BY CAMILLE F. CABAL
MAYOR RENE GUSTILO SHARES HIS HOMETOWN’SSUCCESS STORY ON CONTINUING AND PARTICIPATIVE LEADERSHIP—A LEGACY OF GOOD GOVERNANCE.
With over 7,600 islands, the Philippines is a treasure trove of gems, each boasting of scenic views, rich culture, and unique delicacies. While some shine brightly, there are hidden jewels that are worth seeking out and one of them is the beautiful city of San Carlos in Negros Occidental. Led by Mayor Renato “Rene” Y. Gustilo, the 2nd class component city is flanked by major cities (Iloilo, Bacolod, Cebu, and Dumaguete) on all sides. With its accomplishments and attractions, however, it is only a matter of time before the city gets its time in the limelight.
FROM A SMALL SITIO TO A SUCCESSFUL CITY
San Carlos used to be a sitio within the Municipality of Calatrava. Eventually, San Carlos was able to advance on its own, becoming a separate municipality. On July 1, 1960, it was formally reorganized as a city.
From the Silay Airport in Bacolod City, it takes up to two hours of land travel through winding, zigzag roads to reach San Carlos City. Regardless, the continuous trip was smooth because of the paved roads.
“From the zero point going to all barangays, mountain roads, almost everything is concrete. Riding a bicycle to the farthest barangay is possible because of the concrete roads. Why? Because of continuity,” Gustilo proudly says, crediting the road development to the joint efforts of the current and past administrations.
In 1999, the San Carlos local government established a 20-year Master Development Plan (MDP) that aims to establish energy-efficient infrastructure, promote economic productivity, and sustain social development and environmental protection.
The MDP is handled by the San Carlos Development Board. Headed by a chairman and a vice chairman from the private sector, the board is responsible for managing and coordinating the development of the city. This mandates all current and future public government leaders to pattern priorities based on the development plan regardless of political party.
With this, Gustilo stresses, the plans of the past, present, and future leaders of San Carlos are aligned to meet one goal anchored on the MDP. With no leader deviating from the plan thus far, it appears everything is full steam ahead for the developing city whose formula is based on unity and continuity.
Aside from the concrete roads, San Carlos was also ahead of the rest of the cities when it comes to managing waste, protecting biodiversity, and utilizing water waste. In 1999, a waste management system was already put in place while the nationwide Ecological Solid Waste Management Act was only enacted in 2000.
Gustilo shares that out of the 19 hectares allotted for their dumpsite, the city only occupies five hectares so far because the city implements strict waste segregation. He adds that the next goal is to implement waste-toproduct technology in the city which he claims is already funded and when pushed, the city will be able to transform used plastics into school armchairs and other products. Aside from that, the city also has various wastewater treatment facilities in place and Gustilo already set aside funds for the establishment of the septage treatment plant to manage septic tank problems in every household.
Everything we’ve done, these are all part of the Master Development Plan. But do we stop there? No, we have to continue.
The city also regulates the use of single-use plastic especially in the wet market. The vendors replaced singleuse plastics with leaves of the binunga (Macaranga tanarius) tree. According to Engineer Arthur Batomalaque, the city’s Integrated Waste Management/ Pollution Control division head, using binunga leaves as temporary packaging is more effective than using banana leaves because they are less prone to
In addition, the city boasts of the 405-hectare San Carlos Ecozone, the first Economic Zone in Negros Occidental. Located here is the San Carlos BioPower (SCBP), San Carlos Bioenergy Incorporated (SCBI - Ethanol Plant), San Carlos Solar Energy Inc. (SACASOL) and SACASUN (San Carlos Sun Power, Inc.) with a total installed capacity of more than 100 Megawatts (MT). It can power the entire city and even export power to nearby regions.
Guided by the master plan, Gustilo is aware that he has to do his part in developing the city and preparing it for the next generation of leaders. LEAGUE was shown around the City Hall Annex that is currently under construction and the lot purchased by the city for the utilization of the succeeding mayors should they want to add more infrastructures.
Naming a few of the many things San Carlos has accomplished, Gustilo reveals that all their efforts have earned them Galing Pook Awards and six consecutive Seal of Good Local Governance (SGLG) awards, claiming they are one of the few local government units (LGUs) in the country to receive the award six consecutive times. And they have set their sights on attaining the seventh.
BEING A FATHER TO THE CITY
Growing up, Gustilo wanted to do a lot of things. He recalls wanting to be a doctor, pilot, or soldier when he was in high school but then college happened and it led to a paradigm shift. He saw the importance of agriculture for the community so he enrolled in the College of Agriculture in Silliman University, a private university in Dumaguete City. While he was not able to finish his degree, politics still never crossed his mind.
Like most politicians who just found themselves thrust into governance, Gustilo was also persuaded by the people to run for public office. He shares that some barangays in the past had no electricity access and would borrow generators from his business’ factory for their festivities. Eventually, they brought up the idea of Gustilo running for an elective post and pledged their support should the day come.
In 1998, Gustilo ran for the first time and won as a councilor, serving the city for nine years. Despite having little to no reputation at the provincial level, he then tried his luck and landed a seat in the provincial board, serving for another nine years. Eventually, Gustilo went back to the city and served as vice mayor for one term before running for the mayoralty. From his first stint in public service until now on his second term as mayor, Gustilo proudly reveals that he has never lost an election.
“It’s rare, I guess, for a college dropout to finish full terms as a councilor and then a board member. Now, I hope I get to finish another three terms as mayor. What more can you ask for in life [after that]?” Gustilo muses when asked about his proudest moments.
Revealing more about his personal life, Gustilo admits he is pure Chinese. “Gustilo” is the last name his father adopted to become a naturalized Filipino. Three of his siblings were also naturalized Filipinos while he and two other siblings are natural-born citizens.
Another fun fact Gustilo shares was his smoking habit which started when he was in Grade 4. But then he became vice mayor and was pushed by then Mayor (now Congressman) Gerardo Valmayor, Jr. to follow the “No Smoking” ordinance. As someone who had a two-cigarette-packsa- day smoking habit, Gustilo admits that he had a hard time complying with the law because it meant having to look for private and legal spots to smoke in.
Naming a few of the many things San Carlos has accomplished, Gustilo reveals that all
their efforts have earned them Galing Pook Awards and six consecutive Seal of Good
Local Governance (SGLG) awards.
“I would smoke in a privately-owned football field. After a few sticks, I would go back upstairs. After a short while, I would crave for another cigarette so I would go downstairs again to smoke. Then I realized that I was leading a bad example especially that I was the vice mayor so I decided to stop,” Gustilo narrates.
Realizing that he was setting a bad example to his children, his constituents (which he considers an extension of his family), and his staff, Gustilo went cold turkey, adding: “I have my office as vice mayor, I could not show my employees that I’m smoking inside the office because then I’d be setting a bad example.”
As of the interview, Gustilo has not smoked for seven years already but shares that according to his doctor, he needs three more years of being smoke-free to finally be rid of the temptation. His children, he reveals, were happiest about his decision to quit smoking because they hated the smell of cigarettes and were concerned for his
AN IDEAL COMMUNITY
While Gustilo credits the majority of the projects in San Carlos to the previous mayors, he also shares programs he is proud to have started during his administration. Among those is the creation of the Heritage, Culture and Arts Council, a council that started during the pandemic to revive the celebration of the local culture.
One of the first goals of the council was to form their city’s own orchestra and vocal ensemble—a feat, Gustilo shares, that would be a first for their province. Several talents hailing from their city were recruited to join the team—the San Carlos City Chamber Orchestra & Vocal Ensemble (SCCCOVE). However, one setback was the financial incapability of members to undergo lessons or purchase instruments. Gustilo hired an instructor under the condition that he will train future members for free and that the city government provided the equipment needed. This orchestra has already performed in Glorietta during the Negros Trade Fair and impressed the audience who was blown away by the sheer talent of the small city orchestra.
Aside from musicians, Gustilo also supports aspiring athletes in the city. The city government allows the free use of public courts and they also hired coaches for lawn tennis, table tennis, basketball, badminton, volleyball, football, boxing, and even taekwondo to train the youth for free.
During LEAGUE’s visit, the city was hosting a tennis tournament called the Unified Tennis Philippines (UTP) Elite 8 Championships where the country’s top 8 tennis players were competing. Present at the event was Mr. Jacinto Tomacruz III, the board director and general manager of Unified Tennis Philippines, the overall sponsor of the tournament.
Tomacruz vouched for San Carlos’ tennis program: “Imagine, the coaches were hired by the LGU and then conducted an all-year-round free tennis program for the youth of San Carlos. That’s very rare; the youth of San Carlos are very lucky because tennis is a very expensive game.”
He adds that the free dorm for players including guest players is very important since not all athletes can afford to rent a dorm when visiting another city for a tournament. Tomacruz was referring to city government-owned San Carlos Tennis Center, with a two-storey dormitory which can accommodate up to 65 guests.
“Everything we’ve done, these are all part of the Master Development Plan. But do we stop there? No, we have to continue. We are currently planning the next 20 years because it is our duty to look out for the best interests of the people of San Carlos,” Gustilo ends.