A Flare for Sincerity: Laarni Lavin Roque

Tuesday December 1, 2020

By: Naiia Lajoie


Many who find themselves deeply immersed in the political sphere have been primed to do so for several years, as is typical for most politicians. However, City Councilor Laarni Lavin Roque is anything but typical, nor does her origin story follow any expected narrative that would land her as a leader of the people. This is what makes her journey such an unlikely tale, but also one of inspiration.

Born in Manila as number 5 of 7 children, Laarni was raised by two hardworking, ambitious parents; transplants from the Visayas. Her late father was a college graduate who became a successful banker, and her mother a fellow college-grad worked as a government nurse. Among her 6 siblings, she has three who are doctors, one as an architect, another is an engineer, with the remaining one following in their father’s footsteps as a banker. Among such prestigious family faculties, she too was poised for a white collar career. Initially her father had wanted her to pursue law, so she attended De La Salle University and obtained a Bachelor in Philosophy. Prior to completing a law degree thereafter however, destiny intervened. Laarni met, fell head over heels in love with, and married her now husband. After just one year of law school, he proposed, and set forth into motion a series of events that would alter her job trajectory forever. He convinced her to exchange law for learning, and so she graduated with a second Bachelor’s Degree in Education. She passed the board exams for teaching, they were wed in Manila, and afterwards he whisked her away to his hometown in Mindanao.

Having been raised a city girl for 23 years, constantly surrounded by bodyguards on account of her father’s banking work, Laarni did not know what to expect when she moved out of Manila. When asked how she initially felt about the transition, she responded, “It was a difficult transition initially. Everyone was scared about safety, security issues; I wasn’t really comfortable [with the thought of him] bringing me here.”

Ever resilient, Laarni adapted quickly and soon found herself employed as a teacher, principal, and director of a school her husband’s family owns. This had likely been his plan all along, foreseeing how a strong foundation in education would ultimately serve as the basis for both of their advocacies.

“We believe that everyone deserves and has the right to an education” she states. She attributes the Philippines’ mass poverty to the fact that there is an overwhelming majority of the population who are not educated.

While slipping into a scholarly role seemed only natural for Laarni, on how she came to transition into a political position, she had this to say, “Well…I’m not so sure”. Her reluctance comes not from a lack of interest, but rather an abundance of previous experience. It turns out her father’s side of the family was heavily involved in politics. At just 9-years-old she was exposed to the Visayas’ political arena and how it operated. It was her husband who branched them out into politics. She had witnessed her husband’s work for the past 10 years, with the first 3 as a City Councilor, followed by 7 years as a Congressman.

With his term coming to an end shortly in congress, “It seems like he doesn’t want to stop serving” she posits. “He doesn’t want to give up the seat to continue the work and projects he has already set forth into motion.”

“If there are organizations or events that involve education, I am typically in attendance.” Tackling the hot topic of education, “I haven’t only been focusing on children’s education, I put particular emphasis on special needs children, and senior citizens.” Known for putting precedence on the needs of the elderly and the sick, “Whatever the government gives us in our salary, is what I give back.”

Possessing such a tender heart is atypical in a person of her position, hence why during her run for City Councilor, she experienced classist discrimination, recollecting, “They’d think that I wouldn’t understand their situation. Initially, because of this, I wasn’t even expecting to win; even I thought along the same lines. But my husband believed in me and wanted me to run, so I did.” She found herself more comfortable in the company of those young and old, children and the elders. Surrendering to the thought of never being elected as a civil servant, imagine her surprise when she learned that upon having the 2019 votes tallied, she topped the count by more than 14,000 votes to the next closest competitor.

The overwhelming desire to prioritize the sick and needy ultimately garnered her the role. She attributes this mentality to her upbringing. While her father was a successful banker; the president of several banks, often sharked from different institutions because they sought his leadership, he originated from humble beginnings. “He was raised as a poor person. He had nothing. He went through school, paying for his own tuition fee by becoming a janitor. Who does that?” As if still digesting it all, “Imagine that, in a poor province. He was supporting himself as a janitor. Worked his way up, earned a little – just a few pesos to make ends meet. He graduated Magna Cum Laude and became a banker. And eventually the president of those banks.”

Being raised hearing these stories, her parents taught them to always be humble at all costs. Despite an upbringing in the lap of luxury, “He’d keep telling us, ‘If you see someone who is not as well off as you are, you make sure that you know how to help. Or even just how to show them respect, regardless of whether or not they have the same clothes as you. You just have to respect them and speak to them like they are people.’” It was not only her father driving the point across, her mother – now retired – was a nurse practicing in the government, wherein she took care of the government workers, whose constituents hailed from poor conditions and dirty environments.

“I believe they see me as somebody who could really be sincere,” Laarni reflects. “I like being one among them. I don’t have to dress-up; I wear jeans, an ordinary top. I don’t have to wear any jewelry at all when I’m with them. I think they feel that I know how to belong. So anytime they air out their needs, I’m there to listen to them.” This is why the pandemic has been so particularly trying for her. She has not been able to visit with her beloved seniors. Instead, she would send out her personal frontliners to tend to the sick and the hungry. Despite wanting to assist with the hospital visitations, as someone who is predisposed to the virus due to being immunocompromised, she is limited to only visiting family.

“Currently it’s very difficult for everyone here in our area. A lot of the people have been losing hope. I do believe that we’ll need more help, and as much as we do have with the resources out here, it’s simply not enough. I’ve been calling my friends in Manila to help with the finances in response to the needs of our people here. It is very difficult, because even in Manila they have their own cases to deal with during the pandemic.” Laarni’s takeaway during this dismal time is that she truly hopes that the people still see how beautiful it is to be with family.

Once the health crisis is mitigated and all are able to return to a semblance of normalcy, Laarni does have nature-related activities in the works for all of Bukidnon, currently postponed due to the pandemic. In response to so many of the area’s trees being cut down, she intends to travel from village to village with seedlings in tow, on a tree-planting mission. The new growth echoes her words of encouragement to her district: “Hold on and hang onto your hope. The service that we provide our people is never ending. We make sure that we are always there for them. We make sure that the service will not stop. And I believe that that’s what my husband is planning to do, with having me taking over; providing the people with the services that are needed.”

Coming full circle to alleviating the Philippines’ poverty, “We started with the advocacy of education. We want it to become like the US, with no child left behind. All children have the right to a good education. And for the long time that we have been in service, we have had 5000 scholars and several have already graduated and succeeded under us. We believe that at least one child in the family should be a graduate, so that they have greater chances at a better job.”

Let Laarni’s transformation from city girl to countryside City Councilor, from law student to educator to politician, to not believing she was enough to being the hope of the people, serve as an inspiration to you. While you may not know the direct road to success, the most important part is to simply start walking.

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