Updated: Mar 10, 2021
By: Archiebald Faller Capila
Our current societal structure would always banner certain sectors of society tasked with the development of our country. Among these sectors is the government itself which may be divided into the national and local scene. It is iron-clad that the government is the governing body concerned with the running of the state, and the people administering and occupying certain positions are tasked to deliver and provide to the people.
Public servants are often viewed as the persons who sacrifice the most. An accomplished individual can serve the people through private means, but some choose to fully serve the people by engaging in services related to governmental positions. Accordingly, these officials and employees serve as the necessary backbone of the nation in providing the basic needs of communities in order for them to thrive amidst a crisis.
On a micro-level, we could say the same about local government units. Employees and officials who choose to serve their respective provinces, cities, and municipalities are always tasked to perform at a very high level even though their respective efforts are not told in full narratives. Being government officials, they are always judged not on who they are but on what they do to make their areas of jurisdiction a better place to live in.
It is a given fact that in local governments, people who studied and actually practiced law also try their luck in politics or even choose to practice their career in public service. We hear a lot of stories that highlight the journey of lawyers who dwell in public service and eventually make a name for themselves.
Considering that the actual practice of local governance is quite different from that of theories and applications in law school and law practice, it can be said that a shift in career is quite s struggle in itself. However, there remains a number of public servants who chose to dedicate their lives and talent for the greater good of their community through politics and governance.
Among the many notable names in the field of politics is Atty. Leah Marie Moral-Romano. Serving as the municipal mayor of the town of Braulio E. Dujali, Davao Del Norte, Atty. Moral-Romano has envisioned her humble home as a haven for development. With her knowledge of the law along with the dedication to learn more about local governance, Atty. Moral-Romano remains on top of her game in order to fully serve the people.
In an exclusive interview with Barrista Solutions, Atty. Moral-Romano shares with us her life as a public servant, the lessons she learned in law school and in her private practice as a lawyer, and her projects for her humble municipality.
Barrista Solutions: What inspired you to become a lawyer? Looking back at how you started your career in law, how can you describe your journey as a member of the profession?
Atty. Leah Moral- Romano: There is no lawyer in the family, on both sides, our relatives are either farmers, engaged in the business, or government employees, so it has inspired me to be the “first lawyer” in the family. Looking back, my mother’s journey in politics and the impact she has made in our local political landscape has greatly influenced me and taking up Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and Bachelor of Laws laid the groundwork for public service.
In 2010, I started my career in the law profession by being an associate lawyer in Cariaga Law Office in Davao City, it’s the logical step to make when venturing out after passing the bar examinations before establishing your own law office. I was also moonlighting as a part-time professor in Ateneo de Davao University’s School of Business and Governance teaching law subjects. In 2013, I became a Sangguniang Bayan Member in our Municipality, while being a legislator, I also practice law simultaneously. After 3 years of experience, I mustered the courage to establish my own law office in Panabo City, when I got married in 2014 I transferred my law office to Sto. Tomas, which is just a neighboring town. In 2016, I ran and won as a local chief executive in our town Municipality of Braulio E. Dujali, Davao del Norte and since then I have not practiced my profession because of a legal prohibition.
Barrista Solutions: Being in line with public service, how do you see the profession as a tool in helping your constituents? For you, how different is it from the private practice of law?
Atty. Moral-Romano: My legal profession is a treasured tool in my public service because it molded my guiding principles in making decisions for my constituents which were always in accordance with the law. Lawyers have the ability to analyze and come up with different solutions to a problem, and nerve-wracking oral recitations in law school and trial in court honed and refined my skills in public speaking, these equipped me in the daunting political world. Being a lawyer helped me to be the best executive in our municipality, we were trained to digest long cases, just cull out important details for the issue, facts of the case, and decision, these trainings made me a straightforward leader, direct and concise in decision-making. Furthermore, being a lawyer, we have an advantage of remaining calm under pressure. For example, when my political opponents threw cases against me, I did not crackdown and this did not affect my work. I can think rationally because I am conversant with legal proceedings and is very definite that the cases will be dismissed because they are unmeritorious.
In private practice, my interaction with the public is limited to my clients and the court, but in public service, I can immerse myself with people from all the classes of society and the reach and scope of my service have widened. It has really complemented my extrovert personality, where I like mingling with people and found my niche.
Barrista Solutions: Being the chief executive of your town, what are the main projects that you implement in order to improve the status of your community?
Atty. Moral-Romano: The main projects I have implemented that improved the status of my community are the following:
a. Pangga Mag-uuma
Since Braulio E. Dujali is an agricultural town, the thrust of my administration is to help our farmers to increase their harvest yield and quality output. It will not only alleviate the economic status of the farmers, but it would also generate more local income for the local government. My focus is providing farm inputs, fertilizers and certified rice seeds, mechanical farm equipment, both from local and national funds, as well as technical assistance. Our town is known for organic farming, the practice that our LGU has been actively supporting. We have an agri-tourism called “Palayamanan” where these organic farming practices are being demonstrated, like the making of coco sugar and Sara Sara (local rice coffee) we encourage local farmers to plant organic plant rice by buying their harvest of organic black rice and providing them soft loans and financial assistance. I also have a development project in which the local funds provide a budget for the concreting of farm drainages/ditches for the efficient supply of water from the Main NIA canal (irrigation) to the small ditches of the palayan.
We are a land-locked and interior town, there are some farm roads that are unpaved which hinders the cost-effective delivery of the agricultural produce from the farm to market. Thus, one of my development thrusts is infrastructure development by improving road networks, and during my term, we have implemented significant road concreting and rehabilitation. In my first term, we have purchased several heavy equipment for road improvement and in my second term, we have contracted loans to fund major concreting of roads.
b. Community empowerment- Pangga Ta Komunidad
We have institutionalized the Community-Driven Development (CDD) approach in poverty alleviation projects by the enactment of an ordinance and funding the same in our annual appropriation act. This is an approach that we have learned from the DSWD KapitBisig Laban sa Kahirapan Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (KALAHI- CIDDS) NCDDP program, we have been a recipient of this program of the national government. Years of training and experience prompted us to institutionalize the approach and make it a part of our local programs, even if the national project has ended, we continued the practice. Thus highlighting inclusive governance. As the Mayor, I propelled the institutionalization of the Community-Driven Development (CDD) approach because I advocate for community empowerment. I encourage community participation and empower them, because if they feel they have ownership of the programs and projects, then the programs will be successful and sustainable. If the stakeholders understand the challenges and inequities and co-own the issues and their solutions, we can create inclusive governance.
I have also this passion for supporting the development of our young individuals in our locality, as well as in instilling values. We established Modelo ng Kabataan which is an advocacy-based pageant and has produced Sangguniang Kabataan Leaders to date. We also established LEYA (LGBTQ Empowered Youth Alliance) which supports and protects the rights of LGBTQ members in our municipality.
In fact, we received a national award for our accredited Adolescent-Friendly Health Facility (BRAULIO E. DUJALI TEEN TAMBAYAN) from the Department Of Health. It is a facility we have established so that the teenagers will have an avenue for consultations and therapy on issues regarding teenage pregnancy, suicide, and drug problems.
Barrista Solutions: The current pandemic has affected all local governments in the country. How did you and your current administration adjust to the same? How do you keep up with the “new normal” amidst several factors contributing to the current crisis?
Atty. Moral-Romano: It was in March 2020 when we were struck by the covid pandemic, and no one was prepared, not even the first world countries. We felt the first sting of the corona pandemic when we had to re-align our budgets and re-appropriate everything to anti-covid efforts. All other socio-economic programs and projects for the administration have been sacrificed, given also that there was African Swine Fever outbreak, we have to use the budget efficiently. Just as real resilient Filipinos, we have adjusted easily to the new normal, implementing health protocols and enacting ordinances to enforce the basic “wear a mask, keep social distancing, and avoiding huge crowds” were the basic slogan of our local government unit. We have established quarantine facilities using container vans and converted government buildings into isolation facilities.
Barrista Solutions: One of the main problems of respective local governments today is balancing public health and the continuous development of the LGU with respect to its economic status. In a general sense, how do you resolve the same as the head of your municipality?
Atty. Moral-Romano: As a bridging leader, I put importance on public health and the improvement of our local health system. The budget on health has been given a considerable portion in our annual appropriation with our sacrificing also our allocation for socio-economic programs. I set the agenda and make the tough choices just to balance everything. I am aware that some societal inequities are difficult and I could not possibly solve them on my own, and I acknowledge the fact that I do not have the monopoly of knowledge and power that I must involve and convene stakeholders and call for a collaborative action to address the problems. As an Atenean Lawyer, I exemplify magis and cura personalis. I believe that excellence and compassion should be the keys to successful leadership. I see to it that social justice must be expressed and delivered.
Barrista Solutions: The study of local government units and administrative law only takes a small part of the study of law in general. How do you learn new things in order to develop your skill as a lawyer who, at the same time, is a public servant?
Atty. Moral-Romano: As they say, we gain wisdom from the things that we experience, and the more that I am out there, I am learning every day. The short study on local government units and administrative law did not give me the knowledge and skills I needed to thrive in my career, because these are forgettable and I can just get references from the book or a quick google search, it was the discipline in the study of law as a whole that developed my skills.
Barrista Solutions: What are the things that you look forward to seeing or having in the near future as a member of the legal profession at this time of a pandemic?
Atty. Moral-Romano: I look forward to modernized and digitalized court proceedings for the efficient and effective delivery of justice to my constituents.
Barrista Solutions: If you could give a piece of advice or any form of a message to your younger self, what would it be?
Atty. Moral-Romano: Do not hold back Leah Marie, continue to be fearless, bold, passionate, and creative. It will help you mold your strong character that will help you survive, thrive, and flourish in life.
Barrista Solutions: What is your message to lawyers and law students who have plans to venturing towards public service in the near future?
Atty. Moral-Romano: Being in the legal profession will give you credibility and people will trust you. Use this wisely, be decisive and strong in making decisions, your legal background already gave you confidence. And always have in mind that at the end of the day, our purpose is to serve and lead.
Barrista Solutions: What are your tips to all law students out there dreaming of passing the Bar exams any time soon?
Barrista Solutions: Keep the focus and be diligent. Three things to remember in answering the essays in the bar exam: CORTO, CLARO, CONCISO (write legibly, clearly, and concisely). I forgot the name and author of the book, BLUE TIPS, it has prepped me for the review and the actual bar exams.
* Atty. Leah Marie Moral- Romano is the Municipal Mayor of Braulio E. Dujali, Davao del Norte.
For more inspiring stories of the esteemed members of the Philippine Bar, view articles on Barrista Profiles.
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