Exit: Millennium Development Goals or MDGs as of 2015. Enter: Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs for 2016-2030.
When I was mayor of the city of San Fernando, La Union, from 1998-2007, we welcomed the new millennium by forming a Millennium Choir composed of 50 children and 50 employees of the province of La Union and the city. We also heard that UN Habitat and its member countries committed to eight MDGs from 2000-2015.
Following this call, the city borrowed money from a window of the World Bank through the Department of Finance to put up four lying-in clinics to serve clusters of barangay units (villages). This was inspired by our first lying-in clinic in Barangay Bangbangolan, which we put up with our own funds.
When I assumed office, I learned of pregnant women giving birth on the road or dying because there were no trained health workers to assist them, not to mention the lack of prenatal care. With our improved health center and our five lying-in clinics, we assigned midwives to round-the-clock duty shifts. This was to achieve MDGs#4 and #5 – to reduce child mortality and improve maternal health.
We also encouraged breastfeeding and our barangay health workers followed up on the health of the mother and children, so much so that the infant mortality rate declined. We then achieved zero maternal mortality rate for three years, one on the fourth year, and again zero maternal mortality rate in the succeeding years. I asked the national government through my husband, Congressman Victor F. Ortega, to provide additional ambulances so that when there were cases that could not be addressed by the midwives, the patients could be brought to the hospital.
We became a Healthy City of the World Health Organization, leading the program to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. During my nine years as San Fernando mayor, I encountered only one case of HIV/AIDS. The problem that confronted us was dengue and we fought it. MDG#6.
We borrowed money to put up 34 classrooms because we could not wait for national government to bring down the classroom to students ratio. One classroom was provided with 20 computers per school site, so that grade school students were already introduced to the advantages of computers. This was in 2000, when high school students did not even have computers for their use, and we had them for grade school students. This answered MDG #2 – to achieve universal primary education. In San Fernando, we went the extra mile and improved basic education from kindergarten to Grade 6.
For MDG #3, to promote gender equality and empower women, our legal officer was assigned to act as the focal person for the program. We offered capacity building for our health workers and nutrition scholars and ran a Mothers Class in every barangay of 59. We campaigned against violence against women, taught victims to report to barangay officials and the police, set up a guidance counseling pool composed of pastors and ministers from different religious denominations. We encouraged our social welfare officers to come up with case studies and provide the victims with added support. This led us to open up a plantilla position for a psychologist.
At the start of my term, I promised to plant a million trees, and we were able to do this in nine years. To buy a million seedlings at P30 each would mean P30 million pesos. We had a 10-hectare botanical garden, and with additional nurseries we were able to achieve our goal. We initiated the organization of the Solid Waste Management Association of the Philippines (SWAPP); commissioned Joel Macanayato to compose the Basura jingle; set up an engineered landfill and waste water treatment facilities; phased out 1,412 two stroke engine tricycles; and set up a 30-hectare marine sanctuary. MDG#7.
In all these, the ultimate MDG is to reduce extreme poverty and hunger. We had feeding programs for the children; gave vegetable seedlings for backyards, if any, and potted seedlings for those by the coastline; formed cooperatives and gave them P50,000 seed capital; and for those with good performance, rolling capital was increased to P100,000, to be paid after one year.
All these could not be achieved if we did not have partnerships with non-government organizations and with media. Looking back, we did well on the MDGs, which ended in 2015. This year, the number has increased to 17 Sustainable Development Goals. How should San Fernando and other local governments then plot a course to achieve them, and eventually build our Dream Philippines?
Mary Jane C. Ortega is a Trustee and Fellow of the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA), a non-profit organization whose vision is to build Dream Philippines, where every government institution delivers and every citizen participates and prospers. Learn more about their work on isacenter.org.