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Naga SMILES Magazine

Victor Bichara & Sons

The history of the movie entertainment business in Naga began to take a big turn with the arrival of a Lebanese couple,Victor Bichara and Emily Panayotti. They came to Naga in the 1920’s, then a booming capital town of Camarines Sur.They settled in an old building along Elias Angeles Street and set up their own retail store business.After seeing the potentials of the movie house business in the locality, the enterprising couple in 1923 bought a lot and a building.From this emerged the Bichara theater which first engaged in silent movies.

It quickly branched out to many towns and cities in Bicol and in the 1930s introduced the ‘talking’ films.As modern technology advanced, especially in the 1980s, the Bichara theaters somehow floundered with the introduction of Betamax and other modern video gadgets.

The surviving heirs,through their holding company, shifted to real estate by selling or leasing out their idle cinema houses and other prime properties. Today, their company stays as one of the city’s top taxpaying companies,although only one of its original movie houses has remained in operation.

STATE OF our CITY REPORT (Bongat hails Naga as Bicol’s tiger economy)

Mayor John G.Bongat on April 15,2014 hailed Naga City as Bicol’s roaring Tiger Economy as he delivered his State of Our City Report which,among others, highlighted the city’s triumphs in economic development and socio-cultural
enhancement that he said continue to sustain and improve on the city’s famous title as a “Maogmang Lugar,” or a happy place.

Quoting Wikipedia’s definition of Tiger Economy as an “Economy which undergoes rapid economic growth, usually accompanied by an increase in the standard of living,” Bongat presented data from independent sources
which include Naga’s being named as one of the Top Ten Most Competitive Cities in the country in 2013 and the Ateneo de Naga 2014 First Quarter Poll on Naga City Poverty and Governance which showed the city mayor enjoying a high satisfaction rating of 59.5% among Naga constituents, 49.3% for Vice Mayor Nelson Legacion, and 42.67% for city councilors. Bongat said this is the first time that Naga landed in the Top Ten Most Competitive Cities ranking (from 19th in 2012) which is normally dominated by bigger cities.

Bicolwide, Naga has been lording it over as the No. 1 most competitive city in terms of infrastructure, economic dynamism, and government efficiency. The competitiveness index is an annual ranking of Philippine cities developed by the National Competitiveness Council, together with the Regional Competitiveness Committees and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Mayor Bongat disclosed that the city’s investment and marketing campaign during the past three years (2010-2013) focused on Naga as a 1) commercial center and distribution hub, 2) an IT-BPO center, 3) a financial center, and 4) a tourism transit point and destination. He said that during the 3-year period, Naga generated P4.97B in new investments which translated to 19,840 new jobs.

He said that when he first took over city hall, there were only 34 accommodation establishments in the city which now have grown to 59. No wonder that the city registered 859,743 tourist arrivals in 2013 alone, the highest for any city and province in Bicol.

Attended by stakeholders and representatives from various sectors of the city and the newly-sworn city youth officials, the State of Our City Report was the main agenda of the 39th Sangguniang Panlungsod regular session which was presided over by Vice Mayor Nelson Legacion. It was held at the People’s Hall inside the City Hall compound to accommodate the large audience that came to listen to the city mayor’s address.

The mayor said that the city’s “strong organization” from both within and outside city hall was instrumental in turning the city into a tiger economy.

He said that such strong organization has been characterized by a motivated workforce and inclusive and responsive decision-making that brought about higher productivity, higher trust level, and higher efficiency.

Better service delivery, which is the true essence of efficient and responsive governance, translates to the resulting economic and socio-cultural impacts, the mayor explained.

Economic impact furthermore brings improved business confidence that roars like a tiger economy, he said. Socio-cultural impact, on the other hand, produces a happier Nagueño who breathes and raises his family within the confines of a livable city that others call a “Maogmang Lugar.”

Peoples’s Participation in Local Governance of Naga City, Camarines Sur, Philippines: The Legacy of Jesse Manalastas Robredo by Gabriel Hidalgo Bordado Jr.

center for GG

Note: The author closely worked with Jesse Manalastas Robredo (JMR) for almost 25 years. He was JMR’s vice mayor for two terms (2004-2010) prior to the appointment of the latter as Secretary of the Interior and Local Government. This article was excerpted from the author’s field study submitted to the University of the Philippines College of Public Affairs and Development (UP CPAf). Last April, he obtained a master’s degree in development management and governance with a general weighted average of 1.22 – the highest rating among the graduating master’s students of UP CPAf for school year 2013-2014.

I. Background and Rationale

For the past two decades, Naga Cityin Camarines Sur, Philippines has figured prominently in local governance. Its multiple international, national and regional awards and citations (now totaling more than 140) in almost all aspects of local governance certainly speak volumes on how this tiny, landlocked, and ancient (having been established as early
as 1575– just a few years younger than Cebu and Manila) city is carving a niche for itself and serving as a veritable touchstone for other local government units (LGUs).

The former City Mayor who eventuallybecame the Secretary of the Interior and Local Government, Jesse Manalastas Robredo,is generally credited for transforming Naga City into what it is now. This point of view was further strengthened in the aftermath of his tragic death two years ago. Empirical data point out Robredo’s pivotal role in the
emergence of Naga City as a model LGU. Kawanaka (2002) averred that the late mayor’s innovations, particularly his participatory style of local governance, along with his exceptional performance as a local chief executive, did much in making Naga a center of excellence in local governance. It also “raised him up as one of the most outstanding local politicians in the Philippines.”

Melgar (2010), however, posited a slightly different viewpoint, contending, in the process, that Robredo was merely one of the “building blocks.” She cited, among other things, “the entry of new mechanisms for popular participation in policymaking, which social movement activists subsequently maximized to further democratize access to state resources and reform social policies.”

Be that as it may, Robredo did, in fact, lay the groundwork for people’s participation to thrive in Naga City. During his first term as city mayor (1988-1992), he formulated the so-called Naga City Good Governance Model (Robredo, 2006) which would serve as the template of all the people’s participation–driven programs now being implemented in the city.

The Naga City Good Governance Model consists of three elements, viz.: progressive perspective, functional partnerships and participation. This model is based on the local government unit’s collective experience in managing the affairs of the city.

Robredo envisioned “a city for the people” where growth with equity would be the paramount concern. He thus opened up and encouraged partnerships with various sectors, ensuring that the limited resources of the city could be augmented and even enhanced by private entities, including nongovernment organizations and people’s organizations.

He did recognize, however, the limitations of partnerships, arguing that “at the operational and practical level, partnerships have to occur between institutions and organized groups, resulting often in the exclusion of the community at large, reducing them to a spectator’s role in governance.” Robredo, therefore, advocated people’s participation “to mainstream the marginalized, and actively engage them in governance.” Participation, in effect, would serve as the base or the very foundation of the Good Governance Model.

From the model then evolved numerous awardwinning programs, all of them institutionalized (and are, therefore, still being implemented in the city) and anchored on people’s participation. These include, among others, the i-Governance Program, the Naga City People’s Council, the Productivity Improvement Program, the Urban Poor Development Program (otherwise known as “Kaantabay sa Kauswagan” or Partners in Development), and the Quality Universal Elementary and Secondary Education in Naga (QUEEN) Program.

II. Problem Statement

What is people’s participation in local governance in Naga City (Camarines Sur), Philippines visà-vis Jesse M. Robredo’s Good Governance Model?

III. Objectives

• To determine the role of Jesse M. Robredo in forging the participative system of local governance in Naga City (Camarines Sur), Philippines
• To identify Jesse M. Robredo’s legacy on the importance of participation in local governance that started in Naga City and adopted, to a certain extent, at the national level.

• To profile the variables of participation, which include broad stakeholdership and community ownership (as spelled out in Jesse M. Robredo’s Good Governance Model), in three selected programs of Naga City, viz.: the Productivity Improvement Program, i-Governance, and the Quality Universal Elementary and Secondary Education in Naga (QUEEN) Program.

IV. Significance of the Study

Since the passage of Republic Act 7160, otherwise known as the Local Government Code of 1991, people’s participation in the affairs of LGUs has always been invoked as the ideal set-up for democracy to prosper after practically being scuttled during the Martial Law years. The Code itself openly encourages the engagement of people in local governance, even providing the so-called participatory mechanisms in Sec. 3 (l) which states that “the participation of the private sector in local governance, particularly in the delivery of basic services, shall be encouraged to ensure the viability of local autonomy as an alternative strategy for sustainable development” or as clearly stipulated in Sec. 34 which exhorts local government units “to promote the establishment and operation of people’s and non-governmental organizations to become active partners in the pursuit of local autonomy.” Yet, more than two decades after the implementation of the Code,
people’s participation in local governance has not exactly taken off in most of the LGUs in the country. An outstanding exception, however, is Naga City in Camarines Sur where award-winning programs driven by people’s participation continue to thrive. Moreover, the name of Jesse M. Robredo almost always crops up in conjunction with such programs, in particular, and people’s participation in local governance, in general. This study will, therefore, prove useful in identifying the factors contributory to the relative success of people’s participation in local governance in Naga City and pave the way for their replication in other LGUs in the country. It will also underscore the role played by Jesse M. Robredo in institutionalizing people’s participation in the context of local governance, making his city a virtual laboratory for innovative practices, approaches and strategies.

V. Limitations of the Study

The study focuses only on the participatory angle of Jesse M. Robredo’s triangular Good Governance Model. Moreover, only three programs among many award winning programs– the Productivity Improvement Program, i-Governance and the Quality Universal Elementary and Secondary Education in Naga (QUEEN) Program– spawned by that model in Naga City are spotlighted in the study. The late City Mayor’s role in laying the groundwork for the institutionalization of people’s participation in local governance is discussed in this study but not in an in-depth or comprehensive manner befitting the humongous accomplishments of the well-loved public servant. In other words, the study merely presents one facet of Jesse M. Robredo’s multifaceted initiatives and forays into the fields of local governance. It does not have any illusion of illuminating the dynamics and undercurrents of the life and times of the man generally acknowledged as the best City Mayor ever produced by the Philippines.

VI. Summary of Findings

This study sought to determine the status of people’s participation in local governance in Naga City vis-à-vis the participation angle in Jesse M. Robredo’s Good Governance Model. In doing so, it profiled three programs being implemented in Naga and evaluated them in terms of broad stakeholdership and community ownership– two factors identified by the late mayor to be crucial in the sustainability of people’s participation in local governance.

Drawing from secondary data, the study employed qualitative descriptive research method and participation observation technique. The researcher was actually part of the core group tasked by then Mayor Robredo to establish the three programs in focus.

Based on the three programs– Productivity Improvement Program (PIP), i-Governance, and the Quality Universal Elementary and Secondary Education (QUEEN) Program — profiled in the study, people’s participation in local governance is alive and well in Naga City. All three programs (whose creation virtually spanned the entire stretch of the 19–year Robredo administration) are people’s participation-driven.

The PIP, i-Governance, and QUEEN programs have broad stakeholdership and community ownership, ensuring their sustainability all through these years. It may be inferred that the same principle holds true for all the other programs of the Naga City government in view of their continued engagement of people from different sectors of the community.

The profiles and subsequent analyses underscored the validity of Jesse M. Robredo’s Good Governance Model especially as it applies, of course, to participation. They affirmed that the model really works– even if viewed from just the participatory angle.

The three programs under study confirmed the proposition long espoused by Robredo and articulated by Willis (2005) that it is only through sustained people’s participation that people empowerment can be achieved. Indeed, people’s participation in the three programs did lead “to greater self-awareness and confidence.”

The participation angle, albeit a strong and energizing factor or element by itself, cannot, however, stand entirely detached from the progressive perspective and partnership angles as spelled out in the Robredo model. In most cases, there ought to be partnerships for people’s participation in local governance to thrive. The QUEEN Program, for instance,
must continually forge partnerships with the Department of Education, the Liga ng mga Barangay and other entities to facilitate its smooth operations and very survival. The same is true with and i-Governance where partnerships have been established in a bid to further streamline and strengthen their operations and, in the process, continually engage people’s participation.

The progressive perspective, viewed by Robredo from the standpoint of the local chief executive, will always come into play in the overall success of an undertaking involving people’s participation. For the PIP, a willing and competent local chief executive is simply indispensable in marshaling the full resources of the LGU. The i-Governance and QUEEN programs must, from time to time, rely on the mayor’s managerial ability to hurdle some of the tough challenges which occasionally crop up as they grapple with the realities on the ground, so to speak.

The study did demonstrate the current status of people’s participation in local governance in Naga City. Through the three profiled programs, what one sees is a vibrant, dynamic, and sustainable scheme of things where people’s participation, as always, reigns supreme.

VII. Recommendations

The city government, for its part, must continue using Robredo’s good governance model in sustaining its existing people’s participation-driven programs and in creating new initiatives aimed at harnessing people’s participation. Broad stakeholdership and community ownership are the mantras which will keep such programs moving on in breaking new grounds in the area of people’s participation in local governance.

For the long haul, the Jesse M. Robredo Center for Local Governance must be operationalized to develop training modules on Naga City’s good practices, especially the PIP, i-Governance, and the QUEEN Programs, that will facilitate the scaling up and replication of Robredo’s participative governance model. Moreover, the city government must explore ways and means of partnering with higher education institutions (HEIs) which have existing programs on public administration and local government management so that these training events can be credited to a diploma or degree which will help in the continuing capacity building of Philippine local governments.

Specific recommendations can be considered in the 3 programs profiled in this study:

For PIP

• Revisit and relaunch projects and activities that propelled the PIP and made it innovative, i.e. the Very Innovative Person (VIP) annual competition for most outstanding suggestions by city government employees.
• Reactivate and fully operationalize the Productivity Improvement Circles (PIC) which are supposed to serve the departmental units in pursuing and promoting PIP principles.

For i-Governance

• Develop the 4th edition of the Naga Citizen’s Charter as per ordinance, and for the Sangguniang Panlungsod to amend the ordinance and introduce penalties on the part of the city agencies or employees who fail to deliver the program’s goal of regular updating.
• Strengthen and developi-Governance applications to take advantage of high penetration of mobile phones in Naga and in the entire country.
• Implement alternative modes of delivering copies of the Citizen’s Charter so that it can be made available in Nagueño households.

For QUEEN

• To strengthen legislative oversight and make sure that the program, together with the other poverty alleviation programs of the city government as well as the national government (especially the 4Ps), are indeed targeting and actually benefitting the poorest of the poor (bottom 10%) of the city’s household population.
• To work more effectively with barangay and school officials to aggressively look for dropouts and other potential enrollees of the public school system.

VIII. Conclusion
Now, where does Jesse M. Robredo’s legacy come in? The impact of the PIP in the Philippine setting, for instance, can be best appreciated by reading the foreword, written by Jesse M. Robredo himself, of the second edition (2006) of the Naga City Citizen’s Charter. He averred that “a citizen’s charter–an enforceable contract between the city government and its constituents– is a concept that has long been there, up in the air, tickling our minds, lurking in the depths of City Hall’s institutional memory.” He then proceeded to trace the roots of the city’s pioneering efforts to document its services to the PIP, more specifically “the ubiquitous Performance Pledge that became a prominent part and parcel of every City Hall office.”

The connection is self-evident: the Performance Pledge’s three-column structure (Service, Response Time, Responsible Persons) was retained in both the first (2001) and second (2006) editions of the Naga City Citizen’s Charter. Although other national and local government agencies would later expand it as mandated under the Anti-Red Tape Act (ARTA) of 2007, this trinity of key information which “unilaterally removed the cloak of anonymity in public service” (as aptly described by Robredo) still forms the core of every citizen’s charter in the Philippines. By the time the ARTA would take effect in 2008, and scale up the innovation nationally, Naga was already on its third edition of its citizen’s charter.

In the case of the i-Governance Program, where the Naga City Citizen’s Charter would subsequently be incorporated through an ordinance, Robredo considered it as the solution to fully engage wide-ranging people’s participation notwithstanding the fact that majority of the people themselves– including the Naga City citizenry which provided the context to this perplexing challenge– are not members of organized groups, and therefore excluded by the city government’s system of partnership with local non-government organizations (NGOs) under the framework of the Naga City People’s Council.

The program is built on the bedrock principle of “information openness”– where government actively discloses information to the various publics in such areas as local government finance, budgeting, procurement, legislation, and service delivery (which links it to PIP). The key assumption is that citizens will take advantage of the information made available by an open-government regime to enable them to better engage their government. Under i-Governance, active disclosure is a defining characteristic of Naga’s open government regime, which distinguishes it from the “Freedom of Information” bill which the previous Congress had failed to pass.

When Robredo was finally appointed by President Benigno S. Aquino III as Secretary of the Interior and Local Government, he took advantage of the opportunity to use the department’s supervisory powers over the LGUs and use it as a platform to promote and scale up policies which sought to open up local governments to their constituencies. The series of memorandum circulars that collectively formed the cornerstone of his “full disclosure” policies can very well be traced to the i-Governance program and his open-government philosophy. Even today, almost two years after his tragic death, the DILG website which Robredo established still bears a striking resemblance to the city government website that he built for Naga. These policies form the core of reforms that his widow, now Camarines Sur 3rd District Representative Maria Leonor Gerona-Robredo, filed as her first bill in the House of Representatives.

The QUEEN program, having been conceptualized and implemented at the tail-end of the 19-year incumbency of Jesse M. Robredo as mayor of Naga City, is relatively new. It nonetheless underscored the determination of Robredo to use people’s participation in a critical area which can make or break the very future of the nation: education.

Summing up past and recent developments, the legacy– defined by the Macmillan Dictionary (2013) as “something that someone achieved which continues to exist even after his death”– of Jesse M. Robredo insofar as people’s participation in local governance is concerned, can be considered as secure not only in his beloved Naga City but also in the entire Philippines. In fact, Robredo was quoted as saying on the primacy of people’s participation in local governance: “We will emerge stronger and better because this kind of governance is inclusive, propelled by the power of the very people it embraces to serve.”