In 1898, as one of the most important turning points in the Revolution for Philippine Independence, Santa Barbara, Iloilo became the historic site where the Philippine flag was first raised outside of Luzon.
Under the leadership of General Martin Delgado, Filipinos took the municipal building from the Spanish authorities, formed and inaugurated the Revolutionary Government of the Visayas, and flew the country’s colors for all to see. With the eventual surrender of Iloilo City by Governor- General de los Rios on Christmas Eve in 1898, Gen. Delgado completed his campaign to liberate the whole province from Spanish rule.
Today, Santa Barbara honors its rich legacy with yet another proud recognition. The town was named No.1 in Government Efficiency by the National Competitiveness Council (NCC), besting 978 other municipalities in the country last 2016. The NCC developed the Cities and Municipalities Competitiveness Index, with the assistance of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to assess the competitiveness of a city/ municipality and identify areas for improvement and collaboration.
“We are very proud of the recognition as it was achieved through hard work. But there’s more to be done,” shares Mayor Dennis Superficial. “Currently, our focus is to maintain the quality of service and standards of excellence that we have been delivering to our constituents. After establishing ourselves as a competitive and transparent local government, our overall mission and vision now is to make Santa Barbara an economically developed municipality—and eventually a city.”
A surgeon by profession, Mayor Superficial has made the successful transition from the operating room to the municipal hall, using his keen problem-solving skills and meticulous attention to detail to his advantage.
For him, the orientation of a doctor has always been to “not sleep on a problem,” but “identify the problem and find the solution.” And this same principle he applies when developing resolutions for his city.
Currently, our focus is to maintain the quality of service and standards of excellence that we have been delivering to our constituents.
A TOWN’S TRANSFORMATION
When he was elected in 2010, one of the first orders of business was to update and upgrade systems, streamline processes, and establish efficiency in all arms of the local government. With systems in their proper place, Mayor Superficial believed that they could better craft programs that would directly benefit the community and more accurately monitor their progress and productivity.
One of key efforts included updating financial documents, which allowed their office to manage funds better and pinpoint opportunities for growth. “Right now, our annual budget is more or less P150 million—that includes external and local income—which is almost double what we were earning in 2010 at P80 million. As an agricultural town, our income is mostly derived from the processing of agricultural products, and also tourism.”
This impressive growth has piqued the interest of many business owners and companies to invest in Santa Barbara. “We wanted to make Santa Barbara very enticing to investors as a business-friendly municipality,” shares the mayor. In order to build that positive environment, Santa Barbara also streamlined its business permit processes. “We were able to enhance the response of the Local Government Units here in our office with what we call the ‘one-stop lane’ for business applications,” the mayor shares. Their process is so efficient that a new applicant can complete the application and get a business permit within 15 minutes.
“But to make the municipality truly inviting, all aspects of governance should be improved,” stresses Mayor Supericial.
Santa Barbara has invested heavily in infrastructure projects and the improvement of their roads and highways.
Aligned with his vision of economic growth, Santa Barbara has invested heavily in infrastructure projects and the improvement of its roads and highways. Today, Santa Barbara has 117 roads that service 60 barangays, occupying over 15,000 hectares of land.
Improving highways had been a particular challenge for the administration in the past years as many of the roads were not concreted. This made it difficult for people to travel and do business especially during typhoon season. But the mayor has found a way to encourage local barangays to invest in the concreting road projects by matching the budget allotted for road repairs.
“So we were were able to make a Memorandum of Agreement with the barangays, which states that they if they will allot a portion of the 20% (of their annual budget) to road concreting, the LGU will match the amount,” says Mayor Superficial. So if the barangay commits to P200,000, the LGU will also contribute P200,000 to the fund. “And we have been doing this since 2011, and we’re confident that in two years’ time, we’ll be finished,” proudly states Mayor Superficial.
The building and repair of roads and highways have been fast-tracked not only to aid in the economic development of the municipality, but also to ensure that Santa Barbara can better serve its neighbors as an Emergency Response Center.
“Though Santa Barbara is not prone to calamity and disaster due to its location, it does however heed to the call of its neighbors during emergencies,” shares Mayor Superficial. “Also, we are the only town in the whole Philippines that has a radio station that is also part of our early warning system.”
A SMALL TOWN WITH A BIG VISION
Santa Barbara enjoys a unique status as both a cultural- historical gem and modern municipality. And with its improved roads and highways and high competitiveness standing, Santa Barbara sees itself growing as a tourism destination. “We want to be a progressive municipality, but not by compromising our cultural landmarks. We take great effort in protecting and preserving our landmarks such as the Santa Barbara Roman Catholic Church and Convent (declared a national historical landmark by the National Historical Institute in 1990), Cry of Santa Barbara Marker, The Victory Plaza, and many more.”
The city is home not just to a rich and proud history of Spanish influence and the revolutionary movement in the Visayas. It is also the site for colorful festivals (Kahilwayan and Dampog, for example) and various locally-made products. Santa Barbara was, in fact, recognized as a a Hall of Fame Awardee in the 2014 Pearl Awards for its Kahilwayan Festival.
In addition to strengthening its economy and tourism, the mayor has dedicated a lot of time and effort in improving its public health administration. In Santa Barbara, an impressive 80% of the population is covered by PhilHealth, according to Mayor Superficial.
Their municipal health office is now accredited to render the DOTS Program (Directly Observed Treatment Short course, the internationally recommended strategy for TB control), and has its own Animal Bite Center. They also have primary care, maternal health services, and child screening. Says Mayor Superficial, “`Pag merong PhilHealth ang mga pasyente, ang PhilHealth ang nagbabayad sa municipal health office namin. ’Yung pasyente walang binabayaran na bill, PhilHealth ang nagbabayad.” The funds and income generated by the hospitals and health centers, therefore, go back to the doctors, the health personnel, and upkeep of the facilities.
As the city grows, the mayor tries to keep every thing well-balanced. “We want to improve economically, but) we want to preserve our environment, and, of course, our heritage,” Mayor Superficial explains. “What is important as well is that we manage waste and protect the environment, because as the population of the town increases, there is a drawback: the volume of trash that we have to address everyday also increases.” For Santa Barbara, the environment, its heritage, its people, and its economy go and grow together.
THE FIRST CRY IN VISAYAS ECHOES TODAY
Mayor Superficial is proud that just as there was a “first cry” of the revolution in Balintawak, Manila, there was also a “Cry of Santa Barbara” on November 17, 1898, to launch the Visayas leg of the revolution. He retells the story that every citizen of Santa Barbara knows by heart: “The first flag that was raised outside Luzon was first raised in Santa Barbara headed by our hero General Martin Delgado. They had Mass at the church and went out to the plaza. There, they raised the Philippine flag and declared revolution against Spain.”
Through the efforts of Mayor Superficial, his team, and their inspired citizenry, the “Cry of Santa Barbara” can still be heard to this day. The people hear it, respond to it, and add to it, shaping a future that befits their proud history. – KAYDEE DELA BUENA