Public to Private: Chicoy Alvarez Talks about Life in Lockdown and Continuing to Help Palawan Even Away from Politics - Lifestyle Asia

I feel that even if I am in the private sector, I can still be of service.”

Before the pandemic hit, Palawan was one of the top tourism draws in the country. Travelers fly in from all over to spend a relaxing vacation at what is considered as the “last frontier” in ecological conservation.

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El Nido and Coron are consistently voted by tourists and prestigious media organizations like Condé Naste as a top international destination, not the least because of their idyllic beaches. Another highlight is Long Beach in San Vicente, which, at 14 kilometers, is the longest stretch of white sand in the country. There are other natural attractions in the province such as the Underground River, which has been declared as one of the new Seven
Wonders of the World.

It is a delicate balancing act to manage the environment while encouraging an influx of tourists. Palawan’s local government, thankfully, has been successful in managing the challenges and making sure that the province maintains its pristine beauty while fostering a healthy tourism industry.

Crisis response

The pandemic brought its own set of challenges, however. Palawan Representative Franz “Chicoy” Alvarez shares that since many of the Palaweño livellihoods depended on tourism, the travel bans and lockdowns hit them hard.

“Pre-pandemic, if you walk down the streets of Coron and El Nido, you would be among a throng of tourists and there are hotels, restaurants, bars, and tour establishments that were always busy,” the congressman says. “Ang daming opportunities para sa mga tao para magnegosyo, mag-work, mag-hanapbuhay. Napakaganda.”

When the lockdown happened, he says that they responded right away with support for all those whose incomes were affected. “However, no one could predict that the lockdowns would last this long and our government cannot aff ord to keep giving out aid,” he admits.

Chicoy gives a picture of how it is on the ground. “In the beginning people were still able to cope because they
had some savings, but when it kept getting extended, it became harder for everyone,” he says.

He spent the first few lockdowns in Palawan, he shares. “My whole family was there just in case there was something that needed to be done, we were there and ready to help,” Chicoy says. He flew to Manila for the President’s State of the Nation Address, and stayed to attend sessions at the Congress.

Serving the people

Mass inoculation is the solution, he continues. He is thankful that the government, through DOT Sec. Berna Romulo Puyat and IATF Czars Sec. Carlito Galvez and Sec. Vince Dizon, rolled out a vaccination program for tourism workers and economic frontliners in Coron, El Nido, Puerto Princesa, and San Vicente. This, he says, will help bring back tourist confidence for when the international and local borders open up once again.

Chicoy’s affinity for his provincemates runs deep, as he grew up in San Vicente and studied in Puerto Princesa until he graduated high school. His pride in his Province is also inspired by his father Antonio, who is a former congressman of the first district of Palawan.

“My dad started in politics in 1986 as a Mayor, and I loved going with him to meet his constituents,” he says. “We would really go out to different areas of San Vicente, natutulog kami kung saan saan and we would reach the far barangays to have a dialogue with the community.”

This also inspired him to go into public service to follow in his father’s footsteps. “I saw how fulfilling it is to help people and to bring development to their area. That’s what opened my eyes to politics, Chicoy shares.

When he went to Manila for college, though, he tried to first pursue a different path. “Even my dad said to me at one point, to get a taste of the working life before entering politics, so I took up Bachelor of Arts in Humanities with a Professional Certificate in Management at the University of Asia and the Pacific,” he says.

His first job also took him to many farflung places. “I was a fertilizer sales agent for the Philippine Phosphate Corporation. This involved a lot of traveling. One week I’d be in Bacolod; another week, Iloilo, then Isabela, and I spent more than a year traveling the country,” Chicoy shares. “I was also assigned in Indonesia and Thailand for almost a year.”

While on these assignments, he got to talk to people from all walks of life, from the store owners even to the farmers. This gave him an appreciation on how countryside development can benefit more communities.

On hindsight, knowing that he would eventually still pursue politics, Chicoy admits that he should have chosen a course like Political Science. “When I ran for Board Member and especially when I got to Congress, I really had to learn the ropes through reading and by experience,” he muses. Alvarez is currently the Chairman on the Committee on Legislative Franchises, and Vice Chairman on the Committee on Tourism and the Committee on Trade.

Among the Bills that he has co-authored and supported during his term were for the creation of the Western Philippines Medical Center, the establishment of the Palawan Provincial Technical Education And Skills Development Authority (TESDA) Training And Assessment Centers in Puerto Princesa and Municipalities in Palawan, an act encouraging Corporate Social Responsibility by providing incentives for the companies, and the establishment of an Economic Stimulus Strategy for the country in the aftermath of COVID-19.

He and this fellow lawmakers in the province are also working together to develop local tourism industry further. For example, the three Palawan congressmen—Chicoy along with Second District Rep. Cyrille Abueg-Zaldivar, and Third District Rep. Gil Acosta Jr.—filed a bill that moves to declare the Province as a priority cruise ship destination in MIMAROPA.

“We are also prioritizing access to the different areas in our district, which is very challenging geographically. We have 15 Municipalities, in which 11 of these are island municipalities and of the remaining four, there are island barangays,” he says.

During his father’s term, more access roads were cemented to further improve accessibility for tourist. Chicoy continued this initiative over his three terms. His father also initiated the construction of the San Vicente airport during his term, which was finished in his son’s first term. Antonio also had the Busuanga airport upgraded, from an undeveloped airport to a cemented runway with full facilities. This was done through a $3 million grant from Korean International Cooperation Agency.

During Chicoy’s time, they also started building a new airport in Busuanga, which has a longer runway. This will be able to accommodate larger planes and a new terminal for more tourists. The groundbreaking was held in 2019. “We envision it to be an international airport so that foriegn travelers will no longer have to pass through Manila in order to get to Palawan,” the lawmaker explains.

After office

With his term ending in 2021, Chicoy says that he will not be running for re-election, but will stay active in supporting the development of his province.

“Our focus is to further develop tourism, particularly eco-tourism in Palawan, because we have so many natural attractions for travelers to enjoy, like El Nido, Coron, Amanpulo, Tubbataha, and the Long Beach in San Vicente,” he says. “There is a multiplier effect in our local economy.”

Chicoy says they have seen how tourism has created so many opportunities for Palawenos, “such as job creation in our resorts and hotels, plus our tour operators, and the agricultural sector which complements all of these.”

While his father will run again for Congress and his brother Juan Antonio will run for re-election as Board Member, the representative says he will enjoy the private life for the time being and work on his businesses.

“I feel that even if I am in the private sector, I can still be of service,” he says. “After my term, I will take it day-byday and enjoy time with my wife Yanee and our children Ali, Joaquin, and Adriana. We like to watch movies together
and go to the beach just to relax. I will also hopefully have time to play basketball.”

With his wife taking to social media to share messages of positivity, he shares some uplifting thoughts of his own.

“You have to stay healthy and that also means taking care of your mental and emotional health. Don’t slack
off from exercise and keep a positive mindset so that you will also elicit positive energy from those around you,” he says.

Drive, purpose, and direction give more value to one’s life, and these are what we can expect from him as he continues on as a productive albeit private citizen in the forseeable future. As he says: “Living a life in all aspects without lack of reason—that to me is a meaningful life.”

This story was first published in the October 2021 issue of Lifestyle Asia.

Text by Maan Pamaran D’Asis

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