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Carrying the Torch of Good Local Governance


The late Mayor Jose “Ondo” Cardenas passed away more than two decades ago, but his legacy lives on in the local governance of Canlaon City, with his son, now Mayor Jose Chubasco “Batchuk” Cardenas, carrying on his father’s legacy. In 2000, the rebel group New People’s Army (NPA) staged an ambush that led to Mayor Ondo’s death.

Among the siblings, Jose, or “Batchuk,” as he is affectionately known, was the least likely to enter politics, given that he was far from his family because he was studying in Dumaguete City and was in charge of their poultry business there. His other brothers served as barangay kagawads, sangguniang kabataan chairman, and government employees. The young Cardenas even told his father he had no interest in public service and never gave politics any thought.He was not even recognized in his school asthe son of the mayor of Canlaon, as his father consistently discouraged him from boasting about his family’s political background. The city hall was off limits to them. His father would always say, “Because when you visit the city hall, the government employees will give praise to you, for you are the children of the mayor.” He feels, however, that his father had already trained him at that time. Even at the age of 16, his father would send him to meetings attended by adults. When his father died, his followers would organize gatherings and ask him to preside. Cardenas admits that he was not a good speaker at that time: “I vividly recall my first speech in one of the barangays; I just said good afternoon. I am Mayor Ondo’s son, and I am eager to serve. Thank you. Please vote for me.”

The NPA also ambushed his mother, Mayor Judith, during her tenure as local chief executive, but she managed to survive. That, however, did not deter Cardenas from taking over the leadership of Canlaon City, just like his parents. In public service, his father’s teachings on maintaining a good name and reputation were his bible. The importance of humility, integrity, and values instilled in him by his father, whom he considers his hero, guided his actions as mayor.

Cardenas acknowledges criticisms about his family’s long-standing involvement in public service as a means to create a political dynasty in Canlaon. His father became the city’s mayor when he was appointed as officer in charge by then-President Corazon Aquino right after the Edsa Revolution. When Mayor Ondo finished his term, his mother became mayor. However, Cardenas remains unfazed by this, as he firmly believes that his family’s significant contributions to the city of Canlaon are evident in their electoral victories. According to him, his father was recognized as a mayor in Negros Oriental who did many firsts, especially on infrastructure projects in Canlaon City. His mother improved the city’s tourism. “I regard my father as a politician, and I idolize him based on the stories of the people about Ondo Cardenas,” he says.


Despite criticisms from political opponents, Cardenas continues to lead with a focus on serving the people while acknowledging his family’s contributions to Canlaon. He believes that, while he has not surpassed his father’s achievements, he has worked hard to continue their legacy of service and dedication. His commitment to the welfare of his constituents, as well as his efforts to improve the city’s infrastructure and tourism sector, have strengthened the people’s trust and respect for him as a leader. The acronym SALTA ( (Service Always, Lavishly, Timely Availed) or Serbisyo Alang Sa Tanan, which means for Service For All in the Visayan language, anchors and encapsulates his leadership philosophy.

The name SALTA, derived from the Spanish word “alta,” meaning fast or rapid, embodies Cardenas' dedication to providing prompt and effective service to the

citizens of Canlaon City. His desire to create a distinctive and memorable watchword for his administration, one that would deeply resonate with the citizens of Canlaon City, gave rise to the idea of SALTA.

Serbisyo Alang sa Tanan, underscores the principle of providing public service to all without exception. It represents Cardenas’ conviction that it is his responsibility as the local chief executive to serve all people fairly and impartially.

The mayor and his team changed SALTA to “Services Always and Lavishly, Timely Availed” after realizing the need for a motto that would resonate with people across Canlaon. “Timely availability” emphasizes the importance of efficiency and promptness, whereas “lavishly” denotes generosity and abundance in service delivery.

Cardenas makes sure that SALTA is a guiding concept that encompasses all aspects of Canlaon City government operations, not just a catchphrase. He places a strong emphasis on the necessity of making decisions swiftly, solving problems effectively, and acting quickly to meet the requirements of the populace.

In order to efficiently implement SALTA, Cardenas sets tight deadlines for government services, with a goal of 15 to 20 minutes per citizen. He places a strong emphasis on the worth of every citizen and tells his employees to treat everyone with courtesy and promptness, no matter what their background. ”I always think that we are here to serve, not to be served. I don’t want to see too many people queuing and waiting, because that is an indicator that our staff does not have the capacity to serve right away. I always tell my staff that we need to serve quickly. We should be quick to respond, quick to diagnose, quick to resolve problems, and quick to take action. We should not make the clients wait. It’s offending to hear 'paghintayin mo lang 'yan, kasi tagabundok lang naman 'yan (let them wait, they're just from the hinterlands anyway.)'I don’t want my staff to refer to the residents as “tagabundok” or “tagabukid.” So you address them as clients. You refer to them as maam and sir. That’s what I make my staff do,” he emphasizes.

Under the guidance of Cardenas, SALTA has evolved into a philosophy that drives Canlaon City toward a future where every individual receives prompt, generous, and timely service. It is now more than simply a catchphrase.


Education is particularly dear to Cardenas, given that he was a college undergraduate and, due to his early involvement in business, did not prioritize his studies. However, upon assuming the role of government official, he realized the significance of education and pursued his degree. According to him, education is the key to overcoming fear and achieving effective communication. According to him, being well educated enables one to confidently interact even with the highest authorities, like the president. The mayor is committed to meeting the educational needs of Canlaon City, especially in its most remote areas. He believes that education is not just about acquiring knowledge but also about personal fulfillment and family pride. He aims to ensure that every resident of Canlaon City has access to quality education, emphasizing that the success of the city’s inhabitants is also a reflection of the success of their families and Canlaon City as a whole. This is also the reason why he is now working for the establishment of Canlaon City College in his city.

One notable project of the Cardenas administration is the creation of Canlaon City Hospital, a 50-bed facility to meet the people’s healthcare needs. The high cost of hospitalization has severely strained the Canlaon community’s finances, particularly given that the nearest modern hospitals are in Negros Occidental, which is 126 kilometers away, and Negros Oriental, which is166 kilometers away. The completionof Canlaon City Hospital this year will relieve financial strain and ensure that all Canlaon residents have access to medical care.

The mayor also intends to begin building a new city hall, especially since the local administration is now remodeling the pension house, in order

to keep up with infrastructure upgrades and increase tourism.

The Cardenas administration has improved tourism-related efforts to strengthen the local economy and draw more tourists. A branch of a known supermarket and convenience store chain is already open in Canlaon, helping to stimulate the local economy. Although his goal is to establish a vibrant business atmosphere, he does not plan to make Canlaon City a thriving metropolis. Instead, he wants to preserve its allure as a small, peaceful city that welcomes retirees looking for a peaceful and pleasant way of life.

According to Cardenas, Canlaon will become a retirement community where people can settle down and enjoy their golden years. He calls Canlaon a “city in the sky.” He guarantees that locals and visitors feel comfortable in the city, and he highlights that realizing this vision requires a foundation of peace and public safety.



The mayor says he was able to address Canlaon’s insurgency problem through his infrastructure and education initiatives. He has adopted a proactive approach, focusing on the root causes of insurgency through infrastructure development, the delivery of basic services, and community involvement initiatives, especially in outlying areas. Canlaon City is a retirement haven because of its cleanliness, high- quality air and water, reasonable cost of living, and close-knit society where locals know one another and cherish their culture. “Things here in Canlaon City are not expensive. And why would I want it to become a retirement haven? I can’t imagine Canlaon becoming a metropolis-like city. I do not intend to invite another mall owner to come here because I wanted it this way: a small city, but a very livable one. It is not crowded. It is a city in which you still know your neighbors because there aren’t too many toremember. It is the kind of city whereyou preserve the culture. So that is mydream for this city—to maximize theresources we have,” he stresses.


Every successful man has a supporting woman by his side, and Cardenas’ wife Jane is integral to the success of the administration’s efforts. She is actively involved in the development of the city as the head of the city tourism unit. When the husband-and-wife team arein the office, though, their relationship stays entirely professional and business- like. With this, his wife treats Cardenasas the local chief executive, and he treats her like any other department head. However, when they are not in theoffice, she becomes his reliable advisor. He gives his wife credit for pushing him to expand Canlaon City’s reach beyond its borders. Her passion for tourismmade Canlaon participate in events like the Buglasan Festival in Dumaguete, the capital city of Negros Oriental. Cardenas was hesitant about the idea, but his wife’s persistence paid off as Canlaon City emerged as champion, earning them an invitation to perform at the Sinulog Festival in Cebu. “My wife really is the one pushing me to go out of my comfort zone. She is truly the person who believes that I can surpass every leader in this province or country. She has faith in my leadership. Her wisdom gives me strength. And I gain strength because she is there for me,” he reveals.

Cardenas makes money breeding fighting cocks. He underlined that financial stability is necessary for a successful politician since it allows them to better address the interests of their community. He gives tribute to his father for his political and commercial acumen. His late father believed that to truly impact society, one must combine financial resources witha compassionate heart. The mayor says his father educated him to be knowledgeable in these fields. He believed that understanding business principles is critical to effective governance, allowing politicians to provide significant assistance to their constituents. One’s capacity to help constituents becomes limited without additional funds. He shares that his father prepared him to be a versatile and effective leader, not just for his own benefit but as a legacy to continue after his time in government. “You cannot be a very good politician if you do not know how to earn money. How can you help without having extra income? When you have a good heart, it naturally leads to good resources, enabling you to extend your help to your community. However, if you only have a good heart but limited financial resources, you may not be able to provide the kind of help that your constituents need,” he says As Mayor Batchuk Cardenas reflects on his path, he sees himself as the fruit of Mayor Ondo’s careful preparation, proving the long-term value of a father’s guidance and wisdom. Mayor Ondo’s subtle but profound influence has left an indelible mark on Mayor Batchuk’s heart and leadership.

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