Dumaguete City Mayor Felipe Remollo proves that gentleness can be a city’s greatest strength.
BY LAKAMBINI BAUTISTA
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DANIEL SORIANO
Dumaguete City Mayor Felipe “Ipe” Remollo’s home is abuzz on a Monday morning, as 200 or so people from different barangays congregate at the garden area. The mayor says meetings and gatherings are a commonplace in their family home. “Hindi na ako pumupunta sa barangay, sila na ang pumupunta dito.
[I don’t even have to go to the barangays, the people come here],” he quips cheerfully.
The Remollo abode is warm and cozy, with a spacious veranda, a busy kitchen, and several rooms to accommodate visiting guests. The mayor says their family’s two-hectare property is the go-to venue for Dumagueteños’ civic and even private affairs—from meetings, sports trainings, day care center activities, weddings, birthday parties, and more. “Our PWD group has a dragon boat team, and they would practice in the swimming pool. Dialysis patients would go here to get some fresh air,” the mayor adds. On the night when we were accommodated at the mayor’s home, a debutante’s party was held at the poolside. The mayor says his constituents are welcome at his home, and this tells a lot about how he treats them—they’re basically like family.
"Eventually, we will implement facial recognition. We will install the more advanced CCTVs in airport and transport terminals, so that if there are terrorists who set foot in Dumaguete, it will alarm the authorities.”
THE CITY THAT RAISED HIM
Born, raised, and educated in Dumaguete, Mayor Remollo’s love and affinity for his hometown cannot be questioned. He was molded by the sisters of St. Paul University Dumaguete (erstwhile Saint Paul College), where he studied from kindergarten up to first year high school. He then transferred to Silliman University for his second year high school where he then graduated, and afterwards took up Political Science and History also in the same university and graduated Magna Cum Laude. During his junior and senior years, he had a taste of local governance when he was elected kagawad (1978-1981) of San Jose, a town close to Dumaguete, where his father, Atty. Orlando Remollo, was mayor.
Determined to succeed in life, the ambitious probinsyano decided to move to Manila to take up Law at the Ateneo de Manila University.
He started as a litigation lawyer of the Gonzales, Batiller and Bilog Law Office from 1987-1992.
In 1992 he got married to a fellow Atenean Lawyer Cristine Cuisia Remollo. The couple bore two sons, Pelos and Dio, who are now in their senior year at Ateneo Law School.
Also in 1992, he founded the Fabregas, Calida and Remollo law office together with now Solicitor General Jose C. Calida.
Then in 1995, he became managing partner of the Remollo and Melocoton Law Office with the former Makati Prosecutor Federico Melocoton Jr.
Oddly enough, he admits that it was partly because of career burnout and the dreadful Metro Manila traffic that made him hanker for provincial life. Leaving his lucrative career in Manila, he decided to go back to public service and ran for mayor of Dumaguete City in 1998. “When I went back, nobody knew me anymore because I was away for 20 years. But we captured the imagination of the young, and with that I earned my unexpected victory,” Mayor Remollo remarks.
When his term ended in 2001, he went back to the big city, which allowed him to continue an enriching career in the academe, in the law practice, and in business, and develop powerful networks. Among the key positions he held over the last decade were president and chief executive officer of the Clark Development Corporation; vice chairman and director at Clark International Airport; director at PGA Cars, Inc.; and senior vice president and legal counsel at Prudential Guarantee and Assurance, Inc.
Mayor Remollo only got to continue what he started in governance when he ran and won the mayoral race again in the 2016, and was re-elected by a landslide in the 2019 elections. He admits it’s much easier the second time around. “This time, I knew better. I returned complete with masterplan, which was something we had 18 years ago but was not implemented fully. This is now our battlecry,” explains the city’s chief executive.
The campaign slogan “LUPAD, Dumaguete” has served as Mayor Remollo’s bible in public service. L stands for livable and cultured community; U for Urban revitalization inclusive of all barangays; P for professionalism in government service and good governance; A for abundance of food, clothing, and adequate shelter for every family; and D for devotion to God and dedication to country and the community.
Keen to put order in the city, Mayor Remollo implemented innovative traffic schemes as well as his trademark “parking setback” in public places like schools, parks, and open spaces. “It’s part of the moral aspect of governance— teaching, educating, and informing the constituents about the proper behavior in a civilized society. Everyone has to follow the rules.” Before Christmas, he also met with tricycle drivers for the possibility of upgrading their tricycles to the more environment friendly Euro 4 (e-trikes) that will also adopt the Grab concept into “PediGrab” thereby reducing traffic congestion and ensure efficiency and safety while modernizing the transport sector.
To implement proper waste management, the City Government upon the urging of the mayor bought a 10-hectare property for material recovery facility and sanitary landfill. He’s also looking into tapping waste-to-energy technology as a long-term solution to solid waste management.
To restore the city’s rich cultural heritage, the mayor has partnered with the National Museum in restoring the old city hall and turning it into a regional museum. “I’m hoping to inaugurate it early this year,” he says.
The mayor also recently flew in to Hangzhou, China to upgrade the city’s CCTV technology. “Eventually, we will implement facial recognition. We will install the more advanced CCTVs in airport and transport terminals, so that if there are terrorists who set foot in Dumaguete, it will alarm the authorities,” he says.
The city has a total of 14 housing projects in partnership with Gawad Kalinga, Habitat for Humanity (now IHome), Mother Rita Foundation, the National Housing Authority (NHA) and the Philippine Ports Authority (PAA).
“Modesty aside, we have the most number of housing projects in the whole province; these are well-built houses. Just recently, I inaugurated 400 houses for victims of Typhoon Sendong and other recent calamities,” he inputs.
To address the influx of migrants to the city, the mayor is partnering with foreign investors to build government centers, markets, and transport terminals and spread out the development in the different barangays to decongest the poblacion area.
To professionalize government service, the mayor vows to level the playing field for government workers. “Promotions are solely based on merit, no need for an endorsement from the barangay captain. One has to be civil service eligible. I am currently reviewing the list of those who have served the government for 20 years and are still on job order status; they will be promoted first. For an efficient disbursement of wages, the payroll is now via ATM,” he adds.
CHINA’S TOURISM INDUSTRY FUELS JOB CREATION. As part of the educational tour last January 2019, Mayor Remollo brought the 37-strong delegation (composed of the Vice mayor, city councilors, along with barangay captains of the city) to the famous Window of the World in Shenzhen, which features replicas of the world’s natural wonders, historical heritages and famous scenic sites as part of their educational tour.
GENTLE AND RETIREE-FRIENDLY
With a land area of 3,362 hectares, Dumaguete is the smallest in terms of land area among the province’s 19 municipalities/ towns and 6 cities. But despite its size, it was recognized by Forbes Magazine as the No. 5 Retirement Place in the World and by the Philippine Retirement Authority as the No. 1 Retiree-Friendly City in the Philippines.
The mayor explains why: “It’s very peaceful here; we are known as the ‘City of Gentle People.’ People know how to speak English. The cost of living is low coupled with the presence of tertiary hospitals. With USD900, a retiree can live like a king. Usually their pension averages to USD3,000 a month,” he says.
The city is also a convenient gateway to popular tourist attractions in Negros Oriental. One can watch the dolphins in Tanon Strait, swim in Manjuyod’s White Sand bar or the different falls and lakes, go bird watching in Tabalong Mangrove Park & Bird Sanctuary, snorkel in Apo Island, explore the Bulwang Caves, or visit the different churches like Catherine of Alexandria Church or the Chinese Bell Church. The list goes on.
Those in need of medical care need not worry because the city is opening two new private hospitals—the ACE Dumaguete Doctors, Inc. and the Negros Polymedic Hospital—in addition to Silliman University Medical Center Foundation Incorporated, Holy Child Hospital and Negros Oriental Provincial Hospital.
“The foreigners either live in Dumaguete or in the outskirts,” the mayor observes. “Some opt to live by the beach as there are towns adjacent to Dumaguete, which can be reached within 30 minutes. Dumaguete is 6 kilometer radius, it’s small, just slightly bigger than Makati in land area.”
The city is also near the airports of Sibulan (in the north) and Valencia (in the west), and is six kilometers away from Bacong, where the new international airport will be built.
Because of the city’s strategic location, it’s oftentimes spared from typhoons. “Kapag may parating na bagyo, sasabihin ko sa staff ko na nag-issue na ako ng executive order na bawal ang bagyo dito sa Dumaguete. Ayun, lumilihis naman. (Whenever there is an approaching storm, I would often joke that I have already issued an executive order that says storms are not allowed in Dumaguete. Luckily, the storm would change its course),” he chuckles. “Ever since I was mayor in 1998, there was not a single time when my executive order didn’t work. Nauna pa ako kay Quiboloy. Di ko nga lang kaya ang earthquake, hanggang bagyo lang kaya ko (I was even ahead of Quiboloy. But I can’t stop earthquake, only storms.)”
CHAMPIONING EDUCATION AND SPORTS
Dumaguete has a population of 500,000 by day and 180,000 by night, the city being the commercial, academic, and business district in the province of Negros Oriental.
The city is home to several schools, colleges, and universities. “We have four universities, 12 colleges, about 25 high schools, and 18 public elementary schools in Dumaguete. This includes the oldest St. Paul University (built in 1904) and Silliman University (founded in 1901),” notes Mayor Remollo.
“A lot of young people study here, which makes the night life exciting and vibrant, especially in the boulevard area where there are a lot of restaurants and bars,” observes the mayor.
For two consecutive years (2017 and 2018), the city has held the recognition as the LGU Sports Tourism Organizer of the Year, an award bestowed by the Philippine Sports Tourism Forum.
“Dumagueteños are sports lovers, so when I assumed the mayoral post in 2016, I immediately mounted a sports tourism congress. Then we began to invite organizers of marathon, triathlon, archery, muay thai, etc. to hold their events here,” shares the mayor.
They have so far hosted some of the popular sporting events in recent years such as the Southeast Asian Beach Handball Championship, the Batang Pinoy Games, the National University Games, Little League Philippines, Dragon Boat Challenge, Dumaguete Triathlon, the Central Visayas Regional Athletic Meet (CVIRAA), frisbee and the Beach Volleyball Republic, among others.
“We have modest facilities, but it’s the way we manage events,” the mayor says with pride. “We help with the logistics—let’s say there’s a triathlon, we close the streets, manage the traffic, Red Cross is on standby. I even provide the welcome dinner, freebies, trophies, and manpower. We also have sponsors that donate in kind. In the sports circle, they know that if it’s Dumaguete, it’s going to be a good one. Plus after the event, we make sure that we tour them in the various tourist spots around,” he expounds.
In fact, as early as last year, all hands were on deck in preparation for the ASEAN Schools Games, which the city will be hosting in November 2020 with the Department of Education and Province of Negros Oriental. About 3,000 athletes and ministers of education and sport from ten ASEAN countries, including the Philippines, are expected to gather in Dumaguete City for the very important sports meet.
According to DepEd Asec. Revsee Escobedo, they have started to organize the different committees, and their technical experts have already completed their inspection of the identified playing venues. “There will be eight sports, so we have to prepare the eight different playing venues within the city of the Dumaguete,” he says.
Asec. Escobedo says Dumaguete City was chosen as the venue for the ASEAN Schools Games because of its readiness in terms of playing venues, the overwhelming support of the local officials both from the city government and provincial government, and what the city can offer.
Asked what can be expected at the 12th ASEAN Schools Games, Asec. Escobedo has this to say: “This will be the most memorable ASEAN Schools Games in the history of ASEAN School Games. We will also showcase the Filipino hospitality, our beautiful tourist attractions here in Negros, and most especially, the Negros efficiency in preparation, hosting, and management.”
Without a doubt, the city is well underway to becoming the sports hub not only in the Visayas Region but the entire Philippines.
DREAMS FOR DUMAGUETE
The father of the city has high hopes for Dumaguete and its people. He dreams of a peaceful and progressive city, where people can walk without fear, enjoy clean, fresh environment, and an abundant life.
He assures his constituents: “Trust your government. The way we spend government money is prudent. The little resources we have, we prioritize high-impact projects. We balance the needs of infrastructure with social services. We make sure that those who want to retire here, whether foreigners or Filipinos, would adopt our culture of being peace-loving, gentle, and averse to bullying.”
And to those who will attempt to bully his city and its people, he has this message: “Remember, we may be gentle, but we are not pushovers.”