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City on the Rise


With his reforms for security, healthcare, education, and disaster responsiveness, Cagayan de Oro Mayor Oscar “Oca” Moreno bridges the Northern Mindanao region for collective progress



Cagayan de Oro City is located right at the heart of Northern Mindanao, and is considered by many as the gateway to the second largest island in the Philippines. Known as the “City of Golden Friendship,” it is no wonder that the rising metropolis is a melting pot of religion, ethnicities, and culture in the region. With the city being easily accessible to its neighboring regions, Cagayan de Oro has become a convergence point, which explains it being among the top 10 most populated cities in the country.

At the helm of this bustling and vibrant first-class, highly urbanized city is Mayor Oscar Moreno, or more fondly called as “Oca” by his constituents. When asked to describe his city and its people, he proudly declares that Cagayan de Oro is a resilient and friendly city. Its citizens embody generally shared traits of Filipinos, particularly openness and hospitality, even to strangers.

With Cagayan de Oro being the face and centerpiece of development in the region, Moreno saw that he can further impact on positive change in that part of the country at the city government level. He knows that what orderly and good governance he can achieve in the city will reverberate and be felt across the region and throughout the whole of Mindanao and even the country. “There are many things that are without boundaries—peace, health, education, disaster. It would be wrong to assume that they have defined territorial basis,” says Moreno as he shares his insight about seeing the broader and bigger picture in serving Cagayan de Oro City.

Through this belief, he concludes that bringing Cagayan de Oro to greater heights and harnessing its full potential will also effect greater change in the region. As he notably impacts the city with his reforms for security, healthcare, education, and disaster responsiveness, the region will symbiotically and immediately
feel the results as well.

Cagayan de Oro since 2013 and now on his second term, Moreno was relatively late in joining the public sector. He enjoyed considerable success in the corporate world, having served as vice president for prominent banking institutions such as Citibank and BPI, as well as being an associate director for the Ayala Group. He laughingly shares that even his wife could not understand why he left the private sector.

However, he shifts to a more serious demeanor as he recites from memory a quote by one of the most respected public servants from Cagayan de Oro, the late Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez, “Public service is an apostleship of sacrifice and service. You must use it to give of yourself unsparingly in the service of your people, not to make something of yourself.” Adjacent to his office table is a framed picture hanging on the wall with these same words, perhaps to serve as a constant reminder to the good mayor. He then chronicles how he was fortunate enough to have assisted Senate President Nene Pimentel, another highly respected public servant from Cagayan de Oro, for a couple of years during the early ’90s for a political and legal matter. During that time, he learned a lot from the brilliant legislator and that was when he saw the nobility in public service.

On his first stint in public office, he was elected and served two terms as the Representative of the First District of Misamis Oriental, when he was recognized by media organizations as one of the Top 10 Outstanding Congressmen and he also became a recipient of the Ramon V. Mitra Award. He then proceeded to serve three terms as the Governor of Misamis Oriental before his tenure as mayor, where he vastly expanded the road network, unprecedented in the history of the province, and notably improved the hospital system.

Moreno understands the role that Cagayan de Oro plays in its region when it comes to healthcare. He takes it as a challenge to level up this aspect in his local government as he advocates the improvement of hospitals and access to healthcare of the general public.

Raised by a father who chose to be a rural doctor instead of making it big in the city, Moreno grew up assisting patients and witnessed how life was so difficult for poor provincial folk who needed medical care. “I saw patients (coming down) from mountains just to seek medical care and bringing with them eggs and chicken and vegetables because they had no money to pay. My father served his patients with passion,” the mayor recalls. But, as if that was not enough, he shares an even bitter memory of the tragic consequences brought about by lack of proper healthcare. He remembers how he was holding his father in his arms, the older man gasping for breath. “I had to shout and shout, but there was no answer. I realized the chief of hospital was behind me, and she couldn’t do anything but just cry,” he recounts. Because of this traumatic experience, Moreno vowed to advocate reliable healthcare for all.

Even as governor of Misamis Oriental, he had pushed for reforms and innovation in its healthcare system. His efforts garnered the province one of the two Galing Pook Awards during his term. When he became mayor of Cagayan de Oro, he upgraded the quality and capacity of the lone city public hospital, the J.R. Borja Memorial City Hospital. After years of neglect, the hospital was in such a dismal state that the Borja family even tried to remove their name so as not to be associated with the hospital anymore.

Through proper focus and determined management, Moreno successfully resuscitated the hospital and paved the way for its expansion. Now furnished with new and modern facilities, the hospital is once more earning the confidence of the public. In fact, it will soon gain the stature of a medical center.

The city hospital has since then eclipsed its annual revenue of a paltry P19M in 2013, to posting more than P200M in revenues for 2017. Through effective utilization of the PhilHealth proceeds, the Health Facilities Enhancement Program of the DOH, and other external medical assistance programs, the revenues are able to fuel more improvements and have contributed to the general wellbeing of the city and its neighbors.

The mayor further shares that two more city governmentowned hospitals are about to begin construction in Lumbia and Tablon. “The idea is that the health services must be brought closer to the people,” he says, stressing that the underprivileged should gain access to medical services.

Being a proud product of the public school system for his primary education, Moreno points out that the history of Cagayan de Oro mentions how the first public high school in the city was established in 1909. Today, that school is called the Misamis Oriental General Comprehensive High School.

But recent history also shows how far the state of its public school infrastructure has deteriorated. When Moreno took over the city, the classrooms were so overcrowded that the schools had to conduct two shifts of classes per day, conditions that were not conducive to learning. Aghast at this sorry circumstance, he initiated rehabilitation efforts and improvements not just through the local government but likewise, with the Department of Education.

He is very pleased to report that these efforts have birthed significant results. “We have managed to build more than 400 classrooms all over the city in different barangays,” he shares. These facilities come complete with dedicated comfort rooms and roof decks, enhanced conditions that help the youth develop their potential in school.

The city boasts of a number of major universities and colleges, like Xavier University-Ateneo De Cagayan (recognized as among the top performing universities in the country), Liceo de Cagayan University, Capitol University, University of Science and Technology Southern Philippines, and Lourdes College, among others.

In 2011, Typhoon Sendong devastated Cagayan de Oro, leaving thousands dead and almost 100,000 people displaced from their homes. Learning from this tragic calamity, Moreno exerted efforts to bolster the city’s capability for disaster management. One of these undertakings was to institutionalize the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Department (CDRRMD).

Allan Porcadilla, the current head of CDRRMD, recalls that previous to Moreno’s term, the department’s functions were accomplished by volunteers from various sections. “Mayor Oca issued a memorandum converging all the volunteers and eventually regularized and hired additional employees and personnel dedicated to the disaster response team. After his first year as mayor, the office has already become a department,” Porcadillaattests. The department has since then developed its own early disaster warning system, as well as flood risk mitigation programs in partnership with academic institutions to ensure that such catastrophes can be better addressed. Porcadilla adds that Mayor Oca empowers them to decide on the properly use of the 5% budget for disaster management earmarked from the Internal Revenue Allotment, enabling them to reinforce their vehicles, equipment, and training in order to respond more effectively to emergencies.

The mayor proudly declares that his CDRRMD team is one of the best in the country. Today, the department has a complement of over 200 dedicated and round-theclock manpower, who can be readily dispatched to respond to emergencies, distress calls, vehicular accidents, fire suppression, urban search and rescue, and even possible terrorist attacks. Enhancing the response team’s capabilities is the recently launched computeraided emergency dispatch system. Cagayan de Oro is the second city in the country to have adopted a 911 24-7 response center. The system is patterned after the successful implementation of Davao City’s Central Communications and Emergency Response Center, as the city was fortunate enough to have invited Colonel Mario Monsanto to oversee the CRRMD and learn from the best practices of Davao.

It has been said that the youth is the future of the nation. While it is fundamentally true, reality is far from ideal as the youth sector is often disengaged or glaringly disconnected from the local government. However, Atty. Ernesto Neri, the first-ever chairman of the Oro Youth Development Council in 2014 when he was still a law student, shares that “for the youth, we scroll our newsfeeds and stand satisfied that we rant our complaints about government in our statuses and nestle in our concept of activism by simply sharing the link of an advocacy page.”

With the goal of having a proactive form of political engagement, Neri’s group, the Kagayanon for Good GovernanceYouth (KGG), which initially banded together as volunteers to conduct voters’ education seminars and youth consultations, strongly lobbied for a more tangible involvement in local governance.

Mayor Moreno was not indifferent to their vigor and youthful exuberance and welcomed their participation in helping create a betterCagayan de Oro. He signed Executive Order 072-14 which established the CDO Youth Development Council (OYDC), with the City Social Welfare and Development Office as secretariat.

Neri proudly says, “The unique feature of the OYDC is the institution of youth representatives in various local bodies of the city. I sit as youth representative in the local school board, while my colleagues also sit in other city bodies such as the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, among others.”

Although Neri acknowledges that the OYDC has a long way to go, it is no doubt a step in the right direction in enabling and empowering the next generation to better handle the future of the nation.

While the seasoned mayor acknowledges his achievements and breakthroughs, and is also proud of them, it is evident in his tone that he is not oneto rest on his laurels. “With more success, comes more challenges and expectations,” he says. Not that he complains, but rather, he looks forward to tackling these new challenges in serving his constituents as best as he could. He remains modest and unassuming, confessing that there is still much to be done until the potential of Cagayan de Oro City is fully realized. He is hopeful, now that he is on his second term as mayor and that he has a more cooperative city council.

What is evident in Moreno’s style of leadership is his humility in involving the community, whether private sector or the citizenry, realizing that everyone’s joint efforts will produce greater success. From empowering the youth, to seeking assistance from other government agencies, to collaborating with academic institutions, and emulating the best practices of other local government agencies, he knows how to lead and get everyone involved. His governance style is perceived to be more inclusive and is widely appreciated.

When asked about what he believes is the best about Cagayan de Oro, the mayor declares, “Aside from the people who are resilient and friendly, this is one city where you can enjoy the luxuries of a metropolitan area and still be able to savor the beauty of provincial life.”

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