When I think about a mentor, the first person that comes to my mind is my father. My father used to be an active public servant in our barangay. He had served in our barangay for over three decades; initially, as a councilor since he was single, and eventually as a chairman. I remember during barangay elections, my father’s critics would always gossip about his incapacity to serve the barangay since he cannot even afford to buy food for his family. I thought then, maybe they were right. Growing up, I always wondered how my father can be so passionate and driven resolving issues that concern our barangay when he cannot even resolve issues within his own family. I learned early on in my life that public service is no joke.
Just to give you an idea, our barangay is situated in a far-flung area in the island of Mindoro. Our community had a mountain of problems such as limited access to electricity, healthcare system, water supply, etc. Yet, my father was able to address those during his term as barangay chairman. I am not saying that all the credits should go to him, but it was my father who dedicated years convincing the mayor and other high ranking officials to approve his proposed projects for our barangay. It was through the projects he initiated that members of our barangay are still enjoying up to this day the potable water system available in every home, electric power lines and concrete roads that reach even the mountain areas, small ‘talipapa’ where people can bring in and sell their produced, the secondary school that serves even the families from our neighboring barangays, the day care and health care centers, among all the other projects that he had successfully completed for the benefit of everyone in our barangay.
Probably, if you ask around our barangay today who is the most accomplished chairman in our barangay, they would mention the name of my father. But this is just one side of being a public servant. Truth is, I never liked the idea of my father being a public servant or a politician. My father is a tough, courageous, brave, strong-willed person. He had no tolerance for law-breaking citizens. While almost everyone in our community was happy of my father’s courage to fight the notorious gangs in our barangay, my family was not. That’s because some of his enemies tried to get even with him several times. My family had suffered many traumatic experiences because of his battle against the gangsters in our barangay. There were days when policemen would guard our house because of a threat or threats to our family. My siblings and I were always nervous going to school or even playing outside because of the thought that his offenders might attack us anytime. I can still vividly remember the two incidents when we were almost murdered by his enemies. Good thing our good neighbors were always around to help and rescue us. I thought then, is this the price of serving our barangay? Is it worth fighting for the safety and security of the entire community even if it means putting our lives in danger? Is that fair? Although these were all part of our past, I cannot help but get emotional whenever I think about these experiences.
Recently, I have finished my master’s degree in education at the University of Asia and the Pacific under Merit Scholarship. Who would have thought that a poor, young boy from an isolated community in Mindoro can study in such a prestigious university? Also this year, my older brother has graduated from the University of the Philippines with a master’s degree in education. Who would have thought that despite the threats in our lives back then, we could still survive and thrive to become positive contributors to our society today?
Indeed, fighting for one’s dignity is not a walk in the park. As I learned from my father, it is everyone’s responsibility to protect one’s life and dignity. Each one of us has the power to make sure that every child or person will have the opportunity to achieve his or her purpose in life. I am truly grateful to my father not only for being a mentor by heart but also for being a leader by action.