THE SECRET OF MAYOR JOSECOR

A Case Study on the Municipality of Siayan

Everyday, whenever Mayor Josecor enters his office and talks to his staff, or wherever he may be touring around the Siayan, extending services, people couldn’t help but notice his friendly and kind demeanor. People would say “Palagi yan siya nakasmile.” “Ang gaan niya kausap.” And people, knowing how difficult and tiring his role in the society is, couldn’t help but wonder,

“What is his secret?”

When I asked Mayor Josecor about this, he couldn’t help but laugh as if I just asked the most silly question. But after a silent moment, he began telling his story…

“For 9 years, I have been serving Siayan. I started in 2012 when I was hired by the previous mayor as part of the municipal workforce. And in 2019 until the present, I am honoured to be elected as the Siayan mayor.

Since becoming a mayor, I have always inculcated in my mind that I have to equip myself, first and foremost, then my subordinates, with knowledge, confidence and motivation to perform our roles in making Siayan a progressive municipality.  It has become my routine to always motivate my subordinates in going to work, and I also get my motivation from them. In fact, I do not want them to be intimidated by my presence or be afraid of me. I always tell them they are free to speak their minds in whatever they think could be for the greater good of the people in Siayan. If there is someone that should be scared, it should be me as I am the one with the biggest obligation.

This has been my principle in leading Siayan and I always enjoy every experience I have as the mayor- everytime I tour around the barangays, every encounter with the people and whenever I ask them for the services they wanted to enjoy. One time, when I went to a barangay, a father asked me to help me cure his son’s illness and I replied that “I am no doctor but I will come back for you.”  I definitely did and when I came back, I brought food, toys, and medical services free for everyone.”

Such programs are what Mayor Josecor had been promoting in Siayan- programs that are anchored in eradicating poverty.  Mayor Josecor knew that it is not one-man fight and it is not his battle alone, as he believed, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’.  Hence, with the help of the strengthened and empowered Local School Board and respectable organizations like Synergeia Foundation, strategies and activities are being undertaken to fully reach their vision for Siayan.

“Since we cannot give what we do not have, we made sure to fill our cups,”  Mayor Josecor started when he explained the reason why they frequently attend capacity-building workshops which always results in LSB members eagerly proposing programs afterwards. These programs always result in  long-term outcomes such as the production of Siayan’s greatest treasures. To Mayor Josecor, the good-natured people from his workplace and Siayan, in general, are what he considers to be the first on the line for according to him “There is just so much goodness found among the Subanen people (Siayan IP’s).” Another treasure Mayor Josecor considers is the crystallization of Bahay Pasilungan– a shelter where students living from Far-flung area could answer their modules; and the Siayan’s ‘Pangase wine,’ the pride of Subanen people, in addition to its already rich culture.

“We are doing our best to preserve these treasures and celebrate them every Araw ng Subanen especially the Pangase wine to which we are finding ways to preserve the taste and quality.” He detailed.

However, more than these treasures Mayor Josecor had mentioned, he still believed that the greatest treasure and riches one could possess is acquiring education.

“I firmly believe when Dr. Jose Rizal said that “the youth are the hope of the mother land.” Education is the key to success. For our community to succeed and eradicate poverty, the key factor is education.  Thus, we have to educate our people, orient its impact, and fight the obstacles that hinder it. As a part of the government, my role is to provide any means necessary for the constituents especially the youth to get quality education.”

In the case of Siayan, the greatest challenge Mayor Josecor has encountered in the light of Education is the poor academic performance among Siayan’s school children. This was the turning point of Mayor Josecor’s platform as Education champion and as his career as a mayor. That was when he decided to take the driver’s seat in the education and face the battle head-on. With the help of LSB, SGC, Synergeia Inc., and other NGO, they designed strategies and activities in identifying the proper intervention for the many challenges they face.

Mayor Josecor showed support to the SGCs, parents, and teachers by conducting trainings, education summits and programs aimed to improve Education in all its aspect. A program they had yet to actualize is a tutorial activity for all the slow and non-readers.  Incentives will be given to those learners who would show progress in their academic performances. The pandemic however became an impediment to currently realize this plan. However, it became an opportunity to focus on the basics first- health and then eventually move on to other matters. With the support coming from UNICEF and World Vision, Mayor Josecor utilized the Special Education Fund for good education governance and projects such as handwashing facilities, comfort rooms, facilities for teachers, and health services were delivered to the frontliners in the academe.  Module printing assistance and school supplies were also part of the projects during this pandemic.

“Whatever we can do for our students to attain quality education, we do it,”  Mayor firmly stated.

Indeed, Mayor Josecor is more than just words and is a man of actions. His efforts, along with the Local School Board were manifested when the LSB had a consistent and even increased rating since the previous mayor, Mayor Villarosa.

Figure 1. Local School Board Rating 2018-2021

In addition, the SGC performance, as well, had increased. Its rating of 3.2 in 2017 became 4.3 in 2021. More SGC projects such as Bahay Pasilungan, tutorial activities, etc. and involvements in school activities and programs had been the cause of such valuable increase in rating, as well as in enrolment increase.

Figure 2. School Governing Council Rating 2017-2021

Furthermore, Enrolment in Siayan had increased by 30% from the S.Y. 2017-2021 because of the mentioned projects and programs conducted by the LSB and the SGC.

Figure 3. Percentage of Enrolmentment from S.Y. 2017-2021

Being called as the poorest municipality was Mayor Josecor’s primary motivation in everyday challenges. According to him, “It pains me a lot but as Siayan’s leader, I can’t show any sign of weaknesses, especially to my subordinates and my constituents so I serve my people with a smile. Actually, that is my secret, serving my people with a smile.”

MAYOR JUAN CARLO MEDINA: THE CHANGE LEADER OF VIGAN CITY

When we first met Mayor Juan Carlo Medina of Vigan City in 2017, he did not have a clear picture of how the learners of Vigan City were doing in terms of learning outcomes such as their reading performance, survival rates, achievement rates, etc.   Dr. Nene Guevara advised him to begin looking at the data from DepEd for him to see the actual state of education in Vigan and discuss these numbers with the Local School Board (LSB).  This conversation was a turning point for the mayor. Often, when mentoring other mayors in our Northern Luzon Education Council (NLEC) meetings and events, Mayor Medina would tell the story of this conversation with Dr. Guevara. He would say that it was embarrassing for him to not know, as a mayor, the state of education in Vigan.  He would say that from that point, he made sure that education data evaluation becomes part of LSB meetings, and consulting with community stakeholders on crucial issues becomes his strategy in governing education in Vigan.

Indeed, it was a 180-degree turn-around for Mayor Medina.  Since 2017, he has been championing education, not only in Vigan City, but in the entire country.  His desire to make his presence count has led other Northern Luzon mayors to appreciate his candor so that during the launch of the NLEC in October 2019, he was elected by his co-mayors as the council’s first Chairman.  He has also been tapped by Synergeia to act as a mentor for education stakeholders in Marawi City.  Not only that, before and during the pandemic, he was called as resource person for various national events organized by Synergeia.

Getting to Know the Mayor

Taking a closer look at what makes Mayor Medina a champion, we could see that he takes his job as the “father of Vigan” very seriously. When he started his term, he knew only one thing – he will help the Biguenos to the best of his ability.  He is systematic in his approach to improving LGU services, putting a premium on community consultation and measurement of results.  His vocabulary does not know the word “ako”.  He only works along the premise of “kami” and “amin”, referring to his humble approach of being one with the Vigan community in working for its own citizenry.

Mayor Medina’s open mind allows him to always actively seek out learning opportunities from mentors and from fellowship programs such as the Jesse Robredo Fellowship Program and Synergeia Foundation. Learnings from these are immediately applied in his programs in Vigan.

Randomly and unassumingly, Mayor Medina would take long walks to check if their projects were properly being implemented and their ordinances being strictly enforced by the people in government.  He would talk to the locals just to see how they were doing.  In fact, many of them would ask him for directions, thinking that he was just an ordinary Bigueno.  He would gladly show them the way.

Because we have a Mayor who listens with his heart, programs for the most vulnerable were set up in Vigan.  The cobble-stoning of the main streets in the heritage center of the city is beautiful and truly upholds its being a UNESCO heritage site. However, upon hearing a PWD complain how difficult it was for him to manipulate his wheelchair on the cobble stones, Mayor Medina is now incorporating PWD lanes into the design of the streets.

The suicide case of a teen-age girl in the past who was sexually-abused and impregnated by her step-father drove Mayor Medina to put more focus on the mental health programs for the people.  He said, “Pati tayo sa gobyerno nagkulang dahil kung hindi siya matulungan ng nasa paligid nya, dapat tayo [sa gobyerno] ay nakahanda para tumulong sa kanya.  Dapat maramdaman ng bawat tao sa Vigan na lagi kaming nandito para tumulong sa kanila.”

At the Mayor’s Office, one would see Mayor Medina on one of the small tables, working alongside his staff, and not in the grand Mayor’s Office with its own conference table.

Truly, under Mayor Medina’s leadership, the culture has been transformed from that of government being run by only a few people to a government that is run by its own people. Vigan City has seen a behavior change among its people that was never seen before. To the Biguenos, THEY are the government.

Seeing Huge Results with Good Governance

Mayor Medina took governance to a whole new level.  Although the public took an active role in the city’s programs, he wanted to deepen the involvement of the entire community in the city’s development process.  He wanted the people to be pro-active in identifying the problems of the city.  He wanted them to play a key role in the city’s programs – from planning to implementation to evaluation.  Through various forms of conversations with the Vigan stakeholders, together, they realized that their way forward was community participation.

Under Mayor Medina’s leadership, the approach to good governance revolved around three key factors – it had to be well-rounded, people-driven and people-focused.  Processes, policies and programs were fastened on accountability, transparency, inclusiveness, participation, and evidence-based.

With laser vision, Mayor Medina and the various LGU committees prioritized projects based on poverty incidences, employment malnutrition, student performance and achievement rates, etc.  Together, the community watched the numbers improve through time.   Mayor Medina emphasized the need for measurements and indicators in the planning, implementation and evaluation of programs.  For one, the LGU adopted the Community-Based Monitoring System to delve deeper into the issues of poverty in the city.  The LGU uses its own management information system. 

Education as a Top Priority

As he got immersed in the tasks of being the Mayor of Vigan City, he realized that the problems they were dealing with in the city were not only multi-faceted.  They were also inter-connected. Education problems cannot be dealt with without first addressing the employment of parents. Health problems of the people cannot be solved if their priority is to put food on the table.  The parents will not work well unless they’re assured of the safety of their children in school. Therefore, solving multiple urban problems can only be done through good governance approaches where the people on the ground are involved and participative.

To Mayor Medina, this approach has resulted in multiple positive outcomes that are not independent of the programs and projects that brought them about. The multi-faceted perspective in improving education became the basis for the many programs targeting the welfare of children.

For example, Vigan City, being a UNESCO heritage site, Mayor Medina strengthened both the city’s tourism capability and, at the same time, its education programs.  This was done by the contextualization of the school curriculum to incorporate Ilocano culture and tradition lessons.   Home economic classes involved students cooking only Ilocano food. History classes were focused on Ilocano heroes and historical event. Students are continuously trained on tour-guiding.

There have been many accomplishments in education and welfare of children under Mayor Medina’s administration.  A central kitchen feeding program was set up to decrease malnutrition rates.  As such, the malnutrition rate decreased from 3.92% in 2008 to 1.6% in 2018.  The central kitchen doubles as a kitchen for mass-feeding during calamities.

Mayor Medina also expanded to Local School Board (LSB) to ensure a wider consultative mechanism for education-related issues.  Electric mobile vehicles were purchased to ensure that informal education was promoted to those who do not have access to mainstream education.  The LSB invested in a massive summer reading program for children who had difficulties in reading.  With a bigger Special Education Fund, they can now hire professional coaches to improve the performance of their athletes.

Acknowledging the potential of the youth sector, youth representatives are involved in the many local councils, including the Local School Board, and are empowered to join policy-making and the establishment of different youth groups and creation of various youth programs. Particularly, the youth sector spearheaded the Good Parenting Seminar to address Vigan’s problem of teens having uninvolved parents.

To provide better facilities and services to the people and just as important, increase the Special Education Fund (SEF) so more education programs are funded, he worked on increasing Real Property Tax (RPT) collection by capitalizing on the booming tourism business.  The revaluation of properties in the city, which was last done in the 1980s, was implemented in 2018. Even with opposing forces from the business sector, he bravely worked on a staggered payment scheme for property owners. When before, the LGU solely relied on other government agencies for funding, the LGU of Vigan can now sufficiently fund these projects on its own.  The citizenry are now benefitting from the improvement in the delivery of social services such as the education of their children.  Farmers, fisher folks and other local workers are granted various training programs, materials and equipment to improve their livelihoods.

Health programs were intensified in Vigan.  To lower the incidence of teenage pregnancy, HIV and other STDs, awareness trainings and testing were scaled.  The LGBT community, being an affected sector, was represented in council meetings.  One of the most successful programs was the setting up of condom dispensers in public toilets where anyone can get condoms for free at any time of the day.  This bold innovation has greatly decreased the spread of STDs and teenage pregnancies in the city.

Disaster resilience is also a mainstream feature of Mayor Medina’s governance program.  The LGU relentlessly educates and capacitates its citizens in disaster management.  The Youth Responders Camping is a program that gets the youth to play a major role in risk reduction and management.  Vigan is also the first LGU that accomplished the City Climate and Disaster Risk Assessment Data.  The Vigan Regional Evacuation Center was also constructed to cater to the needs of Region I.

We Have a Winner!

Because of Mayor Medina’s highly-effective leadership style, the city’s creation of innovative programs and the beefing up of existing programs, Vigan City has earned many awards and recognitions.  In education alone, Vigan City has won the Jesse Robredo Excellence Award in Education Governance in 2018.  And in two successive years after, Vigan City received the Seal of Good Education Governance (i.e. 2019 and 2020-2021 awards).

Looking Back. Moving Forward.

The excitement was palpable as one entered the covered gymnasium of North Bay Boulevard North Elementary School.  Everyone who has a stake in the Navoteno child’s education – LSB members, SGCs, teachers and principals, students and parents – seemed to have come early for the Navotas Education Summit held last March 23, 2022. 

Navotas City aims to move forward its education agenda by building on what happened during the pandemic.  Looking back, stakeholders tried to recall what gave them joy and what made them sad during the pandemic. 

Having more time for family bonding and learning new skills like research, ICT, time management and learning independently topped the list of joyful things that happened to learning despite the pandemic.   Parents were happy to be “nanay-tatay teachers,” to be inspirations to their children and to learn along with their children.  Teachers and principals were thankful for innovations like the “Navo school-in-a-box,” containing all learning resources that a student needs in one month, that the local government provided to all students.  

But coping with online learning was difficult for students who did not have gadgets and had no access to the internet.  It made students and parents sad.  Almost all stakeholders lamented the lack of co-curricular activities that help students develop their social skills and their talents.  Students missed the joy of graduation ceremonies or receiving awards for excellent performance.  Some suffered mental stress due to isolation and fear.  Principals and teachers noted the lack of tools to assess literacy and numeracy levels.

Moving forward, stakeholders gave their suggestions on what programs of joy can be continued and what programs can mitigate the learning problem, some of which are:    

  • Bringing back students to the classrooms and have face-to-face classes.
  • More co-curricular activities for students, and mental health and wellness programs for teachers and students
  • Strengthening SGCs in mobilizing resources for education
  • Capacity building for parents as “nanay-tatay teachers”
  • Capacity building for teachers on learning innovations and effective delivery of instruction.

The mid-afternoon sun was blazing as the summit drew to a close, just like the warm partnership of education stakeholders in Navotas.  Congressman John Rey Tiangco came to thank everyone for collaborating and contributing to the formulation of a new education agenda.