By: Bing Parel-Salud, PEOPLE ASIA MAGAZINE July 2007 issue
“If you live in the past then you stay there,” casually remarks Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, the newly elected congressman of Leyte’s First District. We were at his home in a plush Makati subdivision, and this writer was not totally prepared for the candor displayed by the lawyer businessman. After all, he carries a well-known surname that could sometimes be a boon or a bane – depending on who you ask.
“I’m very proud of my father’s achievements,” Martin says of former Leyte governor and Ambassador Benjamin Romualdez. “However, those are his achievements, and I would like to make my own mark. I only use those achievements or standards as a bar to aim for, if not surpass. I will not lean on those accomplishments and take the credit because I really had nothing to do with that.
“And I think that also goes for whatever shortcomings my family has in the past. I am not an apologist; I will never be one. But at the same time, there’s nothing to be ashamed of because everyone makes mistakes, everyone has shortcomings,” the 43 year old neophyte politician discloses.
While some eyebrows were initially raised at the news that the businessman was throwing his hat into the political ring – and under the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi) party of President Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo at that – not many were surprised. In the first place, “politics has always been a part of our family tradition, our political history dating back to the time of my great grand uncle, Papa Miguel, who became the first mayor of Manila. It is, as they say, in the blood. Although my first foray into a semi-political life was as a Kabataang Barangay (KB) member some 25 years ago. I was president of my home municipality of Tolosa and eventually became the provincial federation president, and we felt that it was a very worthwhile experience,” he explains.
He was, to say the least, proud of the fact that even at a young age, he was able to go around the province and visit just about every municipality, meeting with other KB heads and conducting information drives on various projects, among them livelihood, financing and soft loan programs. “Those were exciting times in the sense that I got to go out in the outlying municipalities and see how the rest of the people actually live,” he remarks.
Asked what he was like as a kid, Martin laughs, “I was the third of four children, I had two older brothers and being the third child afforded me the opportunity to watch and observe the mistakes of my two brothers so I would know how to behave lest I be punished.” This, he adds, enabled him to learn the rules. “I would know where my brothers would falter and I would make sure that I avoided doing the same mistakes.”
The biggest lesson Martin has learned, however, is the power of communication. “My parents were very emphatic about the family being tightly knit, and communication – then and now- is key. My father’s job as governor and ambassador brought him to places far away from us, yet he managed to maintain close contact with the family. It went a long way in forging strong bonds that we have in the family.
“My mother dutifully and lovingly wrote to us when we were studying in the United States, and that meant so much because the handwritten letter always seems a warmer and more endearing form of communication,” he reveals, laughingly adding that his mother now knows how to text and email while his father use the cellphone “incessantly like most everyone else.”
It’s obvious that family means a lot to the young politician. His wife former 1996 Bb. Pilipinas International Yedda Marie Mendoza Kittilsvedt, is “not just a beautiful person in terms of her physical attributes but also a beautiful person inside. She’s such a caring wife and mother that I never have to worry about my children. She’s always there to support me in whatever I decide to do, and she has been most definitely the great woman behind me who quietly works in the background.” he says. “Coming home to see her and the children makes all the stress and worries just evaporate. All the fatigue melts away,” he unabashedly admits.
And it seems he will need all the support his wife can give him now that he has decided to get into the “exciting” world of politics. A law graduate of the University of the Philippines, and who later went to Harvard (Administration and Management) and at Cornell University (Bachelor of Arts in Government), it would be quite an understatement to say that Martin has a smart head on his shoulders. It wouldn’t be too presumptuous either to say that his academic accomplishments, plus his experience in the private sector, could benefit his constituents. Tourism is one of the areas he would like to focus on, which dovetails with the current program of the administration. “The province has an agriculture-based economy, but it has a great potential in terms of growth for eco-tourism. The ingredients are all there – a beautiful geography, beautiful environment, beautiful people – we just need to enhance the infrastructure and tap people who are willing to serve, because it is basically a service oriented industry,” the president of the prestigious Cornell Club of the Philippines says.
What drives him now, he reveals, is the desire to give back. “My father always said we owe everything to Leyte in the sense that it is part of our heritage. My father’s political career spawned opportunities that allowed us to have the best education possible, which in turn helped us in our own respective business careers. Right now, it is a matter of giving back, and that’s what we’re prepared and eager to do.”
While the past has a tendency to hamper plans for the future, especially in the realm of politics, it’s one that does not really discourage Martin. “Everything has been politicized almost to the point of things becoming ridiculous, conveniently used as an excuse for the shortcomings of the present. That’s what weighs this country down. Let’s build on the good things from the past, and not just discard everything wholesale just because it was done by someone else,” he says.
At the end of the day, what really matters is to work and produce results that would benefit everybody, particularly his constituents in Leyte. “I’d like to make a positive difference, because if not, then I don’t think I’d even get into politics because this is not exactly the easiest world to get into. I have spent a greater part of my professional life in the private sector. And armed with some experience in the business world, so to speak I would like to see how I could bring that with me to the public sector, and share whatever experience or knowledge I can and give back to the province.”
“I’m a product of my environment, and so I grew up as a very secure person in that sense. I don’t care if people take credit (for something) whether it’s due them or not, so long as under my watch, I did a good job.” Martin concludes.