Eugenio Antonio Dig
How to survive a zombie apocalypse
Gene-no Dig is an ambivert leading a double life – an operations assistant aiming to bridge the rural-urban divide by day and a renegade fending off the infected undead at night. But differences aside, both stem from a singular instinct, that of altruism.
It’s two hours past midnight, and Eugenio Antonio Dig, or Gene-no to most, is embroiled in an attack. The landscape is ravaged by an infection, resources are scarce, and safety is under threat. The operations assistant from the Southeast Asia Urban Development and Water Division (SEUW) is in a zombie infection dystopia via the mobile game, State of Survival, or he could as easily have been immersed in developing a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) response package.
Gene-no joined the ADB in 2016, after cultivating a career in the Philippine government for about 7 years that spanned experience in transport, rural development, and about 7 months in then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s speech writing office. ADB, he says, was “love at first sight”.
When he finally had a job opportunity with ADB, he also had two other offers: a regular position at the Office of the Ombudsman and a consultant position at the Department of Agriculture for a World Bank project. Both government jobs were technical roles, unlike the one offered by ADB. And yet, even though he surpassed the credentials needed for the position, he opted for ADB – “perhaps that was one of the best decisions I have ever made,” he muses.
These days, he serves as the analyst of a technical assistance (TA) project, the Ho Chi Minh City Wastewater and Drainage System Improvement Project. Previously, he had four TA projects, but the other three have been closed recently: the Fourth Greater Mekong Subregion Corridor Towns Development Project (which led to him processing two ensuing loans/grants for Cambodia and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR); Secondary Cities Development Program (Green Cities) in Viet Nam; and for the same country, Improving Operational Performance of the Water Supply Sector Project. He is also assisting with a concept paper for a water supply project in Lao PDR.
In between, his waking hours are spent on the game he plays with his sister and cousin. They’ve created an alliance with players from Bulgaria, Egypt, and Malaysia, among others, and have been battling against other alliances to defend their own. Before COVID-19, he would have been reviewing for the bar exams. Gene-no, who has a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration and a master’s degree in Philippine Studies, completed his Juris Doctor degree late last year. Interestingly, the path he has taken was shaped by the women in his life. Public administration wasn’t his first choice; it was a suggestion by his mother who works for the Department of Finance. While becoming a lawyer was a childhood dream, to help those wrongfully accused, like in the local action flicks he used to watch with his grandma.
Family is a big motivation for Gene-no. He works hard so he can provide them with comforts from his spoils. Unsurprisingly, project beneficiaries also inspire him. “I just think of the people needing our projects, the consequences they would likely suffer if I become lax and lose a sense of urgency, then I go on,” he shares.
And that’s how you win and come out of mayhem. If it helps, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a guide for zombie preparedness. The following is an excerpt of the interview with Gene-no.
Describe yourself in a nutshell.
Gene-no: I’m a certified promdi guy. [This is a colloquialism of the phrase, ‘from the province’—ed.] I grew up in the small town of Gubat in Sorsogon, some 550 kilometers south of Manila. I spent the first 16 years of my life there and moved to Manila for college. My mom left me with my grandma when I was 7 or 8 years old as she had to work here [in Manila]. She would visit me during holidays like Holy Week or All Saints’ Day, and I would stay with her during school breaks. What I always looked forward to during my vacation were the toys from McDonald’s. I wouldn’t ask for new clothes or shoes or books, but I would throw a tantrum if I couldn’t get the Happy Meal toys. (Until now, I still collect these toys and even have a showcase for my collection.)
I am also an ambivert. I can be shy and reticent in the company of others, especially strangers or acquaintances. But I can be very gregarious and chatty with friends. When I was new in ADB, it took me months to adjust and be at ease with my peers in SEUW. But now, I truly enjoy being around them and can talk with anyone at length.
“ I would like cities or local governments to put a premium on emergency preparedness and response, by investing in their healthcare system and infrastructure, identifying systems and procedures to be followed during pandemics, and planning for contingencies. ”
Eugenio Antonio Dig
Southeast Asia Urban Development and Water Division
Congratulations on attaining your Juris Doctor degree last year. Are you planning to shift to a career in law?
Gene-no: I’m not actually thinking about it yet. Had you asked me before I entered ADB, I would have responded affirmatively. But I am happy in the operations department; and there’s no opportunity for a law-related career in ops for now. Between SEUW and a career in law, I would prefer the former even if I pass the bar exams. If ADB allows it, I’ll provide pro bono service to the underprivileged, especially those who are in jail and cannot afford the services of a lawyer. When I was a child, my grandma would bring me to the cinema every Saturday. We would watch Tagalog action movies, and oftentimes, the protagonist would end up in jail even if he were innocent. While incarcerated, some misfortune would befall upon himself or his family. This is the reason why I wanted to become a lawyer―to help serve justice.
Your career has been primarily in government. What made you join ADB?
Gene-no: It was love at first sight! The moment I saw ADB’s office from afar, my heart throbbed endlessly, as if telling me I found my destiny. And when I first set foot in the office, I was fully captivated by the grandeur of the workplace. Security protocols, huge cafeteria, serene courtyard, Starbucks in the library―what more can you ask for? I think we made a connection because ADB kept lingering in my mind until I made a CMS account and, I believe, ADB liked me too, because it gave me a chance.
I just want to emphasize that joining and staying are two different things. I joined ADB because I liked its physical office. I choose to stay because ADB is more than its superb workplace, but rather I feel that, even if I’m just a tiny dot in the vast universe, I can be an instrument in improving the lives of others. It’s fulfilling to know that the projects I am a part of have transformed many lives for the better.
What projects are you currently working on?
Gene-no: Currently, I am the analyst of a TA project (TA 9205: Ho Chi Minh City Wastewater and Drainage System Improvement Project). I’m also processing a concept paper (Lao PDR: Water Supply Sector Project) due for approval in June or July 2020. Its ensuing loan/grant, which I will also process, is proposed for approval in Q4 this year. In addition, through the One SERD (Southeast Asia Regional Department) approach, I am helping another division – the Southeast Asia Human and Social Development Division (SEHS) – process a COVID-19 response, the Thailand: COVID-19 Active Response and Expenditure Support (CARES) Program.
What has been a memorable moment or lesson for you in ADB so far?
Gene-no: I have three in mind: two are related to travel and the other is related to writing. In 2018, I had my first mission in ADB. It was a two-week fact-finding mission in the Lao PDR for the Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Project (Additional Financing). I enjoy traveling so I would sign up for every opportunity that allows me to go to different places (I went as far as Basilan, a known bailiwick of extremist groups, in my previous job). What made this mission more enjoyable were the business class seat and the 5-star hotel accommodation (both were my first time!).
Also in 2018, I was lucky to be one of the 15 ADB staff who attended a five-day training on climate change at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, Netherlands. The training was informative and engaging so touring around Europe after the training was a bonus. After the training, together with other co-trainees, we went to four cities. We stayed in Amsterdam (I know what you’re thinking, and, yes, I confirm), hoarded chocolates in Brussels (I have a sweet tooth), and we strutted around Paris (smiled with the Eiffel Tower).
Last year, I became a part of a team that wrote a knowledge product (Nature-Based Solutions for Cities in Viet Nam: Water Sensitive Urban Design). I was given an opportunity to work with Okju Jeong and helped publish this within just 3 weeks.
Would you say you like urban planning? What if you had another choice, what career would you be in?
Gene-no: My answer is a resounding yes! What gives me joy is knowing that what I do impacts other people’s lives, especially those who have less in life. When I was working for the government, I would go on the ground to write about the impacts of our projects. It felt good listening to our beneficiaries’ stories and witnessing firsthand how our interventions have addressed their problems. The smiles painted on their faces and their endless “thank yous” are both a validation of our work and a challenge to continue helping the underprivileged.
If given a choice, I would like to work on both rural and urban development. Development should be across territories. It should be enjoyed by everyone, whether living in urban or rural areas. These two areas are closely linked and significantly affect each other, so ensuring a balance of rural–urban development will make prosperity sustainable. I came from the rural area myself and, at an early age, I already knew that development is concentrated at the center. As we go farther from it, economic growth is wanting. I want to work on rural development to provide better access to basic services and help rural folks sustain their livelihood. At the same time, I want to partake in more complex work on urban development, such as ensuring a healthy environment and making cities livable.
How would you like cities to change after the pandemic? How can it become more livable?
Gene-no: I would like cities or local governments to put a premium on emergency preparedness and response, by investing in their healthcare system and infrastructure, identifying systems and procedures to be followed during pandemics, and planning for contingencies; coordination among other local governments; and sharing reliable information. This pandemic has caught every government off guard, even the richest and most powerful countries. Preparedness is, therefore, key, because it lays down the measures to be implemented before, during, and after an emergency. These measures do not guarantee a complete win, but they will surely minimize the impacts of these crises, and city governments will not be at a loss on how to respond.
During pandemics, effective coordination among neighboring cities or towns and sharing of best practices in dealing with emergencies are proven helpful. This was done by some Metro Manila mayors who “copied” best practices from each other and implemented the measures in their jurisdictions.
Cities will become more livable if those running them are proactive and should not only react when an emergency is at their doorstep. Being safe makes a city more livable.