Bernardo M. Villegas
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A Young LGU Official’s Story (Part 3)

             The story of Joet Garcia continues.  His political journey was from Mayor of Balanga City to a member of the House of Representatives and at present a Governor of the whole province of Bataan.  In his new role as Governor, he has the opportunity to further implement the principle of solidarity in helping the various municipalities of the province of Bataan both to do whatever they can do on their own, without help from above, and what they must accomplish in cooperation with one another.  This is always the challenge for leaders to balance the principle of subsidiarity and that of solidarity, the principle of self-reliance and that of always thinking of the common good. As Joet said in his Commencement Address, “…after a year I realized heading a provincial government is so different from managing a city or pursuing advocacies in Congress.  There are numerous issues and concerns at the provincial level, accompanied by a distinct set of mandates.  It also involves dealing and collaborating with all mayors in the province (which can be a challenge).  But if you’re successful, programs will benefit not only one locality but the whole province.

            In the second article of this series, I already referred to the dire consequence of the lack of coordination of those at the national level who were responsible for planning and building the iconic Cordoba-Mactan bridge in Cebu and the LGU heads of the surrounding municipalities.  It takes no time at all to cross the bridge but it takes hours to reach the bridge from the different municipalities because there was no planning on how to build wider roads to approach the foot of the bridge.  As I wrote, it would be disastrous if the 30-kilometer bridge that will connect Cavite to Bataan through Corregidor will not be connected to the various municipalities that will be traversed by the bridge through sufficiently wide roads.

 Here, let me cite a more encouraging example.  Today, Iloilo is the most attractive city in the Visayas for relocating numerous businesses that are trying to avoid congested cities like Metro Manila and Metro Cebu. Just last September 28, 2023, Iloilo City received the award as second rank in government efficiency for highly urbanized citied during the Philippine Creative Cities and Municipalities Congress spearheaded by the DTI Competitiveness Bureau.    This happy situation for the Ilonggos did not happen by chance.  More than a decade ago, then Senator Frank Drilon exercised his leadership in Iloilo to convince the heads of the LGUs in the province of Iloilo to agree on a common long-term infrastructure plan.  Thanks to that effort of coordination and the willingness of the heads of the various municipalities to cooperate, Iloilo is now endowed with some of the most efficient infrastructures in the Visayas. The biggest real estate developers (e.g. Ayala Land, Megaworld, Vista Land, Double Dragon and many others) have invested in mega projects in Iloilo over the last decade or so.  Numerous new establishments in the BPO-IT and hospitality sectors have arisen in Iloilo almost overnight. As in the case of the Cavite-Bataan bridge, a future game changer will be the bridge that will be constructed from Iloilo through Guimaras island all the way to Bacolod.

Coordination and cooperation are needed not only in building infrastructures.  As Governor Joet illustrated in his address, he is busy working closely with the 11 municipalities that belong to the province of Bataan and the City of Balanga to implement the health strategy of Japan called the School Lunch Program (which is designed to encourage the students to correctly understand and nurture desirable eating habits).  This program is especially valuable to the very young children whose brains can be damaged permanently if they do not get sufficient nourishment.  Educators have pointed out that a major reason why our school children perform very poorly in international achievement tests in reading, arithmetic and other topics is that they were poorly nourished when they were very young.  Our high learning poverty rate of over 90% is due to both lack of nutrition of children and underinvestment in public education.

Governor Joet added another important reason behind Japan’s funding the School Lunch Program.  When the law on School Lunch was passed in Japan in 1954, life expectancy in Japan was only 60.  It is today up to 85 years old, one of the highest in the world—both a boon and a bane (because there are very few young people in Japan to take care of their ageing population.)  While there were many factors that explain longevity in Japan, the school lunch program’s role in improving nutrition and health consciousness from a young age is undeniable.  The Philippines has a long way to go in attaining the life expectancy of Japan.  Today’s Philippine life expectancy is below 70 years old.

Under the leadership of the provincial government, Bataan is collaborating with the various municipalities to utilize blockchain technology to manage and secure the household data base called the Community Based Monitoring System (a tool to address poverty alleviation), and the continuous expansion of the college scholarship program (now benefitting 13,000 students).  Bataan is also one of the first provinces to deploy electric vehicles for its highway patrol, thus helping to reduce emissions, save on fuel expenses and extend patrol routes.  The Province is also pioneering in using the Public Private Partnership route in establishing what is called The Bunker—housing under one roof the provincial government and 18 national government agencies (e.g. SSS, Pag-Ibig, NBI, soon Department of Foreign Affairs).  Funded by the private sector, the Bunker will provide convenience to citizens and improve efficiency in government services.

Lest the readers may get the impression that all the positive characteristics cited here have been an exercise in self-propaganda by Mayor Joet Garcia, let me end this series of articles by citing data obtained from Wikipedia. There we can read that Bataan is one of the most prosperous provinces of Central Luzon and the Manila Bay region and a key contributor to the region’s overall productivity.  It is one of the Philippine industrial heartlands owing to the presence of heavy industries, two freeport zones and several special manufacturing zones.   Due to these factors plus the province’s competitive incentives offered to business locators, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry adjudged Bataan as the most business friendly province in the country in November 2021.  This is the second time it received this recognition.  In 2020, Bataan registered the third highest locally sourced income among all the provinces in the Philippines as certified by the Department of Finance and the Bureau of Internal Revenue.  But most important of all to me, Bataan has one of the lowest poverty incidences of 4 per cent in the country, compared to the national average of 13 to 15%.  There is no doubt that the leadership in Bataan over the last two decades has brought a great deal of benefits to the constituents of the province.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.