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A Mission Fulfilled

Uy believes that the government’s role in ending poverty is to provide an environment that allows people to break the cycle themselves—to be self-reliant, not governmentdependent.


By Camille F. Cabal


For someone who came from Manila, visiting Dipolog City in Zamboanga del Norte felt almost foreign. Dipolog boasts of developments and technologies that are rarely observed in other cities in the Philippines. And the man behind the success of Dipolog is the calm and quiet Mayor Darel Dexter Uy.

Uy was born in Manila, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Interior Design at De La Salle College of Saint Benilde (DLSCSB). His Dipolog-based parents made Uy and his siblings go home to the city so they could look after the brood while working. After graduation, he was eventually trained in the family’s corporate businesses in several industries—hardware, petrol, and agriculture.

Working as a businessman for years, Uy knew that he was meant for bigger things. He felt the need to explore other cultures and so he tried working abroad. “I wanted to experience working outside our family business. Wala pang (I was just there for less than) one year, learning experience lang talaga sa (just learning from the) supermarket business of my friend,” Uy says of his brief working experience in the United States (US).

Despite concentrating on the world of business for years, Uy claims he is not clueless when it comes to the world of politics.

I wanted to improve our city, to develop more infrastructure projects and improve the services of the city government.

Eventually, Uy had to face what he was destined to be, as both his parents were involved in politics. His father, Roberto, was city mayor from 1998 to 2007, and was succeeded by his mother, Evelyn. As the female chief executive neared the end of her third and last term, he knew that he had to step up. By then, he was ready to continue the 18 years of service that his family had dedicated to the city. He said that his involvement in his parents’ programs exposed him to the Dipolognons and their partymates, who saw that he had the capacity to fill the big shoes of his parents.

Uy confesses that it didn’t take much convincing, as aiming for the mayorship was already on his mind since he has a lot of plans for the city. “I want to improve our city, to develop more infrastructure projects, and improve the services of the city government,” Uy shares.

Now that the world is recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, it left everyone with a lesson: to always be ready. When asked about how Dipolog was during the pandemic, Uy reveals that their local government, along with the governors and mayors, had trouble dealing with the unprecedented situation which brought the world to a standstill, as local and national governments around the world scrambled for solutions and coping strategies. However, Dipolog was one step ahead of the rest as they were already equipped with a system that helped them tide the pandemic over.

In January 2017, a strong flash flood hit Southern Philippines, which caused almost 7,000 people to evacuate from their homes and resulted in the death of seven people. Dipolog was one of the cities that experienced a month’s worth of rain in just a day. The city’s vulnerability to natural disasters such as typhoons, floods, landslides, and tsunamis drove Uy to establish measures to reduce risks. In 2017, he issued Executive Order (EO) No. 34, providing for the establishment and activation of the Dipolog Emergency Operations Center (EOC) that will operate round-the-clock. All concerns in the local and national government offices are centralized in the command center which, according to Uy, is inspired by the 911 emergency hotline in the US, a centralized hotline for all telecommunication companies.

Whenever a Dipolognon needs an ambulance, a firefighter, or medical assistance, all they need to do is call the EOC, and the EOC will be the one responsible for dispatching their calls to the needed responders. The EOC is also equipped with surveillance cameras that monitor the incoming and outgoing boats near Dipolog Boulevard, facing the Sulu Sea. The cameras are sharp enough to focus on objects that are 9,000 meters away, which helps the EOC immediately identify if the boat is registered to the city or not.

Uy claims they are lucky to have established an organized system of contacting respective responders before the pandemic. But while his work as a mayor in the middle of COVID-19 was more streamlined with the EOC, they continued to develop the system to adapt to the pandemic. The city also established the Incident Command Post (ICP), which is responsible for identifying COVID- 19-positive cases, isolating patients, and distributing relief goods. They converted the city’s sports center and public classrooms into quarantine facilities. For this, Uy expressed his gratitude to the Department of Education (DepEd) for providing them space. Although Uy admits everything was a challenge, the ICP helped in hastening the processes, as time is crucial when dealing with lifeand- death situations.

When it comes to testing, Dipolog established an RT-PCR laboratory so that results will come out faster. Uy was glad to have received enough rapid and antigen test kits, which they distributed to all the hospitals in the city. When vaccines became available, Dipolog had a massive campaign on educating the Dipolognons. He encouraged barangay officials to inform the people. Uy himself talked to a lot of people to convince them about the benefits of vaccines. House-to-house and drive-through vaccinations were also rolled out in and out of hospitals. All of these efforts resulted in a 112.54-percent fully vaccinated population rate, which included not only those living in Dipolog City but also people from nearby provinces who benefited from their program.

Overall, Dipolog’s pandemic response served as a model for other cities and municipalities. Because of this, Uy’s leadership amidst the pandemic was noticed by the Department of Health (DOH). This made him one of DOH’s “Disiplina Muna” ambassadors in 2020. And in April 2021, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) recognized Dipolog as the second Most Functional COVID-19 Task Force in Region 9 under the Component City Category. The city also earned the top recognition in Regional Disaster Preparedness under the Component City Category in October 2022.

A week before LEAGUE visited Dipolog to meet Uy, the mayor was in Thailand to receive an award from the Zuellig Family Foundation (ZFF), a non-government organization (NGO) that focuses on improving the health of Filipinos in rural communities by introducing programs to local health leaders. “I received an award from the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute as the Philippines’ champion for Adolescent and Youth Sexual Reproductive Health (ASRH) under The Challenge Initiative,” Uy proudly shares.

In 2020, ZFF started The Challenge Initiative (TCI) program in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health (GI). Its goal is to reduce teenage pregnancies by bringing the family planning program to communities. Dipolog City is one of its pilot cities together with Puerto Princesa and Cagayan de Oro. It will soon be introduced to more cities in collaboration with the Commission on Population and Development (PopCom).

In the Leadership Circle for Mayors for the TCI program in Makati City, held in October 2022, Uy received a commendation for his efforts in the significant decrease of teenage pregnancy in Dipolog since 2018. From 548, recorded teenage pregnancies in the city went down to 171 in 2022. Uy committed to all Barangay Health Stations and Teen Centers to be child-friendly, at the same time, reactivated all 15 school-based Teen Centers. In the same program, Uy encouraged all city and community leaders to engage the youth in various health activities.

If there’s something other cities can emulate from Dipolog, Uy says it’s their child-friendly programs. “You know, it’s really also important, especially with the growing population. Hindi natin puwedeng hayaan na dumami nang dumami ‘yung mga teenage mom kasi of course problema rin ng lahat ng LGU ‘yun, especially the national government, kaya (We can’t just ignore the growing number of teenage moms because it’s a problem for both the LGU and national government so) we really have to look into [resolving] that.”

Uy claims that Dipolog is considered the fastest-growing economy in Western Mindanao. “For more than five years, Dipolog was named Overall Most Competitive City in Region 9, and in 2021 we ranked number 17 nationwide in terms of Economic Dynamism.”

Despite all of these recognitions, Uy acknowledges that the local government still needs to exert more effort in reducing the number of Dipolognons who are experiencing poverty.

While continuously developing the city, Uy ensures that progress does not mean neglecting the welfare of the economically challenged residents. In fact, when Uy started developing the river park during his first term, families who will be affected by the renovation were properly relocated. The river park was also created not just to become a public recreational ground; it was also created for river control and for the protection of those residing beside the river. Uy also sees the project as an opportunity to boost the livelihood of the residents. The housing project will be given to residents for free. While the families fully hold the ownership of the properties, the local government keeps the title to prevent the families from selling the units and going back to their old situation of becoming illegal settlers.

While the local government does its part in helping its poor communities, Uy believes that solving poverty is a two-way effort. He calls on all Dipolognons to unite and work with the local government in making Dipolog a better city. “The belief that the government alone can solve poverty is a misplaced one. Our mission as a local government is to provide an enabling environment that will continually improve the quality of life of the people. It is the people themselves who will break the ties of poverty. The role of government as an enabler is to provide the opportunities for inclusive development, and we provide the means to help everyone that helps themselves,” Uy emphasizes. When asked about his last term, Uy was confident that by that time, he has done his best to give Dipolognons an ideal life. “On June 30, 2025, to be exact, that is the day that I will end my [final] term as mayor of Dipolog. And that is also the day that I can tell myself and God that I have done my best as a leader and as a servant. And that I have done my very best to fulfill the mandate and duty given to me for nine years,” Uy says.

“The belief that the government alone can solve poverty is a misplaced one. Our mission as a local
government is to provide an enabling environment that will continually improve the quality of life of the people. It is the people themselves who will break the ties of poverty.”

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