It’s never easy to start from scratch. Fortunately, that’s not a problem for Taytay Mayor George Ricardo “Joric” Gacula II, who’s back at his old post after a three-year break.
Unfortunately, things aren’t the same as how the mayor left it in 2013, when he stepped down after three straight three-year terms, the limit imposed by law. Six months into his fresh mandate as the chief executive of this booming first-class municipality of Rizal province, there’s a lot of room for improvement, and he discusses those points with The Standard in an exclusive interview.
Mayor Joric is happy that in his first few months, he’s seen “a big improvement” to the town. “Thanks to the experience in my first three terms, it’s been easy to cope. I have a good team with me, good department heads that are with me to serve Taytay,” he said.
This term, the mayor wants to focus on two things: education and health. “We want to beef up our educational system, particularly the K-to-12 program. Our town doesn’t have enough school buildings to host students in the new grade levels, so instead of graduating (from high school), some have stopped schooling, as they cannot afford the heavy tuition in private K-to-12 schools. We want our public-school system to offer the same courses as they do.”
Admittedly, Taytay does not have a lot of tourist areas, “and we have no natural resources to earn from, so our treasure is our manpower. Our people are our treasure,” Gacula said.
The mayor is proud of Taytay’s high literacy rate, and so he would like to maintain and improve it. “It’s very evident that we have good level of education, and Taytay natives work all over Metro Manila,” he said.
As an example, “the Canadian call center that opened in our town, Bell Canada, their investors told me they didn’t have any problems in recruitment here. It was an efficient recruitment, our people have high English proficiency, and their job quota was almost filled up by our residents alone. That’s why we’re geared toward improving our education, and maintaining our standards.”
Better health services
The mayor admits he left out some things in his last term, so now he is geared toward improving Taytay’s health services. “How can kids study if they’re not healthy? They won’t be productive if they’re ill. That’s why they are my two priorities: health and education,” he said.
Since he reassumed office in July, Gacula says they have fixed the health services at Taytay’s emergency hospitals, and improved their field health services such as vaccinations.
“We are trying to improve our hospital facilities,” he said. “We have just purchased new equipment for our hospital and we are continuing to develop it. We have a new dialysis center and a new digital x-ray machine that we will use to cater to our constituents who cannot afford private hospitals.”
Taytay is also purchasing an ultrasound machine, a digital electrocardiogram, and new laboratory and diagnostic equipment. “We see that a lot of our citizens, especially the poor, they get sick and die just because they didn’t get the chance to have a simple diagnostic check-up,” Gacula said.
Unlike his last term, the mayor is happy he doesn’t have to spend as much time battling the drug menace. “We’re happy that with President Duterte focused on the big headache that’s illegal drugs, it’s a big relief for us, it’s allowed us to pursue our own problems,” he said.
“(Duterte) knows our problems because he was a former mayor, and the police are ordered to perform, so we have left the burden of dealing with drugs to them, it’s less work to do on that end,” Gacula added. “Maybe police used to work with 50 percent effort, but now it’s at 110 percent because of the President’s prodding. You know that a town or city with drugs is not productive, so we’ve seen a big improvement since the pushers have been caught.”
Part of ensuring the development of Taytay’s youth is keeping them from social ills such as bullying. The Anti-Bullying Act of 2013 already mandates schools to ensure it doesn’t happen, but Mayor Joric hopes to take it a step further.
“All of us have experienced going to school and getting picked on. It influences us psychologically when you go through this, so with the help of the Department of Education and private schools here, our LGU has programs that encourage schools to stop bullying at the classroom level,” he said. “Our campaign has seminars and exposure trips for students to see it’s not healthy to bully.”
Taytay is also coordinating with the general parent-teacher associations to bring more advice to children, and to emphasize that guidance should come from the parents.
“Kids should see it’s not good to bully fellow kids,” the mayor said. “Back in the day, we’d reason ‘away bata ‘yan’ and not care about it, but now it’s the responsibility of parents, teachers, the DepEd, and the LGU to bring the message across to these kids.
“You know kids, once you explain things to them, and they see they’d be shamed, kids these days are smart. If you ‘beat them up’ with information, ‘beat them up’ with encouragement and advice to stop these acts, things will get better,” Mayor Joric said.
As for business, Gacula’s administration is squarely behind President Duterte’s call to simplify transactions with local governments. “The President’s SONA (State of the Nation Address) said that within three days LGUs should release permits. For us, within 30 minutes we give it out,” the mayor said.
“Our LGU protects businessmen, local and foreign. Investors that come to us get incentives, they see that we are serious with helping prime industry of our town, which is the garments sector,” Mayor Joric added. “Garments provides 60 to 70 percent of our economy, so all our efforts are focused on helping businessmen and traders here (in that industry).”
The focus on business is evident during Taytay’s yearly HAMAKA Festival, the acronym standing for “Hamba” or door jambs – the town also has a thriving woodworking industry – “Makina” for the sewing and woodwork machines the residents use, and “Kabuhayan” for the livelihood these industries provide.
“We have no more rice fields here. We have become a highly industrialized commercial municipality, so every third week of February we celebrate this in our Araw ng Pasasalamat sa HAMAKA,” the mayor said. “We showcase the garment industry that’s booming in the country. Part of our festival is the ‘Road to HAMAKA,’ where we go full blast in letting buyers find in Taytay cheap, quality clothes and furniture, and we will not let it rest, as we will boost our advertising of the festival.”
With about 30 months left in his fourth term, Gacula hopes for one thing the most: to have Taytay’s Public Market rebuilt from the fire that gutted it six years ago in his third term. The present market is a makeshift structure that’s held in a parking lot, and the local government still subsidizes its operation.
“A market is an economic enterprise, supposedly an income-generating enterprise, but now it’s not OK, it’s messy, tight and narrow. It’s not our ‘real’ public market, and our LGU is subsidizing their expenses, which is wrong. A market should be an earning, income-generating sector that can help government with its other projects,” Mayor Joric said.
Why hasn’t it been rebuilt? “Politics sometimes rears its ugly head,” the mayor said. “I don’t have control over the municipal council, only a few councilors are with me (from the same political party). It would be a big help for our town to unite behind this cause. Still, I’m sad that because of politics some people can stand this situation of not having a proper market, when the townsfolk suffer.”
The support of the town council is crucial because only it can give the green light to the Rizal provincial board, which would then craft a resolution for rebuilding the public market through a loan from the Land Bank of the Philippines, Gacula explained.
“The provincial board is making sure that everybody is amenable to this, so we are asking the Taytay council to stand as one to give the go-signal to provincial board that we want this project finished -- no conditions, no finger pointing or grandstanding, no politics,” the mayor said.
Second on the wish list is putting up a lot more classrooms for Taytay’s public schools. “I don’t want our kids to have their classes under a tree,” he said. The town also wants to improve its teacher-to-student ratio “down to the standard of private schools, which is 1 to 45. It’s sad that in our public schools sometimes it’s 1 to 70, 1 to 80. Kids won’t learn that way.”
Third, Mayor Joric hopes Taytay’s textile and garment industry won’t lose momentum. “In fact, it’s gaining momentum, it’s at such a good pace that I hope it won’t stop,” he said.
Fourth, the mayor hopes Taytay would have its own general hospital. “We really need it. We need new diagnostic equipment, a CT scan machine, and good accommodations for our sick indigent patients, so we can deliver basic services in terms of health.”
Another wish, which can be put off for the meantime, is turning Taytay into a city. “It would be a dream to become a city, but right now we are weighing the pros and cons,” Gacula said. “As a municipality, we are getting so much investments because our taxes are lower and salaries here are at provincial rates, which is eye candy for investors.”
Becoming a city would also require Taytay “to be on our own,” he added. “To be self-sufficient, we’d need to increase taxes, that might not be good for our business sector, unlike now that we are really reaping the benefits of being a town very close to three cities. We’re catching all their fallout; investors who have tried Pasig, Taguig, and Antipolo are going to us.
“Blessings are falling on us, and not every municipality has this advantage. Ours is proximity; we are within distance of all cities (in Metro Manila) but we have a low cost of living here,” the mayor added.
In the meantime, Mayor Joric asks for his constituents’ patience and understanding as he builds the “Best Taytay” for them. “I can’t do everything, I don’t have the council majority with me. The mayor may be the chief executive, but we can’t move without the council’s support,” he said.
“Not all councilors agree with my programs, we have our differences,” the mayor added.”But I want our citizens to know that I’m not looking for anything except leaving a legacy, something that someday our residents can say that these things happened under Mayor Joric, that I did something good for them.”
“I got nothing left to prove, but I thank them for bringing me back and trusting me again,” Gacula added. “It’s the first time in Taytay that an ex-mayor has returned to the post; usually incumbents don’t get back. I’ll ask them for more councilors in 2019, so I can do more for our town.”
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