A few days ago, I visited Bataan upon an invitation of a friend. One of the areas he brought me to was the Municipality of Limay, a First Class municipality with a population of 68,071. It was, at first impression, an ordinary town somehow similar to Polangui or even Daraga both in Albay and I thought there was nothing more. But, quoting Franz Kafka, “First impressions are always unreliable”. The visit, it turned out, was a treat for experiencing a taste of an extraordinary local government management and governance.
The highway to Limay was far different from the highway being boasted by the Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, Rolando “Nonoy” Andaya Jr. One may note to have reached Limay if he/she already reached the only overpass in Bataan Highway – a lonely road network that was constructed to minimize, if not eradicate, traffic accidents. I said lonely because it was the only one of its kind, an infrastructure which the province or its provincial capital, Balanga City, have never thought of to protect their residents.
After a couple of turns, I was brought to a building with a very large light emitting diode (LED) screen that shows the schedules of free shuttles and other government services. It was a new building that I mistook for a mall only that there is a Philippine flag at the front. Entering the building, one is greeted by smiling faces and ever-accommodating personnel, a treatment I only got in some five-star hotels, or in Caloocan City Hall when I attended a meeting for the Regional Peace and Order Council last year. The meeting then was graced by high ranking PNP and military officials, and the DILG undersecretary along with the mayors of Metro Manila. But there was no special occasion at Limay municipal hall and there were no beauty pageant candidates hired to serve as guest relations personnel. Still, the treatment was amazing and one may feel really important just like the sari-sari store owner who came also to process some of her business papers.
But, unlike in Legazpi City Hall, a visitor may have an option to rest for a while and feel the cold and breezy air-conditioned hall or go directly to the window and transact a business and be out in an average of 20 minutes. But more peculiar inside the municipal hall are the escalators and Limay is the only municipal building I have been to with those facilities.
While the stairs of Albay Provincial Capitol appear more classic and grander when they were new, the escalators were more touching as they encourage people, regardless of age and physical condition, to go to the second floor and visit their officials especially the mayor. In simple terms, while Albay Capitol’s stairs are more of form, Limay’s escalators are focused on both form and function, a literal investment for bringing the local government to the people, and the people to their mayor.
Reaching the second floor, one is greeted to a transparent glass-walled mayor’s office and conference hall – an exact opposite of the conference halls of the mayors and governors I’ve visited from Cagayan to Tawi-tawi. There was even a conference hall I’ve visited in Mindanao with secret doors for the Mayor and the members of the Sanggunian to use without being noticed. Amazed, I shared my observation to a staff of the Limay municipal government who just laughed and said: Wala namang itinatago at itatago si Mayor kaya glass walls lahat para in plain and open view.
But more than the physical facilities are the social services that added to my amazement. In education, elementary students are given cash for their school needs – P3,000 for elementary pupils, P5,000 for high school students, and P10,000 for college students. I thought, the province of Rizal was already the best with its uniform and school supplies-giving program – something that Albay has to follow. But Limay thumbed down the uniform- and school supplies-giving program because this limits the choice parents and students to the kind and quality of school uniforms and supplies they like and want, and deprives them the opportunity to be responsible for their choices. And more so, the cash eradicates corruption as against the items given in kind which price can be padded and pocketed by those with vested interests. The lists of the recipients in Limay are transparent and can be verifiable anytime.
Persons with disabilities and senior citizens also regularly receive social pensions just like the pupils and students. Because there is a systematic cash payout system, there are no queues at the municipal hall and even at the house of the mayor which is an ordinary sight in almost all local government units nationwide.
“May ilan pa ring nagso-solicit pero kaunti na lang,” explains one municipal staff. “Kung libre na kasi ang lahat ng serbisyo, tapos meron pang social pensions, ano pa hihilingin nila?”
Indeed, what more can they ask for if almost everything is free – even shuttles to malls? Yes, there are free shuttles to malls courtesy of the municipal government – something that I never experienced in my whole life in Albay. Exception was when I covered an event as a journalist. But no, it was not even a shuttle provided by the provincial capitol or the city hall but a military truck provided by the Philippine Army. And I was allowed in the truck because of my media identification card.
The experience with Limay was short but insightful – something that changed my view in analyzing local government management and public service delivery. I know I still have many things to learn about that municipality and perhaps jot more if given a chance. But one thing that strikes me most is: Kung kaya kan Limay, nata dai kaya kan Albay? (If Limay can do it, why not Albay?)