“Sorry kaayo late ko! Napasmo na pa jud ko ay! Pero tara, magsugod na ta kay nalate jud ko.”
(I’m so sorry for being late! I’m famished but please let’s get to it. I hate to keep you waiting!)
That was our dear councilor, Mabel Sunga-Acosta, profusely apologizing for being 20 minutes late for our little teatime interview. I shrugged and said it’s okay, and that I understand. They were updating me regularly, anyway. I noticed she really looked like she could use a sandwich and a cup of tea, so we proceeded to order first.
It was a humbling experience, really. As the first responded to my personal project (A Dandy Dozen), I’m pretty pleased at where it is going.
So, quick recap on her background:
Mabel Sunga-Acosta had been the top elected city councilor of the First District of Davao City for four terms, from 2001-2010 and 2013-2016, validating the Dabawenyo’s high level of satisfaction regarding her performance as government official. With a political career spanning 12 productive years, she was inducted by KAYA NATIN!, a movement convened through the Ateneo School of Government that aims to bring together effective, ethical and empowering government leaders in an effort to promote good governance, as one of its Champions in 2009. Her notable achievements include legislating the Country’s first Halal Ordinance, Brigada Eskwela (Davao leg), Abot-Alam Program, and the Mabel at Your Service Livelihood Skills and Training Program. Currently, she leads the City Council’s Committee on Education.
With that background, here are the questions and answers I harvested from the hour-long interview:
- How was your college life like? Any highlights?
That’s a very interesting question. When I was in college, it was EDSA 1. That time, it was more difficult to organize such movements because there were no cellphones, there was no internet. But we were there, and we stood our ground. I guess that was the highlight of my college life.
As for school, I went to college in UP Diliman and took up Mass Communications. I was also active in the Red Cross and the Rifle Pistol Team. I also took up extra subjects in English and writing. I spent my free time reading lots of books.
- How did you decide to run for public office? What experience/s triggered this?
I was a news anchor for ABS CBN for quite sometime. I loved my job; but I also loved my private life. While at a campaign sortie by Mayor Duterte, he was a congressman that time, he jokingly said, “Kani si Mabel, mudagan ni. Ikaw Mabel, maypag mudagan ka.” (Mabel is running this time. Hey Mabel, you ought to run.) I just laughed at it because I didn’t think he was serious. Then a few days after, his staff called me up to follow up. He said he would take care of my startup career in politics. I took a few days to think about it, and I thought, if Digong believed in me, why shouldn’t I believe in myself? It’s really different when Digong says he believes in you. He’s a great leader. He breaks bread with you, he asks about your family, he takes good care of you. Hindi pera-pera. I also felt like I could do more than just break news on TV. I asked the blessing of my family and they said they have my support. So that made me decide.
- What is the most challenging thing about being a public servant?
Some would say it’s losing your privacy, but really, it’s seeing things from the other end of the table. When I was a news anchor reporting for “Hoy Gising!” I would help the public criticize politicians or people who hold positions in other government offices. We would tell them, HOY GISING and find us solutions! But really, I realize that it’s so much easier to criticize than to be the one finding the solution. For example, if we would feature a City Engineer for bad road / building plans, we immediately want action. But then again, it’s a long process. There are several agencies involved, and the funding doesn’t always come through as we initially envisioned. Now that I’m part of the team that aims to find solutions, I realized that it’s so much more difficult. But I’m holding up.
- What (would you say) is your most successful ordinance? Why?
I would say all ordinances fared well, mainly because here in Davao I can say we really have a solid LGU. All of the ordinances we did—not just me!—are useful and were implemented well. For me, I would say that one of the most talked about and a highlighted ordinance would be the Halal Ordinance. This ordinance was made to encourage the Halal establishments to employ stricter rules in producing Halal products, and to sanction those who use the Halal logo but don’t adhere to Halal standards. I would say this was one of the best because I’m not even a Muslim! Just doing my job as a councilor. I’m also very thankful that the city gave their support.
- What (would you say) is the least successful ordinance? Why?
As I said, passing and implementing ordinances here in Davao city is pretty easy. But I’ll tell you about a story of a very challenging job that I did in the past. Before the decentralization of DepEd, all of the teachers’ salaries were being reported and prepared in NCR (National Capital Region). What happened was that the salaries were released so late, and there were loans that were deducted even when the teacher has finished paying them off. I sent letters and followed up, but to no avail. So what I did was I really went to DepEd in Manila and sorted things out for DepEd (Region XI). It was quite a rigorous process but it was worth it. Region XI was the first to properly carry out the teachers’ salaries.
- If given a chance, what “taboo” thing would you like to push for, legalize or decriminalize? Why?
I grew up in a home full of guys. I was the only girl in our brood of six (6) so I grew up thinking that whatever a man can do, I can do also. With this kind of mindset, I couldn’t say there is a particular taboo thing that I’d like to push for more than what the public already pushes for, because you know, we also have an anti-discrimination ordinance here. However, I would like to promote gun safety if given the chance. When I was a kid, I used to go with my father to the woods and shoot cans, and random fruits, for practice. When I was in college, it became a worthwhile pastime too. I know how to use the gun safely and properly. So with that said, more education about this could be something we can enforce, soon. And maybe target more women in the process.
- What are your thoughts regarding K-12? Do we need it or not? What other educational reforms would you like to propose?
A lot of people are against K-12, get this: we are among the last countries in the world to use K-12. The real purpose of this is to give employable skills to our children after they finish high school. The current system doesn’t offer this because A. you finish high school at 16, hence, a minor and B. you don’t have enough skills to be able to compete in the work place. The birthing pains are tough, but it’s really worth it in the end.
As for other reforms, I would like to increase our budget on our support for our athletes and our budding artists.
- How different is the 2016 elections from the last one?
Locally, it’s very tough. I would say I was a bit “spoiled” before. Before, Mayor Duterte would take care of everything. From the schedule of the sorties, the food of the volunteers, the sample ballots…everything. Now that he’s campaigning for the highest seat in the country, we’re left to fend for ourselves, and what’s more, as gratitude, we also set aside a portion of our time campaigning for him. This is our small way of giving back for all the years he has supported us. It’s an amazing story of bayanihan, really. Even the kagawads are taking time to volunteer in his campaign and the other councilors are donating their time being advance parties to his rallies, building a solid “speakers pool” for different topics.
- Are you religious? There was a news about a 20-year old who had a congenital heart defect that could have been easily fixed when she was a child. However, her parents refused treatment, and insisted that she could be healed by prayers. Now, she needs a heart and lung transplant and is in pain every single day. She realized that people like her parents should be punished and she’s filing a case against them. Thoughts?
Honestly, I am not religious. I do not link goodness to being religious. I respect all forms of religion and I pray, but I am not “religious”. As for the news, that’s a very unfortunate incident. I believe in the wonders of science and that we should make use of it to save lives. Prayer is good, and faith always helps, but there should be a balance. I support the decision of the child. She is old enough to know what’s good for her.
- If you are not a councilor right now, what/who would you be?
Maybe I’ll still be in the media! Same old, same old. Breaking news at your TV. On the other hand, I might also pursue a position in the Foreign Services arena and be a diplomat. I would also like to represent the Philippines in other countries and help out OFWs.
- What is your favorite childhood memory?
Ah, summer! Summers in my lolo’s farm is always a time to remember. We used to play a lot of native games like “tigso” and “lupa langit” and hide-and-seek. My brothers and cousins and I would go around and tell each other stories, go biking, or eat snacks under a tree’s shade. Also, I grew up in GSIS Village and I would always go to my neighbors’ houses and play with other kids or watch TV with them. (Manilingan!) Those are my favorite childhood memories. I still hope my kids and grandkids can have a grander time!
- Tell us something that people would be surprised to know about Coun. Mabel Sunga-Acosta.
I’m a sharp shooter! 🙂 I’m well-trained in defensive and practical shooting and I joined several competitions. I don’t always win, but I have a few accolades under my belt!
So that’s how my brunch went with Coun. Mabel Sunga-Acosta. After the interview proper, we just went on to chat about life and as usual, she was able to slightly convince me to pursue law school. It’s amazing; she immediately makes you feel like she’s the “ate” you never had. A truly genuine person. For this, thank you Councilor Mabel! And special thanks to Allen for arranging this tete-a-tete.