DAGUPAN CITY-- "Dagupan is not turning back, not now, not ever."
This was the battle cry of by Mayor Belen T. Fernandez when she delivered her State of the City Address (SOCA) before the Sangguniang Panglunsod (SP), department heads, city employees, senior citizens, members of senior citizens and other concerned citizens at the city plaza starting at 10:00 a.m. on Monday.
Fernandez, who is now on her fourth year as mayor of Dagupan City, said: "The present state of our city is strong because we are all committed to clean and good governance, accountability and transparency".
She admitted she inherited a city administration which registered a negative annual budget of P34 million in July 2013 but through sound fiscal management, moderation of expenses and a lot of belt-tightening, the city was still able to register a modest P1.2-million cash surplus, aside from paying the 13th month pay of officials and employees at the end of that year.
In 2014, the city registered a cash surplus of P51 million, which was increased to P98 million in 2015, and an all-time high of P120 million cash surplus was realized in 2016.
This cash surplus was programmed by the city government for various additional programs and projects that the city's 175,000 residents badly need.
She said since she took over the reins of the city government four years ago, Dagupan City saw to it that it has a balanced annual budget, which she added was the real key to its financial success.
The annual budget of Dagupan in 2010 was only P520 million, which was increased to P756 million under Fernandez's administration last year. This year, the city's annual budget is P868 million, which is the highest among all nine cities in Region 1.
She said the city under her administration aims to raise its annual budget to P1 billion in just a few years, to hopefully become the first city in Region 1 to reach P1 billion mark.
"We are proud to say that we have built an economy here in Dagupan which is considered to be the strongest since the city attained its cityhood 70 years ago," Fernandez said.
At the same time, she cited that before her term, the past city administration was spending P10,350,000 just for overtime pay of its employees, but she was able to drastically reduce it to just P3.6 million.
Financial dole outs to civic clubs and non-government organizations used to cost the city government P53 million annually but under her administration, this was pared down to only P9.1 million.
She said, however, that 100 percent of this P9.1 million was spent for the livelihood and medical services of the poor and senior citizens and nothing for civic clubs and organizations requesting for financial assistance.
She also said the past city administration was spending P850,000 yearly for foreign travels but there is no such expenditure under her term because she travels on official business using her own funds and whenever other officials were with her, she spends for their fare without charging it to the city government.
Also at the same time, she thanked the city council for supporting and allocating P10 million for her scholarship program for 512 poor but deserving students for the past four years. At least 120 of the scholars are already graduating this year.
She also thanked the city council for approving the city's Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) and zoning ordinance but this is still pending final approval by the National Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (NHULRB).
If this will be finally approved, it will replace an existing CLUP and zoning ordinance approved way back in 1978.
Fernandez said the city partnered with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in giving core shelter to families residing within the premises of the city's dumpsite and is building another 400 core shelters for other informal settlers in the city.
Meanwhile, she said, senior citizens of Dagupan are now an envy to other senior citizens in different parts of the region because of the various support being given by the city's program "Alagang Balon Dagupan", such as on their medicines and other health needs.
Under the program, the mayor built a building where seniors are having their regular medical check ups, recreation and exercises.
At least 100 senior citizens were also brought to the University of Sto. Tomas hospital to undergo cataract operations with no cost at all to them.
The senior citizens of Dagupan also enjoy free movies every Tuesday at various cinemas in the city.
The sports development program was also given impetus in the city which enabled Dagupan athletes to garner first runner-up finish in the last two editions of the Region 1 Athletic Association (IRAA) meet.
Under Fernandez's term, a more resilient Dagupan City came about with the establishment of the BELEN 16911 which is ready to respond to any emergency situation and has so far assisted and saved lives of people in 878 cases it responded.
The newly established Women's Center is a first in the history of Dagupan where women battered by their husbands or victims of abuse can go to ask for help 24/7.
In the war on drugs, the city has its Sagip User Rehabilitation and Enhancement (SURE) and set up a wellness desk at city hall where relatives of drug abusers can seek help for the rehabilitation of their kin.
The mayor also said Dagupan is now one of the global leaders in ocean protection and is being assisted by the Pasig Rehabilitation Commission as well as the University of the Philippines Institute of Marine Science.
She said since July 2013, a total of 90 hectares of rivers had already been cleared of 712 illegal structures, which is a boon to small fishermen catching fish from these rivers.
On environmental sanitation, she said the city is seeking the establishment of the first waste-to-energy facility that can convert garbage into diesel fuel and bio-gas with the help of the United States State Department as well as the United Nations.
She refused to say when this facility will be finally up but the mayor told newsmen it may be too soon as the project was already awarded to one company which she did not disclose yet.
The mayor said the city government also helped in putting up school buildings for use of senior high school students being appointed by the league of Cities of the Philippines as its focal leader on K to 12 all over the country.
A four-storey evacuation center is now rising in the island village of Salapingao with funding from the Department of Interior and Local Government and the city government.
Several roads in the city were also elevated so residents will no longer wade in floodwaters during the rainy season. Markets were likewise repaired for the convenience of buyer and sellers.
Source: Philippines News Agency