Mayor Joy Belmonte, the eco-warrior

Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte is a relentless advocate of the ecology and sustainable progress. | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF MAYOR JOY BELMONTE

Her strides in saving the planet and fighting climate change have earned her a spot as one of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Champions of the Earth.

Leading the charge in the Philippines’ largest city, Ma. Josefina “Joy” G. Belmonte is about cutting carbon, boosting renewable energy, and safeguarding nature.

Belmonte, the first elected woman Mayor of Quezon City, the largest city in Metro Manila, has been a staunch advocate for environmental protection and sustainability throughout her political career.

She rose to the position of mayor after serving as vice mayor from 2010 to 2019. During her tenure, the Quezon City Council shone brightly as a guiding light, earning recognition as the country’s most exceptional local legislative body.

Mayor Joy, the only daughter of former Quezon City Mayor Sonny Belmonte and sister to three brothers has gracefully dispelled any notions that her pursuit of an elected position was driven by a desire to uphold the Belmonte dynasty.

“I wish to correct the assumption that I ran upon my father’s instructions to perpetuate a dynasty. This is untrue. I have three older brothers, none of whom are politicians. I was an archaeologist working in the academe and with the National Museum,” she told the DAILY TRIBUNE.    

“There was absolutely no pressure from my father for me to join politics. The decision was mine for the reason I earlier explained.”

From a young age, Mayor Joy’s passion for public service was evident through her active involvement in cause-oriented organizations during her teenage years.

As the student council president in high school, she not only catered to the needs of her fellow students but also spearheaded impactful initiatives for the community, including donation drives for those affected by natural disasters, outreach programs for underprivileged children, and volunteer work in local public schools.

“In college, I joined an organization that worked with young adults in Barangay Libis to help the community’s vulnerable sectors. After graduation, I joined the Jesuit Volunteers Philippines and was sent to a far-flung municipality in Bukidnon to work as a teacher for the children of farmers for one year,” she shared.

Joining public service

It was only later on that Mayor Joy considered venturing into public service through city politics. At the time, she was working as an archaeologist. She sought the support of a city mayor for their excavation work on the cultural and material remnants of ancient societies within his jurisdiction.

“I thought to myself, anything we retrieve from the site would benefit his city by enriching its history and providing artifacts for its local museum, and I was sure he would be excited to learn about our work. After lining up for hours to see him, however, it turned out he was unavailable and not interested in what we were doing,” she said.

When asked about the motivation behind her decision to enter politics and eventually run for mayor, she reflected on her father’s final term as Quezon City mayor. She was inspired to seek public office to amplify the voices of all individuals and address the issues that elected officials often overlook, as they may not align with their interests or agenda.

“So, I took my chances and ran for vice mayor. After nine years, I ran for mayor. As mayor, I now make it a point to make time for anybody who wants to see me and present an idea to me. I believe everyone has something to say, and it is the job of all leaders to listen to them.”

In public service, she admitted that she entirely gave up her original career choice because among her projects as vice was the creation of a social history museum known as QCX at the Quezon Memorial Circle.

“Currently, we are developing a series of museums throughout the city to enlighten QCitizens and visitors about our vibrant culture and history.”

Thriving projects

Reflecting on her past projects as vice mayor that continue to flourish today, Belmonte highlighted the Kabahagi Center for Children with Disabilities, the Quezon City Protection Center for Victim-Survivors of Gender-Based Violence, and the Quezon City Human Milk Bank for preterm babies and other vulnerable infants.

“As mayor, I can no longer keep track of the number of programs we have initiated, but a few of the high-impact ones are in accordance with our 14-Point Agenda of Governance,” she added.

These initiatives include the almost complete automation of city systems and processes to combat corruption and enhance service delivery for residents; the Free QCity Bus system, comprising approximately 100 buses across eight routes within the city; the Grow QC Urban Farming program, which has established around 1,026 urban farms and pocket vegetable gardens, providing livelihood opportunities for roughly 25,000 urban farmers; the Trash to Cashback program, which incentivizes QCitizens to trade their recyclable waste for environmental points that can be redeemed for groceries and utility payments; and the IRise Up program, an early warning system that enables prompt responses to natural disasters and environmental threats, among other notable endeavors.

But Mayor Joy’s work goes beyond policy and planning. She is deeply engaged in prioritizing the diverse needs of Quezon City residents by harnessing data and engaging with the community through multiple channels, including social media, a dedicated People’s Corner on the local government’s website, and Helpline 122.

Her open-door policy and empathetic approach have earned her the trust and respect of the people, who see her as a leader who truly cares about their well-being.

“We have a Quezon City People’s Council that has representation from 23 different sectors that comprise our city, and regularly consult with them to understand their needs and priorities. We hold summits regularly, with women, youth, LGBTQIA+, urban poor, HOAs, PWDs, etc., to aid policymaking.”

This is aside from the Action Offices in each district, which provide QCitizens with a convenient platform to communicate their concerns.

City’s challenges

Belmonte recognizes the significant challenges facing Quezon City, including addressing the housing backlog through implementing the Local Shelter Plan with adequate funding, private sector partnerships, and collaboration with the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development.

She also highlights the urgency of tackling climate change by implementing the Local Climate Change Action Plan through increased investment, stakeholder engagement for enhanced implementation, and collaboration with the international community for financial and technical support.

Her primary hurdle lies in discovering fresh revenue streams to finance the city’s programs and projects while ensuring citizens are not burdened with additional taxes.

Her goal is to bolster the city’s business environment, making it an attractive hub for investments and combatting corruption to guarantee public funds serve the greater good.

Truth be told, the city government has amassed 200+ local and international accolades, including the prestigious three consecutive unmodified opinions from the Commission on Audit.

The Civil Service Commission-National Capital Region has hailed Mayor Joy as the Presidential Lingkod Bayan Award regional winner.

In a recent flurry of recognition, she has been honored for her steadfast dedication to environmental sustainability. The National Resilience Council bestowed upon her the title of Resilience Champion for her innovative programs focused on the environment and disaster resilience.

Her unwavering commitment to human rights has not gone unnoticed. The Philippine Commission on Human Rights honored her with the Gawad Tanggol Karapatan Award for her tireless efforts to protect and uphold human rights across all sectors.

Embracing gender inclusivity, she was also presented with the Equality Champ Award for her advocacy in this crucial area.

Earth champ

A standout accomplishment of Mayor Joy is the creation of the Quezon City Environmental Protection and Waste Management Department — which plays a pivotal role in executing initiatives aimed at curbing waste generation, advocating recycling and composting, and conducting educational campaigns to enlighten residents on the significance of responsible waste management and environmental preservation.

Beyond waste management endeavors, she has strongly emphasized green transportation initiatives within Quezon City. Her efforts revolve around enhancing public transportation services, encouraging cycling as a viable mode of transport, and enforcing policies geared toward mitigating vehicle-related air pollution.

As a Champion of the Earth, Belmonte hopes to continue to inspire others to take action and make a difference in their communities. Her vision for a greener and more sustainable future for Quezon City is a shining example of how local leaders can drive positive change and create a healthier environment for all.

On maintaining equilibrium between her duties as Mayor of the metropolis and her personal life, she says, “For me, there is no such thing as work-life balance. My work is my life because it brings me happiness.”

Mayor Joy is not just a leader; she is a visionary, a changemaker, and a role model for future generations. In her, citizens have found a champion dedicated to building a city that is prosperous, compassionate, inclusive and resilient.