What’s in a name?” Those are the immortal words of William Shakespeare, denoting that a name does not matter as much as the quality it possesses. In the political landscape of the Philippines, more often than not, it is the name of the politician that gets the votes. Why? In advertising and marketing, there is a term for this phenomenon, used especially during elections—name recall.
But for Mayor Arman Dimaguila, actions speak louder. While his family in Biñan may be small, his passion for the city is much bigger. And even though Dimaguila is not yet a household name, there is no doubt that Mayor Arman is making a name for himself through his transformation of Biñan.
Arman was born in October 1971 and is sixth of ten children that resided in Barangay Malaban. His parents, Walfredo Dimaguila Sr. and Feliciana Reyes, worked as a municipal electrician and laundrywoman, respectively. Education was not an easy thing to pursue and to help with their finances, Arman sold bread before heading to school.
Despite his hardships, Arman consistently graduated with medals and awards from elementary, in Malaban Elementary School, to high school, which he completed in St. Anthony’s School after transferring from Lake Shore Educational Institution. His college education was not any easier and to fund his tuition, Arman had to work as a security guard at night while attending his classes in the morning.
Any working student would know the struggle of balancing the two, but as if he did not already have enough on his plate, Arman also became the president of the scholars in the Lyceum of the Philippines University and was an inter-school debater. With his extraordinary resolve, Dimaguila Jr. graduated cum laude.
But Arman’s remarkable journey to where he is today does not end there. After graduating from college, he took up law in Lyceum while working at the National Tax Research Center under the Department of Finance. As opposed to his schedule during college, this time he worked during the day and studied at night.
“Pagpasok ko d’on, baliktad naman. Gabi ako nag-aaral ng law, araw naman ako nagta-trabaho. `Yun `yung buong paghihirap ko, `yung sakripisyo ko, pero syempre nag-enjoy din naman ako once in a while (When I got there, it was the opposite. I studied law during the night and I worked in the morning. That was my struggle, my sacrifice but I also enjoyed once in a while),” he said, smiling as he recalls his time in law school.
As the saying goes, you reap what you sow. And as Arman stood in front of the Supreme Court, located in Padre Faura, he watched all his struggles disappear when he saw his name on the list of bar passers.
“Then I know magbabago `yung buhay ko because of this. Magbabago ang buhay ng pamilya ko because of this. True enough, `yun `yung moment sa buhay ko na nagbago lahat (Then I knew that my life would change because of this. The life of my family will change because of this. True enough, that was the moment my entire life changed),” Arman said.
During Arman’s private practice as a lawyer, he represented laborers and women. He also became a professor, sharing his knowledge in different universities and colleges. Even though he enjoyed his dream career, life had other plans for Atty. Dimaguila.
In 2001, after much convincing from then-Mayor Arthur Alonte, Atty. Dimaguila ran and became Biñan’s municipal councilor—winning the last seat. But he didn’t stay in the last place for long and shot straight to the first seat on his second term. As councilor, he offered free legal services to the people of Biñan from notary services to legal advice and sometimes even represented them in court. He also created a scholarship program that jumpstarted the creation of Polytechnic University of the Philippines Biñan.
So, when 2010 arrived and Atty. Dimaguila ran for vice mayor, it came as no surprise to anyone that he won. During his stint as vice mayor, he continued to focus on improving the legislation and pushing for programs and ordinances that will improve the city and cater to the needs of the citizens of Biñan.
“Pinag-aralan ko `yung pondo ng city, kaya naman, eh. Kayang tumulong sa mga tao, eh. (I studied the city funds and it’s doable. We can help the people),” Atty. Dimaguila said.
Atty. Dimaguila’s meteoric rise did not stop there and in 2016, he finally became the 16th mayor of Biñan as a municipality. As a city, he became its 2nd mayor, succeeding now Congresswoman Marlyn “Len” Alonte-Naguiat.
The first 100 days is always crucial for a public servant. Not only does it set the expectation of the citizens, but it also says a lot about how the remainder of his or her term is going to be.
In those first few months, Mayor Dimaguila surely set the bar high. One of the first things he accomplished was setting up a new command center right in front of the new city hall so that he could see every part of the city. With the streets equipped with CCTV cameras, authorities could see what is going on and respond immediately when needed.
Mayor Dimaguila also identified the 12 main entry and exit points of the city and installed each one with 12 strategic locations around the city. Each is fully equipped with radio communication, CCTV monitors, Wi-Fi, and personnel—police officers and volunteer marshals who are trained to respond to any situation.
The city hospital was also upgraded with new equipment, financial assistance was provided to scholars, and grieving underprivileged citizens were given free caskets. The city also has a three-hectare organic farm where they grow herbs and leafy vegetables.
Another point of pride for Mayor Dimaguila is the city’s recycling facility where they convert trash into bricks and hollow blocks which are donated to schools. Without hesitation, he admits that the idea came from his visit to Hong Kong and that one of his habits is to bring a notebook with him in his travels to gather ideas that he could implement in Biñan.
“Gayahin mo lang, tingnan mo baka may mas mura. Ita-tailor fit mo siya sa need at set-up ng city, (Just copy it, check if there are cheaper options. Tailor fit it to suit the need and set-up of the city),” he said.
Mayor Dimaguila admits that he is working on providing the basic needs of his people—social and health services. But apart from that, he is also working on a few projects that are very close to his heart. His scholarship program is among them since he was a partial scholar during his stay at Lyceum.
Gayahin mo lang, tingnan mo baka may mas mura. Ita-tailor fit mo siya sa need at set-up ng city.
Mayor Dimaguila’s wife, Lourdes, also influenced him to help the Children in Conflict with the Law (CICLs) and women who experienced abuse. They provide financial, psychological, and legal assistance. Around 60 to 70 victims are currently housed in the “Bahay Pag-asa” where they are taken care of.
LEAVING A LEGACY
Another major challenge for Mayor Dimaguila is preserving the history of Biñan.
“Meron kaming line sa song about the city. ‘Dito’y buhay ang nakaraan, sumasalubong sa magandang bukas’. (We have a line in the song about our city. ‘Here, our past is alive as we welcome our bright future’),” the mayor said.
In the center of the city, people could see the ruins of a 200-year-old Spanish Era house. It is none other than the Alberto Mansion, once home to Teodora Alonso, mother of our national hero Jose Rizal. Through the years, the unoccupied house has been left to the mercy of the elements until the local government decided to expropriate the property for restoration.
The city’s history is undoubtedly important to Mayor Dimaguila. For him, preserving the heritage gives the people a sense of pride and ownership which cultivates the idea of taking care of the city.
“`Yung history mo, `yun ang contribution mo sa bansa. Sa simula pa lang, itanim mo `yun sa mga bata and they would develop their love for their city…At dahil doon, magiging proud sila na maging taga-Biñan. (Your history is your contribution to the country. From the very start, plant that into children’s minds so they would develop their love for their city…They would be proud to be from Biñan),” he said.
I have seen the city na kung ang mga tao lang ay magiging disciplined enough, mas magiging maganda ang lungsod… So that’s why it’s your turn now para maasahan ng gobyerno.
Mayor Dimaguila also considers heritage as his administration’s anchor, something that keeps the city’s progress in check. He stresses the importance of keeping the city’s identity, while still aiming for commercial growth.
“Mayaman ang history ng Biñan and ito ang gusto kong maging legacy ko. Hindi `yung legacy na ‘Uy, no’ng panahon ni Mayor Arman…’ Hindi gano’n. Mawawala naman ako. (Biñan has a rich history and I want this to be my legacy. Not legacy like ‘During Mayor Arman’s time…’ Not like that. I’ll be gone [someday]),” he added.
CHANGING THE STATUS QUO
With the expectations of the people set unbelievably high, it’s nearly impossible to believe that Mayor Dimaguila has a whole lot more up his sleeve. But the impossible is exactly what he aims to achieve.
“Sa Lungsod ng Biñan, mamamayan ay maaasahan,” Mayor Dimaguila proudly says the tagline of their city when asked about his philosophy as a public servant.
More than new buildings, upgrading technology, and preserving history, the mayor has a less tangible (but definitely visible) goal in mind—instilling discipline.
Not to say that Filipinos are natural rule-breakers, but anyone who has spent their entire life in the country would know that we have a tendency to do what is more convenient rather than what is proper. Something the mayor himself observed, noting that people wrongfully occupy sidewalks and take out their trash at the improper time.
With the local government of Biñan working hard to provide the people’s needs and more, it seems only fitting that the mayor wants the people to do their part in improving the city.
“I have seen the city na kung ang mga tao lang ay magiging disciplined enough, mas magiging maganda ang lungsod…So that’s why it’s your turn now para maasahan ng gobyerno, (I have seen the city that, if people are disciplined enough, the city will be much better…So that’s why it’s your turn now to be counted upon by the government),” he said.
Dimaguila laments how difficult it is to discipline people who don’t want to change, but he says that the people are slowly starting to change for the better.
“Now it’s different…Babaguhin mo `yung mindset na gano’n. Dapat kahit walang nagbabantay, hindi ko `to gagawin kasi mali. Dahil city ko `to, aalagaan ko `to. ‘Cause Biñan is my city and I’ll be responsible for our city, for this city. (Now it’s different…You have to change that mindset. Even though no one is watching, I won’t do it because it’s wrong. Because this is my city, I’ll take care of it. Because Biñan is my city and I’ll be responsible for our city, for this city),” Mayor Dimaguila said.
Outside the window of the Old Municipal Hall, one could see the people on the streets of Plaza Rizal and easily get the sense that the winds of Biñan are changing for the better. Mayor Dimaguila refuses to describe the city as entirely his, but rather a city that is for the people and is definitely made by the people.
“This is your city. This is our city. Wala namang magmamahal ng lungsod natin kundi tayo din. Rest assured that you have a government that is working for you. You have a government that is listening at appreciative of what the people are doing, (This is your city. This is our city. No one else will love our city other than us. Rest assured that you have a government that is working for you. You have a government that is listening and appreciative of what the people are doing),” he added.
Two and a half years since he was elected mayor and Dimaguila admits that there is much more to be done.
“Marami pang dapat gawin at ang pagi-instill ng discipline sa mga tao would take time. And that is the challenge, (There is so much to be done and instilling discipline would take time. And that is the challenge),” he confessed.
But despite the challenges laid out in front of Mayor Dimaguila and the upcoming elections, he reassures the people that his passion for serving is unwavering.
“Marami pa akong gustong gawin, marami pa akong nasa isip. Nililimitahan lang ako ng panahon, ng ilang taong nakapaligid sa`kin. Nililimitahan lang ako ng budget, of course…Pero one way or another, gagawa ka ng paraan. (There is still so much that I want to do and so much that I have in mind. I am just limited by time, by some of those around me. I’m just limited by the budget, of course…But one way or another, we can find a way),” he said.
Most mayors only have up to nine years to improve their city and all things considered, it is not as long as one thinks when you are changing a city for the better. Despite the short amount of time, Mayor Dimaguila is determined to leave his mark.
“Maiksi lang `yung panahon pero tinitiyak ko sa inyo, I will try to make a mark every year, every month, every week. `Yan `yung ginagawa natin dahil sa ating lahat, ako `yung unang-una na dapat magsabing. ‘This is my city. This is our city.’ Dahil with all the powers na pinagkatiwala sa`kin, kaya natin `tong gamitin [para] mabago ang takbo ng lungsod na ito, (Time is short, but I guarantee you that I will try to make a mark every year, every month, every week. That’s what we do because out of us all, I should be the first one to say ‘This is my city. This is our city’ Because with all the powers that have been entrusted to me, we can use this to improve this city),” Mayor Dimaguila said as a message to his constituents.
Everyone in public service knows that the job is never finished. There is so much to be done before you enter the scene. And up to the moment you are about to leave the office, no town, city, or country is left in perfect condition. It could be fifty or a hundred years down the line, people may have forgotten your name, but the city is still unfinished. The temporariness of a politician’s tenure often eludes many, but Mayor Dimaguila is well aware that a public servant only carries a fleeting recognition.
“`Yung ibang mamumuno ang gusto lang, when a city is mentioned, ang gusto nila pangalan nila ang mame-mention. That’s temporary, pag-alis mo, eh di wala na `yun. (When a city is mentioned, other leaders want their names to be mentioned. That’s temporary. When you leave, [your name is] gone),” he said.
`Yung ibang mamumuno ang gusto lang, when a city is mentioned, ang gusto nila pangalan nila ang mame-mention. That’s temporary, pag-alis mo, eh di wala na `yun.
What is in a name? For many, their name is more than just an identifier but rather is something that defines them completely. But as with most things, a name could be lost in time. Legacies, however, can be felt across centuries when done right. A century later and who knows what are the possible consequences of Mayor Dimaguila’s time as Biñan’s mayor? But hopefully by then, much like the mayor’s life, the city has transformed from its humble beginnings to a place that challenges the expected. — HELEN HERNANE