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Naga SMILES Magazine

Bongat creates natural waterways and flood mitigation bodies

by Alec Santos

“WE should be proactive in addressing the perennial flooding in many parts of the city,” Mayor John Bongat quips when asked by the media after he issued two landmark executive orders last June aimed at putting an end to one of the natural menaces facing the city during torrential downpours.

Mayor Bongat issued Executive Orders 2012-013 and 014 as part of Naga’s efforts to solve the perennial flooding problem of Naga and ensure the maintenance of natural waterways in the city.

“These are also climate change adaptation (CCA) initiatives aimed at protecting the environment which we cannot defer to some later date,” Bongat asserts.

In Executive Order 2012-013, the chief executive cited human neglect and irresponsible intervention as causes of the blockage of some of the city’s natural waterways like streams and creeks, exposing communities to the risk of flooding, as well as waterborne diseases.

Bongat also emphasized the need for a flood mitigation board in Executive Order 2012-014, given that Naga lies along the course of both the Naga and Bicol rivers, increasing the risk of flooding in the city, particularly in low-lying barangays.

The Naga City Waterways Management Council and the Naga City Flood Mitigation Board are expected to ensure the effectiveness of the city government’s infrastructure program and recommend additional measures to limit the risk of flooding and flood-related illnesses.

As a special body, the Waterways Management Council will focus on the maintenance of Naga’s natural waterways and their role in agriculture, health, sanitation and environment protection. The council is also charged with the identification of waterways in the city’s 27 barangays and the organization of residents along the Naga and Bicol rivers into “Defenders of Naga River”.

The Council is composed of the city mayor as chairman with the head of the Environment and Natural Resources Office (ENRO) as the vice chairman. Representatives from local and national government agencies are also included as members, comprised of the heads of the Solid Waste Management Office (SWMO), the City Planning and Development Office (CPDO), the City Health Office (CHO), and the City Agriculture Office (CAgO) as well as the President of the Liga ng mga Barangay, representatives from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environment Management Board (DENR-EMB), the Philippine Coast Guard, and the Metro Naga Water District (MNWD). Members from the private sector include the president of the Metro Naga Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MNCCI), a representative from the Naga City Peoples’ Council (NCPC), and three private practitioners or professionals to be determined and appointed by the city mayor.

Mayor Bongat is interviewed by members of the media during one of his inspections of ongoing drainage improvements in the city.

Meanwhile, Mayor Bongat’s Flood Mitigation Board, created under Executive Order 2012-014 is charged with the identification of flood-prone areas in the barangays, and the recommendation of necessary infrastructure to be developed to address flooding in the city.

The city mayor sits as the Board’s chairman with the City Engineer as vice chairman. Members from the government sector include the Assistant City Engineer, the heads of SWMO, ENRO, CPDO, as well as the president of the Liga ng mga Barangay, and representatives from the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Philippine Coast Guard.

Private sector members of the Board include the MNCCI president, representatives from the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers (PICE) Naga City Chapter, United Architects of the Philippines (UAP) Camarines Sur Chapter, the NCPC, and three professionals to be appointed by the city mayor.

Both bodies are also tasked with the preparation of a topographical map indicating the location and flow of water in relation to the waterways’ connections to those in adjacent municipalities as well as the implementation of a public awareness campaign, which includes the posting of notices containing important tide information in barangays adjacent to the Naga and Bicol rivers.

The twin executive orders also mandate both bodies to coordinate closely and complement each other in support of the city’s continuous infrastructure development, which has prioritized flood mitigation projects like inter-connected drainage systems, drastically improving water drainage into Naga’s natural waterways.


Operation Smile: The Journey Home

by Alec Santos

FOR three decades, Dr. William “Bill” Magee and his wife Dr. Kathleen “Kathy” Magee devoted their time to a life-long mission, to give people born with cleft lip and palate across the world a chance to live fulfilling lives, a reason to smile.

With the noblest of intentions 30 years ago, the Magees headed out from their Norfolk, Virginia home in the US to the Philippines, hoping to make a difference in the lives of a few unfortunate patients. Little did they expect that their experience during their first surgical mission here in Naga City all those years ago would ignite a simple passion, transforming it into a wildfire that would spread the message of hope across the globe. Thus, Operation Smile was born.

Thirty years on, 60 countries, 7,000 volunteers, and 200,000 lives changed later, Operation Smile has become the icon of medical volunteerism, a symbol of the power of medicine and how it affects and transforms lives and communities. As the editorial of the Philippine Daily Inquirer reads: “Operation Smile’s success has become its own testament and covenant.”

Last November 10, Bill and Kathy finally made their way back to the home of Operation Smile, Naga, which coincidentally promotes itself with the “Naga SMILES to the World” credo. Speaking before patients and their families, volunteers, national and local media, and public officials, Bill Magee recalled their very first experience of the Philippines.

“I will never forget our first encounter of the Philippines. It was overwhelming to see Mayon Volcano’s perfect shape during our flight. It was an experience when we saw not one but many cleft lip children during our exploration in the Philippines during our vacation. We decided to conduct a simple mission, but not all of the children who came to us received our service and accommodation, but even so, one of the parents of the kid who didn’t receive the treatment still gave us a bunch of bananas as gratitude, and by that time I was convinced and my passion grew strong to help those kids in need of our service whom we failed to help. I promised to myself that we would go back to help those kids again. That’s the story of how Operation Smile was born.”

More than just a facial deformity, cleft lip and palate can increase the risk of bacterial infection, especially in infants and young children. According to Roberto Manzano, Operation Smile Philippines president, data suggests that 10 percent of children born with cleft problems die before reaching their first birthday and 12 percent never make it to their fifth birthday. The tragic consequence of this medical condition is greater in developing countries like the Philippines, which sees one in 500 babies born every year with a cleft lip, cleft palate, or both. This translates to more than 4,000 babies born each year with this medical condition.

It was because of this disturbing situation that the Magees embarked on their very first medical mission to Bicol all those years ago. Not expecting such a large turnout of patients, they had not come fully prepared to conduct a large-scale operation. In fact, they were only able to operate on 40 patients with only a handful of volunteers. As Bill Magee narrated during their return to Naga for the 30th year anniversary of Operation Smile, around 300 families trooped to their team, bringing along children and even adults suffering from cleft lip and palate. Unable to accommodate them all and with the couple scheduled to leave for the US, they made personal vows to return to the hopeful patients the following year.

American community pitched in to help raise the money needed for medical equipment and supplies. Soon after, medical professionals and organizations adopted Operation Smile in their respective countries, regularly conducting surgical missions in the countryside, and in the process, effectively multiplying the Magees and the impact they have made a thousand-fold over.

With the historic journey home of Bill and Kathy Magee and Operation Smile to Naga, more than a hundred fortunate patients were able to find a reason to smile once again. Patients coming from as far away as the island provinces of Catanduanes and Masbate headed to Naga to avail of the free reconstructive surgeries. The list of patients even included adults who have been forced to endure years of discrimination and embarrassment because of their deformities. As a testament to the impact Operation Smile has had on the lives of former patients, several of those who have undergone surgery brought along their children, who suffer the same fate they had before.

Lani Villaver is one of the many patients of Operation Smile who benefited from the program when she was only 4 years old. Now a mother herself, she is once again turning to the program for her identical twins Nathaniel and Matteo, who also have cleft lip condition, hoping they will receive the same help she received so they can also live normal lives.

“I’m very happy because there are people like Mr. and Miss Magee and the volunteers who continue to help people like me without expecting anything in return. They are blessings from God, and my message for those who are suffering the same condition is that they should not be afraid because there are people who want to help people like us,” said Ms. Villaver, expressing her gratitude.
Naga City Mayor John Bongat, in his message during the launch of Operation Smile’s 30th anniversary, believed that it was fate that the city became the site of the very first mission which has now transformed into the world’s largest surgical humanitarian movement. The mayor also expressed his deep gratitude to the founders and organizers for “showing their dedication and commitment in making this noble endeavor and meaningful celebration a huge success.”

Even after three decades, Bill and Kathy have remained always humble, heaping praises instead on the thousands of volunteers. “Each of you, who have travelled from your home cities in the Philippines and from cities across the world, serves as a living tribute to this message. You are an example to a worldwide community that through the children of our world we are able to make a statement that acknowledges that children are the only language that all of us share in common; that Medicine is a powerful vehicle; and that their combination has the ability to unite nations and people,” says Bill.

Few ever expected that on that fateful day three decades ago, when throngs of people afflicted with facial deformities waved goodbye to Bill and Kathy Magee, not to send them off, but to show their sincere gratitude, that the journey had only begun.


“The Beloved Honorary Nagueño”