BAGUIO, Philippines – Retired General Benjamin Magalong won as mayor of Baguio in May 2019 despite the lack of machinery and previous political experience.
He won by a sizable margin, but none of his councilors made it. The last time this happened in Baguio was with lawyer Braulio Yaranon in 2004. Though incorruptible, Yaranon governed only for one term, partly because of an indifferent council.
This time, Magalong assured Baguio residents that he would be good only for one term, so the pressure is off.
In addition, he emphasized in a recent interview: “I would like to tell [my constituents] that we are a listening government. Do not forget that.”
In concrete terms, the "listening" part is in the form of an advisory council, whose members he's still recruiting.
The council, he envisions, will help him flesh out his 10 identified priorities. In meantime, we gauge his administration's first 100 days by them:
1. Speeding up government action
One of his first deeds as mayor was to lock up bars and restaurants because they didn’t have the proper permit for liquor. In a month, half of the 60 bars and restaurants initially closed decided to get their proper permits and are now operating again.
Baguio already has its one-stop-shop for getting business permits, but Magalong plans to make the communication process faster. He tasked the Management Information Technical Division to do an inventory of the internet connectivity of the different offices of City Hall and find ways to get the fastest internet service. He also asked for the inventory of the desktop computers and to make sure that they can handle fast internet connection. Magalong said that the city spends about P300,000 a month on internet so it should get its money’s worth.
2. Revitalizing the environment
At his victory party, Magalong decided to plant trees at one of the city’s water reservoirs. Later, he enjoined a civil society group to institutionalize reforestation of the environmentally critical areas in the city.
Upon his inspection of Kennon Road, he decided to let it rest for 3 years to help the mountains heal. Recentty, Magalong also said that Malacañang had ensured the moratoria for the building of high-rise commercial buildings and the cutting of trees to build them would push through. Although these were set for only a year, it was one of the most controversial policies as the building boom was going on for more than 3 years, emboldened by the extension move of SM Baguio and the laxness of the previous administration. Consultations were held and the clamor was for a greener Baguio.
Also, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu also called for an inventory of the remaining pine trees in the city, as he said their disappearance was apparent. The initial result of the inventory was far from encouraging, and so Magalong called for massive regreening. The mayor also set up one day every month for barangay officials and other concerned citizens to clean up their surroundings.
Photo courtesy of Baguio City PIO
3. Innovating peace and order condition
Magalong announced recently that his pet project – the Baguio Communication Command Center – would get financial backing. He said that he was able to get an initial P200 million for the command center, which would have an extensive CCTV system using artificial intelligence, which he said would be the first of its kind in the country. The command center will also have disaster preparedness and traffic management components.
4. Aggressive traffic management
Like the rest of the country, Baguio cleared up its roads from pavement extensions last week. He also called on the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority to look into the traffic situation in Baguio and how this can be eased. MMDA is set to make its feasibility study.
He also wanted to revive the plan to set up a monorail and cable cars in the city. European countries already make initial feasibility studies on these. Magalong said that he had had talks with Mark Richmund de Leon, OIC, Undersecretary for Road Transport and Infrastructure, regarding these matters.
Upon the recommendation of the tourism stakeholders in the city, Magalong might also include in his traffic plan a scheme to discourage private cars in the city. He said there are about 68,000 private cars in the city, more than enough to clog the roads. He is also considering pedestrianization of Session Road and has extended the closing of one lane every Sunday until December.
5. Responsive education program
“We should propagate the Alternative Learning System, encourage technical-vocational studies, and allot more scholarships for the financially-challenged,” Magalong said.
6. Empowering the youth
“Our youth development programs must strive to make our children morally responsible and better prepared for adulthood. Facilities will be established as youth convergence centers,” the mayor said.
Photo courtesy of Baguio City PIO
7. Expanding health and social services
One of Magalong’s top advisers is Marlene de Castro, the executive director of Baguio Center for Young Adults, who is one of the top reproductive health champions in the region.
8. Responsible tourism
Tourism is the city’s biggest industry. Among Magalong’s grand project is a greener Burnham Park. He has revived a committee to redesign the iconic park with greener elements.
Another park he wants to revive is the Mine’s View Park, which has become a geological hazard. Magalong has posted the interactive plans for Burnham and Mines View Parks and requested people to offer their suggestions.
9. Enlivened culture, arts, crafts, and heritage
Baguio has been included in the Creative Cities Network, the first and only city yet in the Philippines to be included in the UNESCO list. Magalong vowed to the people behind this inscription that he would not allow Baguio to be delisted.
He has supported the upcoming iBagiw Festival, the second festival that will celebrate the folk arts and crafts of the city. He has set up a creative cities committee in City Hall for this arts sector.
Photo by Mau Victa/Rappler
10. Market modernization
Magalong has allotted P2.5 billion for the new public market. This meant removing first the proverbial monkey on its back – the agreement with Uniwide more than 20 years ago for the same project. Magalong said that the contract with Uniwide has been voided.
The mayor plans to build the market with the city's own money. He has set up a group to build a plan to house 4,000 vendors. The night market is also expected to be located there. Elevated walkways would connect the market with Burnham and Session Road.
He, however, plans to demolish Bayanihan Building and Rillera Building by October. Rillera is a decrepit wooden structure along Magsaysay Avenue. Bayanihan, the Ground Zero for ukay-ukay, however, is one of the finest examples of Art Deco in the country. Demolishing it would destroy one of the city’s last postwar treasures.