Barangay New Zaniga power couple: PB Liza Cruz and former PB Edwin Cruz
PB Liza Cruz with former Mandaluyong City Mayor Benjamin Abalos, Jr.

Barangay New Zaniga is one of the 27 barangays of the City of Mandaluyong. Historically, the area used to be a low-lying marshland known as Saniga. The concretization of roads led to the urbanization of the neighboring areas, which was dubbed New Zaniga, while the original was called Old Zaniga.

Today, the barangay has a land area of about 1.95 hectares, and a population of about 11,000 including children/youth. During the day, there are more people because of transient students and workers. They have one private school, the Good Shepherd Christian School.

MR. AND MRS. CRUZ
Punong Barangay (PB) Liza Cruz was elected to position in May 2018. She was previously elected as a Barangay Kagawad (Barangay Councilor) and was awarded one of the most Oustanding Kagawads of the City in 2014. She was also the first Barangay Nutrition Action Officer (BNAO) of Mandaluyong City, under the leadership of then CNAO (City Nutrition Action Officer) and now Mayor Carmelita Abalos. Through her involvement as a helpmate of then PB Edwin Cruz, she became known throughout the barangay. She is a graduate of Silliman University with a degree in Political Science, and of Jose Rizal University/ Philippine Law School with a degree in law.

“[My husband] has the street smarts, I have the attitude,” she jokes. “Only because my husband entered public service did I join, but there was no guarantee [that I would win]. My passport would have been my credibility as a public servant.” Edwin Cruz, the previous PB, was elected into position in 2007, and has since served three full terms. He is currently the head of the Anti-Smoke Belching Unit of Mandaluyong City (ASBU), a position of trust and confidence.

Much of the groundwork in New Zaniga was laid by former PB Edwin Cruz, commencing with the construction of the existing barangay hall. “We only had a small office in our residence, which served as the barangay hall,” says Liza Cruz. It was where council meetings, assemblies, medical missions, and other barangay activities were held. “It was my primary goal to have our own barangay hall and without it, I would not have accomplished anything,” Edwin Cruz says. Thus, he vowed that he would not cut his hair until their barangay would have its own seat of government. An endeavor two years in the making, the barangay hall of New Zaniga was inaugurated on July 18, 2010. Then-Mayor Benjamin Abalos Jr. came to the event to personally cut off the long ponytail of PB Edwin Cruz. The four-storey structure is deemed to be a towering achievement for New Zaniga, evidence of perseverance towards realizing one’s dream.

PB Liza Cruz with former Mandaluyong City Mayor Benjamin Abalos, Jr.

FEATHER IN THEIR CAP
New Zaniga is the cleanest barangay as recognized by the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA). The Barangay Power is an MMDA-sponsored competition for all the barangays in Metro Manila. New Zaniga beat out 1,565 barangays and became the grand champion. There are different criteria for the competition—based on size and budget of the barangay, solid waste management and recycling. “We are the gauge of the other barangays with regard to cleanliness,” Liza Cruz says. New Zaniga has its own street sweepers, aside from those hired by the city, who work until 10PM to maintain the cleanliness of the barangay.

Mandaluyong City has also declared nutrition as a top priority and New Zaniga also espouses the same belief, hoping to eradicate malnutrition in the Philippines. The Barangay Nutrition Committee (BNC) stepped up to this task, as evidenced by the absence of under-nourished children in New Zaniga. Over the years, they have supported the nutrition program of Mandaluyong City. They recently participated in the city-wide Veggielympics last July 30, during the 44th Nutrition Month. The Presidential Award for the Best in Nutrition or the Nutrition Honor Award (NHA) is a prestigious award requiring LGUs to be a three-year Green Banner awardee and a three-year Consistent Regional Outstanding Winner in Nutrition (CROWN) awardee. In all of these competitions, New Zaniga had been evaluated in the regional and national level. Then Child Representative and now Kag. Chico Cruz presented a novel concept in nutrition, that of the organization of the Barangay Nutrition Club for the Youth (BNCY), an organization like no other, thus he was requested by the evaluators to present it before the other barangays, so it can be replicated.

“We have also been the consistent finalist to regional Lupong Tagapamayapa Incentive Award (LTIA),” Liza Cruz says. “We have been finalists, and now, we have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.” With the goal of lauding the speedy administration of justice at the barangay level, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) awards those showcasing excellent performance in settling neighbourhood disputes. “We are helping the courts and the legal system to be decongested if we can already solve it at this level.” They also received the Outstanding Lupong Tagapamayapa Award from City of Mandaluyong in 2017. PB Edwin Cruz himself was once the youngest barangay lupon at 28-years old, handling 186 cases. Many residents would request him to handle their cases because he would solve the disputes through practical means.

In addition, providing greater security and confidence to its residents, New Zaniga maintains its peace and order by setting up gates around the barangay. “We are the first barangay with gates at all entry and exit points, which is why they refer to us as a subdivision,” PB Liza Cruz states. Edwin Cruz also received commendations from the DILG, the Office of the Mayor, and the Philippine National Police (PNP) for aiding in the capture of criminal gangs. He also appointed younger barangay tanods, who would help discipline younger criminals. He employs social media in capturing criminals who get away.
“When he started, the reputation was strikto ’yung kapitan diyan (the captain there is strict). He promised cleanliness and peace and order. Once he achieved that, everything fell into place,” Liza says of her husband.

To maintain order, the barangay regulates the parking along the streets. After having the ordinance approved, other barangays followed suit. New Zaniga also has ordinances regarding the motorcycle riding-in-tandem, the Code of Parental Responsibility which was authored by Councilor Charisse Marie Abalos-Vargas and Aso Mo, Itali Mo project to further maintain the peace and order in the barangay. “Kailangan din sariling innovation para pamunuan ang barangay (You have to find innovative means to lead the barangay). Kailangan mag-isip ka ng paraan (You have to find ways),” says Edwin Cruz.

Policarpio Street in Barangay New Zaniga has become a city-ordained tourist spot, known for its row of houses decorated with spectacular Christmas lights, Santa Claus figurines, parols, poinsettias, and ornaments.

A STREET CALLED POLICARPIO
There’s a famous street in Mandaluyong known for its row of houses decorated and illuminated from roof-to-ground with spectacular Christmas lights, Santa Claus figurines, parols, poinsettias, and ornaments. This is Policarpio Street in Barangay New Zaniga, which has become a city-ordained tourist spot. An event that has been going for more than 20 years, the Pasko-Pasko sa Policarpio is an annual affair that attracts many visitors to this transformed Christmas village, which spans 150 meters. Each house adopts a certain theme from the House of Light to the House of Santa Claus, featuring the largest Santa Claus collection in Metro Manila. A large nativity scene greets visitors, highlighting the importance of the belen in each family home. One of the houses is owned by Norma Lim, who decorates her home’s facade with a futuristic feel.

There used to be a tiangge along Policarpio Street with food stalls and many vendors. It was beneficial to the barangay because it brought income through the need to register for permits. However, former PB. Edwin Cruz had to enforce order when things grew chaotic and the homeowners’ privacy and property were violated. The tiangge was instead moved to the Masilyo Circle, under the jurisdiction of Mandaluyong City. Former Mayor Benhur Abalos decorated the entire city hall with lights, thus it is another tourist spot for families to head to. Edwin Cruz himself sat on the board during its early stages because he had experience managing the tiangge on Policarpio Street. Today, the tradition of this tiny Christmas village continues as houses on Policarpio Street in Barangay New Zaniga showcase the breathtaking spirit of Christmas throughout the holiday season.

Aside from this, the Guinness World Records’ holder of the biggest siopao (steamed bun) can also be found in New Zaniga at the PVL. Nearly the size of an adult’s head, the super jumbo siopao is a local highlight that many order. What started as a simple eatery by Norma Lim now has the PVL Restaurant and Shabu-Shabu, Buffet Center and Food Center, which many locals and non-locals enjoy.

LAUDABLE PROJECTS
As the new punong barangay, Liza Cruz is a proactive leader and trains her staff well. New Zaniga is the only barangay in Mandaluyong that issues newsletters detailing their projects, events, and awards. “It is one way of reaching out to the residents because we cannot expect them to always join our activities so we give out the newsletter, and that is how they are able to keep up with what happens in New Zaniga,” Liza Cruz declares. The newsletter was her brainchild since 2005 of which she is the editor, contributor and layout artist all rolled into one.

Apart from this, she is also recognized for the D’yario Bags, featured in the Husang Balangay by the Local Government Academy-DILG. It features the best model barangay practices in governance, environmental management, employment and livelihood, peace and order and public safety, and social services utilities and infrastructure. Of the over 42,000 barangays all over the country, 33 barangays were chosen, and the D’yario Bags was one of the best practices in the field of economic development. Also called the Bags for Life Program, it is an exclusive livelihood project by New Zaniga, through the Rotary Club of Greater Mandaluyong, for non-working or part-time working residents so they can be productive. Through training, the d’yario bag makers are able to create and form an enterprise by converting old newspapers and magazines into “beautiful works of art.” The program solves the problem of garbage in the community, alleviates poverty among the residents, uplifts the local economy, and prompts learning and development of individual skills. More than P500,000 have been earned in gross sales and more than 250 people trained. Through the program, New Zaniga also collaborates with other institutions like the Center for Mental Health, Women’s Correctional Facility and City Jail, churches and other non-government organizations. “I, myself, know how to do it and teach as far as Cainta and Davao,” Liza Cruz says. “Our livelihood Coordinator is BNAO President Gerlyn Lagleva and we don’t have to market it anymore because we have buyers from the various Rotary Clubs, walk-ins, and the city itself will order as giveaways for guests.”

Aiming to deal with the issue of garbage in the community, New Zaniga has begun their foray into making eco-bricks. PB Liza Cruz has tapped Ecobricks.org, a Global Ecobrick Alliance Earth Enterprise, having conducted a seminar with 45 participants. “People thought it is just filling up the plastic [bottle] and you’re done, but there is a technical and scientific approach to it,” she says. With plans to conduct the training seminar every two weeks, she is encouraging all the residents of New Zaniga to keep their plastics. “I know that garbage will destroy the earth because six years from now, our garbage will be 3.5 million tons. That’s 2kg per person and where will you put that?” she prompts. Thus, she seeks to help reduce garbage and find solutions for solid waste.

Another goal that PB Liza Cruz has is aimed towards the protection of the children. Mandaluyong is vying for the Presidential Award for Child-Friendly Municipalities and Cities (PACFMC) against four other cities.

The last time they competed for the PACFMC was in 2012 where the City was awarded the PACFMC and New Zaniga was one of the four barangays evaluated. In every city, there is a model barangay that has to undergo a series of evaluations from the city regarding child protection. These include the presence of a daycare, and projects geared towards the care and health of the children. “I am hoping Mandaluyong wins because New Zaniga has been chosen as the model barangay,” Liza Cruz expresses. “I am so anxious [for the results] because you only get the model barangay award once.” It is only conferred once because having the same model the succeeding year defeats the purpose of the award and proves no changes have occurred in the municipality or city. During the two-day evaluation, PB Liza helped the other BCPSs prepare for the interviews.

New Zaniga is the cleanest barangay as recognized by the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) besting 1775 barangays. In 2015, it was awarded as the Cleanest and Best Barangay in Solid Waste Management of Metro Manila.

THE FUTURE OF NEW ZANIGA
Of the many positions in government, the barangay captain is the most powerful because the position has executive, legislative, and judicial function. “Mayors and other politicians look to barangay captains to help run the LGU, because we are the ones who have direct contact with the people,” Liza Cruz says. “But not all punong barangays have this degree of ascendancy or respect,” she adds. Each captain heads the barangay in their own way. For his part, PB Edwin Cruz ruled New Zaniga with an iron fist softened by the ministrations of his wife. “Takot sila’ng lahat sa kanya (they are scared of Kap). Ako daw ’yung Virgin Mary (They say I am like the Virgin Mary), no one goes to the father except through me,” PB Liza says. “Ang respeto hindi nababayaran at hindi kaya kunin sa tao (Respect cannot be bought, and it cannot be taken from the people),” her husband adds.

“It must be earned.” Married for 28 years, they are called the mag-asawang kapitan (married barangay captains). Their son, Chico Luis P. Cruz, is the youngest kagawad in the city.

Throughout the years, New Zaniga has achieved many good deeds in its small nucleus district—a small stone creating a ripple effect in the ocean of the Philippines. True to form as a mother of three, PB Liza aims to focus on the protection of children and solid waste management during her term because these will leave the most lasting impression. “I am always keen on looking for projects in solid waste because in 20 years, I will be leaving Mother Earth to my children and their children,” she explains. In the wake of her husband’s public service, producing many accolades and achievements for the barangay, PB Liza Cruz is eagerly optimistic to prove her worth and make a name for herself. With the help of her Council, Kags. Marlon Lagleva, Soc De Castro, Jimmy dela Cruz, Lito Fernando, Fermin Romualdez, Jose Castro, and her son, Chico, the Sangguniang Kabataan led by SK Chair Michael Cula, SK Kags. Dave Arias, Bea Yuzon, Raymark Perez, Ryan Suguitan, Justin Noda, Jayvee Lobitana and John Paul Refareal, she shares, “I’ll do the best I can in making New Zaniga reach its full potential.” — MAIELLE MONTAYRE

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