Isabela Province, Philippines – ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability Southeast Asia Secretariat (ICLEI SEAS) in partnership with the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) organized a peer-to-peer learning experience participated by the three Ambitious City Promises* project cities of Pasig, Marikina, and Parañaque (all located in Metro Manila), and hosted by the local governments of Cauayan, Ilagan, and Santiago of Isabela Province in northern Philippines.
Cauayan City: First Smart City in the Philippines
Hailed as the First Smart City in the Philippines, Cauayan shared how the city leveraged information and communication technology (ICT) to improve basic delivery services, surface low-carbon transport solutions, and improve connectivity across the municipality.
Mr. Ronaldo Viloria, head of the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (CDRMMO) explained that strong foundations of the system, protocol, and education are three crucial factors to effective and efficient disaster risk reduction and management. While the CDRRMO of Cauayan City recognizes the importance of sufficient and advanced equipment, they primarily invest in capacity building activities for its personnel and citizens with the belief that it is education that truly saves lives in times of disasters.
Under the umbrella program BE Ready Barangay Kontra Disaster, the DRRM Councils at the barangay level imbibe the following basic actions — documentation, reporting, risk assessment, monitoring, and operation. In addition, the CDRRMO fosters partnerships with the Department of Education, local schools, and youth groups to organize disaster preparedness and response training suited for these age groups. The CDRRMO also taps radio enthusiasts in the city to deliver real-time reports on emergency and disaster incidences to the city command center.
Mr. Viloria also toured the participants in the CDRRMO’s offices and command center where they observed firsthand how the city and its constituents are monitored to ensure safety. Participants also learned the protocol that CDRRMO staff follows when responding to emergencies, and how stocks for disaster situations are monitored and replenished when needed. Fellow Gawad Kalasag Awardees Pasig City Marikina City commended Cauayan’s Command Center, particularly in terms of its regular capacity building activities conducted for the staff, especially those involved in rescue and relief operations.
On the other hand, Atty. Reina Santos, City Information Officer talked about the various strategies that Cauayan implements to integrate technology into their processes and systems. The Cauayan City Connect is a mobile app which presents users with information including the city’s history, general bulletins, tourist maps, landmarks, activities, and a gallery of photos, audio, and video files showcasing the city. The app also houses the Cauayan Patrol, a feature which promotes safety and vigilance by keeping users updated of emergency contact numbers. Further, the app lets users access and download pertinent files such as city ordinances, resolutions, and business permit applications.
The city government has also installed Wi-Fi connections across all barangays to ensure connectivity for all. Some barangays were equipped with a few units of computers which the public can use for free for a limited number of hours per day.
Atty. Santos shared that their bid to become a smarter city focuses on the thematic areas of smarter farming, enterprises, industries, jobs, government, climate change adaptation, and healthcare; including producing smarter scientists and engineers.
Participants also tried Cauayan’s Hybrid Electric Road Train (HERT) — an off-rail hybrid train developed in partnership with the Department of Science and Technology – Metals Industry Research and Development Center (DOST-MIRDC). Cauayan’s HERT is equipped with four coaches and traverses a total of 13.5 kilometers daily across 10 stations within the city proper. The train’s operation is currently free of charge as the city is still designing a reasonable yet sustainable fare matrix.
Cauayan also featured their waste-to-energy facility which is a public-private partnership project with Clean World Sustainable Solutions, Inc. The facility has the capacity to accommodate waste not only from Cauayan but from five neighboring LGUs as well and will be able to treat 22 tonnes of waste in a 24-hour operation.
Santiago City: The people’s BESPREN
Santiago City, also part of Isabela Province was the second city visited by the group. Honorable Mayor Joseph S. Tan received the delegation and noted that the city is always ready to host learning experiences and share their insights with other local governments.
Mayor Tan discussed the Barangay Empowerment and Synergy for Poverty Reduction Network (BESPREN) – a framework used by the city to plan and implement inclusive, innovative, and participatory development programs. BESPREN has 27 programs with 104 specific activities targeted across thematic areas and development priorities including education, social development, disaster risk reduction and management, environmental sustainability, and others.
Building on the BESPREN framework, Mr. Mario de Guzman of the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) discussed Santiago’s innovative solutions to address solid waste management (SWM). He talked about the city’s Residual Containment Area and noted that this facility was designed to process non-biodegradable waste such as plastic and styrofoam into ecobricks. The project started as a collaboration with the Sustainable Livelihood Program, the country’s flagship livelihood intervention under the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for identified marginalized communities. When the partnership reached maturation, the local government took over and sustained the project.
When asked what makes a city-led initiative successful, Mr. de Guzman noted that the people’s participation should always be at the heart of planning and implementation. “Solid waste management is also a behavioral change issue. We took our time educating the communities why it is important and what they can do to help,” Mr. de Guzman noted.
Meanwhile, Mr. Julius Agustin, head of Santiago’s CDRRMO led the participants to their command center. Here, he shared that they have more than 74 CCTV cameras distributed across strategic locations in the city. Aside from monitoring day-to-day activities and making sure everyone is safe, a representative from Pasig City recommended that these cameras can also be utilized to spot any early warning signs of an impending flood — a hazard which Santiago always has to plan for.
Mr. Agustin also noted that their relief supplies are gender-sensitive. Aside from the basic necessities such as food, water, blankets, and medicines, they also have sanitary pads, adult diapers, and regular diapers in store. The CDRRMO’s storage houses toys for children as well which they give out to families who are affected by evacuation procedures.
Alicia: Home of Isabela Biomass Energy Corporation
The municipality of Alicia hosts the Isabela Biomass Energy Corporation (IBEC), a 100% Philippine-owned company that was formed to “generate, sell, and supply electricity through the exploration, development, and utilization of alternative and/or renewable sources of energy and technologies.”
IBEC is home to two 20-MW power plants that are fed with rice husks sourced from Isabela’s rice mills. The electricity generated by the plants is sold back to the grid. The company employs locals which increases job opportunities for Alicia’s constituents.
Ilagan City and their 23-hectare Sanitary Landfill
The delegation also visited the Corn Capital of the Philippines: Ilagan City. Similar to its neighboring cities, Ilagan City showcased innovative solutions on SWM and DRRM.
Mr. Billy Perez from the CENRO discussed the city’s Solid Waste Education Enforcement Program (SWEEP). The program aims to achieve a two-fold target: address the SWM challenges experienced by the city and raise awareness among communities why SWM at the household level is important. SWEEP is implemented across all barangays of Ilagan City and imparts practical, useful information to help citizens reduce their waste and get into the habit of waste segregation.
Mr. Perez also shared about the 23-hectare sanitary landfill of Ilagan City. This Php 80-million (approximately EUR 1.4 million) investment has three containment cells designed to hold the waste generated by 162,430 citizens of Ilagan City.
Meanwhile, Mr. Butch Estavillo from the CDRRMO underscored the importance of institutionalizing disaster response procedures such as routine evacuation drills at the community level. Since Ilagan is home to low-lying, flood-prone barangays, the city, in partnership with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Philippines, conducted emergency evacuation drills across all barangays of Ilagan. These drills were supplemented with lectures, discussions, and learning activities to enhance the capacities of community leaders and members in organizing themselves during evacuation situations.
Learning takeaways and key messages
After a week-long visit to various sites, the delegation concluded the study tour in Cauayan for a brief knowledge sharing activity. The cities of Pasig, Marikina, and Parañaque presented their significant programs and strategies to address urban development issues including SWM, DRRM, transportation, health, basic service delivery, and others.
Cauayan City Mayor Bernard Faustino Dy attended this and noted that it was as much as a learning experience for the host city as it was for the participants.
“It is important that we share knowledge and learn from each other. Cauayan still has a lot to learn and we are always looking for opportunities to partner and discuss strategies with other cities. I hope you enjoyed your stay here,” Mayor Dy noted.
Reiterating the role of the activity as a knowledge exchange platform, Ms. Pamela Cabacungan, Project Officer-Mitigation of ICLEI SEAS underscored, “This study tour was organized to facilitate peer-to-peer learning amongst the ACP participating cities and the cities of Cauayan, Ilagan, and Santiago here in Isabela. We hope that you were able to learn innovative practices which you can replicate and adapt to meet your respective needs and preferences.”
For their part, the participants described the study tour as a great networking and learning opportunity. They noted that they discovered a lot of information and ideas which they can share with their colleagues back home and potentially use as inspiration for their own strategies and programs.
*The Ambitious City Promises project is a 3.5-year international project which aims to support selected large cities in Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam. Funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety (BMU) through the International Climate Initiative (IKI), ACP aims to support these cities in establishing strong greenhouse gas emissions reduction commitments while increasing the space for public participation and engagement towards local climate action.