Dubbed “La Muy Leal y Noble Ciudad (The Most Noble City)” by the Queen Regent of Spain in the late 1800s, Iloilo City has been luring locals and foreigners alike with its colorful festivals, striking churches, Spanish and American colonial architecture, and its close proximity to the other thriving metropolis of the Visayas islands.

These days, the regional center of Western Visayas is also fast becoming one of the most recognized cities in the country, as far as Executive Strategy Management (ESM) is concerned. When it first adapted the Performance Governance System (PGS) in 2005 under the leadership of former Mayor Jerry Trenas, Iloilo City then was a far cry from the Iloilo City of today. Before the PGS came into the picture, the delivery of public service was far from efficient and people from the government were perceived as incompetent.

“These were stumbling blocks to the government and the biggest challenge was to introduce change,” shares Iloilo City Mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog. “At that time, I was still city councilor but I was convinced the system would work. The former mayor effectively communicated the Palladium Balanced Scorecard and upon having the support of the city council, we embarked on Iloilo’s journey toward PGS institutionalization.”

‘A Premier City by 2015’

Progress begins with a vision. And Iloilo City’s is succinct enough: “To be a premier city by 2015.” However, government today has become quite complex: Strategy execution and coordination across the various local government units, departments and agencies is becoming even more crucial, especially in the face of rising public demand and expectation. According to Dr. Jesus Estanislao, chairman of the Institute of Solidarity in Asia (ISA), results are achieved by integrating governance strategy execution. “There is a need for cultural transformation in terms of how our country looks at governance,” he says.

With investors restoring their confidence in the country, local government units are encouraged to work in tandem with the private sector in order to achieve their goals without being restricted financially. “The government has its own limitations, especially with regard to budget, so what we did in Iloilo City is create a solid multi-sector coalition, working independent of each other but with the same goal in mind: to achieve the vision of becoming a premier city that is vibrant, well-governed and prosperous,” shares Mabilog.

In 2009, Iloilo City became the first public or private organization in the Philippines to be inducted into the Palladium Hall of Fame in Jakarta, Indonesia for successfully spearheading good governance. “This was best seen in the public-private collaboration for our annual Dinagyang Festival, now a tourism icon in Iloilo City,” says Mabilog. “In 2006, a year after we implemented the PGS, the Dinagyang Festival was chosen the best tourism event by the Association of Tourism Officers in the Philippines, and other government units have since made Dinagyang a model of excellent festival administration and effective partnership with the private sector.”

Citizen Involvement

When Mabilog first assumed office last July, his first goal was “to make the community aware of the city’s history and development. I wanted to inculcate in them a sense of pride, so I started by celebrating the City Charter Day.”

It was a celebration that showcased the instinctive character and dominance inherent in the city. A bevy of activities that included a job fair, the traditional bloodletting, a Mass Reading, oratorical contest, night fun run, talent shows, a Mayor’s ball, and a grand city military parade were among the highlights of the celebration. One significant activity was a pre-wedding tree-planting at the city’s future sanitary landfill site. “Couples were required to plant a tree before they get their marriage certificates from City Hall,” recounts the Mayor. “The entire event was one magnificent display of the united efforts of all Ilonggos, and it was a strong manifestation of the solid partnership among the government, the private sector and the citizenry.”

The spirit of collaboration is greatly felt in the province, as citizen involvement is one of the key aspects of the PGS. “Involving people enables them to feel they are part of the progress,” shares Mabilog. “Even the marginalized segment, the senior citizens and the handicapped are never left out in our plan for the city. We have social projects for all sectors, and we engineer our cityscape to accommodate them as well. While we do a lot of our economic developments, we focus a lot on income generation because that’s where we will get investment for social work.”

Aligned with PNoy’s Vision

If anything, Iloilo City’s success is proof that good governance, indeed, makes all the difference. Since its implementation of the PGS, its total gross income has already reached the billion mark: P1.238B in 2008 from only about P800M in 2005. Growth is seen across various aspects of the city—capitalization in the manufacturing industry rose from P947M to P3.974B; the number of outsourcing business companies increased from zero in 2005 to 12 in 2008; and a better business environment is apparent with the streamlining of its permits processing.

With the current administration’s good governance platform, PNoy would do well to make a case out of Iloilo’s progress. “Through good governance, we were able to provide genuine public service to our constituents; and I think this is our way of contributing to PNoy’s goal of a more progressive Philippines,” shares the mayor.

“If other LGUs would just do its share in taking care of its own local government unit to progress and develop, then it eventually becomes the development and progress of the entire country as well,” adds Mabilog. “We shouldn’t really depend so much on the national government for our development—the goal is to be self-sustaining and independent so the national government would be able to address its own concerns on the national level. I think it’s about time other LGUs do everything on its own capacity and involve its own private sector. It’s like more of helping themselves, and if they become successful, then they’re helping the entire country.”

Published in the November 29, 2010 issue of the Manila Bulletin’s Business Agenda section.