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The Heart of a ‘Mother’

To serve as the local chief executive of Alcala, Cagayan is what was really destined for Atty. Cristina I. Antonio. In the 2019 elections, Atty. Tin did not plan to enter politics as she found fulfillment in being a human rights lawyer under the Center for International Law (Centerlaw). She only filed her certificate of candidacy as a substitute for her sister, a decision she had thought about many times before going through with it. 

When she won the elections, her supporters believed that it was the natural way of the universe, telling that the people of Alcala needed someone like her who can push every Alcalaoeño to reach his or her maximum potential, protect them at all costs, and empower them to become better citizens. When she took oath and assumed office as the town’s mayor, Atty. Tin was sure enough that the real battle has yet to start.

We cannot argue if they say that mothers are protectors of their children at all costs. Because, even how ambitious those things are and even how rough the road that is to be taken, mothers will hurdle all the challenges ahead just to provide what is best for their children. In Alcala, Atty. Tin proved that she is not only a leader, but more of a mother who will do everything for her children.

When she personally witnessed how her constituents suffered from the so-called “100-year flood” caused by Typhoon Ulysses in 2020— a flood with one percent chance of taking place each year, Atty. Tin thought that she needed to do something that is sustainable and strategic. While the local government unit (LGU) has enough number of trained personnel and necessary equipment on disaster response, she believed that responding to disasters is not the strategic solution to the problem.

As a first-termer mayor, she said that the worst flooding brought by Typhoon Ulysses was traumatizing as 24 out of the 25 barangays in the municipality were submerged in floodwater.

She then turned to Filipino scientists for solutions, which led to the birth of the ‘Green Wall of Alcala’, which aims to plant a vegetation shield of native trees to form a belt of protection for the riverbank and community — a mighty, green wall. 

“It is not just tree planting, but green engineering. You plant the trees in such a way it becomes a literal [green] wall, because when the flood comes, the water will go through the vegetation shield of native trees, and then it is going to stop the flow of strong currents. Kahit papaano, hindi siya diretsong bubuhos sa mga community,” she said.

Since the project was launched, more than 35,000 native trees including fruit-bearing trees were planted. All of these are currently thriving according to Atty. Tin, as the monitoring of the survivability of the trees is continuous in all the 90 sites in the entire  municipality, from the riverbanks to the roadside, and from communities to schools. 

With the collective efforts of the people of Alcala and other stakeholders, Atty. Tin’s ‘Green Wall of Alcala’ was one of the recipients of the 2022 Galing Pook Awards, out of the 197 LGUs that vied for the award on that year. Galing Pook describes itself as an “institution that recognizes, capacitates, and promotes innovation, sustainability, citizen empowerment, and excellence in local governance”.

Atty. Tin admits that Alcala is not blessed with beaches and falls just like any other town in the province. But, this did not stop her from exploring many ways to promote Alcala for she believes that their town can offer destinations that will not only satisfy the eyes but souls, too.

She personally assessed every barangay’s tourism potential through visitations and consultations with the local officials and other stakeholders. As a result, the LGU was able to develop the existing Small Water Impounding Projects (SWIPs) into local tourism destinations where tourists can enjoy one-of-a-kind experience. 

These SWIPs are now gaining ground from locals, not only in Alcala, but in the entire Cagayan province, which according to Atty. Tin is a work-in-progress.

“What we have are our rolling hills, our beautiful greenery, and the people that are really rooted in their way of life - life as farmers and as rural folk,” she shared. 

“Importante yung aktuwal na pagtapak sa site ng area to see the potential and that was what I did. Kailangang umikot sa mga area at having the vision and imagination of what it could be, [and] seeing the potential,” the mayor added.

In Alcala, native flowers are also seen everywhere because she wants every individual who would visit their municipality to have the feeling of bounty and rootedness to the earth.

As a municipality where palay and corn are abundant, Atty. Tin has high respect for farmers, as their contributions to the circular economy is huge. But, with the pandemic, she personally witnessed how they suffered. 

Believing that the LGU can make a difference during the height of the pandemic, they bought the produce of the farmers and repacked them as relief goods for the people of Alcala who were admitted in various quarantine facilities, including those in home isolations. 

Atty. Tin saw that it was possible for the LGU to buy their farmers’ produce and to process and sell it at the same time. In February this year, the LGU inaugurated the first Alcala Rice Center, the first-of-its kind in Cagayan Province, which offers a wide range of services aimed at improving the livelihood of local farmers and achieving rice sufficiency in the municipality.

“It started 2019 pa. Ang Alcala is a mono culture of rice and corn, but at the same time our farmers are just on the production side. We sell our palay, leaves us to be processed somewhere else at babalik sa atin, ang mahal na,” she said.

“We will buy palay at good prices directly from indigent farmers who till one hectare and below, we will mill the rice at the Rice Center, and we will sell the rice to the Farmers Cooperative Associations (FCAs) at only P35 per kilo. The seed capital we gave to FCAs will be the money they will use to buy rice from the Alcala Rice Center — isu nga from right pocket to left pocket,” she added.

Aside from that, the LGU also turned over seed money for FCAs to establish their own Bigasan sa Barangay. The farmers’ coop will buy rice from the LGU-run Alcala Rice Center at P35 per kilo and the same will be sold to Alcala residents at P35 to P40 per kilo.

Atty. Tin is also passionate about music. She believes that people cannot live by bread alone. 

“You have to satisfy their soul. Music is everywhere,” she said.

Aside from staging art exhibits, she also invited national talents to help her develop and train young talents in Alcala to become better singers, violinists, cellists, violists, among others through the regular conduct of Music Camps.

“We will also integrate, culture, arts and music. Kailangan may culture na magbibigkis sa lahat, identity and community building,” she shared.

“We need to nurture our local talents until we will all be singing the songs of Alcala, telling the stories of Alcala instead of getting celebrities from the outside who do not know anything about Alcala,” she added.

The goal, according to Atty. Tin, is to create an orchestra. Once established, she hopes that in the process, music will be replaced by the scenes of Alcala, farmers, kids playing in the fields, among others. 

Atty. Tin is the eldest daughter of former Cagayan Governor Atty. Alvaro “Bong” Antonio. She is married to Atty. Joel Ruiz Butuyan, a practicing lawyer here and in the United States and President of Center for International Law (CenterLaw). Atty. Tin is a doting mother to three-year old son, Gabriel.

She finished her degree in Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Ateneo de Manila University as Cum Laude in 1999.  She also finished her Bachelor of Laws and Juris Doctor degree from the University of the Philippines College of Law in 2014. In the same year, she passed the bar exam.

In 2001, she completed her lecture unit in Master of Arts in Anthropology from the University of the Philippines Diliman.

As a lawyer, her name landed in various print media because of the notable cases she handled from 2016 to 2019. On January 26, 2019, she and fellow human rights lawyer, Gil Aquino, filed a petition before the Supreme Court of the Philippines seeking protection for Efren Morillo, the lone survivor of a police ambush that killed four alleged drug users in the name of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs”.

She was also one of the counsels for the families of the 19 Maguindanao Massacre victims and handled the first case filed under the Anti-Torture Act.

It was only during her term that Alcala town received the regional and national Seals of Good Local Governance (SGLG) award given by the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

Alcala was also a finalist in the 2022 DILG R2 Assets Award for the category Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (Vertical Structure).

For Atty. Tin, it is still very difficult to be a woman leader nowadays as there are still many challenges ahead. 

She believes that one must work in such an excellent way so that women are seen not just transcending their inherent perceived weaknesses, which according to her is largely unfair.

For her, empathy is one mark and a strength of a woman leader. 

“In the long term, what I hope is that women leaders will be seen as strong and capable, and we are seen for who and what we are not because we are women, and men for that matter. We just need to do away with the stereotype na kapag babae, mahina, kapag lalaki malakas. In the long run, sana, kung titingnan tayo bilang tao, we are seen and measured based on who we are, na we are strong not because we are male or female,” she shared. #(MDCT/OTB/JKC/ALM/PIA Region 2) 

About the Author

Oliver Baccay

Information Officer IV

Region 2

  • Assistant Regional Director, Philippine Information Agency Region 2
  • Graduate of Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication 
  • Graduate of Master of Arts in Education, major in English
  • Graduate of Doctor in Public Administration

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