THE eruption of Mount Pinatubo on June 15, 1991 devastated Pampanga with horrors similar to the tragedies visited on the economy and on families by the tsunami that recently hit Japan.
Since then, for the past 20 years, Pampanga administrations of various political parties have tried to rebuild the province. Only now, under the leadership of Governor Lilia Garcia-Pineda, a member of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s KAMPI-Lakas party, has the province recovered to its whole former self. Minus, of course, those parts of the province that are still submerged under tons of Pinatubo’s volcanic ashes.
But what is most palpably fully recovered in Pampanga, thanks to Gov. Pineda, is the original will of most of the Pampangueños to be united and to excel – and post national best performances — in their agriculture, their trade and their professions.
Gov. Pineda—who is lovingly called “Nanay Baby” (Mother Baby) by her Cabalens (fellow Kapampangans)— has done this by morally encouraging and materially aiding the citizenry. She does this personally, using her own funds and resources. She does this officially, as governor, by actually launching previously untried activities that have prospered the economy and vast segments of the population.
These activities have: increased domestic employment, raised or stem the decline of the income of the middle classes, supported the very poor and marginalized, and provided new and more opportunities for expansion of many established businesses.
Nanay Baby has also launched private sector and public partnerships. These PPPs are in such areas as—among many others she has introduced in—agriculture enterprises, the food sector and in a sector for which Pampanga has always been known—carpentry, woodcarving and wood-furniture manufacture.
In food, she has taken steps to improve and expand the local tocino, longganiza and lechon industry into organic production. She launched the establishment of and the transformation of many old piggeries into purely organic ones thereby solving the problem of the inflating costs of non-organic feeds and ensuring that pork doesn’t have that vaguely different smell coming from chemical additives in their pig feeds. Her pro-active ministrations have also created cottage industries efficiently producing A-class halo-halo that visitors to Guagua town will remember and pine for.
Governor Pineda has also remained committed to the duck-raising industry of Candaba town. In January, arriving at 6 a.m. for an appointed dialogue with the duckraisers and the town and barangay officials of Candaba, she reviewed the actual aid the provincial government has been giving Candaba. She then vowed to do more not only for its duck raising industry but also for the town’s entire economy.
Giving a message, she has been telling her province mates everywhere, she told the Candaba officials she wishes to see corn, palay and vegetable production increase in their town and pledged her aid to achieve this.
An elated Candaba Mayor Jerry Pelayo was reported to have told representatives of his town’s 33 barangays (we translate his words from Tagalog), “Before, it was difficult to find our provincial governors. Now she has come to listen to the plaints and needs of our townspeople.”
She has fulfilled her commitment to Candaba to add to the funds for the construction of a feed mill duck raisers urgently need. Candaba’s duck raisers produce an average of 200,000 eggs daily. Most of these eggs are sold to balut and salted-egg makers in Pateros, Rizal, and other parts of Metro Manila.
Caskets for export
In carpentry and furniture making, she has helped foster guilds of carvers and carpenters into making funeral caskets for export more efficiently.
New vision: Mt. Pinatubo Tourism
Her latest vision—complete with feasibility studies and actual plans—is to make Pampanga as famous worldwide and as profitable a tourist destination as the “Grand Canyon of the Philippines.” With the approval of the provincial board and the various local government units concerned, this will be done by making the natural sights and ruins of the 1991 eruption, and the peak and crater of Mount Pinatubo itself, easier for tourists to reach—with cable car systems, good transport facilities and other infrastructure.
Already, a couple of thousand tourists, both foreign and local Filipinos, brave the drive and trek to enjoy the serene beauty and feel the awesome threat of the volcano near its summit. She aims to multiply “Mt. Pinatubo Tourism” into a major and grand profit center of the province.
Gov. Pineda is now attracting investors to put up their money in “Mt. Pinatubo Tourism” development.
The beauty and grandeur of the view at the crater of Mt. Pinatubo, she said, cannot be matched by what Tagaytay and Boracay have to offer.
Translated from Tagalog, she said, “What we are now fixing our studies on is how best to speed up the climb to the crater. This, we know, is also the dream (“ang pangarap”) of many tourists—to reach the top and crater.”
From San Fernando to Porac, she told us, it takes two hours of land travel. From Porac, which where to start on the way to the Pinatubo crater, it now takes tourists and hour and a half to get to the crater on foot. There is now a viewing deck at the crater, she said.
The first step is to build a proper and scenic path walk. This can immediately be the start of the grand “Mt. Pinatubo Tourism” industry.
In the United States, many see the full beauty of Grand Canyon from a helicopter. Pampanga, too, can do that. But Gov. Pineda’s vision is to install a cable car system, like what they have in Sentosa in Singapore. Engineering consultants are now working on the details.
The Governor also thinks a golf course close to the crater area would reinvigorate waning interest in this sport among foreign tourists coming to the Philippines. The climate at the upper half of Mount Pinatubo is cooler than Tagaytay.
Pineda told The Times that poultry and fisheries continue to be the main agricultural subsectors of her province. She is proud of her new inputs into the tocino industry in San Fernando, the provincial capital, the halo-halo and pancit palabok in Guagua, and funeral casket manufacture in Santo Tomas.
Some of the biggest sources of income are the foreign investments poured into the province by some 100 international companies that have come to Pampanga’s economic zone.
Pampanga, she pointed out is “the heart of Central Luzon, it’s business center. Pampanga is between Metro Manila and Northern Luzon.”
The Clark Economic Zone (built in the former US air base) has been the biggest contributor to Pampanga’s industrial and economic development. The construction of the Subic-Clark Expressway—an achievement of the governor’s friend since childhood, former president and now Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal Arroyo—boosted Pampanga’s rise from the ashes of the Pinatubo eruption.
Pampanga has an international airport, which makes it easy for tourism to be a major industry of the province.
Ashes turned into gold
Although some construction engineers are not recommending cement made of ashes from Mount Pinatubo for use in heavy building foundation structures, quarrying of Mt. Pinatubo ash has been Pampanga’s biggest income-generator
The white sand emitted by the volcano alone is has been exported by the province to other areas in the Philippines and even abroad.
Pinatubo’s ash is gold for Pampanga. Gov. Pineda said the province now earns an average of P1-million per day. Her target is to increase this make it P2-million per day.
While right now all indications show that Nanay Baby’s rule as governor has been smooth and extremely productive of developmental results, she admits that a sudden surge of unemployment could become her biggest problem.
This is because of the revolts in the Middle East and the slow recovery of the world economy. These two factors could cause the sudden return of more Pampangueño Overseas Filipino Workers. She told The Times some 100,000 of her Cabalens (fellow Kapampangans) are now working in the Middle East. The civil war in Libya has already forced 400 Pampanga OFWs to come back to the province.
She is now attending to the needs of these workers, trying to help find new jobs for them or arranging for them to have a business livelihood.
She has formed an Action Center for OFWs, in collaboration with the Labor department’s Philippine Overseas Welfare Administration (POEA).
Emphasis on health
In Gov. Lilia Pineda’s annual budget planning, the biggest expenditure is for the health needs of her Cabalens. This amounts to P200 million. She has increased the provisions and funding for the Pampanga General Hospital and the town and barangay clinics.
The money is spent on the maintenance of the hospital and clinics as well as for medicines, medical consultants and programs for good nutrition and the prevention for sicknesses and diseases.
From her office office in Sab Fernanda, the capital city, Gov. Pineda regularly goes to Pampanga’s towns and remote barangays, with her department heads and the appropriate professional teams to deliver actual services—medical and dental, livelihood and employment opportunities, animal vaccination and agriculture extension aid and training.
The province’s Public Information Officer, Joel Mapiles, wrote that after the “one-day community dialogue” in the Candaba barangay “a total of 200 patients availed themselves of the free dental services while out of some 300 persons, several underwent minor cysts removal surgery while the more serious cases [were] referred to the Amando Garcia Memorial Hospital in Angeles City for surgery.”
He said his boss the governor really “wants to really get to the bottom of the problems of her constituents and makes sure that they are able to directly avail themselves of the primary services of the government.”
The next priority of the lady governor, after her Cabalens’ heatlh, is education. The annual budget for this is more or less P100-million. These covers free scholarships, construction of school buildings and the cost of the efforts to get out-of-school youths into elementary or back to their high school..
In January, six leading colleges and universities in Pampanga signed with Gov. Pineda a memorandum of agreement to support and cooperate with the provincial government and the local Labor Department branch to address the employment and underemployment problems.
Specific activities, done with provincial chapters of DOLE, PESO, the six universities and the provincial government, will be carried out.
Peace and order
Gov. Pineda also prioritizes peace and order.
Nanay Baby never fails to ask the barangay and town officials she talks to be strict in monitoring the peace and order situation in their communities.
She has been giving this message with more urgency s “in the wake of recent carnapping, killing and kidnapping crime reports which involve some municipalities in the province.
Before the end of January, Gov. Pineda, a report by PIO Mapiles says, “ordered the immediate crackdown of all forms of criminality in the province even as she gave marching orders to concerned law enforcement authorities and stakeholders for its speedy dissolution.”
The governor called an emergency meeting of law enforcers at the provincial, municipal and barangay levels “in the wake of carnapping, killings and kidnapping reports which involve the province.”
“Being in the heart of Central Luzon, Pampanga is on its way to full growth and development with the operations of the North Luzon Expressway and the Subic-Clark Tarlac Expressway and the eventual implementation of its provincial development plan. Thus, let us join forces and combat all hindering factors, especially all forms of criminality, which could hamper our road to progress,” Gov. Pineda told the assembled law enforcers.
A passionate environmentalist, Nanay Baby Pineda has been praised for her achievement in solving Pampanga’s wastemanagement problem and in being a key factor in reforestation efforts in the province. (See sidestory on page B4)
While concrete and innovative achievements are the immediately observable signs of better times for Pampanga now that the governor is Lilia G. Pineda, what amazes people who have observed the Pineda administration—whose predecessor is the vaunted zero-corruption regime under former governor Among Ed Panlilio—is her good, some say excellent, governance and her seriousness in fighting graft and corruption.
She does not say anything against her predecessor. She even spoke a few times in praise of former Governor Ed Panlilio but added that her style was to avoid being in conflict with the other officials, especially the provincial board, so that work could be accomplished.
Her one and only goal, Nanay Baby repeats like a mantra is “good governance for my Cabalen.” And she has really been seen by many as a “Mother to her people” even in her previous positions as Mayor of Lubao (her first elected position) and then board member of Pampanga. As mayor she won several good governance awards.
The governor sees to it that the province’s funds go directly to the service of the people. She wishes to stomp out any corruption and does not want it said that there was some corruption under he watch.
Pampanga’s annual budget is P1.4 billion and the Internal Revenue Allotment to it as a local government unit is 928-million.
She told The Times, explaining why she is strict and transparent about the province’s funds: “Kasi ako ngayon, yung pag-upo ko ngayon, meron mga ibang ginagastos na hindi naman halos napapakinabangan ng Kapampangan. So ako ngayon, maingat ako talaga sa paggastos. Ayokong kung saan-saan napupunta yung pondo. Ako talaga, ang gusto ko, yung malaking pondo, pero matagal na napapakinabangan na matagal na panahon ng mga Kapampangan. Ganoon ang mga programa ko.” [That’s because now that I’m in office, when I took office, there were some expenses that almost did not benefit the Kapampangan people. So, now, I am really careful about expenses and disbursements. I don’t want it to happen that funds go in all directions (but no one knows where). Me, I really, like large budgets and funding, but for these funds to be useful and beneficial to the Kapampangan people for a long time. My programs are like that.]”
A proud child of Lubao
Gov. Pineda was born on February 21, 1951 in Santa Cruz, Lubao, Pampanga, the native place of two great Kapampangans who became president: Diosdado Macapagal and his daughter Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Nanay Baby is married to businessman Rodolfo Q. Pineda. They they are blessed with five children, some of whom are also in Pampanga politics..
She has a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Jose Rizal College.
BY JOMAR CANLAS REPORTER AND JOAQUIN B. SAR CONTRIBUTOR