Javier, Leyte: Road of the ringBy Conrado R. Banal III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
From a per capita income of less than P5, the sleepy town called Javier in Leyte province is now on its way to hitting a per capita income of P70, the target set by the municipal government by the end of 2013. Moreover, starting with a measly revenue collection of less than P800,000 a year, the municipal government now delights in yearly collection of P12 million, an astounding increase—by any standard, including that of the BIR.
Anyway, blessed with fertile soil and abundant forest, Javier actually has sizable farming areas, with the whole town roughly the size of Makati, Parañaque, Las Piñas and Muntinlupa put together. Yet the town hardly saw progress in the past 50 years since it was founded as a municipality, carved out from the town of Abuyog. Until 2010 came around.
It was the year that the town elected a reformist mayor, Leonardo Javier Jr., known simply as “Sandy” to the townsfolk, who parlayed one small roasted chicken stall called “Andok’s” into a multimillion-peso chain of stores and restaurants today. All of a sudden, less than three years after, the 25,000 or so population of Javier now have spending power, brought about by jobs in cooperatives set up by the LGU, and the fast-improving farm production.
The town today even boasts of a huge chicken farm, for instance, and a new ice plant. It is starting to develop its own commerce, which is perhaps the reason that Sandy now wants a huge vegetable depot there to serve the entire Eastern Visayas region. In other words, Sandy wants his town to become one of the commercial hubs of Leyte. He notes that it is right smack in the middle of the island, traversed by the wide concrete national highway called Maharlika, making it easily accessible.
When Sandy became the mayor, egged by his family, actually, to take the lead in saving the town that was founded by his grandfather, Daniel Javier, the town was so backward, it did not even have a single eatery. Not even a small carinderia. He immediately saw that crime rate in the town was much higher than the national average. Owing perhaps to boredom from being jobless and idle, men took to drinking, and when inebriated, they also took to maiming, if not killing, each other.
The main means of transport among the townsfolk was also the motorcycle, and the bad rough roads were causing so much accidents that the municipal ambulance used to make at least three daily trips to hospitals in the provincial capital of Tacloban. For band-aid solution, nevertheless, the rich mayor used his own money to set up the NGO that would buy a second-hand paramedic ambulance for the exclusive use of the Javier townsfolk in case of emergency—like motorcycle accidents.
By the way, Leyte province has been known for its outstanding hospital system, thanks to the work of its former governor, who is now Energy Secretary Carlos Petilla, known as “Jericho” in the province that reaped all sorts of awards in his time as governor. All Sandy needed therefore was a fast reliable way to bring people in emergency cases to the Tacloban hospitals. He thought the well-equipped paramedic vehicle would do for the moment.
But Sandy also knew instantly that his top priority as the mayor was just to create more livelihoods for the people. You know—something to keep them busy. It so happened that, in the vastly forested Javier, illegal logging was rampant, thanks perhaps to years of isolation due to bad roads. How could the authorities enforce the anti-logging law? Sandy then brought his case to Malacañang.
He now sings high praises for the programs of the Aquino (Part II) administration, particularly the so-called Enhanced NCI, or the national convergence initiative, which also covers the national greening program of our leader Benigno Simeon (aka BS). Actually, the heads of DAR, DA and DENR conceived the NCI way back in 1999, or during the time of the man named Band…Wrist Band… who, however, was ousted in 2001 before the program could take off.
In 2010 when our leader BS came to power, the Palace immediately adopted the NCI as its banner program to solve poverty in rural areas. The Palace even issued Executive Order 26, signed by the “silent knight,” Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa. In short, the program took the force of law. And Javier became its model.
In 2010, before the time of our leader BS and Javier Mayor Sandy, the town had no electricity. After less than three years in the Aquino (Part II) administration, the town now has 100-percent electrification. The electrification brought about radio communication to Javier. Not only that, the young techie son of the mayor also set up Internet facilities in the town. And we all know what miracle communications can bring to commerce.
Under the Enhanced NIC program, the administration also improved the irrigation system in the town, adding some 600 hectares of irrigated rice farms, doubling the yield from a measly 80 cavans per hectare to the present 160 cavans, and still increasing. But here is where enlightened leadership—okay, to use the parlance of the day, “good governance”—comes into play. The Enhanced NIC brought about economic growth, surely, but it also served to highlight a problem: How do the farmers bring their produce to the market? Javier needed a road network—concrete roads, in fact.
It so happened, as Sandy now tells the story, the town has a ring of a road called “Daniel E. Javier Circumferential Road,” the main thoroughfare in the town, touching almost all of the 28 barangays. Unfortunately, it was only a dirt road and Sandy knew that he had to perform nothing short of a miracle to convert it into a concrete road. He again ran to the Palace for help and got P79 million for the project.
Now, the funding of P79 million could only cover the cost of about 10 to 11 kilometers of concrete road, using normal standards in today’s government road projects, including the allowance for kickbacks. But the Javier road project was all of 26 kilometers. Besides, Sandy wanted it to be above-average road—i.e. five meters wide and eight inches thick. You know—none of the substandard jobs that we see here in Metro Manila!
Anyway, the town has a river called Bito (with its beautiful Bito Falls), which heavy rains already covered with stones and boulders. Instead of spending for river dredging, Sandy decided to tap the river for gravel for the road construction. By the way, he also used his own money to buy the heavy equipment, including the aggregate crasher, which are now part of the NGO for use in other town projects.
Thus, even with only P79 million from the national government, Sandy was able to complete the 26-kilometer road, which is now proving to be one major key in the progress of Javier. The children can now ride going to school while the farmers can deliver their produce to the markets. And commerce and light industry are slowly developing. The town cooperative, for instance, now packages instant “salabat,” the local ginger tea, selling its production to other towns and cities. There is hope in this land of ours.