Finding hope in these modern day Filipino heroes

Posted at 08/27/2014 12:01 AM

August is traditionally known in some circles as the “ghost month” where people are advised against starting businesses, buying property and doing things that involve high risks. Yet for Filipinos, this month is also the time where we celebrate the modern day heroism of Ninoy and Cory Aquino as well as Jesse Robredo.

These known icons of public service, leadership and good governance in our country have inspired so many others in government service to also follow their lead and show that we still have many leaders, especially in the local government level, who place the common good among their own personal interests. Here are some of these inspiring leaders.

1.) Sonia Lorenzo

This 3-term Mayor of San Isidro, Nueva Ecija was able to transform her municipality from a sleepy 4th class municipality to a 2nd class municipality in less than 5 years as the local chief executive of her town. She is best known for being able to provide PhilHealth coverage to every family in her town and for using the efficient use of public funds to ensure that all her health centers are well-equipped and that medicines are provided to her constituents.

Before she passed away last July, the Commission on Audit (CoA) lauded her for returning to the national treasury the amount of 10 million pesos coming from the pork barrel of Senator Jinggoy Estrada, which was transferred to her municipality through suspicious circumstances. In 2008, she joined the late Jesse Robredo together with then Governors Among Ed Panlilio, Grace Padaca and Teddy Baguilat, Jr. to start the Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership.

2.) Rommel Arnado

After doing well in the real estate industry in the United States of America (USA) and living a relatively comfortable life with his family there, incumbent Mayor Rommel Arnado of Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte decided to go back to his home town in 2010 to serve and give back.

During his first term as mayor, his town was in the middle of a conflict between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine Armed Forces. Under his leadership, he was able to convince leaders of the MILF to lay down their arms and instead work for a more peaceful life with their families as farmers.

He then worked with the Assisi Foundation, TESDA, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the Department of Agriculture to provide training and farm inputs to these former rebel soldiers. The result is a peaceful community that no longer lives in fear and poverty. This program, named From Arms to Farms, recently won the Galing Pook Award for 2014.

3.) Tito Sarion

In less than a decade as mayor of Daet, Camarines Norte, Tito Sarion has been able to transform his municipality from being a laggard in terms of development in the Bicol region to being the most competitive town in the whole country as judged by the National Competitive Council (NCC) this year. This has led to more job opportunities for his constituents as more businesses have decided to set up shop in his town owing to his business friendly policies and systems.

Due to this, Sarion’s leadership has enabled Daet to have one of the lowest poverty incidences in the Bicol region. In his last two years as mayor, Sarion is now working towards developing a strong tourism industry anchored in his promotion of kiteboarding and paragliding activities at Bagasbas beach, and his town being the jump-off point for the pristine Calaguas island.

4.) Rosette Yniguez Lerias

Now that we are again at that time of the year when disasters and calamities would often strike our country, if there is one person many of our local government leaders should talk to and learn from in terms of disaster management, it is former Southern Leyte Gov. Rosette Yniguez Lerias.

In 2006, tragedy struck the town of St. Bernard in her province as heavy rains caused a mudslide that covered a whole village leaving more than 1,000 people dead. If it was not for the resourcefulness and immediate response made by then Gov. Lerias, thousands more would’ve been trapped and died. More importantly, unlike other disasters that struck our country where the delivery or aid and relief to those affected was a disaster in itself, Gov. Lerias and her team were able to create an efficient and effective system that made it possible for her constituents to immediately receive aid.

Since then, Lerias’ efforts have since been recognized by various international institutions as a best practice in terms of effective disaster management not only for the Philippines but also for the international community.

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Harvey S. Keh is Executive Director of the Acts of Hope for the Nation (AHON) Foundation and the Institute of Governance and Strategic Partnerships (IGSP).