Mayor Jefferson Soriano has emerged from each challenge wiser and with more grit, showing others how in the world of politics, you need more than just a tough shell to survive.
BY KAYDEE DELA BUENA
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DANIEL SORIANO
Tuguegarao City Mayor Jefferson Soriano has had his share of controversies and challenges. But he has emerged from each wiser and with more grit, showing others how in the world of politics, you need more than just a tough shell to survive.
Keeping in Line
Soriano has been a man of the badge since he was 16 years old, having been accepted into the scholarship program of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), belonging to Magilas Class of 1976.
“My family nor relatives did not come from the armed service or government service, so I was the first. I decided to join the PMA because since I was young, I have always wanted to help others,” reveals Soriano. He took the exam, and when he passed, he knew he could use the service as a vehicle to help his fellowmen.
Apart from being in the service, Soriano had dreams of becoming a lawyer, too. After graduating from the PMA, he took up law at Xavier University (now Ateneo de Cagayan), and then passed the 1983 Bar Exam. “Becoming a lawyer was necessary for me because I knew that it would help me in my career in law enforcement.”
Years after, he took up his Master in Public Administration and Master in Business Administration degrees at Saint Paul University of the Philippines. He also took up Master in Management at Philippine Christian University. He also finished his PhD in Peace and Security Administration (United Nations sponsored program) at Bicol
Throughout this time, he sacrificed a lot for his dream—which also entailed him not seeing his family for long periods of time due to the distance of his home. “The hardest thing [about my work] was being away from my wife and kids. I am blessed that as a family, we support each other in our life goals,” he added.
Apart from devoting his time and energy into furthering his studies, he also became actively involved in student organizations. “To lead is to serve, to accept responsibilities, and to engage in the mission of your organization. I have had many experiences as the head of a unit—and I believe that I’ve grown because of the lessons that I took to heart during those times.”
Soriano was 21 years old by the time he graduated from the PMA. Being in the service, it was inevitable that he was placed on dangerous missions around the country. “Bata pa lang kami, nakikipaglaban na kami noon sa Mindanao (We were young back then, but we were already in the thick of battle in Mindanao),” he shared. And from the battles he was involved in, he learned that nobody wins in a conflict. “Dati, ang dami naming mga malalayong lugar na napuntahan na walang nakarating na serbisyo ng gobyerno dahil sa gulo (We were exposed to many farflung areas back then that the local governments couldn’t reach to provide services because of the armed conflict),” he added. “Masaya ako dahil unti-unti itong tinugonan ng mga nakaraang administrasyon (Now I’m glad because the recent past administrations slowly addressed this concern) and this dispensation.” His experience in conflict was one of the things that propelled and motivated him to be a servant leader in his hometown.
Soriano was then recognized as Junior Officer of the Year in Mindanao in 1976.
Later on, Soriano became the provincial director of the Province of Batangas in 1999, where they were awarded the Best Provincial Command of the Year. In 2003, when he was the regional director of Police Regional Office 2, they garnered back-to-back recognition as the Best Regional Command of the Year, as well.
After his service, he headed back to Tuguegarao and ran in the mayoralty race in 2013. “It was a very difficult campaign for myself and my whole team,” he reveals. Soriano had been away from his hometown because of his work in the service and because of this, the general public did not know him. It was a rather steep climb, but he believed that with hard work and cooperation, he could make it—and he won.
Running under the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) in the 2013 election, Soriano defeated Delfin Ting of the National Unity Party with a 1,205-vote difference. Soriano ended the Ting political dynasty; Tuguegarao was under the Tings’ mayoral leadership for 24 consecutive years.
Soriano has had a handful of cases thrown his way while serving as mayor. But each issue has been resolved and the three-star generallawyer-politician is now still standing strong after overcoming them.
“I believe that the two cases that were filed against me as mayor were politically-motivated. They did not involve embezzlement of money, but involved questions of procedure. Both of these cases were dismissed by the Sandiganbayan. Until now, I continue to work on serving the people of Tuguegarao,” nods the 67-year-old veteran.
Taking the lessons and values he learned from the military and the PNP, Soriano began to change the culture of his office from the inside out. He started with building his able team of retired PNP officials. This was not a case of padrino, but “they understood the work culture I needed. ‘Pag sinabi ko na trabaho na tayo, walang alas singko (When we work, there is no such thing as a five o’clock [closing time]). They will not go home until I go home, too. They go the extra mile until the work is done.”
Soriano reveals that he had to adjust to the bureaucracy of local government and learn to appreciate the slower but meticulous process of the office. “There are processes and systems that you have to follow here. Though we want to work faster, we can’t move forward without the city council. Hindi gaya na ‘pag nasa PNP ka, very empowered ‘yung commander (Unlike when we were in the PNP, the commanders are very empowered [to make final decisions]). I hope to change the system so we can deliver more effective and efficient service to the people,” he reveals.
Today, aside from responding to the challenges brought by the pandemic, Soriano has devoted his time and energy to fulfilling his other promises to his constituents. One of his key programs is the “WiFi Ko,
WiFi Mo”, which he started four years ago. Through this endeavor, done in partnership with the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), the LGU will put up free WiFi in all barangay halls and schools.
The hardware is provided by the LGU, while the software is from DICT. This is the IT infrastructure that is hoped to make education more accessible, speed up government services through e-governance, and prepare Tuguegarao as a Digital City. The city’s digital transformation is speeding forward and they are now on their first year of their e-governance project, wherein the city government envisions a time when people can transact business with the city hall from their homes or elsewhere, including e-payment for their clients.
“This initiative is for the people; they don’t need to come here [to the city hall] to transact business. In our barangay halls and schools that are connected with fiber optics, we installed customized computers, where they can transact with our BPLO, local registrar, and treasury. Hopefully, we will be able to finish and perfect the system within this year,” adds Soriano.
Sustainability is another key area of governance that his office is also focusing on. He envisions to plant one million native trees and bamboos within three years. Moreover, the LGU is already in the final stages of their PPP for Septage Program (sewerage), which is an urgent need of Tuguegarao. In addition, they’re building new landfills to help with their city’s waste management concern.
However, one of their proudest achievements and programs, which they hope to inspire other LGUs to adopt, is the Big Brother Program, wherein a reasonable portion of their income/funds generated is used to help other municipalities in Cagayan, especially in times of disasters and emergencies and for educational and sports purposes. This program has already been institutionalized through an ordinance.
“Tuguegarao City is the regional government center, the center of education and excellence, and the trade and financial center of the region. Our neighbors flock to our city, such that our daytime population is double the nighttime population. People spend their money here, thus the rapid growth of our economy. Tuguegarao is a flourishing city because of the contributions and support of our neighboring municipalities. As such, we thought of the Big Brother Program as a way to thank them for their role in the growth and progress of the city,” Soriano shared.
“The economy of Tuguegarao would not have become like this were it not partly because of them. Their children study here as we are the center of education. About 73,000–77,000 students are educated in our schools every year,” he added. With the Big Brother Program, the LGU is hoping to support all the municipalities of the Province of Cagayan.
Economic Mega Center
On the economic front, Soriano reveals that Tuguegarao has achieved the highest local revenues as compared to its neighboring cities. By the 4th quarter of 2021, the city reached more than 400 million in local revenues, from about 100 million in 2013.
“Among the four cities in the region—Santiago, Ilagan, Cauayan, Tuguegarao—we have the smallest share in terms of national tax allotment (NTA) or internal revenue allotment (IRA). But, we were able to reach 300% growth of our money supply and local revenues in a relatively short period of time.”
Soriano envisions Tuguegarao City growing to become one of the most progressive LGUs in North Luzon, achieving levels of excellence in education, environment protection, and local economy. His team is working hard to entice more investors and invite them to see the grand potential of the city. One of the current private investments in the city is the establishment of the North Gateway Business Park, the “BGC of the North,” a 24-hectare development area for BPOs, commercial centers, and the like.
Another project of Soriano’s administration is the putting up of street lights along the main thoroughfares of Tuguegarao. This is a continuing project as the city plans to light up all the major roads in all its 49 barangays.
to the People Under Soriano’s leadership, the local government has also institutionalized its “Barangay People’s Day” Program, wherein all the services that are being done in the city hall are brought to the different barangays every Friday of the week.
“The program became even more holistic and enhanced because it now includes the participation and partnership of the regional government line agencies and service providers. Dati-rati, kung ang tao ay may kailangan sa Cagayan Electric Company (Cagelco), pupunta pa sila sa opisina ng Cagelco. 'Yung taga-barangay, kailangan pa nila gumastos para bumiyahe. Ngayon, si Cagelco na ang pumupunta sa kanila. Ganun din sa ibang mga ahensiya tulad ng (In the past, if the people needed something from the Cagayan Electric Company or Cagelco, they would need to visit the office of Cagelco themselves. The people would have to shell out money for their transportation. Now, they are the ones visited by Cagelco. Same goes for other agencies and utility providers such as the) Metropolitan Tuguegarao Water District (MTWD), Philippine National Police (PNP), Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), at iba pa (and much more),” Soriano explains.
With over 38 years in the armed service under his belt and about eight years as a mayor, Soriano admits that he still has much more to learn and so much more to share. The responsibility has been heavy and the role has been challenging, but he intends to give his best for the people of Tuguegarao.
Politicking, public scrutiny, accountability, transparency, and sacrifice—all these are part and parcel of the life of a public servant. While it may pose much difficulty, Soriano says, “I have a dream of a better Tuguegarao for all those who are living and working here in our city, and I pledge my utmost commitment in ensuring that the years to come will be brighter than the years that passed.”