Mayor Enrique Yap Jr. is bringing change to Glan, Sarangani

Bringing change to Glan
By Walter Ang
May-June 2009 issue
Asian Dragon Magazine

Enrique Yap Jr. enters the room in a whoosh, rushing in from a just concluded meeting with the President in Malacanang. He is in a plain red shirt and jeans, not exactly mayoral threads.

However, when you begin to notice Yap's kinetic aura, you soon understand that he wants to be dressed for maximum movement, ready and poised for action.

Yap is now on his last term as the mayor of Glan, a first class municipality in Sarangani, a province in Mindanao. Each term is three years and the city has a mandatory term limit of three.

He didn't entertain the thought of serving in public office when he was younger despite the fact that both his parents were public servants. His mother, Esther Yap, was district supervisor for the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (now Department of Education) and his father, Enrique, Sr. was Glan's mayor from 1992 until passing away from a heart attack in 2000.

The third of four children, Yap was sent to live and study in Manila with his siblings in the late 70s because of the raging muslim secessiojnist conflict at the time. He took up political science in De La Salle University-Manila and law in Ateneo De Manila University.

"When my father became mayor in 1992, I was 'forced' into becoming one of the first set of elected board members in the provincial legislative body. I had just finished my law studies and all I wanted to do was drive around Manila and party with my friends, but many people asked that I help out," he recalls.

"I never envisioned that I would win, but when I did, I had to face the music. I was the youngest member, educated in Manila and had a law degree, so the expectations were high."

When Yap's father passed away, he had an epiphany and decided to continue what his father started. Though he'd spent time away from Glan, his heart had always been for the improvement of his hometown.

"I had no funds for a campaign. I couldn't even afford to have posters with a photo of my face printed. I filed my mayoral candidacy with only P100 in my pocket. My wife asked me if I was really up for running for mayor," he says.

But become mayor he did in 2001 and promptly introduced many changes to Glan.

"The first thing I did was to remove all the illegal activities like games and fishing. People were shocked. It's a 180-degree type of governance. That's why I always joke that U.S. President Obama's platform of 'change' was copied from me," he says.

After cleaning up, next on the agenda was moving forward.

With Glan's 31 barangays and population of 100,000, Yap wanted to ensure the youth received proper education. "I grew up playing with children of poor families who all wanted to go to school," he says.

"I feel very strongly that poverty should not be a reason for a child to be denied an education." To this end, he helped set up Sultan Kudarat State Polytechnic College and Glan School of Science and Technology.

For all of his achievements, one of the legacies Yap is most proud of is his spearheading of an economic cluster comprised of Glan and its two neighboring municipalities Sarangani and Jose Abad Santos in Davao del Sur called JAGS-CT (Jose Abad Santos-Glan-Sarangani Cooperation Triangle).

The cluster was formed in 2004 to foster relations within the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA). By 2006, a sisterhood agreement with Sangihe Regency of Indonesia was forged to promote better partnership and cooperation.

"The Indonesian port of Tahuna is a mere seven hours away from Glan, it makes sense to do business with Indonesia since it's nearer to us than Manila," he says.

"We spent P18 million to repair, rehabilitate and upgrade the Glan International Port into a modern, international-standard port to bolster the livelihood and economic activities in JAGS-CT."

When asked how he spends his leisure time, he replies, "I am on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It's hard to find time for even a nap. Public service is a sacrifice. If you want to be a good public servant, it's not going to be too good for raising a family."

His family may not totally agree with his statement, given that public service seems to be something they do well together. Yap's wife, Ami Abundo, is a councilor of Glan while his daughter, Miquee Louise, was a board member of the youth sector for five years.

Although Yap is no longer eligible to run for mayor, he jokes that he would consider running for vice-mayor if only to continue the efforts and initiatives he has started.

"Glan used to be a dead-end municipality, but now it's on its way to becoming a trading and economic hub for South and Western Mindanao. We also have around six beaches and numerous resorts, so we're working towards becoming the aqua-marine and tourism center of Socsargen (South Cotabato, Sarangani and General Santos City). I'm really in love with my community," he says.

The success he's found as a public servant has served as poignant turning point for his spirituality as well. "For a time back in the 80s, I didn't believe in God anymore," he says.

"I had asked for change for Glan and I didn't get to see that right away. Now I realize I was given the chance to make the change that I asked for."