Message at the Galing Pook Awarding and 4th Jesse Robredo Leadership Awarding Ceremony
Novotel Manila, Araneta Center, Cubao, Quezon City
Secretary Jun Evasco Jr.; former Negros Occidental Governor Lit Coscoluela, Galing Pook Foundation chairman and other members of the board of trustees; Dr. Eddie Dorotan, Galing Pook Foundation Executive Director; Ma’am Nene Guevarra, chairperson of the Galing Pook Awards national selection committee of 2018; Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal, the 4th Jesse Robredo Leadership awardee; awardees of the Top Ten Outstanding Local Governance Programs; other Galing Pook Awards 2018 finalists; my fellow workers in government; honored guests; mga minamahal ko pong mga kababayan; magandang gabi sa inyong lahat. [Audience: Magandang gabi!]
There is no place on earth where leadership is tested more intensely — and shines more powerfully — than in local government units. That’s because Governors, Mayors, Barangay Captains, and other local government workers face more real-world problems than national government officials. The nation should be more grateful for all that you do, every single day.
Speaking as someone who has been exposed for most of my adult life to how both local and national governments work, this I can tell you: our nation’s future lies in local chief executives like you. Local leaders who practice honesty, accountability, transparency, and strive for excellence in everything that you do. In my opinion, building provinces, cities, towns, and barangays that are “magagaling na mga pook” is the one thing that will transform our nation into a first world country.
The Galing Pook Awards is an innovation that will bring our nation to that state faster. It provides inspiration for cutting-edge governance reforms that our people truly need. And all of you who were awarded by Galing Pook today represent that hope in these difficult times.
It is my prayer that you will keep on doing what you do. That you will keep on breaking barriers and challenging the status quo. That you will continue to reject mediocrity—not for the sake of awards—but to make a real difference in the lives of the last, the least, and the lost.
At the core of this dream is how we redefine leadership. “Bukas. Matino. Mahusay, at May Puso.“ These were the very words I would constantly hear from my husband, Jesse, when he talked about leadership when he was still alive. In fact, these words were the ones that transformed Naga City from a sleepy third-class city into a “maogmang lugar” — in the Bicol language, this means “a happy place” — steering Naga City into becoming Galing Pook Foundation’s most-awarded LGU in the country. Naga City was also among the first to get into the Hall of Fame of Galing Pook, together with Puerto Princesa City and the Province of Bulacan in 1997.
Jesse was only 29 when he was first elected mayor of Naga City in 1988. It was the first elections after EDSA and if you recall, it was a very different time. When he first handled the reins of City Hall, patronage ruled, the city hall was teeming with political appointees, its coffers were empty, and the city was flooded with smut films, lewd shows, and illegal gambling. Nobody wanted to take him seriously because he was too young and had no experience in politics.
One of the first things that he did in 1988 caused an uproar: he required all employees to take a competency exam because he wanted to know how to effectively match employees with their competencies. When he introduced the Bundy clock, almost everyone was up in arms against him. Hindi pa kasi uso iyong Bundy clock noon.
Then he activated a Merit and Promotions Board that eliminated patronage and, instead, created a mechanism to reward the achievers. This brought out the best in various units of the entire city government, improved government processes, and increased the revenues of the city almost two hundred fold. He called this the Productivity Improvement Program, and won an award from Galing Pook in 1995 for it. Truth be told, it really was the City Hall employees’ magnificent transformation that should be credited for the award.
It was also in 1995 when computers and the Internet were just starting to creep into our consciousness. It was about that time that the Naga leadership saw an opportunity in using technology to further professionalize City Hall. The LGU computerized government operations to streamline business transaction processes, make decision-making more effective, and make City Hall more responsive to people’s needs.
The computerization program changed the LGU in ways people did not expect. Computerizing records for real property tax and business license tax, for example, made corruption difficult to do. The database on assessment of lot parcels, buildings, and machineries and their owners became easily accessible, making decision-making efficient and responsive to people’s needs. Everyone who needed information from the civil registry—a pain point in many City Halls—had an easier time. The computerization program gained for Naga a Galing Pook Award in 1996 along with another program, the Naga Early Education and Development Program.
Naga’s Kaantabay sa Kauswagan Program was another game-changer. Like any rapidly urbanizing city, Naga City at that time was grappling with a serious urban poor problem. There was frequent animosity between informal settler communities and landowners, and even with the City Hall. Squatter eviction, ejectment, and demolition were rampant. The social cost was huge. The city institutionalized a functional mechanism to settle land disputes between owners and occupants, to provide an on-site, in-city upgrading of housing projects for urban poor communities. By the time the program was only five years old, around 33 hectares of public and private land were already used for resettlement of more than 2,000 families. That translates to around 50% of the urban poor population in Naga. The program was one of the very first Galing Pook Awardees in 1994. Two other programs of the city were likewise awarded during that same year—Emergency Rescue Naga and the Metro Naga Development Council. Kaantabay sa Kauswagan was awarded by the United Nations’ one of the world’s best practices twice. Once in Istanbul in 1996, then in Brussels in 2002.
As the City started to enjoy a better economy and more efficient governance, Jesse realized that economic growth would be faster if surrounding cities and towns shared their best practices. That is how Metro Naga Development Council was born, where 13 LGUs coordinated strategies and solved problems, together with private sector groups and NGOs. Many of our Mayors are achievers and are very competitive, that is true, but progress is not a zero-sum game. The wealth of cities only go higher and the advancement of societies only go faster when everybody is in on it, together.
But Naga’s story is not the only narrative of excellence. There are so many more across the country! In fact, hearing all the innovations of this year’s awardees fill me with hope for our nation. You provide for us extremely valuable templates for the rest of the LGUs around the country.
For example, in Valenzuela City, the local government through its Comprehensive Safety and Security Plan, tapped various volunteer organizations to help ensure public order and safety. The program helped build the trust of the constituents to the city government, as it promotes peace in the community. In Del Carmen, Surigao del Norte, a social tourism program was launched by the LGU which transforms mangrove cutters into fisherfolks, and illegal fisherfolks into boat guides to preserve the largest contigous mangrove forest in the area. Capacity building activities, community organizing and educational advocacy campaigns also opened doors of opportunities to many residents in the area. This helped improve, not only the environment, but also the quality of life and livelihood of countless residents in Siargao. And finally, as many of us have witnessed tonight, we have the program of Loboc, Bohol. The Loboc Music Program promotes the municipality’s musical heritage by providing free education to encourage its constituency to take up music as a profession. Since 2008, there have been almost 1,500 enrollees, who have been trained to be members of the Loboc Youth Ambassadors Band in the Loboc School of Music. Around 69 youth are members and currently scholars of the program, spreading love for their heritage and love for music.
Filipinos are resourceful and very creative; there is no shortage of bright ideas in our nation. So, let’s all give each other license to copy, adapt, and improve. It is my wish that mentoring becomes a by-product of the excellence around us today. For mayors who are looking for great ideas, this is the place to be.
But all the bright strategies in the world will not work without brave, audacious, and honest leaders. It all goes back to character and leadership at the top—and there are many different and effective styles from all the leaders in this room. But ALL great leaders empower those around them to be great themselves.
Six years after Jesse’s death, Naga continues to flourish under Mayor John Bongat’s leadership, earning the city the honor of being consistently awarded as one of the most competitive cities in the country. [applause] Mayor John is in the audience, nasaan ka po, Mayor? Mayor John is in the audience, and I wish to honor him for steering Naga to even greater heights during the last eight years. [applause]
The existence of a new breed of servant leaders is proof that in our city, people are inspired to make even the best, better—and I believe that is Jesse’s best legacy. He used to always say that he surrounds himself with people who are better or have the potential to be better than himself!
I tell myself that we are all given perhaps just one chance to serve our people and spark lasting transformation in our nation. So if we must serve, then we must serve well. Not for fame or for honor; but to create a legacy of excellence in local government that will outlive us.
We all know that the job of a local chief executive is not a walk in the park. It is tough, gruelling, and time-consuming. And not many people appreciate all the sacrifices behind all the work.
Like many of you, I also have my own share of difficulties. I remember that around this time, three years ago, when I was being convinced to run for the Vice Presidency, they told me that this would be the easiest job in the world. Given the circumstances now, that is very, very far from the truth.
But during the darkest moments, I tell myself that the opportunity to spark lasting transformation might come but once. And whatever the level of difficulty, I must remember—we must all remember—that our job is to herald a new way of life that will be evident in our people’s progress, long after we are gone.
This is precisely what this gathering is all about. It is our brave response to the call of the times: that there are still men and women disrupting the political scene by doing extraordinary things for our people, quietly, without much fanfare.
It may be easier to stay on the sidelines during tumultuous times such as the times we face today. But history is not made by those who choose to be always on the safe side. History is made by those who show defiant hope and fiercely fight against the tide.
So to our finalists and awardees, thank you for lighting our path with your courage and with your conviction. I know my husband, Jesse, would be very happy to see more public servants finding new and better ways to promote good governance.
May we all find the strength to change our country by serving our people to the best of our abilities. Once again, congratulations to our Galing Pook 2018 awardees and Mayor Noel Rosal, the 4th Jesse Robredo Leadership Awardee. Mabuhay po kayong lahat! [applause]