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).