CALAMBA City in Laguna and Bulakan town in Bulacan took top honors in The Manila Times' search for the country's model city and municipality for 2023.

The Model Cities and Municipalities Awards is The Times' way of giving recognition to the local government units that have made a steadfast commitment to sustainable development and achieved economic growth and expansion through innovations.

WINNERS Representatives of the winning local government units pose for a photo at the Philippine Model Cities and Municipalities event hosted by The Manila Times on Monday, Sept. 18, 2023. Photo by J. Gerard Seguia
WINNERS Representatives of the winning local government units pose for a photo at the Philippine Model Cities and Municipalities event hosted by The Manila Times on Monday, Sept. 18, 2023. Photo by J. Gerard Seguia
WINNERS Representatives of the winning local government units pose for a photo at the Philippine Model Cities and Municipalities event hosted by The Manila Times on Monday, Sept. 18, 2023. Photo by J. Gerard Seguia

The awards were handed out during a ceremony at the Diamond Hotel Ballroom in Manila on Monday.

Calamba was named the Best Model City and Bulakan the Best Model Municipality.

Calamba City was also recognized as a Safe Haven.

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The Model City First Runner-up was San Fernando in Pampanga. Mayor Vilma Caluag accepted the award.

San Fernando City was also recognized as Infra Innovator and Tourism and Culture Hub.

General Trias City in Cavite took the Model City Second Runner-Up award. Mayor Luis Ferrer 4th accepted the award for his city, which was also named as Retirement Haven and Sustainability Champion.

Bulakan was recognized as the Best Model Municipality.

The other city category awardees were:

– Education hub: Meycauayan City in Bulacan

– Eco friendly Award: San Juan City

– Family First Award: San Jose Del Monte in Bulacan

– Social Service Oriented: Cabanatuan City

– Business Friendly: Bacolod City

– Livelihood and Employment Center: Baliuag City, Bulacan

– Emergency Disaster Management Excellence: Valenzuela City and Zamboanga City

– Wealth Center and Tech Territory: Lipa City, Batangas

– Food Security Enabler: San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan

– Sustainability Champion: General Trias City

– Family First: San Jose del Monte City.

In the municipality category, the awardees are:

– Safe Haven: Capas, Tarlac

– Education hub: Plaridel, Bulacan

– Eco friendly Award: Baler, Aurora

– Business Friendly: Sta. Maria, Bulacan

– Emergency Disaster Management Excellence: Bulakan.

During an accompanying forum, "Model Cities and Municipalities 2023: Future-proofing the Quality of Township Living," George Royeca, co-founder and CEO of Angkas, and Christopher Ferareza, a partner in the Advisory Services Practice Area of P&A Grant Thornton, discussed the need to overcome hurdles that hamper the sustainable development of Philippine cities and municipalities.

Royeca said the key to achieving sustainable development is having people who have the "vision and the responsibility to forge a pathway to new beginnings and unprecedented opportunities."

"When talking about smart cities, with all the smart gadgets we put in and all the policies that we create, it is for nothing without the people," said Royeca, who has been championing the rights of motorcycle riders and commuters in the country.

He said the citizenry is what makes a city or a municipality progress.

"We are the architects of a better tomorrow for the country by fostering opportunities where none seemed to exist," said Royeca.

He cited enterprises like Angkas, the leading app-based ride-hailing service in the Philippines with over 4 million downloads and 30,000 biker partners, which legitimize the informal sector and, in the process, create an entirely new industry.

"If you truly believe in the talent of Filipinos and you educate them, instead of judging them, they will listen and they will follow," he said.

Ferareza, who has over 20 years of experience in auditing local and multinational companies, said he believes that no matter how advanced a city or a municipality may be, it cannot be a model community if it is not sustainable.

He likened this to a business that has grown so fast that the management has failed to keep its records in order.

"At the end of the day, it crumbles due to fraud and irregularities," said Ferareza.

He noted that the Philippines ranks 98th in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Index with a score of 67.14.

This score could guide the Philippines on where to intensify its efforts, such as addressing climate change, reducing inequality, and ensuring inclusivity.

"These remain significant hurdles in our path to sustainable development," said Ferareza, who is also the oversight partner for internal audit, anti-money laundering, and data privacy compliance at P&A Grant Thornton.

He said the Philippines placed 158th out of 180 countries in the 2022 Environmental Performance Index in terms of progress toward improving environmental health, protecting eco-system vitality and mitigating climate change.

This proves that sustainability in the country still has a long way to go, Ferareza said.

The same can be said about economic sustainability, despite declining poverty in the last three decades and reduced inequality in the past decade, he said.

Ferareza pointed out that the Covid-19 pandemic reversed part of the gains achieved by the Philippines.

He said rapid urbanization has also led to challenges in terms of urban planning, infrastructure, transportation and housing.

"Many Philippine cities are grappling with issues such as traffic congestion, inadequate housing and inefficient urban services," said Ferareza.

Corruption also adds to the challenges of achieving sustainable development, he said.

Ferareza said that as a city or municipality undergoes physical development, behavioral transformation should happen simultaneously.

To ensure sustainability, urban development should be accompanied by values formation, Ferareza said.

These values include collaboration, leadership, excellence, agility, responsibility and respect.

"The sustainability of a city or a municipality is fundamentally tied to its ability to govern itself effectively. A city that fails to fulfill the basic expectations of governance will struggle to sustain the ecological, social and economic aspects of sustainability," Ferareza said.