The conversation on community-rebuilding and economic recovery continued in the next episode of the Institute for Solidarity in Asia’s (ISA) webinar series. In partnership with Philstar.com, the ‘Bangon Luzon’ episode was held last November 13, 2020.
Mayors Benjamin Magalong of Baguio City, Francis Garcia of Balanga City, and Noel Rosal of Legazpi City, as well as Gov. Francisco Emmanuel Ortega of the Province of La Union comprised the panel, where they discussed the different challenges and innovations implemented at the local level to aid the recovery of their constituents after the harsh effects of the pandemic crisis.
The latter half of the program also featured a reactors’ segment where Mr. Mark Richard Evidente (President of TwoEco, Inc.) and Ms. Veronica Gabaldon (Executive Director of the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation) added key insights to the discussion.
From the lenses of LGUs
At the onset of the pandemic, different types of responses were rolled out within the localities. In Legazpi City, Mayor Rosal saw to it that public awareness about the pandemic was prioritized, along with coordination with the health facilities that would address the crisis head on.
“I mapped out the isolation facilities, facilities for locally stranded individuals (LSI), hospitals, testing areas,” narrated Mayor Rosal. The city also responded to the call of the Department of Health to build a quarantine facility for LSIs and Returning Overseas Filipinos (ROF), sharing that they refused service to no one in their locality.
Over at Baguio City, Mayor Magalong recalled taking on a crisis management approach when the pandemic hit. He and his team ensured that apart from leadership being present at all levels, community engagement was also practiced.
“Every time we came up with policies, we made sure the impacted sectors were well engaged. We always talk about the ‘whole of government’ approach. This time, it’s ‘whole of community’ approach. If you look at the spectrum of actors now working closely together, we have uniformed personnel, health workers, IT specialists, professionals, utility workers, and the citizenry, ” expressed Mayor Magalong.
Meanwhile, in Mayor Garcia’s view, what prepared Balanga City well for such a crisis was the PGS process through which they were taught that governance is a shared responsibility. This then made crisis response efforts more efficient and coordinated.
“Everyone was trained to go above and beyond. This has helped us very well. We trust our barangays with the distribution of goods, contact tracing, and responsibility over their areas,” said the local chief executive.
Similarly, as the overseer of the province, the Provincial Government of La Union (PGLU) saw that alignment was crucial in this period since, as per Gov. Ortega, they served as the bridge between the National Government and the sub-component LGUs. PGLU then had to keep track of the numerous national issuances and policies to effectively cascade and implement them at the local level.
Life must go on
Still, the raging battle of today is now between starting up normal community life versus retaining restrictions in order to minimize the spread of the virus. For the Luzon executives, ‘life must go on’ and the economy must be restarted to support livelihood.
With pandemic conditions, however, this meant innovating and redefining services to meet the people where they are.
“[It’s really] Ease of Doing Business — [services] need to be contactless, cashless. Business permits have extended deadlines and are paid online. One-time payment, one assessment. We really have to innovate because the safety of the people is important,” reiterated Mayor Rosal.
As for Baguio City, support for Micro and Small Enterprises primarily through loans have already been rolled out with the help of the Small Business Corporation and the Department of Trade and Industry.
Meanwhile in Balanga City and La Union Province, Mayor Garcia and Gov. Ortega provided means for the community to try their green thumb and do backyard farming for an added source of income.
Global plight, local fight
Towards the end, reactors Ms. Gabaldon and Mr. Evidente shared their takeaways from the discussion as well as their own insights regarding the steady recovery of the country.
“This pandemic is global but to fight it is local,” said Ms. Gabaldon. “We’re seeing that harnessing partnerships and honing local talents is important. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel; we only need to look at the best practices because there are many.”
This was also underscored by Mr. Evidente, who said, “The framework of good governance is really resilient and adaptable. The LGUs here were not especially planning for a pandemic but because they were already developing mechanisms for other situations, they were able to adapt those in this situation easily. It’s really about good governance.”