(Part 1 of 2)
With Nikki Magbanua from the Bacolod City Government Center
BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – Alfredo Abelardo “Albee” Benitez appears to breathe deeply when asked how he feels now to be mayor of this highly-urbanized center of more than 600,000 people.
“Damo. Damo kita sang ulubrahon (A lot. We have a lot of work to do).” Benitez tells DNX in an interview on the sidelines of his inaugural Friday last week, 1 July 2022.
Asked to comment on the expectations of his supporters, Albee chuckled a bit and said “this might be the start of sleepless nights ahead,” as he added “this is for them,” in a mix of English and Hiligaynon, the language spoken in this part of the Visayas.
Benitez, who ran on a platform of change and a vow to end corruption here to “save” a city “drowning” in it, outlined his priorities Friday night in his inaugural speech.
During the close to one hour speech he gave on the steps of the Bacolod City Government Center, Benitez urged Bacolodnons to “dream again” and “dream big.”
Benitez prefaced his priorities by retracing his decision to run in the previous May 2022 polls, the campaign of which for the mayorship was the most hotly contested in recent years.
“My dream was simple: that people would believe that their lives would be better, that their families would progress,” he said in Hiligaynon.
“I wanted to present to the people a wider range of possibilities for Bacolod, better prospects for their families, and a brighter future for their children.”
Benitez thanked those who voted for him, “you have given me the biggest margin of victory in the history of Bacolod!” he said.
“You dreamt with me for development in Bacolod. You trusted me and in my plans for change. Thank you so much for your love and trust,” he said.
First on the Benitez list was transparency, which he said brings accountability to “restore public trust” in City Hall.
“That is why one of our first orders of business is to create a Good Governance Committee to nominate the members of the Bacolod Truth Commission that will investigate allegations of graft and corruption in the City Government to ensure that expenditures are prudent and efficient, and that public funds are utilized according to the government procurement rules and standards,” he said.
The campaign will spare no one, he said,
” there will be no sacred cows. Let the chips fall where it may.”
This would allow his administration to “start with a clean slate. We will come in the NGC fresh and new – with no baggage to weigh us down.”
Second priority is the re-engineering of internal systems at City Hall and the improvement of frontline services to be more efficient.
“This way the City Government develops a closer relationship with the people,” he said.
The Office of the Building Official will be the first office to be digitized as part of the hastening of the digital transformation.
This means online processing of business or building permits that would allow the applicant to even track one’s papers.
Benitez said he will “harness the power of digital technology to enhance efficiency in city government transactions – and ensure impartiality and non-partisanship in the delivery of government services. Wala color coding sa aton administrasyon.”
Part of this re-engineering is to orient and train front desk personnel to be courteous to anyone, “regardless of status in life.”
Our frontline employees are the face of the NGC – dapat gid permi naka-yuhum. “City of Smiles” di bala kita. This way, we give due respect to our people. This way, we give them value that they deserve. This way, we raise their dignity. We will treat everyone equally with respect – kay kamo tanan, kamo nga pumuluyo, kamo ang boss namon.”
Third on the Benitez list is strengthening the police amid what he called as the terror the city has felt as he ordered city police chief, Colonel Thomas Joseph Martin to intensify their anti-crime operations and increase police patrol and surveillance of hot spots or high-crime areas – and resolve cases as soon as possible.
“Bacolod has been terrorized recently by crimes,” he said.
The fourth priority related to peace and order is the installation of state-of-the-art closed circuit TV (CCTV) system and solar-power street lights for crime prevention and crime deterrence in hotspots.
He said this is “to improve the safety of pedestrians, especially call center agents who go home at night.
“Wide CCTV coverage will help our law enforcement agencies resolve crime faster.”
The fifth, “to clean the city’s image, we literally have to clean the city,” he said that will start with spaghetti wires”that is not only eyesores “but are also fire and accident hazards.”
He added a team is also already in the process of reviewing the solid waste management system.
“We will ensure timely collection of solid waste from households and commercial establishments – and its proper disposal in our landfill in Brgy. Felisa.”
(To be continued)