GROWING up, Metro Manila was the whole of the Philippines for me. Having been born and raised in the national capital, my exposure to other cities had been superficial. My mother hails from Mandaluyong; and while my father’s side of the family is from Albay, I only visited twice as a kid and it was always a “touristy”family vacation where we were more visitors than locals.As the years passed, I started to visit more towns and cities in other parts of the country. Still, my travel routine was the same-–go out of town, enjoy popular tourist spots, and then come home with fun memories but no deeper appreciation of our country or impact on my worldview.
When I became a program coordinator for local government units at the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA)in 2014, I was exposed to a whole new aspect of the Philippines. I began to work with emerging secondary cities outside the National Capital Region, which are potential growth hubs that can make substantial contributions to national economic development, and one of the very first cities I worked with was Legazpi, Albay. I was assigned to assist in implementing the ISA’s tool for strategy management and good governance, the Performance Governance System (PGS).
Working closely with the city government through the PGS gave me the opportunity to help the local leaders and key stakeholders in designing a strategic plan,obtaining the support and buy-in of middle management in prioritizing key initiatives, and getting ordinary employees to contribute to what the city was trying to achieve.I observed passionate and vision-driven leadership, and a determination on the part of local government employees to raise the bar for public service. This was motivated by the goal of transforming Legazpi into one of the top five convention destinations in Luzon by 2020. To me, this broke the stigma of substandard performance in government. Seeing management principles that are used by big, successful corporations applied to local governance gave me a sense of pride in how professional the public sector can be.
Still, being aware of the city’s strategy and seeing local government work hard is one thing; actually witnessing and experiencing the fruits of their labor is another.From 2011 to 2015,Legazpi has attained impressive results such as a 55.14 percent growth in businesses, based on the number of business establishments.In the same period, there was a29.18 percent growth in employment.Seeing how local government works to improve the lives of its constituents was encouraging.
Legazpi has ensured that it has visible projects to further promote convention tourism and manage inclusive growth, such as putting up a weekend night market where the city promotes small local enterprises among conventioneers by finding the means to bring the market closer to them. Another successful project was the launch of the Bicolano Cultural Show, which is a presentation of vibrant regional life through various performances targeted at tourists, and where local performers are given a chance to showcase their talents.
By setting a strategic goal, all of Legazpi’s efforts, resources and assistance from external partners have aligned to enable more conveniences for Legazpeños and their visitors. These include new evening flights into the Legazpi Airport, and prospective projects such as the Legazpi International Cruise Terminal, 24/7 Quick Response Team, and expansion of the Legazpi City Police Station and Logistics Modernization.
I am grateful because this experience has given me a front-row seat to view how Philippine cities dream, plan, and transform strategy into tangible results that are felt on the ground. Getting to see this aspect of local governance –the massive amount of work that is put in by the local government so we can enjoy breath-taking parks and plazas, cultural activities, clean and peaceful environments, responsive social services, and a progressive locality–has given me a deeper appreciation of the distinct character of each Philippine town and city. It is all the planning, building, and collaborating that has produced the things that visitors and residents benefit from on a daily basis, but which can also tend to be taken for granted.
Now, whenever I visit a new place, I have an enhanced appreciation of the local bazaar where I can shop for artisanal goods,or the clean and organized boulevard where I can take a peaceful and relaxing stroll. I have realized that these things could not have happened without a local government that is passionate about giving its visitors something to experience, and that is certainly continually seeking to improve living conditions for its constituents.
Legazpi is a gem because of the efforts of its local government, and this reminds me that there is an entire Philippines waiting to be appreciated outside Metro Manila.
Gabby Macasinag is a program coordinator for local government units at the Institute for Solidarity in Asia. She has been working with different towns and cities in advocating for good governance through the practice of strategy management. To learn more about her work with the institute, visit isacenter.org.