Your Excellency President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, First Lady Luisa Ejercito Estrada,
members of the Magsaysay family, distinguished guests, trustees, fellow awardees, ladies
The recognition accorded me tonight is an honor that our people in
Naga most deserve. It is a fitting testimonial on our faith and confidence in a democratic
society where people and government actively engage with each other in forging a
collective decision. Our people have proven, that given the opportunity, we can rise above
our parochial interests in the pursuit of common good. Given a choice, we will opt for
good government despite the attendant obligations it requires.
Last year, Asiaweek magazine acclaimed Naga City as one of the most
improved cities in Asia. With a political environment that has effectively enshrined
people empowerment, it has substantially achieved its development and institution-building
goals. That recognition affirmed our belief that our people, given the chance, are in fact
the most effective partners in our quest to improve their lot.
Our decade-long experience has taught us valuable lessons in
governance, accountability and constituency involvement. We had many obstacles and pains
when we started to experiment with a governance system that veered away from the
traditional. During that period, we were being threatened by decadent ways that inflicted
the social, political and moral fabrics of the community: rampant illegal gambling,
indecent entertainment, crime, occasional abuse by the powers-that-be, poor tax
collection, rising unemployment and sheer indifference. Important political benefactors,
whose interests run contrary to our reform agenda, disowned us. Businessmen who were my
friends but were affected by the citys honest-to-goodness tax collection campaign
questioned our intentions and loyalties.
We, however, stood our ground, strengthened our resolve and entrusted our fate to the
people. We brought our office beyond the walls of City Hall and promised to make Naga a
better place to live in. Communication lines were opened. The people felt comfortable
telling us what they want, what they need and how we could best attain them. The Naguenos
soon realized that they have found an ally in us.
To our critics dismay, the people rallied behind us. They
rejected dirty politics and shun manipulations by those who have power and money. Instead
they demanded for more efficient services and organized themselves into proactive sectoral
groups not only as a means of extending influence but more importantly as a tool for
developing themselves into responsive citizens who were sincerely involved in public
Thus, we have institutionalized the urban poor federation whose
members were given access to land, employment, housing, livelihood and basic services.
Womens groups were organized and trained to indulge in more productive endeavors
such as livelihood development and environmental protection. Even homegrown cause-oriented
groups during the tumultuous period of coups and armed confrontations asserted their role
as mobilizers of popular democracy by declaring Naga City as a zone of peace, freedom and
Soon a Peoples Council was forthwith established to ensure the
continuing participation of NGOs and peoples organizations in city deliberations.
Amidst all these are institutions of import in our community, which
helped shaped the engagement between the local government and its constituency. We have an
activist church that encourages us to seek and pursue the more difficult but righteous
path. We have NGO and civil society groups, which now realize that their local government
is a partner and not an adversary. We have academic institutions, which now seek to use
its capability to address development issues affecting our locality. We have a business
community, which after initial grumblings, came to realize that it is in their long-term
interest that we take care of the poor and the less fortunate. We have a vigilant and free
media, which despite its many excesses, nevertheless contributes to the transparent
management of city affairs. In our dealings with these publics, there were a few occasions
when we agreed to disagree. The relationship was however marked by tolerance, a
willingness to listen and respect for the role that each one has to play.
During my tenure, a number of newsmen have tried to defame me with
unfounded accusations. A few groups dismissed some of my official acts as motivated by
selfish political objectives. Perhaps they may have been right and that I may have erred
in a few of my judgments. But whether they were right or wrong, I had often asked myself,
as a result, these questions: Should I seek another alternative course of action? Or
should I consult our people further to find out if there are far better ideas than the one
I had? The bottom line was a response that involved our people even more in the decision
Indeed yielding power to the people is perhaps my greatest
achievement as City Mayor. And the most important lesson that I have learned is that
public servants should feel obliged to heed the peoples will always. Public servants
are servant leaders. Their mission is to serve and not to be served.
Thank you very much.