In 2011, Laguna was one of the provinces with the highest income in the country. Years earlier, it also had an overall poverty incidence of just around 5 percent of the population, making it among the country’s least poor provinces.
Yet some residents still feel left out, saying the progress in other parts of their province seems too hard for them to reach.
|Campaign materials make its way to one of the province's tourist destinations, the Sampalok Lake in San Pablo. Photo by Fernando Sepe, Jr. for ABS-CBNnews.com
Compared to Laguna’s 1st and 2nd districts, the other two districts are poor in terms of income, and have fewer opportunities available to the people.
“We’re jealous of them because we also want to prosper, but what can we do? We have no factories here, no opportunities for the town to earn more,” says Emelia Pomar, a resident of the 3rd district.
“All the big establishments are there,” Mario Sombilla, also of the 3rd district, says. “In our place, we really don’t have big income. But their lives there are more disorderly. I am not at all jealous because here, we are more peaceful and quiet.”
|Setting up a billboard in front of a resident's house in Nagcarlan. Photo by Fernando Sepe, Jr. for ABS-CBNnews.com
Dr. Aser Javier, an expert in local government from University of the Philippines in Los Banos, says Laguna’s leaders must prioritize addressing the inequality among Laguna’s towns in terms of economic progress and quality of life.
He believes the districts can help each other by tapping their own strengths and resources, citing what he calls “inter-local cooperation.”
“For example, Calamba, Cabuyao, Sta. Rosa, Binan do not have agricultural lands, while the 3rd and 4th districts have agricultural lands. So what can happen now is the 3rd and 4th districts can complement the needs of the 1st and 2nd districts,” Javier says.
“There can be a created balance. There can be a complementation of resources.”
Chance and challenge
For the province’s current leadership, however, Laguna’s poorest towns are already moving towards progress.
Gov. ER Ejercito expects conditions to improve further with more investments, infrastructure, and a boost in the tourism industry.
“Local leaders are all becoming passionate and driven and motivated to make their areas highly urbanized,” he says.
But for Rep. Edgar San Luis, Ejercito’s opponent in the gubernatorial race, many of Laguna’s problems remain unaddressed.
|A candidate's poster along the route of the Good Friday procession as the local campaign starts. Photo by Fernando Sepe, Jr. for ABS-CBNnews.com
San Luis is the representative of the 4th district, where some of Laguna’s poorest towns belong.
“The economy is doing well, but basic services do not reach the people. The problems, especially in the rural areas, remain,” he says. He adds that in the urban areas, waste management and peace and order are urgent concerns.
Although they have different and often clashing views, all candidates present glowing promises for the province.
However, it remains a challenge for them to make sure that in Laguna’s pursuit of progress, no one is left behind.
On election day, the people will decide who among those wooing them will be given the chance—-and the challenge-—to improve their lives.