He regards education as “the greatest equalizer.” And today, not yet 50 years old, Walfredo “Arman” Dimaguila, son of a municipal electrician and a laundrywoman, is the highest elected official in the city government of Biñan, Laguna.
“I’ve seen it then that if I didn’t do anything about poverty, it will be bequeathed to me by my parents. Poverty that they inherited from their parents. And it will be a poverty that I will in turn pass on to my children. Poverty is a cycle. And the only way to break this cycle is through education,” Dimaguila said.
He remembered an instance when he accompanied his mother to a wedding. “She was godmother to the bride and groom. But when she had to sign in the marriage contract, I had to show my mother where she needed to sign. That was the only time I learned that she could barely read and write. She told me later, it was why she always insisted that we study hard.”
Born in October 1971, Dimaguila is one of ten children in a family that lived in Barangay Malaban, a community that, together with Barangay Dela Paz, had shoe-making as a backyard industry.
“Almost every house, including ours, had a corner where shoes and slippers were made. Parents would make their children help in their little shoe business. But my father never asked us to do the same. He pushed us to study, even if we only studied in a public school. I studied hard and graduated in elementary as class valedictorian,” Dimaguila recalled.
With hard work and much hope for their son, Dimaguila’s parents secured for him a private education when he entered high school.
At the Lake Shore Educational Institution, however, the young Dimaguila had his first taste of championing altruistic causes, leading his fellow students to rally in support of underpaid teachers demanding a salary increase.
The resulting furor forced a temporary school closure. “I was transferred to St. Anthony’s School and got accepted on condition that I not run for student council president nor join any off-school organizations. Of course, being a transferee, I was denied the chance of graduating with honors. I learned my lesson and decided to buckle down and study even harder,” he said.
Hurdling high school with high grades in 1989, Dimaguila was bent on becoming a lawyer. Bata pa ako, gusto ko nang maging abogado [Even as a boy, I wanted to be a lawyer]. Nakakapanood kasi ako sa sine, parang ang sarap ang buhay ng mga abogado, [I loved watching films about lawyers and felt that they led good lives].
But getting into college was not an easy passage for this young man, who said he later found out that being a lawyer was not as glamorous as they seem to be in the movies.
“I didn’t go to college immediately after graduating from high school. We had no money. My father had to go abroad, to the Saudi Arabia, earning US$150 per month, when the exchange rate was PhP22:US$1. But we are 10 in the family and so I had to wait for my turn to enter college,” he said.
It wasn’t a long wait, according to Dimaguila. Still without money for tuition, he took a bus trip to Manila to inquire about schools he could enter. His plan was simple. He was going to find work to support his studies. And so he got on the cheapest mode of transportation—an ordinary bus with no air conditioner and ventured out of Biñan for the first time in his life. It was a bumpy ride, and, as he remembered it, even caused him to vomit in his seat.
MASTERY OF NUMBERS
Dimaguila’s first job was as a security guard at St. Benedict’s Security Agency in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. After seven months, he requested to be assigned to Manila in hopes of finding a school there where he could study and finish a course, while working.
In Manila, he worked at an establishment in Caloocan, right at the end of the LRT station in Monumento. “I took up Political Science at the Lyceum of the Philippines University. I was a student during the day and a security guard at night,” he said, “My fellow guards would allow me a few hours of sleep.”
Shortly before leaving college, Dimaguila ran and won as Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) chairman in their community. “I had started to discover politics and the value of numbers. I learned that politics is a numbers game. Hindi naman ito kung ilan ang nakamayan mo e. Ito yung, kung ilan ang nakausap mo [It’s not about the number of people you shook hands with, but rather, the number of people you talked to] that you think you made a connection with.”
As SK chairman, Dimaguila heard various reports on how some of the young officials engaged in ghost projects. “So what I did,” said Dimaguila, “was to put my allocated funds to scholarships for high school students. If you graduate from high school in our barangay, there will be financial assistance for your college fees. And the billing will come from the school so there is no problem with regard to liquidation. Everything is accounted for.”
Dimaguila graduated cum laude, A. B. Political Science in 1993. He was an inter-school debater and president of all the scholars in Lyceum of the Philippines University. Also in 1993, he won the Gawad San Luis (now Gawad Laguna) award for Most Outstanding Youth in the Province of Laguna.
Within a week after graduating from college, Dimaguila found work at the National Tax Research Center (NTRC) of the Department of Finance, upon the invitation of its director.
There he would stay for four years as he pursued a law degree at the Lyceum.
Dimaguila has very fond memories of his work and the acts of kindness shown to him by workmates at the (NTRC). “There was no internet then. When I was about to take my bar exams, I was allowed to borrow the books from the office library so I could study them. Our office also had the SCRA (Supreme Court Reports Anotated). If there was a new SCRA, they would give it to me and I would have it photocopied. Then, when I started to review for the bar, my office mates would pass the hat every week and give me their collection to help me meet my expenses.”
Grateful for their support, Dimaguila said that he sends his office mates two roast pigs every April, during the anniversary of NTRC. Christmas is also time spent with them as they visit him in Biñan and serenade him with Christmas carols.
In 2001, former Biñan mayor Arthur Alonte invited Dimaguila to join his Liberal party by running for councilor.
Dimaguila won, placing 8th, the last slot in the councilor elections. “I won even if I had meager resources. Nanalo ako sa entablado [I won on stage presence]. The problem is, I won but my mayor and vice mayor lost.”
He solved the matter of political differences by coming up with ordinances that provided genuine service to their constituents, while establishing name recall for the incumbent mayor.
“I authored an ordinance called Municipality of Biñan in Progress Scholarship Program or MBP. The MBP also stands for Mayor Boy Perez. It delighted the Mayor and every time the scholars graduated, he would be the guest speaker,” he said, adding that another ordinance he crafted was called Medical Benefits for the Poor (MBP).
Dimaguila said politics also taught him to win over the opposition, citing the need to go around political differences to serve the greater population.
It was during Mayor Len Alonte-Naguiat’s administration when Dimaguila renamed the Medical Benefits for the Poor and called it Health Assistance Program for Indigent Family or the Hapi Family Card. He also changed the name of the scholarship program to Iskolar ng Biñan.
In a move to provide a system of financial assistance—through scholarship grants, student loan programs, subsidies, and other incentives—to Biñan City’s underprivileged but deserving public Senior High School students, the city government passed City Ordinance 02-015.
Last April 17, the City Education Office headed by Dr. Edmil Recibe led in the distribution of 1,300 vouchers to incoming Grade 11 students for academic year 2018-2019.
“The Financial Assistance Program under City Ordinance 02-2015 provides Php 10,000 voucher to deserving top 20%-30% of graduating Grade 10 from public schools.” Dimaguila said.
Also present during the voucher distribution were Congresswoman Len Alonte, Department of Education’s Dr. Herberto Miranda, and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, who was the guest of honor.
In his years as councilor, Dimaguila made the big jump from 8th place during his first term to first place by his second term.
Roman E. Carencia, Biñan City Information Officer and former schoolmate, explains that this was the result of the very palpable and invaluable services the three-term councilor extended to the city’s residents.
“He gave free notary services, free legal advice, and even represented them in court for free,” said Carencia, adding that Dimaguila’s scholarship program paved the way for the establishment of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines Biñan Campus.
Carencia also said that as councilor, Dimaguila held office at the municipal building every day. It is a practice avoided by other councilors since it made them open to solicitations of every sort from their constituents.
According to Dimaguila, his constituents visited him for other reasons. “Hindi nauubusan ng pangangailangan sa dokumento ang mga tao [People always need help in documentation]. Some would need certification for a lost ID, certification for a land they wanted to purchase, marriage certificates, corrections for wrong spelling or wrong gender, quit-claim waivers, etc. I am always around to help.”
By 2010, Biñan voters chose Dimaguila to be their vice mayor. His office focused on the strengthening of the legislative procedures of the City Council.
Dimaguila pursued a slew of programs and projects as vice-mayor of Biñan City’s 24 barangays.
His signature program “Serbisyong Arman” enabled residents to receive prompt assistance in time of accidents and natural disasters.
Dimaguila and his wife, Lourdes, incorporated a Go Forward Foundation in 2011. The foundation regularly performs cleft palate and cataract operations, bloodletting, mobile dental and medical missions, as well as nutrition programs.
Biñan’s drug dependents and prisoners are likewise a primary issue for Dimaguila, along with infrastructure development, employment generation, health and nutrition, environmental and sanitation, security, as well as education and heritage preservation and promotion.
For Dimaguila. all these concerns assumed even greater clarity and urgency when he won as the 16th mayor of Biñan as a municipality and its second as a city on May 9, 2016.
“We are still a young city. So much has to be done. I do benchmarking every time I visit other cities and other places. I bring with me a notebook and take down notes. I have had this notebook for a long time. I write the good that I see and try to adopt it,” Dimaguila said.
Like the development of his city, the education of Mayor Walfredo “Arman” R. Dimaguila Jr. continues to gain traction.