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Mayor Aleli-3

After nearly two decades in public service, Mayor Noel Rosal
has changed Legazpi City for good. And he is gearing up for more.



Mayor Aleli-1

This is not the first time the mayor graced the pages of LEAGUE Magazine. Only a year has passed since we featured Mayor Noel Rosal in our December 2018 issue, but the seasoned politician already has much more to tell.


One of the biggest achievements of the city government last year was the launching of the 200 square-meter Museo de Legazpi, which showcases the history of the city in chronological order—from the Ibalong Epic, Sawangan, and the city’s precolonial roots up to recent history when Legazpi attained cityhood for the third time in 1959.

The numerous dioramas in the museum also portray the Spanish Era and the Old Albay District, as well as the Battle of Legazpi, which occurred during the American Occupation. During the museum’s inauguration, Rosal revealed that the city government spent nothing on its construction because of the public-private agreement with WholeGrain Land Inc.

Another location in the city that is steadily gaining the attention of both tourists and investors is Legazpi Boulevard. Numerous cafes and restaurants can be found along the boulevard that offers an excellent view of Mayon Volcano. Rosal reveals that the city’s 18-hole Mayon Golf Course is undergoing rehabilitation and sports enthusiasts are anticipating its reopening.

By 2020, Legazpi City aims to be the top convention destination in Luzon. The city has been working towards this goal for a long time, and through the years, they have been gradually shooting up the ranks. In 2016, Legazpi City was ranked 5th for Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE).

On average, the city hosts around 93 MICE events per year. And in 2018, over 200 MICE events were held in Legazpi City. The thousands of delegates arriving in Legazpi for events account for much of the city’s 1.2 million domestic and foreign tourists. And the city is gearing up for more.

This year, the 5th International River Summit will be held in Legazpi City and expectations are running high. Around 3,000 delegates are expected to arrive and Rosal shares that preparations have started as early as 2018. “This will be a shining moment. It’s a perception of strength. We will be introducing [Legazpi City] to the world and this [event] will brand us as a tourism and convention city. We have to make the best of it,” Rosal says.

The Mayor believes that if the delegates are pleased with the city then naturally, as a “ripple effect,” more tourists will flock to Legazpi. Rosal poses the question, “How were you able to take advantage of the [situation], while there were delegates here?”

Rosal further stresses that tourists appreciate a city that is affordable, clean, visually appealing, has plenty of businesses such as restaurants and activities, and has accomodations, which offer excellent service. “That’s tourism. It’s ‘hitting two birds with one stone.’ It’s a convention, but you are promoting [the city as a tourist destination] at the same time,” he explains.


According to their official website, the city generated Php1.1 billion in total revenue in 2018. This was made possible by continuously boosting their major industries: agriculture, trade, tourism, and services. As of 2018, there were over 6,000 registered business establishments and the city had a labor force of over 100,000.

With the city booming now more than ever, it is no wonder that Rosal was appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte as the new chairperson of the Regional Development Council (RDC) for Bicol. Rosal replaced Albay Governor Al Francis Bichara whose term as the RDC chair ended in 2019. As for his plans as the new RDC chair, Rosal believes it’s high time for the Bicol region to reach its full potential so that it will no longer be “one of the poorest provinces in the Philippines.”

“We should know the strengths and weaknesses [of each city] and we should set the direction for Bicol,” Rosal urges. “Now that I’m the RDC chair, I want to talk to the governor. What else can we do to attract more investors to Bicol?”

Rosal muses that some places, such as Camarines Norte and Masbate, have a strong mining industry, while others like Legazpi City have an established tourism sector. “We are very rich in natural resources and attractions—beaches, whale sharks, and the Mayon Volcano. We have everything. We just have to put the proper infrastructure and connectivity.”

For the long-time mayor, the key is in bridging the people. And he means this literally. By building roads, bridges, and other infrastructure that will increase mobility or cut travel time, Rosal believes that the result will be a better economy.

“One of our flagship projects [as the new RDC chair] is the mega highway. We want to shorten the travel time. For example, going to Baguio, you can now take the TPLEX. We need to do that for Bicol. We need to cut [the travel time from] 12 hours to at least six to seven hours. The mega highway will connect Manila, Lucena, and Camarines Sur,” the mayor reveals.

Another one of their projects is also a bridge that will connect Bicol to Samar, from Matnog, Sorsogon to Allen, Northern Samar. Rosal, however, admits that it will entail a lot of funding and could be a multi-billion peso project. But he is optimistic that it is doable, as long as it is made a priority, especially if he could get the President’s endorsement.

“If you look at it, this will really bridge the gap especially when delivering goods. This will be a cheaper way to connect the goods and people. Morning or night, you can travel because the bridge is there,” Rosal explains.

Aside from the mega highway, Rosal is also pushing for the resumption of operations of the Philippine National Railways (PNR) that travels from Manila to Bicol. The passenger train, also known as the Bicol Express or the South Long Haul Railway, is set to launch partial operations by 2021.

Last December 2019, the PNR signed a deal for new trains, which were purchased from the Chinese firm CRRC Zhuzhou Locomotive Co. Ltd. “This train will represent the first trip for the South Long Haul Project, or what we call PNR Bicol, and it will significantly cut the travel time between Manila and the Bicol Region,” said PNR General Manager Junn Magno during the contract signing last December 18.

Rosal refers to the railway system as the “missing link,” because it is the cheapest form of transportation from Manila. Once relaunched, travel time from Manila would only be six or seven hours. But he also assures that it is also an effort that will ensure the “security of the rights and privileges of the people who will be dislocated.” He further stresses that those affected will be relocated, and that the government is working closely with the National Housing Authority (NHA).

Another priority for both the city government and the national government is the construction of the Bicol International Airport, which is set to be finished by 2020. The new international aiport will replace the old Legazpi airport, which will be revamped as an investment area.

“Like what they did in Iloilo, the old airport will be bidded out. The 77 hectares will give opportunities to Bicolanos, because it will promote tourism and generate jobs,” Rosal shares, dubbing the airport as the “last of the Mohicans,” because it is one of his final projects. The mayor hopes that by the time the local airport is redeveloped, “if God permits and the people permit, I will still be running the show.”

Once operational, the new Bicol International Airport will handle roughly two million passengers annually. But with the looming sisterhood agreement between Legazpi City and Hengyang, China, it seems more tourists are anticipated to arrive.

As the second largest city in Hunan Province in China, Hengyang has a population of approximately eight million people. Rosal shares that the sisterhood agreement with the city involves opening a direct flight between Guangzhou and Legazpi City. He hopes that tourists from both countries will take advantage of the route.

“Hengyang has a lot of tourist attractions that plenty of Filipinos have not seen yet. They can also visit our city,” he says, sharing that he has visited the Chinese city a few times.

While the city is relatively small compared to other major cities in China, such as Beijing and Shanghai, Rosal thinks that Legazpi can benefit from their developing industries. “We can develop our agriculture, because their city has great agricultural programs that we can learn from. [Hengyang] can also build trucks and jeepneys that we can use. Actually, some of our jeepneys are already made in China, because we have a local partner from Manito.”


Tourism is at the forefront of the master plan Rosal has for the city of Legazpi. But there is another major concern that poses an imminent threat to that industry—natural calamities. As their province faces the Pacific Ocean and is frequented by typhoons, Rosal is deeply invested in making Legazpi City an “all-weather city.”

“The biggest challenge, for me, is how to combat climate change. It’s a development issue,” he says, adding that an average of 20 typhoons hit the country every year.

Rosal cited the Php2.1 billion flood control project, which was completed in 2016. But he added that there are prerequisites that still need to be added, such as detention basins. “Becoming an all-weather city is essential to being seen as a highly competitive city, because it entails being effective in four aspects: government efficiency, economic dynamism, infrastructure, and we can’t forget about resiliency,” he stresses, citing the criteria for competitive local government units set by the National Competitiveness Council (NCC).

With all that the city government is doing, Rosal is pleased that award-giving bodies are noticing their efforts. Legazpi City has received the prestigious Seal of Good Local Governance (SGLG) Award for the last four years and was even recognized as an SGLG Hall of Famer in 2018.

Since 2016, Legazpi has consistently met the criteria set by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). Rosal admits that the award is not easy to win, saying that everything, even the tiniest details, have to be continuously managed or thought of.

The mayor shares that out of the 146 cities in the Philippines, only 57 have received the award.

“We’re all working and only less than half get the award. It’s a low number, but Legazpi won for the fourth consecutive time, which means we are consistent,” Rosal says.

He also mentions the award for the Most Business-Friendly City and the National Competitiveness Award. While the city won first place in the past years for these awards, they fell a spot or two in 2019. But Rosal admits that the competition is tough.

“This time, we’re just a finalist. But that’s okay. What’s important is that they notice our city, and what’s more important is that we maintain or level up every year. If you don’t level up and everyone else does, then you’ll be left behind,” he notes.

For Rosal, these awards raise the expectations of the people, and becomes a pressure for the city government to meet. “Because if we lose the awards, they’ll think that I’ve lost control of the city, or that I’m no longer determined. But I’m confident that we’ve now established a system in Legazpi.”

Despite these awards, the leader laments that poverty is still plaguing Legazpi. In order to tackle the issue, Rosal is focusing on providing job opportunities for his people. He explains further that it would entail strengthening the economy through investors, but accesibility to the region provides an extra challenge to his plan. But Rosal thinks that this is essential, not only to the development of Legazpi but the country. “If you want to decongest Manila, we have to strengthen the provinces,” he says.

Aside from the distance to the country’s capital, infrastructure, power, and insurgency are some of the problems that drive investors away. To resolve insurgency, Rosal shares that the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) plans to use Php3.5 billion to provide for the needs of the people, especially in far-flung areas. The mayor explains that the city government identified “isolated barangays that don’t have roads, power, water, medicine, hospitals, or even land reform.”

He believes that the key to ending local conflicts is making sure that the people feel the presence of the local government. In an interview regarding the President’s Executive Order No. 70, Rosal says that he believes “poverty, injustice, and the poor delivery of government services are the root causes of insurgency.” He further added that while “high-profile developments” are also necessary for economic growth, the government “should not forget Juan Dela Cruz.”

While infrastructure and investments are important for the progress of Legazpi, Rosal notes that it is all for nothing if the people who live in the city do not feel the ripple effect. “We need to provide opportunities for the people, because they need to have the purchasing power. Whatever country I go to, I notice that the people are happy because their family is secured.”

But the mayor is not just focused on the working class, he is also focused on the education of the children, lamenting that when he first assumed office there were only two national high schools and that the dropout rate was at 60 percent.

“What did we do? We put a high school in every corner. We now have 13 national high schools and the dropout rate is roughly less than seven percent. The turnaround is astounding because you put the infrastructure where it is needed, near the people,” Rosal beams.

He shares that the reason for the very high dropout rate in the past was because while the tuition was free, schools were still far from the average people, which meant spending money on transportation and more. With the additional schools, parents need not worry about transportation, because it is within walking distance and children are no longer forced to work as farmers. And as someone who believes that “education is the one thing we could leave behind,” Rosal is proud of what the city government has done.


Rosal was an industrial engineer by profession who first entered San Miguel Corporation when he was in Manila. When his father suffered a stroke, Rosal had to go back to Legazpi City where he took over their business, a mining company. Their business used to partner with Grefco, a US company, and was one of the top companies in the Bicol region.

Upon returning to Legazpi, Rosal saw the potential of their city and was frustrated with the lack of development, noting that the problems they experienced as children were still present decades later. “Why shouldn’t somebody from the private [sector] run the local government? So I entered the barangay elections, just to show them what I can do for my barangay.”

When he won, the first issue he tackled was the infrastructure of Barangay Gogon. He had roads built, drainages fixed, lights installed, and more. He slowly made a name for himself, which led to his invitation to the city council. “But I was hesitant [to join]. I’m the president of a very big mining company, I’m earning a lot, and I have all the privileges. Should I leave all that behind to serve the people of Legazpi?”

As history would have it, Rosal now has a political career that spans almost two decades. For him, it was all about loving the people and his work. It was a matter of commitment and of course, having a plan.

“This is not the greener pasture. You shouldn’t [enter politics] if your ambition is to get rich. This opportunity is all for the fulfillment of seeing your city change for the better,” Rosal admits. “And I’m happy, because our biggest accomplishment is giving a better life to the people. Before, when it was six o’clock, the streets would be empty because they have no money. Now they have jobs and they can spend time with their families in the malls, the boulevard, and more.”

When asked about Barangay Gogon, Rosal confesses he still has some bias for his hometown. He proudly shares that it is one of the best barangays, equipped with a solid waste management facility, basic infrastructure, and a park. “The people are so happy that I haven’t left them behind since then and up to now.”

He shares that because of his accomplishments, plenty are pushing for him to run for higher office. But Rosal remains dedicated to the betterment of Legazpi City. “For me, there’s still plenty that we can do. And it’s not that I’m the only one who can do this, but I see that continuity is very crucial. I will still ask the people if they want me to continue.”

Rosal is confident that within the next decade, the city of Legazpi will lead the Bicol region. Not only because of its infrastructure and tourism potential, but because of the master plan of the city. And for this, he only asks for the people’s continued trust and confidence. He assures his constituents that the plan is for their children, because they are the future of Legazpi.

Following a blueprint, Mayor Noel Rosal has been devoting the last two decades of his life to improving Legazpi City. It is the bigger picture that drives him to serve the people. While the city has vastly changed since he first started as a barangay chairman, Rosal is not calling it quits yet. In any way he can, the veteran public servant is determined to finish the plan.

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