The Journey Towards Change Starts Within

A Post-Election Reflection of Atty. Jocelle Batapa-Sigue

When I decided to run for office last October 7, 2018, I already knew that decision will be another life-changer for me. It was a decision I need to make because I believed in the vision of creating positive change for Bacolod. I already knew it will be extremely difficult, but I am made of a different stuff – my heart is fired up with ideas that I want to see come alive. That desire to hold in my hands proof of concepts that many can only imagine with their minds.

I am challenged by the mission of re-inventing the city – making it smarter, stronger, humane and more inclusive.

During the filing of the certificate of candidacy for mayor last October 2018

I set several conditions before I decided to run. None of these conditions required money contrary to what my critics said.

Excerpts from my scribbled notes when I decided to run last October

It began as a journey of one seven months ago, but since I took the step, more than a hundred thousand people have walked with me.

Walking along one of the footwalks for Bacolod during the campaign

Despite all the major storms I have braved in my life, I am still here today – grateful for every experience. Thankful to everyone I have met along the way. They provided me with inspiration.

With volunteers and supporters in one of our night rallies

There were those who I met for the first time – people I do not know but wished to help bring about change. There where longtime friends who extended support because I have been there for them somehow and they believed in my vision. There were those who has advocacies and causes aligned with my vision, those who believed in the same strategies I wish to explore. There were those who never shared any of my advocacies in the past but came forward to join me. There were those who sent their support and well-wishes directly to me – begging for anonymity for one reason or another.

At our Opening Salvo
Talking to women in the barangays

I also felt the support of family members – and my decision to run for mayor brought us all together and made us even closer. Private citizens from all walks of came to offer their assistance for my campaign. It was not as huge as what was expected of a mayoralty candidate, but I was a stickler for rules anyway and wants to stay within the allowed campaign expenses (even when it means experience so much difficulty in ensuring the resources go a long way).

Selfie mode with supporters

It took me a few months to summon my courage to enter the political arena again and resume my public persona in November and December last year. Having decided to finally step out of politics in 2016 was like an oasis. I enjoyed every second of it. The three years I have spent in the private sector was somehow too hard to sacrifice but I felt the Lord has mission for me that I needed to forget myself.

Beating the heat of the midday sun to reach as many communities

It was inspiring to know well the candidates in my slate – some I knew before while others are new to me. I could not ask for a better team. People will always gauge our slate based on traditional metrics like popularity or money – but my team was composed of genuine and sincere people who has so much ideas to share.

Brainstorming time with slate
Visiting the Sum-ag River
Taking a quick snack break
Sharing food with the community

When I started to make the rounds in January, I realized in my heart I need to see all these again. The Lord knows I am always moved to tears or is very angered by the sight of helplessness and hopelessness. But I have seen it all again. This time even worse.

As the days went by, my resolve to stand firm and move forward became stronger. As people began to pin their hopes on the solutions I offered, I became bolder in expressing my message. The heat of the sun was was almost unbearable. I was expecting to fall flat on my face from dehydration or sunstroke at any moment – but maintaining a cheerful disposition, while sweat and tears were freely streaming down my face. All I wished was not to let my team down.

Campaigning at the weekend markets
My daily handshaking routine in the barangays
In one of our pocket meetings where I get to present my vision

Since I am a night person, I stay up to prepare my materials for the next day only to feel very sleepy the following day. Yet I have tried my very best to wake up and shake hands in all the barangays – excited to meet our supporters, our volunteers and have coffee with them. I already missed them as of this writing. Minus the heat of the sun. I can endure the long hours of walk especially in the company of my volunteers.

Listening to a supporter about problems in her purok

What really proved to be a test of patience for me was the paid trolls of the opposing camp. Some with real names. I was praying every night for them to stop – asking what in the world would these people have against me personally. But dirty politics is cruel. It goes beyond the issues to strike your person. It was like the Devil playing computer games – destroying my name, my family and everything I hold dear. Such deception is among the tool of the Devil. Such a test of faith and courage for me to endure the pain for every lie and device. But the Lord always says vengeance is His.

I wanted to move forward more positively and take the opportunity to share the messages I wish to spread instead on dwelling on the negative.

Enjoying the company of children in the barangays
Talking to women in the barangays

Honestly, I was very interested in knowing the problems of each community, sitting for hours just to discuss how we can provide solutions, and oftentimes oblivious of the fact that I need to campaign and win first.

Today, I have long list or plans, programs and solutions that I wish to roll out. I am blessed to have met people who sincerely want to help bring about these programs to reality so we can witness positive changes around us. This is what I do best – bring people together to work on a mission. The next few years will be inspiring and exciting.

I have firmed up in my head based on empirical data – the solutions for solid waste management that will not only make us compliant with the law, but also protect our environment from eventual degradation, lessen our horrendous cost from public funds, and provide livelihood to people. Solutions addressing homelessmness in Bacolod, boosting job generation targets and access to basic social services and primary health care. In my talks, I have presented how ordinary citizens can participate in designing and testing these solutions – aimed at saving public funds but solving real problems. There are many things we can do – and I wish I had the chance to do those things as mayor. However, nothing can prevent us in the private sector to pursue our goals of impacting our communities.

As a friend says, we have to lose the battle to win the war. This is my journey towards change. I realized the vision of creating a smarter, stronger, humane and inclusive city is not only meant for Bacolod. My journey has made me smarter, stronger, more humane and inclusive as a catalyst, a leader, a changemaker. I pray too that everyone who shared my journey has become that.

The long tedious journey to change begins with each and everyone of us

Having survived seven months of an electoral process marked with a lot of extreme difficulties, I and everyone who aspired for change deserve to understand. This is not about winning or losing – this is about correcting the processes.

People will always say I am doing this because I lost in the counting – that is a usual reaction. But what about asking – whether election results in the Philippines is as a result of one big commercial enterprise. And ordinary voters like me are here to simply legitimize the scam.

Whatever the results of the elections, the more important task is to save all the votes casted by people who believed in the cause of change. Of improving this city. Many people went out of their way to vote, to brave the rains, the waiting time, the long queues, the heat.

For the first time in history, massive vote buying activities were administered in all barangays in Bacolod by barangay officials the day before the elections. People were lining in the streets like ants waiting for their turn to receive money. Volunteers were calling and messaging about the vote-buying in their areas. They have reported to the police COMELEC and to authorities. Some volunteers were already crying on the phone out of helplessness. Again, critics will say – all sides are doing it. That is not a justification and I do not subscribe to vote buying.  I have won three times as councilor and has never bought single vote.

The massive vote buying activities smoke-screened and diverted the public’s attention from the long queues, defective VCM, SD cards, and ballots and the sudden power outages all over Bacolod in the afternoon. In some barangays it lasted for only ten minutes, and in some for more than hour. The power outages happened in big barangays in a sporadic manner in the afternoon, without prior announcement, without any weather disturbance, on a Monday, on election day.

We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. There are so many discrepancies that I wish to no longer dwell in this line of discussion but to my main point – CHANGE DOES NOT HAPPEN OVERNIGHT. It takes a long process to really see the effects of change – the change that stems from the human heart. For change to happen – everyone of us must understand and embrace our roles.

With supporters after a long walk
At the official endorsement meeting of retired generals
At the opening mass for the campaign
With young people planting mangroves
Inspiring young boys to dream big
Always ending our walks with a cheerful and grateful heart

I have tried my best to abide as much as I can with everything in the rulebook because I know change can only come about when leaders abide with electoral laws. I always believe the end will not always justify the means.

We need to amplify the right metrics in choosing our leaders to hold them accountable for their actions and inactions every election using objective criteria. Only when Bacolodnons use the right metrics and keep to fair and legal practices in electing their leaders can this city have good leaders.

We need to have strong church and civic leaders to really instill the proper way of selecting leaders. The media need to cleanse its ranks and really understand its roles in creating change. Unless we have strong institutions run by leaders with integrity, it will be very difficult to effect change.

We only have ourselves to blame for what is to come – the future is crucial. Even large organizations need to change, to pivot in order to survive disruptions. So does a city. The defeat I suffered last May 13 is not mine alone. It is shared by everyone who aspires for change.

I have survived until the end carrying the message of change where citizens are treated as stakeholders, a community where leaders shall openly work with everyone to achieve positive and concrete outcomes. There is no defeat but only victory for people who have stood with me until the end. There is no concession for a cause that continues on – the dream of lifting up this city from patronage politics where every institution is controlled by money and favors and has no voice to assert their concerns. A city where laborers are forced to share their earnings for political ends. A city where people cower out of fear of retaliation for their political choices. I cannot accept and concede to this system.

I cannot concede to a defeat in an elections controlled by money, manipulations, lies, deceits, patronage politics marred with numerous unlawful practices, to which persons responsible simply turned a blind eye.

At our Opening Salvo

I have taken the first step towards the journey. I have used the stage given to me to send the message that people need to to transcend and fight even themselves – face the monsters that they have created in their heads. The enemy is inside us – the mindset of tolerance to poor and substandard governance, hopelessness and lack of will to fight systemic flaws of society and the selfishness to always think about the inconvenience of standing for change.

I have fought a good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.

– 2 Timothy 4:7

The journey is long and tedious. I have made my decision last October – it is now for every Bacolodnon to make.

The journey has just begun

We have all won against our own fears! I am proud to be part of this!

Madamo guid nga Salamat, Bacolod!

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