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Martin Villamor: Cool Mayor of Cebu’s Nature Haven

With its vast fresh water supply, lush vegetation and soon-to-open theme park, Carmen is set to be the top weekend getaway in Cebu

Mayor Martin Gerard Villamor has fulfilled his vision for the town of Carmen, Cebu. Composed of 21 barangays the town’s assets lie on its forests teeming with springs that support the endangered bare back fruit bats, nocturnal cats and other flora and fauna.

Now on his last term and eight year in office, Villamor realized that he can’t do everything. “I still have a lot of unfinished business,” he shared during an exclusive interview with Experience Travel and Living magazine at the Carmen municipal office. His topmost agenda is to make Carmen a top tourist destination in the province of Cebu by focusing on eco-tourism. “We are halfway there with the opening of Cebu Safari, the establishment of several monasteries for faith tourism, and the development of a road network leading to these destinations.” He will also set up the Carmen Marina that will cater to yachts and small boats, hopefully all these will turn the town into a first-class municipality.

The town will also be the home of the biggest Aqua Intergalactic theme park owned by Bantigui Leisure Resort. Located in Barangay Luyang, Carmen, the 5-hectare development project will boast of inflatable facilities for swimming and other sports activities. The park is expected to be completed in two years’ time.

Despite being an agricultural town, Villamor said a good food security plan has yet to be implemented. “We try to maintain our town to be green, with lots of agricultural lands to plant crops such as corn for food security.” Aside from fishing and agriculture livelihood, employment opportunities are now available for the people of Carmen with the growing number of businesses in the area.

A peaceful town

There are no drug-related problems in Carmen. Minor incidents and petty crimes are immediately addressed by the law enforcers.

In terms of infrastructure, the Mayor is concerned about the narrow roads that are contributing to Carmen’s traffic woes. He advocated for wider roads 20 years ago but unfortunately, land prices have gone up. However, he proudly claimed their barangay roads are better than most towns in Cebu.

Education is also a focal point. He stressed that the lack of education can hamper the town’s growth. Classroom shortage has been addressed already in most barangays. “To date we only lack 10 or 20 classrooms, thanks to our partner, the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation.”

Last year, the town placed second among communities with high incidence of malnutrition. This year Carmen went down to 22 or 23. Villamor is happy with this development and has since then assigned a dedicated health unit to monitor the issue.

Another concern to be resolved is water availability. “Many wanted to have water but don’t pay their bills so I decided to look for a private supplier to supply water to everyone,” he said. Right now, they have a grandstand near the plaza, partly funded by the water company. They built a sports facility so people will not be involved in bad activities.

Trust and Confidence

As he sets the vision and pace for the development for Carmen, Villamor has learned to trust the people around him. “They know how to do their job. Because of the trust, I seldom call for a meeting. I only call them when they have problems to report to me,” he quipped.

The down-to-earth mayor is adamant in pursuing a “zero-corruption” policy in his office. The “Transparency Seal” has been posted in the municipality’s website indicating its compliance. “When state auditors come here, I always tell them that they should dig deeper.”

He is known to be very approachable. He’s at work almost every day, answering questions and addressing barangay problems from the town plaza and not from his office at the municipal building. He signs papers in the morning and attends to several meetings. He usually keeps his afternoons free.

His management style is unconventional. His simple manner of dressing reflects his laid-back approach to life. “My routine is almost the same every day with my glass of beer that helps me unwind,” he laughed. “What people love about me is that ‘this is who I am, they know that I’m gay, that I drink beer.’”

Definitely the people will credit him for the town’s development, but the biggest challenge is his ability to relate to people of all types. “As mayor you have to say yes. I seldom say no, I want to please everybody as much as I can. To be frank about it, I want to be real and truthful as possible with many people as possible.”

Heeding the call of politics

Villamor took up architecture at the University of San Carlos and became a successful businessman. He had a gasoline station, and was also involved in construction and distributorship. But he gave them all up to be the campaign manager of his dad, Virginio, when he ran for mayor in Carmen. His dad was the municipal mayor for nine years, vice-mayor for three years, and the mayor again for five years.

Villamor had no plans of being in politics because of his temperament. He is very strict, a trait which is not exactly acceptable in public service. But as the years pass he learned to adjust. He is the 12th mayor of Carmen, “hopefully not the 13th,” he quipped, saying he now wants to give other people a chance to serve the town. He is looking to run for councilor to help protect his legacy and other projects.

He is the eldest of seven siblings, with two adopted kids. “They (siblings) look older than me. My secret there is that when I get mad, I throw everything. All out ‘yan. After that, I will be fine. I don’t sleep on it. My staff would check on me if ‘may sapot pa ba si mayor’ (is mayor still mad)?’”

But unlike most of his other siblings and friends he does not travel much. He wants to experience traveling from Saint Petersburg to Vladivostok in Russia by train. But for now his heart remains in Carmen, Cebu. “I don’t want to make Carmen a city because the land taxes will get higher. I want it to remain a small, but a first-class municipality no less,” he concluded.

By Ruby Asoy-Lebajo

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