HomeGovernmentThe Chief ExecutiveFormer MayorsHon. Maria Clara L. Lobregat

Hon. Maria Clara L. Lobregat (1998-2001; 2001-2004)

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 Zamboanga City, the daughter of Don Pablo Lorenzo, a man who had served as mayor, Zamboanga’s representative to the first Philippine Assembly and delegate to the Constitutional Convention and Luisa Rafols. Caling, which is her nickname, is the second child in a brood of five.  She would spend much of her life in Zamboanga, Cebu and Manila, places where her father was stationed in his government career or where they owned properties.

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 Pilar College, and then transferred to Maryknoll, later to St. Scholastica in Manila until the outbreak of World War II.  The young Caling was in Zamboanga with her father when the Japanese invaded the Philippines.

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 Remedios Hospital in Malate, Manila, taking care of the wounded and the sick.  It was while working that she met a handsome fellow volunteer, Celso Lobregat.  Romance blossomed, and Celso proposed marriage.  They were married on January 30, 1945. They were blessed with six children:  Remedios Concepcion (Ditos), Celso II, Pablo, Jose, Lourdes (Ditas) and Jerome.

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 Zamboanga City delegate to the Constitutional Convention.  She ran for the position of regional representative to the Batasang Pambansa in the early 80s, but lost to Cesar C. Climaco.  In 1987 she ran for Zamboanga City’s lone congressional seat and emerged victorious.  It was for Caling a grand opportunity to prove her leadership in congress.

She became a member of several important committees.  She used her pragmatic wit, diplomacy and influence to channel benefits for Zamboanga City.  Her congressional fund allowed several barangay projects to be accomplished.

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 Nuñez St. to monitor the needs of the people.  Hundreds of people seeking assistance would troop to her residence whenever she comes home from congress, and she made every effort to find time for each of them.  The people were so impressed with her that she was re-elected in the 1992 and again in 1995.

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 London in 1989; the IPU Conference in Canberra, Australia, in 1993; and the World Conference on Women and IPU Parliamentary Day in Beijing, People’s Republic of China.

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 Zamboanga City, which was Republic Act No. 7903, the “Act Creating the Special Economic Zone and Freeport in Zamboanga City,” more popularly known as the ZAMBOECOZONE LAW. The law was envisioned to usher Zamboanga City into a new age of economic development. Congresswoman Lobregat also authored Republic Act No. 7272, which converted the Zamboanga Regional Hospital into the Zamboanga City Medical Center, now a major medical facility in Southwestern Mindanao. She likewise authored Republic Act No. 7474, which converted the Zamboanga School of Arts and Trades into a polytechnic college, now referred to as the Zamboanga City Polytechnic College.

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 Zamboanga City became a recipient of more than P325 million in various infrastructure and other projects from the national government.

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 Zamboanga City.

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 Mindanao. President Ramos issued an order creating the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development, placing several cities and provinces in Mindanao which had already opted to be out of the Muslim area of autonomy under its coverage. The SPCPD was to be headed by MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari after the MNLF rebel chieftain signed the peace accord with the Ramos government. What made the SPCPD unacceptable to most Mindanaoans, especially the Zamboangueños, were several provisions which they believed to be prejudicial to their interest and deemed unconstitutional.

Congresswoman Lobregat together with other personalities from Mindanao led the opposition in bringing to court the case concerning the creation of the SPCPD. It was mainly due to this that she decided to pit her son, Celso, in the race for congress against Mayor Vitaliano Agan, who had supported the Ramos decision for the creation of the SPCPD and the inclusion of Zamboanga. Lobregat and Agan prior to this controversy had signed a pact for peace and unity, Congresswoman Lobregat felt that Mayor Agan betrayed the trust of the Zamboangueño people, who voted 99.3 percent against inclusion in Muslim Mindanao.

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.