Isabela governor Grace Padaca shines as a beacon of hope for Filipinos weary of a traditional, patronage system in politics and eager for a dynamic alternative to leadership. Grace was awarded in 2008 with the region’s renowned equivalent of the Nobel Prize, the Ramon Magsaysay Award for government service. Grace is credited with freeing Isabela, a province of 1.5 million, from the shackles of a long-ruling family dynasty.
Stricken with polio at age three, the daughter of public school teachers excelled in academics, and trained to be an accountant. But public service beckoned, and Grace took up the cudgels as a broadcaster in her hometown of Cauayan, where she began her advocacy for political change in Isabela. In May 2004, she won by a huge margin over the incumbent governor, Faustino Dy, and was re-elected again in 2007. Her wins are heralded as an example of the people’s will overcoming entrenched interests.
With the 2010 presidential and local elections on the horizon, Grace campaigns for the institution of major electoral reforms. “We need greater involvement of the youth and other responsible citizens, especially in pollwatching,” she says. “We should all work to elevate the standards of people for political leaders and not drag down the qualities of candidates to fit our shallow, mediocre expectations of them.” The experience of former President Cory Aquino resonates with Grace. “We may have been both reluctant, and well, unprepared, but certainly not dumb. Our opponents who underestimated us did not know what hit them when we beat them,” she says.
(First published in Marie Claire, November 2008; Photo by Lilen Uy)