Slowly but surely. This could be the best description one can give on the development efforts of Iriga City’s local government unit headed by Mayor Madel Alfelor-Gazmen.
Looking for an historical note on Iriga, I found Frank Penones’s article Iriga’s Colonial Economy. Frank narrated how Iriga’s economy started from purely agriculture-based economy such as growing abaca to exporting the same in the 19th century, and then shifting partially to service-oriented economy with the first bus company in the Philippines — ALATCO.
But the abaca industry became history and the ALATCO (now Philtranco) operations gradually slowed down. The demands of time forced the agriculture industry to shift to rice and poultry while the service-industry was overtaken by trade and commerce. This is due to the city’s strategic location being the center of trade and commerce not only of the Rinconada District but also of a few towns in Albay.
A strong, yet almost unnoticed, blow to the city was the opening of the diversion road connecting Nabua and Baao and skipping Iriga. And during those times, Iriga has nothing to offer. Indeed, Iriga’s development seemed to have stopped from moving that when I first set my foot in the city one and a half decade ago, I found the lowly town of Daraga in Albay even better. Mas halangkaw pa kaya an Munisipyo kan Daraga pag-abot sa income asin mas organisado an mga bagay-bagay lalo na an merkado.
But that was then. Iriga today recovered from that lull especially with the city’s reinvention of itself. First, it started maximizing its resources. It focused on environmental tourism, and of course, protection. Second, it tried to go back to its suanoy and near-suanoy traditions. These include the institutionalization of Tinagba which Frank said is rooted on spirituality and religion. Third, it also tried to re-assert itself as the center of trade and commerce in the district and proof to this is the renovation of the public market.
Of course, it can also be added that the educational institutions in the city are making waves. Most have improved their quality and proof are the number of passers in professional exams. The next best thing that the city government can do is to draft a program that can maximize these passers and the rest of the human resources to a more competitive and productive work force.