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The City That Runs Itself

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San Fernando

“The mayor has become irrelevant.” That’s how Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA) executive director Christian Zaens describes San Fernando, Pampanga.

San Fernando, 67 kilometers north of Manila, is one of the model cities under ISA’s Philippine Governance System (PGS).

San Fernando mayor Oscar Rodriguez credits the PGS—a management tool that allows organizations to craft long-term, time-bound development plans—with turning his city into a well oiled machine that functions even without him.

Over the past five years, a Multi-Stakeholder Governance Council comprising sectoral leaders and various “people of consequence” has been working towards a consensus. Mayor Rodriguez envisions his city as “a habitat for human excellence,” a dream that he hopes to realize by 2030. He hopes that through public-private partnership, good governance will become an institution that will allow progress—no matter who sits in city hall.

Through tax mapping and a stricter implementation of the revenue code, the city is no longer dependent on the Internal Revenue Allotment it receives from the national government. San Fernando even has enough money to fund its own city college.

Rodriguez says that higher taxes may have hurt local businessmen, but educating 90% of the city’s high school graduates who couldn’t afford further study makes sense in the long term. “If they can’t find jobs, who will buy from you?” he asks.

The PGS, through the use of Balanced Scorecards, has also allowed the city government to streamline its processes. It used to take six weeks for the city to issue business permits. It now takes only two hours. Real property tax assessment is also conducted through an ISO-certified information management system. Not surprisingly, the city’s Office of Strategy Management reports a 99% satisfaction rating from its clients.

The city has also launched the San Fernando River Rehabilitation Program to address frequent flooding. Long-term plans include an integrated relocation program and infrastructure for a flood-control system, as well as the development of business parks along the river.

With a reported 100% growth in business enterprises and a 33% increase in local income since 2005, San Fernando expects added income with the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway giving it access to sea and airports. “We didn’t do anything extraordinary except do our work,” says Mayor Rodriguez as his city readies to become a global gateway to the North, the mid-term goal it hopes to reach by 2020.

Print ed: 01/10


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