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Home » Featured Stories » 15 Questions with Maria Isabelle Cilmaco Salazar

15 Questions with Maria Isabelle Cilmaco Salazar

15 Questions is a Q & A series with ADZU alumni. As you can already guess, alumni will be asked 15 questions about their present lives as well as their lives during their time as an ADZU student.

Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, more popularly called Beng, is the mayor of Zamboanga City. Prior to becoming the mayor, Climaco-Salazar was a two-term representative for the First Congressional District of Zamboanga City, vice mayor, and city councilor. Before entering politics, she was a guidance counselor and teacher at the Ateneo de Zamboanga University High School.

This interview was conducted by ADZU communications officer Yen Blanco-Delgado at the Office of the City Mayor on April 16, 2015.

This Q&A with Climaco-Salazar is the first in the 15 Questions series.

What is your present state of mind?

I am in a quandary because of the power crisis and water crisis and the current fire (at Barangay Sto. Nino). I have to check it up because it is in a very thickly populated area.

What were you like as an Ateneo student?

I was in Ateneo circa 1984-1989. Around the time also was the death of Ninoy (Aquino) and my Uncle Cesar (former mayor Climaco) and we did marches around the city. It was really a period of active non-violence and the infiltration of simplicity of lifestyle. That made us participate in student government activities but more so the Jesuit formation through the Christian Life Community (CLC). That taught us to be students with the mission to study and to be active in our community by knowing the socio-political and economic situation of our city.

What was your favorite subject?

I can remember the classes I had with Mr. Chiong and Mr. Banico, in English. There was so much to learn about literature but also the deeper meaning of literature. I don’t really say that they were my favorite subjects but these are the subjects that even up to now are very useful.

Who was your favorite teacher?

If ever there is a favorite teacher, then it is Mr. Emir Españo because of his no-nonsense classroom teaching, and who is very down to earth. I appreciate also, though I did not get very good grades (from her), Ma’am Asuncion. I like Ma’am (Nelfa) Arnad who was very motherly and she really formed us, particularly as a practicum students.

Name three persons from your time at Ateneo who made a great impact on you?

The greatest impact I think to my life in Ateneo and even now is Fr. Benjamin Sim, SJ because he was the one who really formed me in the CLC and for that I’m very grateful because it helps me right now, even as a Mayor. He taught me to be diplomatic, to build consensus, and also to consult. Another person who used to work in Ateneo was Pilar Molina, she invited me into the CLC and we still continue to meet.

What was your course and what made you choose it?

I first started with Commerce because I thought I will be able to run my mother’s business but I realized that my passion and calling is really teaching. I discovered it one time and eventually I switched to Bachelor of Secondary Education and I’m very blessed to learn so much from that because it helped me in my career as teacher and even now. In my professional career in Ateneo de Zamboanga University, I took up Masters in Ateneo de Manila, so one thing led to the other.

How is your course helping you now?

It helps me because I am able to explain concepts better and I have very good communication skills because of the English language and because really of the training as a teacher. I also worked before in a television station so the communication skills helped me but what is really of essence to me as a graduate of Ateneo is not only the capacity of intellect. What matters most to me is the heart. As mayor of the City of Zamboanga, we can build so much infrastructures by the billions but it will not make an impact on the people, not unless you are able to touch their lives and show to them how these humongous projects will impact on making the life of their child better by enabling them to go to school without crossing the river, or giving access to education, with comfortable chairs, good teachers. That is what matters to me, a balance of the head and the heart.

Greatest life lesson learned as an Ateneo student that you continue to find useful?

Find God in all things. Reading the signs of the times but finding God in any situation that you are in. This is one of the most important part of Jesuit formation. God created everything for good and we are good and so I have a purpose. I’d like to zero in on my purpose, my mission in life because as a student, Fr. Sim always taught us that you are students and your primary reason is to study so no matter what you do, you will put emphasis in studying because by studying you do your mission. You please God but will also help yourself develop. And so how do I relate it now? I am no longer a student. I am a mayor so my biggest mission as mayor of the city is to serve and by doing so, serving the people to the best that I can, then I serve my God.

What is your happiest Ateneo memory?

CLC and BSE. Even now I think that what we taught (which we call) The Toledo Maneuver has never been revealed by the Bachelor of Science in Education because they have won consistently in the tug of war. So that is my happiest contribution. (Ed: Education students have a tradition of bagging the championship in the tug-of-war competition of the annual Ateneo Fiesta. The Toledo Maneuver is named after Fr. Denny Toledo, SJ,  who taught the technique that Climaco credits for their tug-of-war victories).

What is your favorite Ateneo song?

Panalangin sa Pagiging Bukas-Palad.

Can you describe your work now?

My work is really a 24-hour calling. It is a calling because I am not motivated by money. In fact, as I talk to you today, whatever amount I have in my small envelope I gave it all away because duty calls. It’s a 24-hour job that requires me, under the local government code and the constitution, to take on the general welfare principle of the people and that is to represent the people, to govern the city, and ensure that government funds are properly utilized in a way that benefits the greater majority of people.

Do you love your work?

I have learned to love it as a calling. When I was growing up I was a late bloomer. It was the Ateneo, through the CLC, that helped open my horizon after gaining my voice in the United States (as an exchange student). I used to hang out with classmates of mine who were not the focus of attention. But it was this opportunity to hang out with (them) that I realized my call is to continue being with the voiceless. I believe that my calling is really to help these VIPs. They are the most important persons to me.

What do you do for fun?

Well, I will do Zumba if I can and I try to be more creative if I can. I hang out in certain places, make myself visible. For example my favorite place is Plaza del Pilar where they have very good healthy shawarma, good pizza. I patronize our own.

What are the three most important things or persons in your life now?

The most important is to ensure that I serve with dignity and integrity because it’s very hard. I have this PDAF case that I have to be answerable to and I feel that I must maintain my integrity. Once it is destroyed or broken, it is very difficult to re-establish. Then, I am very concerned about the security situation of Zamboanga City. Security not only for peace and order but water and electricity. That also goes for returning people near the places where they came from, the ones that are affected by the siege.  I have another persona aside from mayor. I also value family. I value my husband. Tomorrow is the death anniversary of the five week old fetus, the son that I, we could have had. These are the private things that I value. I value family because I know that at the end of the day, all things may pass but the family remains.

What advice would you give to current Ateneo students?

We were trained by Fr. Ben Tanseco, SJ in counseling not to give advices. But if ever I have a grain of knowledge is just what Father Sim taught us. Your mission as students is to study, then study.