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Sorsogon’s Son Returns

Mayor Aleli-3

Governor Chiz Escudero talks about revitalizing agriculture through contract farming, tackling organizational inefficiencies, and preventing health epidemics


Mayor Aleli-1


Chiz is home again. After almost two decades in national politics, first as Sorsogon representative andeventually as senator, he went back to his roots this year, as elected governor of the province of Sorsogon.
“I have been serving the entire country for the longest time. I think it’s time I brought home what Ilearned from all over the country and the world.” After all, Sorsogon is not just his hometown, but is also the place where his interest in politics and public service began.

Chiz or Francis Joseph Guevara Escudero, started his political career at the age of 28. He admitted having had intentions of running for office as early as his law school days, but his parents felt it was vital for him to finish his studies first. He went to the University of the Philippines from grade school to law school and completed a master’s degree in International and Comparative Law at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.

While his political career started in 1998, Chiz’s training started much earlier. He remembers the kindling of his inclination to politics when his father ran as an assemblyman in 1984, and as congressional representative in 1987. Chiz handled the youth group called “Youth Volunteers for Sorsogon” that went around the province for the campaign. In 1992, he dealt with the headquarter operations of his father’s campaign, and in 1995 he was in charge of sample ballot distribution and barangay captain training. He believes he knows how to run a grassroots campaign, and the local political scene was no stranger to him, especially after having won elections at a national level. “The transition was easy,” he recounts, “from running a national campaign nationwide covering 42,000 barangays, all of a sudden I was running in 541.”
For Chiz, his campaign for Sorsogon governor was more relaxed because it had fewer variables. The area was smaller compared to a national level campaign, and more importantly, he already knew everyone. “I never stopped coming home. I’ve always believed that it’s useless to be known nationwide if you do not have a province to come home to,” he explains.

It may have been easy, but Chiz knows he has a legacy to measure up to. His great grandfather was Sorsogon governor during the war years, while his father served as a local representative. “My father’s legacy made me aspire to surpass what they accomplished,” he quips.

"For the longest time, we just got by. I want my fellow Sorsoganon to be hungry for change, for development, and aspire for something bigger, more than what they have now.”

He is also inspired by his father, whom he credits for the way he relates with other people. “The greatest lesson I learned from my father is that nothing lasts forever, and my time as a senator, congressman, or governor is limited. I know I should treat the people I meet properly because as the saying goes, the people you meet on your way up are the same people you meet on your way down.”

He also credits the no-frills lifestyle that he learned from his father. Salvador ‘Tatay Sonny’ H. Escudero III served as Minister of Food and Agriculture during the time of President Ferdinand Marcos. Chiz says his father could have taken advantage of the political situation and enriched their family during that time, but they remained simple and straightforward. “We did not have bodyguards or drivers. I rode public transportation all the time. When Marcos left, our lifestyle remained the same, and I appreciate my father all the more for it.”

Chiz believes his experience in the national level has prepared him for his local government role, but he admits he still has to refresh himself of existing local government-related laws, rules, and other relevant policies. He is also confident that his experience as senator nurtured his local government leadership capabilities. “I met and worked with a lot of people who are in the position to actually give Sorsogon a second look.” He hopes that the connections he had built for the past two decades as a senator could help Sorsogon to be in the radar of national government agencies whenever they think of programs or projects.

He admits, however, that he now tends to be impatient and short-fused, since being a local executive is worlds apart from being a legislator. “As a legislator, when you pass laws, you accept that it will take time before it could be felt by the people. But as an executive, I know that it can, and it should be felt by the people almost immediately.”

He notes that in the local scene, expectations run high and that he is impatient when it comes to seeing this get done. “When I look back, it has only been months since I assumed office. But as my coworkers in the province say, it feels like years already.”

A crucial problem Chiz saw upon taking the helm of Sorsogon’s leadership is the organizational inefficiency that is robbing the people of their rightful government services. “The budget of Sorsogon is Php1.4 billion. The salaries of personnel, job orders, and contractual workers cost Php710 million. What’s left for the people?”

He also cites an example of the province’s agriculture department, whose budget for salaries and other expenses is at Php33 million while the budget for projects is a measly Php2.3 million. He asserts that this is a problem that needs solving fast, since “a bigger chunk of the budget should be for the people.”

To tackle the organizational inefficiencies, the Sorsogon provincial government has partnered with the University of the Philippines’ National College of Public Administration and Governance for rightsizing.

They have also partnered with the Development Academy of the Philippines to calibrate the province’s quality management system. They aim to reduce the personnel salaries by 50% and channel those savings to projects and programs that will benefit the people.

Chiz firmly believes that the province should realize its potential. “For the longest time, we just got by,” he says. “I want my fellow Sorsoganon to be hungry for change, for development, and aspire for something bigger, more than what they have now.”

Agriculture is on top of the new governor’s list. Sorsogon’s local economy is agriculture-based, and the provincial government intends to improve the industry through contract farming, a largescale agricultural activity that involves not just production but also marketing and distribution. “We will fund everything, then buy everything,” says Chiz, “and try to compute backward to make sure that our farmers and fishermen earn at least minimum wage.” He claims that at the rate the farmers are earning today, the goal of ensuring minimum wage means that their earnings would triple.

To do this, he takes a page from his father’s playbook when the latter served as agriculture secretary: to identify what is the best crop to plant and where, using data from soil quality, slope, and weather pattern. Through this, he believes that fishermen and farmers can find another source of income during months when their agricultural activities are not feasible due to weather constraints.

Increasing income from agriculture not only helps the farmers but also revitalizes the image of agriculture for young people. “Ask around... would a farmer or fisherman’s children aspire to be farmers or fishermen themselves? It’s because they are not earning much.” According to Chiz, improving earnings in the agriculture sector would change the way we view farmers and fishermen: from laborers to entrepreneurs.

He shares that his campaign promise was two-pronged: livelihood and health. Thus, another priority for him is improving access to healthcare services and introducing programs to avoid epidemics such as dengue, currently a national concern. Sorsogon has espoused traditional and non-traditional methods of addressing the dengue problem, and dengue figures in the province have gone down.

Last July 8, Chiz signed an executive order directing all local provincial government officials from the mayors down to the barangay chairpersons to strictly comply with and implement the 4-S anti-dengue campaign of the Department of Health (DOH).

Chiz and all the other provincial officers led the July 29 Anti-Dengue Drive where all Sorsoganons also simultaneously participated in cleaning their surroundings. Fogging and misting were also conducted after the clean-up drive. He also makes use of social media through his official page and that of the Provincial Information Office to regularly post reminders on preventing dengue-carrying mosquitoes from multiplying.

Sorsogon is also one of the sites for the advanced implementation of universal health care. He claims the province will be able to provide excellent, first-world healthcare slowly but surely, and ensure 100 percent access regardless of socioeconomic background.

Chiz says he has no lofty dreams for Sorsogon, he only wants to provide the opportunities and resources for every Sorsoganon to live out their dreams. His attention to livelihood and healthcare is borne out of what he believes is what local governments must focus on for their citizens. He also contends that what matters most for him is to realize and fulfill whatever dream each Sorsoganon has. He quips, “It is not my job to dream for Sorsogon, but I will enable and uplift Sorsoganons to realize their dreams for the province.”

Sharing best practices among local governments is necessary, according to Chiz. “There is no ego involved here: I literally called all my friends who are governors to ask what they have done and how they did it. I had two governor-friends send me all the ordinances they passed for the past three to six years.”

Chiz knows he may be seasoned in the legislative, but in the executive, he needs all the help, and he tapped other local executives for that purpose. “I’m open to ideas,

since nobody owns all the knowledge necessary to perform, run an office, or serve your constituents.” He credits his close friends Bataan Governor Abet Garcia and La Union Governor Pacoy Ortega who have been generous to his calls for help.

In turn, he believes that whatever the province achieves during his term as governor will be shared to anyone interested. According to Chiz, local governments thrive when leaders set their egos aside and look beyond their backyard for solutions to problems that they do not have, but others do.

Chiz is adamant that the legacy he intends to leave for Sorsogon is as simple as being remembered. He shares that it is enough for him that at least a single person remembers the good things he has done as a congressman, senator, or governor. He intends to leave a mark that people could someday encounter and remember him by, like the governor that changed the face of the provincial capitol or provided excellent service to the people. “I don’t need a statue after my image,” says Chiz, “but as long as one person remembers me, that’s enough.”

Chiz says he is not considering running for a higher national position again. “It has passed,” he says, referring to his failed run for Vice President in 2016. “I ran to give it a shot, to find out once and for all. The last thing I want is to hold my life in suspended animation, asking what could have been,” he muses.

As for a return to the Senate, he says things are not defined yet. It has not even been a year since he took the helm of the provincial government. “I do not think there will ever be a dearth of candidates for national positions,” he shares. 2022 is still far away, and it seems Chiz is focusing all his energies toward Sorsogon.

It is somehow emblematic of Chiz to take each day as it goes by, as he asserts to not have a life philosophy: he decides by whatever principle applies best “based on what I think is right, proper and just,” he says. Logically, it follows that his stint as Sorsogon governor is more than birthright or legacy. In his own words, “It’s simply coming home,” and he says, “I’m already happy.”

"I never stopped coming home. I’ve always believed that it’s useless to be known nationwide if you do not have a province to come home to.”

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