ethic, and even that exhibits a delicate sense of balance.  Believe me when I say that this is one person who will literally give the shirt off her back to someone who needs or one who even just likes it.  Her first political acts in office have not been much different.  After a long time, I saw a smile on one opposition supporter’s face when he reported the willingness of Climaco to provide opposition lawmakers with committee chairmanships. One reporter wrote with pride how our lady mayor does not want her picture plastered on business plates.   

Personally I am not surprised at all by these acts at the start of Mayor Climaco’s administration.  Although one can simply view it as mere fodder for public relations, it more importantly sets the tone for the kind of leadership Climaco has in store for the next three years: that of being responsive and people centered.  After all this is one personality who rose to the pinnacle of power as an advocate for issues affecting the marginalized sector.

One issue that has hounded the mayor during her campaign days is her readiness to separate from the all consuming shadow of her predecessor, former mayor Celso Lobregat.   One cannot truly condemn the leadership style of Lobregat. After all, despite the many criticisms it has endured, it has perpetuated the power of its practitioner to complete three terms in office. It is thus undeniable that most of the features of this leadership style can be considered a tested formula for the longest staying players in the political arena. The former mayor may not be as visible as he was but if rumors are to be believed,  his absence from city hall is simply intended as a temporary but unwelcome hiatus for himself and a much awaited one for his opponents who have consistently found fault with his leadership.

Despite his absence from city hall however, the challenges still remain for Climaco.  The few titillating acts of generosity and simplicity are simply icing on the cake of what lies ahead in her journey towards cleaning the city of its myriad problems.  When push comes to shove, is she prepared to stand her ground or to lapse into the time tested formula of the kind of politics that traditionalists have expertly practiced?

In the area of law and order for example, what sort of criteria will she follow in her choice of a city police director?  Will she use the privilege given by the Local Government Code to choose from the list an effective official but one who distances himself from the politics at city hall or someone who is likely to adopt a second career as the mayor’s chief security aide?

Aside from our pressing security concerns, the lady mayor faces a humongous task in uplifting the city’s economic development.  Is she prepared to welcome sincere efforts from promising but underutilized talents without regard for age, gender or race, or use party loyalty as a primary criteria for taking in people to join her exclusive posse at city hall?  Will she use sensitive positions at city hall to repay political favors? Is she the kind of leader who will look for that one thing which will let her take you in or search for all the reasons that will let you stay out?

Relating with media people for most politicians is a tricky lot.  Only a few have mastered the art of media relations and used it to their advantage.  Being a former media personality, it is quite expected for the chief executive to be adept in media relations.  Climaco escaped close media scrutiny during her years in congress.  Her transfer to city hall however is certain to bring changes to her exposure to the media.  Will she respect professionalism disguised as constructive criticism, or heaven forbid expect media people to take sides and equate rosy write ups as acts of loyalty like most traditional politicians do?

Hopes are high for this new administration.  Climaco’s ascent to city hall is seen by government employees as a welcome break from the seemingly unattainable standards set by the former mayor.  The city’s residents are expecting an iron fist in fighting crime and corruption while needing to feel a mother’s sensitivity in responding to their numerous plights and concerns. With the different uncertainties being faced by the city, one challenge includes proving that her brand of leadership is what the city needs at this present time.

As a close political watcher, I am neither easy nor hard to please.  While I am not impressed by the simple act of not putting one’s picture on business license plates, I am easily pleased by proven and consistent acts of honesty, courage and sincerity. Simple words really but serious in its implication especially in this very unreal political world. Quite like perception versus reality. 

Because while perception will get you three years in office, what is most patently real will grant you a place in the political icons’ hall of power forever.

By Liza Abubakar-Jocson

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