Bernardo M. Villegas
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A Young LGU Official’s Story (Part 2)

             True to the principle of subsidiarity, Governor Joet Garcia started his first term as Mayor of Balanga City by trying to learn as much as possible from his constituents from all walks of life.  To do this he created the “barangay week” program.  He and his fellow LGU officials decided to hold office in a different barangay every other week.  They consulted, listened, inspected, studied what was happening on the ground and came up with interventions to try and address their specific needs which were beyond their capacity to solve effectively.  The engagement resulted in the massive support for the city’s health policies (i.e.the very successful smoke free campaign: smoking in public was totally eliminated).  Many smokers were helped to quit.  The local government launched the “Huwag Maging S.A.D.” and the Tobacco Free Generation movement in the schools.  At present, thanks to that campaign, the City is experiencing a decline in lifestyle-related diseases.  At the college level, benefiting from his own studies in the humanities, Mayor Joet and his fellow officials helped to improve the curriculum to make the formation of the students more wholistic.  At the TESDA level, skills training programs were provided for different sectors to promote more livelihood opportunities, addressing the usual problem of a mismatch between what the schools were producing and the needs of industry.

            Then Mayor Joet learned from his own experiences joining with his wife certain courses on the science and art of childrearing through the EDUCHILD Foundation.  The LGU reached out to families by encouraging married couples to attend the Balanga version of the EDUCHILD Parenting Program.  This initiative positively affected the families in the different barangays.  Children received better care from their parents and were performing better in schools.  To date, 51,711 parents have taken these courses, which like in business schools, combine exposure to both basic principles and specific cases on child upbringing.  The products of these courses are now helping the Government to upskill and reskill other parents in their task of childrearing. 

            His stint as Mayor of Balanga City spurred economic growth through careful planning of the redevelopment of the city center.  He was one of the first LGU officials to take advantage of the Public Private Partnership (PPP)approach to sustainable and inclusive economic development.  With close coordination with private investors, the LGU was able to transform Balanga City into a bustling University Town.  As his successors as Mayor of Balanga have been following his example of a close partnership between the government and private business, Balanga is being converted into one of the first smart cities in the country.

            His political career did not stop when he reached his term limit as Mayor of Balanga.  He ran for Congress as the representative of Bataan’s Second Legislative District in 2016. He won and stayed in that position for six years till 2022.  It was another learning experience for him.  He always kept in mind the Socratic principle that he is ignorant of many things.  In his Commencement speech, he outlined what he learned from his stint as Congressman for Bataan. He was especially glad to learn how the national budgeting works.  He shared with his audience (both the graduates and members of their respective families jampacked into the Philippine International Convention Center) the following facts about the budgeting process in the Legislature: “Did you know that out of more than 12,000 bills filed in Congress every term only 7.5% are approved into law?  That is why our office left no stone unturned.  We closely followed our bills every step of the way from the lower to the upper house until it is signed by the President.  This hawkish approach resulted in the passage of numerous laws from upgrading of hospitals, to the establishment of schools and tourism zones as well as institutionalizing the Seal of Good Local Governance and the Parents Effectiveness Service Act (EDUCHILD for the whole country).  More importantly, the special law strengthening and expanding our freeport area gave us the power to provide incentives to investors locating practically anywhere in Bataan.”

            Governor Joet Garcia is not only steeped in the practice of the principle of subsidiarity by making sure that the lower units do whatever they can to address their own problems.  He is also keenly aware that the lower units have the responsibility of always considering what they can contribute to the common good of the whole society.   This desire to contribute to a higher good beyond that of their province made the LGU heads of Bataan persistently and closely coordinated with the national body, the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) and the Department of Public Works to ensure that that the “game changing” Bataan-Cavite Interlink Bridge (BCIB) would be realized.  This 32-kilometer iconic/mega structure bridge will connect the Bataan Peninsula to the Province of Cavite, finally linking two of the biggest and fastest growing regions in the country, i.e. Central Luzon and CALABARZON.  This project will serve the common good of the whole Philippines because it will decongest the National Capital Region and spread development to other regions.  It is about time NCR is literally “decapitated” for the good of the whole country. 

            The impact of the BCIB will make possible a more sustainable and inclusive development in the island of Luzon.  North-South and South-North travel will soon be possible without the need to pass through Metro Manila (e.g. travel from Bataan to Cavite will be reduced from 5 hours to 30 minutes!)  Just imagine what it will do to travel between the two mountain resorts of Tagaytay and Baguio!  Governor Garcia opines that the bridge will even surpass the already high projected 30% rate of return indicated by the feasibility study which cost a whopping 2 billion pesos.  Very many sectors of society will be benefited:  investors, business enterprises, tourists and ordinary citizens.  I know for a fact that a good number of the world’s leading infrastructure builders from Spain, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other developed countries that have world class infrastructures are preparing to bid for owning and building this game-changing bridge.  We already have an idea of what it would look like by traveling to Cebu and seeing the iconic Cordoba-Mactan bridge.  I only hope that the various LGU units of the cities and towns through which this bridge will traverse will do a better job of making sure that the roads approaching the bridge from their respective municipalities will be wide enough.  Unfortunately, in the case of the Cordoba-Mactan bridge, the roads leading to it from the various municipalities in Metro Cebu are so narrow that the time saved in the quick travel from Cordoba to Mactan is negated by the long time to reach the foot of the bridge.  To be continued.