Perhaps the most endearing person ever to be the mayor of Zamboanga would be Maria Clara Lorenzo Lobregat. Aside from holding the distinction of being the first woman mayor of the city, she is looked up to by most Zamboangueños as the mother of the city, its protector and benefactor.
Maria Clara was born on April 26, 1921, in
Even as a child, Caling was very much exposed to politics as she was the constant companion of her father at many political functions. One such historic occasion was the signing of Zamboanga City Charter in Malacañang by President Manuel L. Quezon. Her early exposure to the public life would be a great influence on the young girl.
Caling was enrolled in the prestigious school for girls, the
Immediately after the war, Caling felt that she had to do something to help the people affected by the war, and she volunteered to work at the
Caling was contented with the life of an ordinary wife and mother, but this changed when her husband died in a plane crash in May 1968, leaving Caling a widow at the age of 48. Caling was left to take care of her children all by herself.
Caling Lobregat’s political career started in 1971 when she was overwhelmingly elected as the
She became a member of several important committees. She used her pragmatic wit, diplomacy and influence to channel benefits for
What particularly marked her political style was her closeness to the people. She was always there for them, especially the destitute. She established her congressional consultative office at her residence at
Congresswoman Caling Lobregat was a member of the Commission on Appointments, and of several committees which included the committee on national defense, trade and industry, transportation and communication, agriculture and food, tourism, women, inter-parliamentary relations and diplomacy, public order and security, education and culture, and legislative franchises.
In the Commission on Appointments, she served in the following committees: Public Works and Highways (as Chairman); Foreign Affairs (Vice- Chairman); National Defense; Agriculture and Food; Constitutional Commissions and Officer; Education, Culture and Sports; Environment and Natural Resources; Finance, Budget and management; Government Corporation and other officers; Health; Interior and Local Government; Regional Consultative Commissions and Regional Autonomous Governments; Justice and Judicial Bar Council; Labor and Employment and Social Welfare; Science and Technology; and Tourism and Economic Development.
She was a delegate representing the House of Representatives in the Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference in
She authored or co-authored various measures of national and local importance. In 1996 she was selected one of the Most Outstanding Congressmen by Philippine Graphic Magazine.
It was during her third term in Congress that Congresswoman Maria Clara L. Lobregat would author her landmark legislation for
In 1991, Congress approved her bill declaring October 12 of every year a special non-working holiday in Zamboanga to celebrate Fiesta Pilar, now embodied in Republic Act No. 7350. It was through her initiative and efforts that
After having served the city for three terms in Congress, Caling could have retired from public office or run for the Senate. As early as 1997 several parties, including the party of the administration under President Fidel Ramos were inviting the active congresswoman to join their party. Yet, she opted to run for the position of mayor following historical events which would forever affect the political climate in
The Ramos administration, in its bid to forge a peace pact with the rebel Moro National Liberation Front, came up with several concessions, some of which would clash with the popular will of the Zamboangueños and the people in many places in
Congresswoman Lobregat together with other personalities from
The Philippine Free Press would describe this uncommon quality of leadership in their editorial of September 14, 1996, which in part reads: “Whatever follows the peace agreement and the Christian opposition to it from the clash between the two has already come one unqualified blessing: a quality of political leadership such as Mindanao has never known. The leadership is shown by the Tres Marias (Congresswomen Maria Clara L. Lobregat, Luwalhati Antonio and Daisy Fuentes).”
In May 1998, Maria Clara Lobregat opted to run for the mayoralty against the administration candidate, Mayor Efren Arañez, who took over after Mayor Agan decided to run for congress. She handily defeated Arañez. It would be the very first time that Zamboanga would have a woman for a mayor.
The changing of guard at the City Hall brought a breath of fresh air after a period of controversy. Most Zamboangueños felt that at least they have someone they could trust to look after the interest of the city and not of any political party.
The coming of Mayor Maria Clara Lobregat into office would bring in a renaissance of Zamboangueño culture as the people of Zamboanga became more conscious of their heritage. Mayor Lobregat made it her priority to restore the city of flowers’ lost glory. She also sought to make Zamboangueños historically conscious and proud of their legacy as Zamboangueños. She embarked on a program of rehabilitating and refurbishing the city’s landmarks and required city hall employees to make use of the traditional Filipino attire in the office every Monday. Mayor Lobregat herself had always been the shining example of what a truly nationalistic Filipina should look like. Even when she was in Congress, she was always a refreshing sight to behold, always wearing a mascota dress which became her trademark.
Simple, yet very dignified and glamorous, Mayor Maria Clara Lorenzo Lobregat exudes the grace and sophistication of the modern Filipina woman- intelligent, firm, committed, loving, and above all honest and sincere. To the Zamboangueños, she will always remain the good Samaritan in a mascota dress, a benefactor for the unfortunate, a mother, and a rallying point for Zamboangueño identity.
Mayor Maria Clara Lobregat died on January 2, 2004 due to diabetes complications at the age of 82 years old. Zamboangueños from all walks of life mourned her demise. Everyone felt the loss of a friend, a mother, a benefactor and a great public servant.
National leaders and former colleagues in her span of years in public service paid their last respects to the late Ma’am Caling during the wake held at the Zamboanga Metropolitan Cathedra.
Throngs of people lined up the city streets, openly weeping and offering flowers, while singing the favorite song of the late Mayor Caling “Mi Cuidad de Zamboanga”, during the funeral procession before her remains were brought to Manila for interment at the family mausoleum.