‘Ay, babae kasi!’
Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) spokesperson and newly promoted Assistant Secretary Pircelyn "Celine" Burce Pialago has no place for bullies in her life
In my decades of being a road user in the male-dominated streets of Metro Manila, guess how many times I’ve heard the expression, “Ay, babae kasi! (Oh, it’s a woman. That’s why),” or “Babae siguro ang driver (Maybe it’s a woman driving)” whenever there’s a slowpoke on the road, or if the driver’s diskarte (execution of a tricky maneuver) is seen as inadequate? One too many.
There’s no clearer way male chauvinism rears its ugly head, and it gets my goat every time I hear this from a male companion in the vehicle I’m driving, or from a male driver I’m riding with.
It’s certainly one way of getting me to speak up and reprimand the one who uttered it, and those who agree with it.
Thus, imagine my glee when Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) spokesperson, and newly promoted Assistant Secretary Pircelyn “Celine” Burce Pialago, expressed the same sentiment when I asked her about this during one of her rare one-on-one interviews with the media that didn’t involve a clearing or towing operation.
“Sana lalaki ang driver. Sana lalaki yung driver (I hope the driver is male),” Celine said she would whisper whenever someone declares this offending statement.
Before getting this rare interview chance, I was already a fan of the lady. She was extremely pleasant in front of the camera, but her words were firm and reasonable, even if the irate motorist she was speaking to, male or female, was bordering on being hysterical.
She looked like she did her homework, and was applying it on the streets in a way that surely exceeded everyone’s expectations.
She was 15 minutes late for our Saturday afternoon appointment at the MMDA MetroBase in Guadalupe, Makati City.
She had come from an official MMDA function at the Quirino Grandstand in the morning, then had two other meetings before squeezing in a workout. And that was just on a Saturday morning.
This 27-year-old multi-tasker manages her time well, probably owing to being a former beauty queen, actress and TV reporter.
The 5-foot 7-inch looker came out of her mobile patrol car in radiant blue jeans and a flowing blue printed blouse, and was profusely apologetic for being late.
Just by the admiring look of the lady guard on duty, I knew Celine was a respected figure in her office. Her security detail told me she was “accommodating” even to ordinary folks who wanted selfies with her.
Celine insists that, even if many Pinoy road users are makulit (loosely translated as importunate), she preferred to go out in the field and join the on-street, real-life education of the citizenry over being cocooned in her air-conditioned office.
“Filipinos keep asking for change, but if some of them are affected by change, they complain. We want change but we want to be exempted from traffic apprehensions,” she observed.
This sense of self-entitlement, she added, is the number one obstacle to change. And this is what she wants to change on the street level.
Cut out for the job
Celine seems to be cut out for this job. She’s outspoken.
A graduate of broadcast communication in Miriam College, and a master’s degree in Journalism from the Ateneo de Manila, Celine has had actual working experience as a broadcast journalist (her first beat as a TV reporter was at the Defense/PNP) to hone her critical thinking.
As a TV actress appearing in teleseryes, she was able to stretch her work endurance, as well as steel herself from colleagues with strong personalities and attitudes.
These qualities somehow set her up well in a career with a government agency that has gotten little to no love from the public.
And we haven’t even gotten to that obvious part yet, being a former beauty queen. She was bullied for her morena complexion, and then got bullied online some more because of her “passed away” gaffe when she meant “passed out” during a Miss Philippines-Earth competition when she was asked about a fellow candidate who fainted.
“I was not focused at the time [I was asked the question]. I panicked because the one who passed out was a buddy of mine.”
So, for her, that faux pas belongs to the dustbin of history. “Maliit na bagay (petty),” as millennials would put it.
Focusing on the task ahead
Celine sets her focus on the tasks ahead. “I was already competitive even while I was young, plus my zodiac sign is Gemini,” she laughed.
“Office politics in the MMDA is not easy—in any field, not just in MMDA. If you choose to quit, then it’s up to you. But if you choose to fight, then protect your turf and your name,” she added.
Before joining the MMDA, Celine already had some exposure to politics when she worked in the campaign of a presidential candidate.
“Doon ako natuto mag manage ng stress at puyat (That’s where I learned to manage stress and sleepless nights),” Celine said.
When she was with the Liberal Party, she said she was always with about 30 SAF (Special Action Force) members, “not because they were my security, but because we often visited Mindanao. I was in the field of men.”
After the 2016 elections, and her candidate lost, Celine said she looked for a job that would help her serve the country.
“I went to Davao for a week. I was able to find a person to help me talk to President-elect Duterte. And we talked for six hours. We talked about Davao, the 911 hotline, and rescue operations. My PR qualities worked then, as I was on the other side [of the political spectrum],” Celine said.
But would this be seen as being balimbing (turncoat)? Celine reasoned that when her candidate lost, he could no longer help her serve her country, that’s why she had to find another way.
She added that had former Vice President Jojo Binay, Senator Grace Poe or Senator Miriam Santiago won, she would have gone to them so she could serve the country better.
“I work for my country, not for one person,” she said.
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