Subic Bay Freeport’s Atty. Wilma T. Eisma on family, work ethics and heart in leadership
Too much for her alone, the lunch set—ginisang upo na may tokwa, pritong isda, sinigang na baboy and rice—was good for three to four people. She called out her staff to join her for lunch, then asked if her security detail has also had a meal. Almost every day in her new office, Atty. Wilma “Amy” T. Eisma gets the typical household breakfast and lunch from her mother who is turning 80 this year. Eisma heads one of the country’s seven investment promotion agencies and her long-term vision for the Subic Bay Freeport Zone starts by building a culture of compassion, malasakit.
“Mga anak, kain na. Tara,” Eisma hollered.
NO LIP SERVICE
She has no kids to call her own, so the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) based in Olongapo City, Zambales gets a full-time mom in Amy Eisma, 50, as the agency’s first woman chairperson and administrator. Eight men have lorded over the 67,452-hectare special economic zone for about three decades; now, it has come full circle for a young lady back then who first served as volunteer in the agency in 1993 and, at present, is making waves in the West Philippine Sea-flanked zone.
All the nearly 3,000 people working at SBMA are family to Amy and she calls them anak or children. Her background is rooted from prudence akin to an ordinary Filipino family which works hard and strives hard to save as much earnings as life could allow. She knew the life of Olongapo people because she grew up here, studied here, and quite possibly now, retire here.
“I always believe in integrity, character, passion, love,” Eisma answered when asked about her strengths. “When I call them anak, I really mean it. Hindi lip service.”
SBMA employees are witness to how Amy’s strong family ties have shaped her brand of leadership. When she travels abroad, her staff comes along. When she buys pasalubong, everyone gets one. When someone is sick, she sends little whatnots even when they don’t tell her. Lunch is an office affair where everyone digs in.
Amy’s heart for the people is the very one that pumps out her two greatest achievements in life. Not international recognition, not the SBMA headship. These are Kevin and Kyle, her nephews.
Coming from a broken family, the two young men grew up missing the guidance of a father who had to move away due to some personal issues. Under the care of Amy, her elder sister Dina and grannies Abe and Clarita, Kevin and Kyle reversed the formulaic, disruptive adolescence and matured as fine men. Kevin, 26, is with the U.S. Navy, and Kyle, 25, is a nurse in New York.
“They are the most behaved and most polite. Naglalakad kayo sa mall, iho-holding hands ka nyan,” Eisma recalled.
The nephews have never failed to surprise them, starting from prudent lifestyle in college where credit cards were only charged with National Bookstore expenses, sudden entrances in their aunt’s birthdays here in the Philippines all the way from U.S., to driving their granny Clarita to the market and bingo hall.
“Those are my greatest achievement. Those two boys. How we were able to bring up two fine men despite the circumstances. Precisely because they were surrounded by unconditional love that they grew up to be such fine, responsible adults,” Eisma glowed.
BRING PRIDE BACK
The SBMA chief noted that the freeport has delivered the highest investment figures in the last seven years at P29.6 billion. This translates to 1,066 percent increase in investments. Importantly, a total of 135,690 workers are employed in about 1,500 companies. In 2018, SBMA contributed P25.3 billion to national treasury, propelling national growth. For the countryside economy, SBMA remitted P294 million to local government units that host the freeport. Visitor and tourist arrivals, as well as hotel occupancy rate, continued surging.
However, for Amy: “This is not an achievement. This is my job.”
“You will be disappointed if you’re thinking I want Subic to be the next Hong Kong or Singapore. Sure, I want that. But the more important thing to bring back in Subic is malasakit. The important thing to happen in Subic is to bring back the morale of the people; to be able to say ‘taga-Subic ako,’” Eisma said.
A citizenry that is proud of Subic—is Amy’s long-term vision after citing accounts of chagrined people on Subic’s industries and companies uncompliant in paying millions of debts to SBMA. Amy drew flak when she shut down companies unable to pay debts. Her family was not safe from social media abuse when her policies met resistance, just as when she directed a P20 fee per head in the use of sports hub Remy Field.
“It is irrelevant what’s popular and what’s not. What’s important is the right thing. They’re expecting me to do the popular decision so that people will like me, so that I will not me lambasted on Facebook,” Eisma remarked. “This sounds cold but it’s the reality: My mandate is to grow Subic Bay Freeport, to grow investments, to grow employment.”
With a Subic citizenry that cares for cooperation, follows traffic laws, and the regulations equal to all companies, Amy said investors will come in without marketing the freeport. The popular decision does not equate to the right decision and Amy plans on leaving an SBMA that is stable in its values come what other leaderships.
HUMAN, NOT MAN OR WOMAN
“It’s not: Babae lang ako kaya hindi ko kaya. It should be: Babae ako kaya kaya ko.”
As the country observes Women’s Month this March, Amy urges young women and men alike to destroy the notion of ceilings in gender stereotype and career path. She bared that the barriers are brought about by society, and sometimes, the person herself.
“I don’t see myself as a woman. I see myself as human. Why should there be a ceiling?” Eisma said. “There’s no celling. There is nothing to break. You are the one stopping yourself. Only you can empower yourself.”
Nevertheless, Amy knows that women are better leaders as they bring the heart to the organization.
On failure in life, it must be embraced for a stronger version of yourself. Amy started strong as the executive assistant of then SMBA chair now Senator Richard Gordon, attending high caliber meetings at the World Bank, conferring with the president of the Philippines and taking helicopter rides to Manila for another concourse. The career frenzy was psychedelic until she failed her first bar exams.
“Hindi ko tinitingnan ang pangalan ko [in the list of passers]. Ang tinitingan ko mga kaklase ko. I was confident. Huli ko tiningnan pangalan ko and it was not there,” Eisma recalled. She cried for a day at home and headed back to Manila to seize back her fate. It was not a question of when she will take the bar exams again; she was bent on dusting herself off and going back soonest to review for the next round.
“I dare young men and women to fail. And what do you do with that failure? You can sulk and make yourself kawawa or grab it by the head and seize the day. Carpe diem,” Eismaoffered.
After power meetings and a day of standing up for what is right and not just popular, Amy savors being in her home, Olongapo City, where she can meet with her mom and visit her dad’s grave. She shares the chairperson’s residence with her youngest brother Bong and his family of three little boys whom she calls out to play before the sun sets.
Amy can’t wait for the coming Sunday for the now regular lunch with the family—mommy Clarita, Ate Dina, Bong and the kiddos, with a video call from her Kuya Gino and his kids Kevin and Kyle from the U.S. Five hours of lunch talking and laughing about everything.
“The busiest thread in my phone is the family thread,” Eisma shared. The malasakit she grew up with has become the passion and mantra that is now driving Subic. Despite the common notion of leaders finding themselves alone in their struggles, Amy casually quips: “It’s not lonely at the top.”