Friday, January 14, 2011

Ulat sa Bayan

It has been seven months since we, your municipal officials, were elected to office, and six months since we assumed the responsibilities of our respective offices. For those who like to keep count, that leaves us two and a half years more to do the things we vowed to do.

Being asked to take stock after only six months in office is a duty that any reasonable official, aware of the temporal limits of a popular mandate, can only reasonably approach with alarm and not an insignificant amount of dread.

I must say that faced with the responsibility to give an accounting of the past, my first impulse is to tally the days, to deliver to you the number of seedlings planted, the patients seen, the goats dispersed, the disasters averted by our Assistance in Crisis Situations (AICS) fund. That accounting would probably be more accurate and yet, in a way, less true. Without data to plot them in a time series, few people would know what to make of them. Anyway, for those interested to see the absolute figures, our various heads of offices should make them available to anyone interested.

I guess people have not elected me to tally things up and deliver a scoreboard. So today I’ll speak of things that are foremost in my mind.

I was fortunate to assume office in July 2010 and find money in the treasury more than enough to tide the municipality for another half year. This, of course, speaks well of the fiscal prudence of our then outgoing mayor and made me resolve to maintain the same prudence with which former Mayor Deogracias Ramos Jr. handled the municipality’s account for many years.

As of December 31, 2010, our municipality has Php. 16,021,042.65 in net savings, partly because, here I plead guilty, I am a man naturally averse to parting with money. And also partly because, last year being an election year for barangay officials, I did not want the release of funds to be in lockstep with the barangay elections. I figure there would be plenty of time later to get barangay projects done once the election is over. I thought it prudent and wise for a first-term mayor to first observe the cash flow in the municipality during his first months before commiting huge amounts of money especially in an election year.

A review of the list of infrastucture projects I approved last year would show that they were mostly for small improvements in various schools, the biggest being the construction of covered canal at the Gubat North Central School, to drain the water perenially flooding the school’s playground and walkways.

I am happy to note that our collection from the public market has increased by a million pesos in 2010, now at Php. 3,444,665.50. Our effort at collecting the arrears of our market lessees is paying off. I hope that we will see the time when our public market will be self-liquidating, able to pay for its own operations and upkeep.

We are taking significant strides in promoting the health of our mothers. Compared to last year 2009, more pregnant women received prenatal care in 2010, as confirmed by all the key indicators prepared by our rural health unit. Our lying-in clinic delivered 603 babies in 2010, a 22 % increase from 2009’s 494 deliveries, also a good sign that mothers are realizing the importance of delivering their babies in a a health care facility better able to safeguard the health of both the mother and the baby.

After they have given birth, more of our mothers are also receiving health care.

As some of you may have noticed, a significant number of our townsmen suffer from mental illnesses. Our Rural Health Unit, through the leadership of Dr. Anthony Lelis, has conducted trainings for our health care workers on how to best manage such patients. Next year, we will be extending the same training to the relatives of the patients themselves, to better equip them to take care of their kin.

However, our rural health unit is seeing more cases of tuberculosis, partly because of better efforts at diagnosis and, of course, owing to the highly infectious nature of the disease. It is essential therefore tha we redouble our efforts at combatting this pernicious disease that is sapping the energy of our people. We cannot afford to be complacent as a multi-drug resistant strain of TB is now in our municipality.

As I see it, our main task is to raise the health literacy of our people.Last year, we undertook a massive health awareness campaign in every barangay and selected schools. What is remarkable about this is that we carried out the campaign through the volunteer work of young nurses. This year, we hope to continue that effort.

The first semester of 2011, we are piloting a project that seeks to bring a health care worker in every barangay of the town. We are building a cadre of young nurses to promote community health. We are starting with a handful of barangays. If our pilot project works, we will be extending such program to all the barangays outside the poblacion.

All of this, we are doing to redirect our energies toward preventive health, which is more affordable for the muncipality. This should spare our townsmen from the sorrow of losing someone to diseases easily preventable had a health care worker been continually present to give advise and goad the sometimes recalcitrant patients.
I have instructed all our principals and teachers to redirect the Special Education Fund (SEF) being extended by the municipality toward the maintenance and repair of our students’ classrooms, to see to it that the money is really directly spent for the welfare of the students.

We have also successfully concluded former Mayor Deogracias Ramos’s effort to donate the land currently being occupied by the Gubat National High School, ending the many years of the school’s being, for all intent and purposes, an informal settler.

This year we are launching a scholarship program for the incoming freshmen of the Gubat campus of the Bicol University. We will select deserving but poor students to be thoroughly vetted through competitive examination. We will also initiate a program, with the LGU serving as a conduit to private generosity, whereby private sponsors can adopt deserving pupils by providing a fixed stipend for the school year.

To give recognition to the hard work that our teachers are putting in the classroom every day of the school year, our Local School Board has also decided to search for an outstanding teacher in the municipality every year .
The abaca farmers of Barangays Bentuco, Tigkiw and Togawe now have a quick-drying machine for abaca, cutting down the hours invested in the production of abaca. This should significantly improve the work lives of our abaca farmers. The rice farmers of Bagacay also now have a dryer machine for palay, courtesy of the Department of Agriculture.
Our Municipal Agricultural and Fishery Council (MAFC) was also hailed as being the best in the Bicol region, a recognition of our farmers’ commitment and strength in organizing themselves and partnering with the local government to implement and supervise agricultural projects in the barangays .

We have also partnered with Bicol University in training farmers in agro-forestry, raising livestock, in this case goats, while cultivating trees on the side.

This year, The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) will be rolling out a Php 14 M project to open roads in Barangays Beriran, Carriedo and Sta. Ana, and bring irrigation for Barangays Manapao and Carriedo. It is very rarely that we see such a huge amount of fund invested in the barangay and to be managed, not by the muncipality, but by the barangay and thecommunity themselves. Our municipality will do its best to support the work being done in those barangays to ensure such an opportunity offered by the national government is not squandered.

Our efforts here at the municipality did no go unnoticed outside. We were recognized as the best municipality in the second class income category in the Bicol region by the Department of Interior and Local Government using productivity and performace measurement systems devised by the department.

Our Sangguniang Bayan has also shifted to electronic paperless legislation, only the second in the country to do so, next to Misamis Oriental’s Municipality of Lugait. With the savings on the paper and the ink, our appropriation for office supplies of the Sanggunian was greatly reduced.

Future directions
We have some heavy planning to do this year. My attention has been recently called by the DILG that our Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) has not been updated since 1991, which is contradicted by our planning office which says we updated the plan in 2000. No matter. Whether the last updating was done in 1991 or 2000, the fact remains we need to update our land use plan this 2011. The CLUP is an important tool with which we could geographically direct the development of our town.

We also have to finalize our Executive and Legislative Agenda (ELA) to show the consensual priorities of our officials.
With all this planning to be done, important documents will need to be prepared, and we would need hard data on which to base our future projections . We need to have solid appreciation of current reality before we go on targetting the future. Planning, without updated information, is nothing more than gazing at the stars.

I will therefore ask the Sangguniang Bayan to reconsider the installation of the Community-based Monitoring System (CBMS), which is an organized way of collecting information at the local level especially geared toward the monitoring and achievement of the Millenium Dvelopment Goals (MDGs). If we have good information on the conditions of each barangay, we can achieve greater transparency and accountability in the decisions made by the barangay and the municipality with regard to resource allocation.

The heavy rains of the recent days showed us one direction toward which we must direct our municipality’s allocation of scarce resources. We need to face up to the times. We live in a changed world, whose meteorology is different from that of the past. We therefore need to climate change-proof our lives, to hope for the best but prepare for the extreme weather we are seeing with greater frequency. This year we are going to deploy our calamity fund for that preparation.

I am resolved to collect the arrears of our lessees in the public market. We cannot afford improvement in the market if we are not collecting anything. Our lessees are also reticent to suggest improvements because they don’t pay anyway. This can not go on.

Without the rent being considered as a regular cost of doing business, our lessees’ business decisions are suspect. An enterprise in denial of operational costs can not exist for long, and the municipality should not be propping up such an enterprise, prolonging the agony of our lessees when they could be applying their energies to something more suitable to their talent elsewhere.

If a business is operating for five to four years at a loss, as some of our lessees claim to be, and could not afford the very, very minimal rent they are oligated to pay, then it is the municipality’s moral duty to offer the market space to other people waiting in the wings. To my mind, it is a simple moral obligation of giving chance to others.

The improvement of our market is the most essential. We must realize our utmost commercial potential as a town, not only to improve the municipality’s treasury but to unleash the energies of our own people. I will therefore be asking our Sangguniang Bayan to pass a new market code in addition to the updating of our revenue code to revitalize our public market and better encourage investments in the municipality.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing that happened this year, which we do not usually take notice of is the string of successful elections we held. In our democracy, transitions of power have become so regular as to be unremarkable. And yet every successful election, every peaceful transition of power where one set of officials leave to transfer the reins of power to another, is a triumph that must be remarked upon and congratulated.

In our representative and republican democracy, the leadership of the officials and a genuine concern for the public good are an important, perhasp the most important, key to progress. And elections give us the power to determine the direction of that progress.

As for myself, let me say a few things. I harbor no ill will against anybody, and wish no harm to anyone. I am not plotting against anybody nor working for the particular interests of one. I am a free man, and, like all the officials here today, I trust that, this year, all will be working for the greatest good of the greatest number in our municipality.

Thank you and may God bless us all.