Former Bocaue Mayor Joni Villanueva-Tugna, also affectionately called “Miss Joni” by those who loved her, was only 42 years old when God decided her earthly pilgrimage had to end. Hers was a life suddenly cut short, but her leadership legacy lives on. She was the Executive Director of the JIL Church Worldwide (JIL) for six years (2010-2016) before she became mayor, working in solid partnership with members of the JIL Management Board (EMB), the management group that she herself created. She made an indelible mark on JIL where she introduced comprehensive policy innovations.

Mayor Joni Villanueva-Tugna graduated cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Communication from the University of the Philippines, and held a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the Ateneo de Manila graduate school of business. But despite her academic accolades she believed “we won’t make it without God.”

Leading by example, she “taught” diligence, passion, persistence, hard work, attention to detail, and other great life and work values. At one JIL event, she said, “we are not here to seek the applause of men, to seek their approval, to please them…our main pursuit is to please God, and to ensure we do not hurt His heart…”

She was relentless in her drive to institutionalize best efforts and best practices. Her hard-wired measures to improve and develop JIL’s leadership protocols were radically cutting-edge. She was engaging as a leader and daring in her investment into the lives of many JIL workers. The third child among the four children of Bro. Eddie Villanueva, Cibac Party-list Representative and JIL Spiritual Director/President, and the late Rev. Dr. Dory Villanueva, she was discerning, compassionate, and focused, embodying excellence. Like her parents, she, too, never settled for mediocrity. She gave the best to everyone and expected the best from everybody.

Mayor Joni (1977-2020) with (from left to right) Bocaue Mayor Jonjon J. Villanueva;
Rev. Dr. Dory J. Villanueva (1946-2020); Cibac Party-list Representative and JIL Spiritual Director/President Bro. Eddie Villanueva; Majority Floor Leader Senator Joel J. Villanueva; and JIL Vice President Rev. Pastor Jovi Villanueva-Binalla.

She initiated the drafting of a clearer JIL Mission, Vision, and Core Values, and played a key role in creating JIL’s official organizational chart. The Management Information System and Church Budget Management System are just two of the many systems that were designed through her leadership. As the JIL Executive Director, she also made possible the creation of the Office of the Strategy Management, and the implementation of the quarterly Performance Operations Review that assessed the productivity of all JIL churches, ministries, and outreaches.

In her earnest desire to bring the JIL leaders into a higher standard of service, she authored the Training and Development Program for Church Management. This program provided upskilling opportunities for JIL leaders and workers, like computer literacy seminars, public speaking workshops, and management and leadership conferences. She authorized the penning of the Church Operations Manual to enable JIL offices and workers to do things effectively and efficiently.

“Strategies” and “Action Plans” became part of the vocabulary of JIL leaders because of her positive influence. Also, pastors and ministry heads were given the proper avenue for feedback during the yearly Pastors’ Congress, where they not only hear refreshing and encouraging messages but also get the chance to bond with fellow JIL workers.
She was a visionary. She kept in step with her father’s vision for the entire JIL Church Worldwide, and she formed the Project Development Team to build JIL churches and oversee their facilities.

During Mayor Joni’s time as JIL Executive Director, major infrastructure projects were accomplished: the renovation of an expanded Camp Praise Valley in Norzagaray, Bulacan, and the construction of the new Prayer Garden in Bunlo, Bocaue Bulacan. She also opened the way for the construction of the JIL Cornerstone Church in Balintawak, Quezon City.

But Mayor Joni was not just “all business.” She had a soft, compassionate heart and an innate ability to emphatize with those who were in need. She was of the conviction that “pastoring was the most difficult of all the professions ever invented.” Because of this personal belief, she took good care of JIL pastors and workers and considered them as family. She prioritized their physical well-being and fast tracked the issuance of health cards with wide coverage. She insisted on the submission of workers’ annual physical examination results so she would know their physical condition and be able to respond accordingly. Her understanding was far-reaching: when workers had to take time off from their duties to attend to health concerns, Mayor Joni made sure they received support from the JIL Management. She would even offer a listening ear and lend a helping hand to those who were emotionally distressed. She made them feel seen and heard.

JIL Vice Pres. Rev. Pastor Jovi Villanueva-Binalla enjoyed her only sister’s nurturing, thoughtful nature first-hand. “She was the glue of the family. She planned, faciliated reunions and family trips…booked medical appointments for Dad and Mom… she took care of our family so all of us could be who we wanted to be… she had the ability to make things happen for us…she liked taking care of me, she liked celebrating my successes and victories,” Pastor Jovi said.

Mayor Joni crafted organizational reforms and implemented policies that brought JIL to its present stature. By the grace of God, JIL celebrated its 45th anniversary on October 14, 2023. From a small group of 15 students, JIL now has churches in 70 countries of the world and thousands of churches all over the Philippines. Mayor Joni was a great help to Bro. Eddie and Sis. Dory in managing the entire JIL Church Worldwide and played a key role in its phenomenal growth, glory to God. She was the architect of JIL’s organizational development, and the champion of excellent staffing approach.

It has been said outsiders are more keen on acknowledging our accomplishments than family. Not so with Mayor Joni. Her being excellent was not lost on her loved-ones. Her Diko, Senate Majority Leader Senator Joel Villanueva, in one of his tributes to her, said: “Joni, I am so proud of you…you are my role model, you are my hero.”

Three years after she transitioned to Glory in God’s presence, Mayor Joni is still sorely missed by her father, Bro. Eddie; her siblings; her husband, Bocaue Vice Mayor Sherwin Tugna, and her four lovely kids Doreen, Joaquin, Elia, and Lexi. She may have only stayed with us for a brief 42 years but she accomplished way more than those who lived longer. She used to usually say in her public speeches, “Let us remain faithful to God…many started off right but ended up wrong…our prayer in JIL is that all of us would finish well, finish right.”

Meanwhile, those lives that she touched with her humble services are left in agonizing pain. Senator Joel even said, “There is yet no word listed in the dictionary that would describe our deep sorrow over losing her…” But despite the hurt, the Villanueva and Tugna families are comforted by her legacy of excellence and sincere servant-leadership as multiplied in those whose lives she positively impacted. The JIL Church Worldwide may still be hurting, but it is definitely massively growing! To God be all the glory!

— (With information from Rene Gonzales and Tess Reyes)

Bocaue Mayor Jonjon Villanueva fondly remembers how his sister, former Bocaue Mayor Joni Villanueva-Tugna, would always say:
“Bocauenos deserve nothing but the best…” adding, “she was able to prove that it was possible to have sincere and corruption-free government… and together with her husband, Atty. Sherwin Tugna, as my Vice Mayor, I promise to preserve her legacy and continue her brand of good governance.” (Photos show Mayor Joni reaching out to different sectors during times of need).

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