At the foothills of the majestic Mayon Volcano, located on the shores of Albay Gulf, right in the heart of the Bicol Peninsula, lies a fast-growing metropolis. A city that has become almost synonymous to its most popular tourist destination, Legazpi attracts over a million tourists each year who are eager to gaze at the beauty and grandeur of the famous perfect-cone volcano. Apart from tourism, the city of Legazpi, as provincial capital of Albay, stands as a growing business and commercial hub in Southern Luzon. Recognized nationwide for its enduring efforts, Legazpi continues to make progressive changes towards sustainable economies and nationwide competitiveness.
FROM A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
Legazpi was originally a barangay called Sawangan, a settlement of fishermen and farmers. The town was under the administration of the Franciscan friars of the Doctrina of Cagsawa. The old village was renamed as Legazpi by Royal Decree dated September 22, 1856, in honor of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the Basque-Spanish conquistador and governor who annexed the Philippine Islands to Spain in 1565.
On February 1, 1814, the catastrophic eruption of Mt. Mayon caused devastation in Sawangan, burying many towns. The Cagsawa Ruins, a popular tourist attraction today, are all that remains of the town of Cagsawa. Nevertheless, locals continue to settle around the slopes of the volcano despite the threat of recurring eruptions.
Legazpi became a city under the Becerra Law of 1892, but reverted to being a municipality during the American occupation. After the Second World War, Legazpi became a city for the second time on July 18, 1948, under Republic Act (RA) No. 306. It was to be dissolved again, returning to its status as a town. Finally, on June 12, 1959, Legazpi became a city again, for the third time, under R.A. No. 2234, and it remains such to this day.
The city is also the regional center of the Bicol Region and the capital of the province of Albay. It aims to be one of top five convention destinations in the Philippines for meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions (MICE). In 2016, 91 MICE were held in Legazpi; 140 in 2017; and 87 as of August 2018. The city has the Legazpi City Convention Center with 3,000 seating capacity and the Ibalong Center for Recreation with 5,000 capacity, aside from many convention centers and hotels.
The city of Legazpi has garnered many notable awards. In 2007, Legazpi City was named by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry as one of the most business-friendly cities in Southern Luzon.
In 2014, it placed second in the Most Livable Cities Design Challenge by the National Competitiveness Council (NCC) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. It also received the 2014 Best City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (CDRRMC) under Component/Independent City category; Gawad Kalasag Hall of Famer in 2015; and the Seal of Good Local Governance in 2016. In 2018, Legazpi was awarded first in Overall Competitiveness among component cities by the NCC. At the 6th Regional Competitiveness Summit, Legazpi ranked first in infrastructure among the 145 component cities in the Philippines and second in economic dynamism.
The incumbent mayor is Noel E. Rosal, who was re-elected in 2013. He began his career as barangay chairman of Barangay Gogon before serving as city councilor. He initially won as mayor in 2001, completing three consecutive terms thereafter before his re-election.
GOING GREEN FOR THE ECONOMY
The city government of Legazpi has put emphasis on green economic development (GED) with economic reforms that highlight environmental sustainability. “Ever since I took over as mayor, I have always emphasized the climate change phenomenon because we have to be serious about this,” Mayor Rosal says. “Nobody is safe, even rich countries in the Americas and in Europe. We have to combat the effects of climate change through adaptation and mitigation.”
The local chief executive ensures that all plans and projects of Legazpi are aligned with environmental concerns and policies. First, the city prioritizes the flood control program in the construction of main roads, allotting a five-meter setback for future expansion of drainages. Second, Legazpi has environmental programs that include planting 10,000 trees each year on watersheds, certain barangays, and at the foot of Mt. Mayon. They have also planted trees along the stretch of the Legazpi Boulevard.
“When you say green, it is not only the planting. It is also about programs which have an effect, especially on waste management,” Mayor Rosal states. Legazpi focuses on proper garbage disposal, practicing a “no segregation, no collection” policy. It is one of those few cities in the Philippines with an engineered sanitary landfill. Located in Banquerohan, this landfill was financed by a P120-million grant from the government of Spain through the Spanish Cooperation Agency for International Development (AECID). The Banquerohan landfill allows the city to generate renewable energy from the treatment of waste. There is a constructed pipeline, which can be used to collect methane and convert it for additional income. Biodegradable waste, on the other hand, can be converted to organic fertilizer. Legazpi already signed a partnership with Okada Manufacturing Company of Japan for such an endeavor with both parties investing more than P20-million in the project. “But what is important is to make the farmers patronize the product. On the first phase, we can give it to them for free. But on the second phase, we can sell it for a price,” the mayor says.
The city of Legazpi has many projects towards green economy. “Although the plans are not perfect, at least, we have started our efforts and it means we have adapted,” Mayor Rosal says. The local government is converting major land areas into parks, like the Dapdap Open Park, instead of constructing more buildings. It has a grant of P11-million from President Rodrigo Duterte for such projects. The city has also begun utilizing solar panels and LED lighting, going insofar as to grant credits and exceptions to schools or households that use solar panels. Mayor Rosal plans on making City Hall itself a green building by using solar energy.
Legazpi also has a public-private-partnership (PPP) with regard to septic tanks and sewage treatment plants (STPs). Local residents no longer need to pay additional fees for services because the city already offers siphoning as a service. For each monthly bill, P40 to P80 is billed and the private partner siphons the tanks once or twice every three years to ensure cleanliness of the environment.
The city is also planning on constructing a proper sewerage system. Rosal also discusses the Clean Air Act, with Legazpi creating a task force to promote it. “Even if it is not yet a concern now, we are already making precautionary measures,” Mayor Rosal says. “This is why, in the past five years, we are credited as one of the best in the country when it comes to environmental programs and climate change adaptation.”
TOP OF THE GAME
Fresh from Legazpi City’s victory for being the No. 1 Competitive City under the Component City Category, Rosal says, “We finally bagged No. 1. We were No. 5 last year, the previous year No. 3. But now, I see Legazpi rising to the top.” The NCC’s competitiveness index rating measures best government practices through four parameters—infrastructure, economic dynamism, resiliency, and government efficiency.
Legazpi has invested billions of pesos for the development of its infrastructure projects, particularly in the southern portion of the city to pave the way for more investments. “That is the essence of what we’re doing–to give more opportunities for investment, business, and, of course, to do it for the people,” Rosal says.
The mechanism for flood control in Legazpi is one of the best in the country. The city has also built a four-kilometer seaside boulevard connected to the Legazpi port. There are also plans to further construct a four-lane concrete road linking the southern villages of Legazpi with an access route to the international airport currently under construction.
Rosal hopes that through infrastructure projects, Legazpi will become more attractive to local and international investors and tourists. “You can see that Legazpi has really evolved this year. The infrastructure we have now will make Legazpi become a hub for investments and tourism,” Rosal adds.
The main economy of Legazpi revolves around trading, tourism, and services. The local chief executive himself explains that this is because they do not have factories, which require power and raw materials. Legazpi’s port services also suffer because the city faces the Pacific, and not the South China Sea. Nevertheless, the economy of Legazpi is booming because of the many PPPs present. “This is something we are proud of, placing at No. 2,” Rosal says.
Through the PPPs, more than P10-billion have been spent over the last 10 years in the construction of tourist spots, call centers, and commercial malls; Ayala Corporation and SM Group of Companies are now also present in Legazpi. As a result, hundreds of jobs have been generated. “We were able to entice investors and put up businesses, to strengthen the economy and the opportunities for labor,” the mayor says. “This is now the whole package of Legazpi. We have adopted a system of shared responsibility where it is not just the government that is involved but the private sector and the multi-sectoral groups as well.”
Legazpi also broke its tourism record. There were a million tourists recorded in 2015, 1.19 million tourists in 2016, and 1.27 million in 2017, indicating that the city’s tourism is also growing, thanks to the improvement of existing tourist sites, as well as adding tourist activities like riding an ATV around Mt. Mayon, zip-lining, skydiving, and scuba diving.
In terms of resiliency, Legazpi has withstood many typhoons, volcanic eruptions, and other calamities. “Legazpi has a zero casualty rate in the last 10 years,” says Rosal. Under its efficient disaster management, Legazpi has two important elements in its program—administration and operations. These have been aligned together with the programs of the 70 barangays. “The roles of the father, the mother, the son, even the barangay officials have been cascaded down to them. There is a system in place. Even if I am not present, it will continue running,” the Legazpi mayor says. The city government is currently developing its own version of 911 for emergencies. It is also continuously upgrading its equipment and checking its inventory to ensure everything is complete. Apart from the city proper, these measures have been extended to the designated danger zones for flooding, landslide, tsunami, and lahar. “When we were hit by Sisang and Reming, I thought we wouldn’t make it. We were down but we survived,” the mayor recollects. Typhoon Sisang was a category-5 typhoon that struck Bicol in 1987, causing many casualties and destruction. Typhoon Reming was another strong typhoon that hit Legazpi in 2006, a category-4 with heavy rains that resulted in mudflows and volcanic landslides killing thousands. “But according to the Asian Institute of Management, Legazpi is now in a better state than it was before Reming. Therefore, it means, we were able to transform our city and rise above the devastation, and strengthen ourselves even more,” he adds.
Legazpi also continues to improve its government efficiency by upgrading its systems, particularly in the collection of real property tax, business tax, and issuance of business permits. It has also begun to digitize its operations. Another project it has is the e-peso, which allows local residents to conduct city-related transactions outside the City Hall for their convenience and to decongest the long lines. The city also aims to promote ease of doing business by reducing processing time, eliminating long lines, and having one signatory – provided that all requirements are complete. This aims to promote shared responsibility between the city and its residents in the area of public services.
We have adopted a system of shared responsibility where it is not just the government that is involved but the private sector and the multi-sectoral groups as well,” says Mayor Rosal.
PROGRESSIVELY GOING FORWARD
Legazpi stands as one of the oldest cities in the Philippines, yet it continues to be a developing city. Throughout the years, Mayor Rosal has marshalled the city towards becoming the most competitive city and becoming a GED leader. “It was a challenge for me because we have a diverse set of people coming from different backgrounds. It was a challenge to rally everyone into a cohesive force,” he says. To overcome that, Legazpi enrolled in the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA), where it garnered the Gold Trailblazer Award for Performance Governance, one of the highest recognitions of the ISA for governance system. “I was able to rally them to work and be a part of the city’s decisions,” Rosal says.
As Legazpi remains steadfast in its commitment towards economic growth, sustainable development, and efficient delivery of basic services, it also envisions a progressive community with opportunities for investments, business, employment, and tourism. “We did not stop dreaming; we kept on aspiring; we kept on moving. And now, we are here. Having reached the top, the next challenge is: How do we sustain this?” Mayor Rosal posits.
The local mayor believes in the principle of shared responsibility, believing that both the government and the people have roles to play. The government has prescribed laws and ordinances in providing services, but the people requiring the services must also follow necessary rules and requirements. Together, they work hand-in-hand toward achieving the city’s mission and vision.
“I started by making those things that were not done by my predecessors. You have to be a step ahead. You have to get everyone involved, to let them believe in themselves in the field of public service,” Mayor Rosal states. “We need to lead by example, and to showcase innovativeness. It is very easy to just let the people follow, but to be a good leader, you have to show that you can do it. That is true leadership for me,” he declares. — MAIELLE MONTAYRE