The Queen City
JOURNEYTO THE TOP
Naga City Mayor John Bongat, with his gamechanging leadership, braced by a solid foundation of good governance, is expected to continue leading his beloved city to greater heights
INTERVIEW BY LAKAMBINI BAUTISTA
PHOTOGRAPHY BY RICKY LADIAADDITIONAL PHOTOS COURTESYOF NAGA CITY TOURISM OFFICE
Naga City’s solid track record speaks for itself. The “Queen City of Bicol” has consistently figured at
the top rankings of the National Competitiveness Council (NCC). Naga was adjudged as the overall
No. 1 most competitive component city in 2015 and 2016. When the competitiveness rankings first
started in 2013, component and highly-urbanized cities were not differentiated and yet Naga ranked ninth. It jumped six places to capture the third place in 2014, before clinching the top spot for component cities in 2015 and 2016. In 2017, Naga ranked first in government efficiency, third in economic dynamism, and third in infrastructure.
The term “inclusive leadership” naturally comes up when Mayor John Bongat starts talking about keys to good governance. “That may sound like a technical term. But it just means that the city government by itself cannot hope to bring about the changes that we need in Naga. We have to engage and mobilize
other government agencies, the private sector, non-government partners, even individual citizens. My role as a leader is to help craft a vision and goals that we all believe in; enable sectors and people to contribute to those goals; and make sure that we are all going in the right direction,” says Mayor Bongat.
He explains that while improving government efficiency is well within the control of City Hall, they also have to take into account the processes of national government agencies in Naga.
Applying for permits, for instance, entails dealing with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the
Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), and the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), among others. Hence, to ensure
that they are on top of the rankings, they have to discuss and agree on processes that they have to put in
place to enhance efficiency.
Mayor Bongat explains further, “Infrastructure does not count only the facilities put in place by both
local and national government. It also looks into private infrastructure such as telecommunications
facilities, accommodations for businessmen and tourists, and educational and health facilities. For us
to put the necessary infrastructure in place, we have to be able to get their inputs, discuss with them, and
convince them about priority development concerns.
“Economic dynamism largely measures the investments made by, and productivity of, the local business community. The role here of a local government is to put in place an environment where business can thrive. Again, that requires engagement and inclusive decision-making. The private sector has to feel that it is listened to and that is it part of the growth of Naga.
“Disaster resiliency is not only about rescue and relief. Engagement with all sectors is necessary as it deals with the ability of an entire community to weather natural and man-made calamities and resume life immediately after.”
NAGA SMILES TO THE WORLD
The term “SMILES” is more than just a word describing Nagueños’ outgoing nature. It’s in fact an acronym that symbolizes Naga’s goals of strengthening its position as a fast-growing progressive city in Bicol and in Southern Luzon.
Mayor Bongat shares that he and his core team thought of the term in 2010, before he was sworn in as mayor. While they had a pretty good grasp of their initial priorities—health, housing especially
for the urban poor, education, livelihood, investments, tourism development, public safety, the environment, and good governance—they felt that they had to “market” their vision in a way that constituents and stakeholders can easily understand.
He challenged his team to think of action words to convey the dynamism in his administration’s plan. At first, they came up with the words “study,” “invest,” and “live.” Naga, being a top tourist destination and venue for hosting national events and conventions, they naturally decided to use “see” and “meet.”
To highlight Naga’s distinction as a model for good governance, Mayor Bongat suggested the
word “experience.” “As chance would have it, when we looked at the first letters of these verbs, they spelled out S-M-I-L-E-S. See Naga, Meet in Naga, Live in Naga, Experience Naga, and Study in Naga. To market our vision, we came up with the phrase ‘Naga SMILES to the World,’” he quips.
STATE OF THE CITY
The city’s chief executive says he is most proud of the fact that over the course of his tenure,
they have seen significant and permanent improvements in basic aspects of living in the city such as health, housing, education, the economy, and peace and order. “The city’s physical landscape has changed for the better over the past seven years, perhaps the fastest such change in several decades. We are now among the country’s billionaire cities with local government revenues exceeding the billion mark
in 2017. And that is not due to IRA, but to local revenues from a booming economy,” Mayor Bongat points out.