VERGEL Meneses has been in countless pressure-packed situations before, both as a basketball player and coach. Yet there's really nothing quite like the challenge he currently faces as the municipal mayor of Bulakan, Bulacan.
"Ito yung pinakamalaki talaga," the 1995 PBA MVP said.
Meneses had a great 14-year PBA career and a nine-year run as head coach of his alma mater Jose Rizal University. But he insisted no situation comes close to what he is facing now as the 'father' of an entire town.
In the midst of a dreaded pandemic, the former PBA star said there is no room for error on his part since lives are at stake.
Sudden-death? Well, this right here is a real do-or-die situation.
"Kailangan yung decision ko dito laging tama, laging maayos kasi ang pinoprotektahan ko dito is yung kapakanan ng taumbayan," Meneses, who was named one of the 25 Greatest Players in PBA history.
Unlike basketball where he stood out thanks to years of hard work and training, or coaching which was almost a natural step for him, Meneses said nothing prepared him for the task of taking care of an entire town of 80,000 people from a deadly disease.
"Ibang-iba kasi sa coaching o sa paglalaro ng basketball dahil may preparation ka dyan. Bago magbukas ang NCAA o mag-open ang PBA season, nakakapag-prepara ka. Maitatama mo yung mali during sa preparation na yun bago mag-NCAA," he said.
"Ito hindi eh, biglaan lahat."
What's working for him is his personal discipline from his playing days as well as his leadership skills which he developed through the years, both as a franchise player and later as coach.
"Yung disiplina ko sa mga players ko, yung leadership ko sa kanila na pino-point out ko sa kanila during my coaching and even when I was a player, na as a leader, kailangan ko maging good example sa kanila," said Meneses.
"Hindi naman kakayanin ng isang lider lang para mapagtagumpayan ang laban. Kailangan ko din ng supporting cast, kung paano nila ako susundin. Yun yung nakita ko na isa sa mga qualities na nadala ko as a politician."
Bulakan has eight confirmed cases, six of which have already recovered while two already testing negative on their third test. Meneses, however, said that those patients only had addresses in their town but are living in Metro Manila.
So far, Bulakan is also awaiting the swab test results of 53 suspected cases from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).
Though he considers himself as a newbie in the field of public service, Meneses feels fortunate to have been exposed to lots of seasoned politicians who he approaches for advice and counsel, especially in addressing this current crisis.
"Marami rin naman akong nakakasamang politicians na nao-observe ko kung anong ginagawa nila. Ang sabi lang sa akin ng mga beteranong politicians, dapat tapat ka sa serbisyo, ibigay mo yung pangangailangan ng tao, which is yun ang ginagawa ko," he said.
Meneses is doing quite admirably, not bad for someone who is only a year into his new job. He has delivered batches upon batches of aid to his constituents since the outbreak started, in cash and in kind, from donors and his own pocket.
Despite the social distancing restrictions brought upon by the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine, Bulakan was able maintain order by laying down a plan for its 14 barangays, grouping them into two groups with alternating market days.
He allowed the operation of tricycles, the town's main form of transportation. But to maintain order, the municipality synchronized the TODAs' allowed travel hours with the market days of their respective barangays.
No groceries and markets are allowed to open on Sundays, with those days devoted to disinfection.
For the 51-year-old mayor, the crisis has been the true test of his stewardship as he follows the long line of Meneseses who have held the post.
"Sa isang taon ko, nagiging seryoso na ako sa mga desisyon ko. Hindi pwede yung pabago-bago ka kasi iba na ang pinasok ko at maraming bagay ka na dapat i-consider. Kailangan mo rin maging transparent sa mga tao," he said.
Meneses is also grateful that his constituents have reacted positively to the measures his administration have put in place.
"Ako naman, basta nakikita ng tao kung gaano ako ka-sincere sa kanila, kung gaano ako katapat sa tungkulin mo, susunod at susunod sila. Minsan ang namumuno, pabaya o hindi sinsero, talagang ang tao, may masasabi sa yo," he said.
"Sa akin, gagawin ko lahat ito para sa ikabubuti ng bawat isa, hindi lang para sa pang sarili kong kapakanan kundi ang priority ko ay yung kapakanan ng aking mga kababayan."
He is determined to deliver in the clutch, just like he has done countless times during his basketball career.
"Ang sa akin, yung mai-deliver ko lang yung pangangailangan ng tao, kung paano ko mapapaunlad yung bayan namin, yun ang basehan ko," he said. "Parang nagba-basketball ka, kung paano ka makaka-deliver ng championship sa pinagtatrabahuan mo. Ang pinagtatrabahuan ko ngayon ay yung mga tao kaya kailangan masaya sila, yung pangangailangan nila, maipaabot ko sa kanila."
But like basketball, you can only be as good as your team in politics, Meneses said.
"Sabi ko nga, basta tulong-tulong lang lahat. Kahit anong bagay, walang imposible. Lahat ng bagay, kayang malusutan. Yung tagumpay ko at tagumpay ng bayan ay nakasalalay sa pagtutulungan talaga."