Jennifer Wee Tan Dreams Big and Steps Big

For success in life, Jennifer Wee Tan believes that you should
Dream big and step big
By Walter Ang
May-June 2009 issue
Asian Dragon Magazine

When Jennifer Wee Tan was in college, she joined two beauty pageants on a whim. She was crowned Miss Mandaue at 2am in the morning and she refused to smile because she was already very sleepy. "The person who put the crown on my head told me I should be happy. I replied, 'My feet hurt!'" she says with a laugh.

Later on, she was encouraged to join yet another pageant. She was told that if she won, she could get a chance to go to Sydney, Australia, all expenses paid. "I have an adventurous streak, I joined just for the heck of it. Come what may! After all, the prize was enticing, although I never thought I would win Miss Cebu-Australia," she recalls.

The political science major was brought to Australia with four other finalists and charmed the judges with her knowledge of current events. "I was used to talking with people since I used to manage the campaigns of the political parties in school. I am not afraid to talk to anyone and I'm highly opinionated," Jennifer says.

It surprises people to find out what she appreciates the most about these two milestones in her youth. "I loved the discipline involved. The rigid schedule, the rehearsals, the intense preparation. It really builds character," she says.

Her candor, can-do attitude, and discipline are just some of the traits that have served her well as mayor of Tangub City since she won her first term in 2002. Mayors can serve a maximum of three terms, with each term encompassing three years. Jennifer is on her third term, a testament of her constituents' approval.

Love is blind
Born and raised in General Santos City, Jennifer was the third of five siblings to Luis Chang Wee, a manger for General Milling Corporation, and Milagros Con Uy, an obstetrician-gynecologist. Despite the course she took at University of San Carlos in Cebu, she never entertained the thought of running for public service.

"When I was still in school, I preferred being in the background. I never wanted to run, but I always wanted to pick the people who I wanted to run," she says. "I found that planning projects and events was a more challenging task than actually being the frontliner."

She was thrust into the world of politics when her college sweetheart, Philip Tan, officially proposed with his parents. "I announced that I wanted to get married on May 7 and they started looking at each other. I wondered why until they finally mentioned that it was an election day," she says.

"That's the only time I found out that my fiancé was from a political family and was actually running for mayor of Tangub City." Jennifer laughs at the memory. "That's what true love is. I didn't do research on my fiancé's backround!"

Community and philanthropy
Tangub City is a third-class city in the province of Misamis Occidental with a population of roughly 52,000 spread over 55 barangays. Prior to Jennifer winning as the mayor, she had already started becoming involved in community affairs during her husband's own terms as mayor.

During her first Christmas in Tangub as a newly married woman, far away from her home and family, Jennifer was lonely and disappointed to see the city plaza without any festive décor. Her husband appointed her to head a decorating committee. "We never spent any government money, it was all through donations. A few days later, so many families came to the plaza to have picnics and enjoy the lights," she says.

Today, Tangub City is known as the Christmas Capital of Mindanao for its annual Christmas Symbols Festival. "We never spent on advertising or promotions. We only intended to create something for the community to enjoy. By word of mouth, people from all over the country started to visit," she says.

With a seemingly magical touch that ensures success for all her projects, Jennifer combined her passions for education and philanthropy to create the Sinanduloy Cultural Troupe. "I didn't like how out-of-school youth were given livelihood projects instead of being encouraged to go back school. I created the troupe for out-of-school youth under the condition that they must return to school first," she says.

The troupe started out teaching dance to the youth and has now branched out into teaching singing as well. "We started joining the Sinulog contest in 1994 and has since won seven championship trophies," Jennifer says. "I wanted to promote the performing arts since there were already organizations and people who were taking care of advocating sports."

Enabling the future
Jennifer credits her Chinese heritage as an important part of who she is today. "My upbringing really involved a lot of discipline. It was more strict compared to today's `accepted' style of parenting, but I am very thankful for it. I'm grounded and I turned out well. This is why I'm also very strict with my own daughters and son. I strongly believe that we should never give up our culture, it's part of our soul," she says.

Having been taught to be independent and hardworking, she endeavors to teach others the same principles. "I hate it when people ask for dole outs," she says. "I hate it when people simply talk about their dreams. I tell them dreaming is important, but taking actual steps toward your goals is more important. Don't just dream big, take a very big step."

When she finally did become mayor, she rallied her staff to follow the same philosophies she espouses. "It was a challenge because I wasn't used to the bureaucracy. I can be impatient at times because I want to see results right away," she says. "I think I was able to make a difference because we eventually became a team. We were able to win an `Outstanding City Mayor' award in 2003 from the Senate of the Philippines. I was the only female nominee at the time and the only nominee from Mindanao. We were up against really big cities, but we won. My accomplishment is their accomplishment. Our city may be small, but when we won, we felt so big."