‘Business as usual’ programs for AC amid the new normal

AS THE COVID-19 pandemic persists, Mayor Carmelo ‘Pogi’ Lazatin Jr. delivered his first State of the City Address (SOCA) in an alternative way. It wasn’t the usual festive mood and mass gathering of multi-sectoral leaders, in fact, not so many officials and special guests are present, but his family, department heads, SP members, barangay leaders, and some NGOs assembled in city hall because safety was the primary consideration.

But the city information office (CIO) made sure that Lazatin’s annual report to the Angelenos is communicated citywide virtually through an online feed via the CIO Facebook page, simulcasted in FM and AM radio stations.

In a way, Lazatin delivered his speech in a blended way — similar to the blended learning activities for students in the upcoming school year.

Under the Local Government Code, the SOCA is a speech customarily given once each year, by local chief executives in the provinces, cities and municipalities as provided in sections 444, 455 and 465 “to present the program of government and propose policies and projects for the consideration of the SP at the opening of the SP regular session every calendar year and as often as may be deemed necessary as the general welfare of the inhabitants and the needs of the city government may require.”

The “incipit” or the very first words in his speech he said, “a new dawn has appeared in our midst. One that is exacting and encompassing, one that shook the foundation of our health system… the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic, and forever changed the way we view life and our overall health in particular. This disease hangs over us in a veil of uncertainty. For us in the local government unit of Angeles City, it was a baptism of fire.”

Then Lazatin drummed up his accomplishments since he assumed office on July 3, 2019, likewise his counter measures to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic.

His administration was anchored to a six-point-agenda: 1) Focusing on a drug-free city 2) Accessing better public health 3) Solid waste management 4) Education 5) Youth and sports development, and 6) Infrastructure support.

As one of the major programs of his administration, public health is made accessible to every citizen by providing the cheapest, even free, medical treatment to most indigent patients not only to constituents but to neighboring cities and towns as well.

Modern medical equipment and facilities were improved at Rafael Lazatin Memorial Medical Center (RLMMC) or popularly known as Ospital Ning Angeles (ONA) in an effort to upgrade its status to Level 2.

This will equipped the hospital with ICU, pediatric and gynecology services. Almost P100 million had been earmarked, including provisions for medicines, medical supplies and even salary increase of medical frontliners.

How did the city respond to the COVID19 pandemic? Lazatin recounted that on March 10, 2020 or six days before the Luzon-wide lockdown, he ordered the closure of borders to in-bound foreign nationals originating from COVID19-affected neighboring countries, suspended classes in all levels, imposed the four-day work week, closed non-essential establishments like KTVs, bars and nightclubs, spas, massage parlors, stopped the operation of a bus company plying within the city, requested service providers to suspend bills payment, designated the RLMMC and the 126-bed capacity City College of Angeles (CCA) as quarantine facilities during the course of the pandemic. The CCA building was disinfected, A/C units, wifi routers, TV and other amenities were installed. A community kitchen was also set up at CCA to serve free food to PUMs during quarantine. City-wide disinfection was launched, declared the city under a state of calamity, provided shuttle services for frontliners and rationed the purchase of essential goods. Moreover, the Puso Center is providing medical minor surgery and dental care free of charge where hundreds of Angelenos flocked at city hall compound and treated on a daily basis, an animal bite center is also located at the center. Massive relief pack operations were also launched to each household and allotted more than Php 80 million for the distribution of vitamin C, cash assistance to senior citizens and milk assistance to almost 20,000 kids.

From early February, when the first batch of Wuhan-based Filipino workers and their families arrived at the Clark International Airport on their way to the Athletes Village of the New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac, Lazatin whipped the safety measures to prevent the entry of the infectious disease in the city. He called on Clark airport officials to stop commercial passenger flights as early as February but commercial flights were stopped two months after.

Are there any emergency assistance provided to other vulnerable sectors? The city funded Php 5 million to provide cash assistance to some 5,000 persons with disabilities (PWDs), additional Php 5 million for 5,000 solo parents and Php 56 million was extended to almost 56,000 registered senior citizens.

Aside from cash assistance, more than 370,000 food packages were distributed by the combined personnel of the CSWDO headed by Joy Lopez Duaso and CEO’s Don Dizon in all 33 barangays per household regardless of income status with the strategic planning and monitoring of Lazatin’s chief adviser, IC Calaguas and Executive Assistant IV Reina Manuel.

Boosting the economy. As part of the local business continuity program of Lazatin he invited more small scale businesses to promote their products in One Town, One Product (OTOP) store and organize an online Angeles City Market. This was spearheaded by the Angeles City Economic Development Investment Promotions Office (ACEDIPO).

Meanwhile, the city recorded a budget surplus of almost Php 193 million for 2019 due to sound fiscal management and intensified collection of Business and Real Property Taxes (RPT) and other taxes without increasing the BRPTs. This budget surplus happened for the first time in 13 years. Since 2013 during his stint as city councilor, Lazatin has been consistently opposing the increase in the assessment of the RPT in the city. The mayor allocated part of the budget for the improvement of RLMMC, improvement of schools; strengthening of anti-drug related programs, peace and order efforts; infrastructure development; and social projects livelihood programs for farmers, Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) and solo parents, social pension for elderly and solo parents, as well as feeding programs for undernourished children and day care centers.

During his SOCA speech, Lazatin highlighted that the positive revenue collection was evident with the growing confidence of the business sector. He said, “For all and sundry, our administration is business friendly. From the start, I have reviewed all ordinances that only serve as mere burden to businessmen in the city. The P20 tourism fee being imposed on hotel guests had been repealed and this gained positive reactions from the hotel operators.
As promised, I did not increase business taxes or real property taxes in my term but rather continue to enforce strict and proper collection of taxes to increase the city budget.”

Finally aside from other major programs like environmental protection, anti-drug addiction, housing programs and social welfare, Lazatin also focused on educational programs. Some Php 57 million was allotted for the development of educational facilities at the City College of Angeles to have more courses offered to students. More teachers will be hired and increasing the budget of the CCA will spell additional courses and classrooms. Plans are in the pipeline for the acquisition of 90,000 electronic gadgets for public school students all over the city. This, will support the digital education program or online learning and internet connection will be provided free of charge to stem the transmission of the COVID19.

In his final note, Lazatin stressed, “The tasks at hand are just too overwhelming. In the new normal, the responsibilities are even greater. They say with power comes great responsibilities. With responsibilities we can only buckle up for work and effect a leadership that will truly serve the people…Good governance, transparency and service with a heart will further elevate the city to the firmament of success… let us join hands to make our city a better place to live in. Aku, ika, ikatamu misanmetung keng kapayapan, kalinisan, kalusugan para keng kaunlaran.”