Beng Climaco, Mayor of Zamboanga City (Philippines), since 2013 and recipient of the 2018 World Mayor Commendation

Zamboanga Mayor Beng Climaco
replies to questions from
an international audience

12 February 2019: World Mayor invited participants from the 2018 Project to put questions to Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco, winner of the 2018 World Mayor Commendation for services to local government and her commitment to her community. From the questions received, a representative selection was forwarded to the mayor. She replies below with candour and thoughtfulness.



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PROFILES OF
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QUESTIONS
By Carmina A., Makati City, Philippines:
Question:
You are one of the empowered women leaders in the city and in the country today. What words of wisdom can you share with upcoming women leaders on women inclusion and their role in nation building?

Mayor Climaco replies: Women are endowed with the capacity of nurturing. This innate gift is built-in that is evident even in childhood were girls play the roles of mothers caring for their dolls. Through the years it is developed when they take on responsibilities of caring and nurturing whether as siblings or as peers in their various undertakings. There is an emergence of women’s groups such as civic clubs, mothers’ clubs, youth groups and other grassroots based associations were women have bonded together in contributing to the development of the community and society.

The Magna Carta of Women (RA 9710) of which I was one of the principal authors in the Philippine Congress is a legacy of inclusivity by promoting women and girls’ rights in all aspects, particularly protecting them against discrimination. To every girl and woman who has a voice to act and contribute to this world, I say: YOU GO sister! Our voices multiplied and replicated in every home and community will contribute to better health and better homes in nation building.


By Carmeli C., Quezon City, Philippines:
Question:
What concrete actions can women mayors like you take to encourage women to enter politics and local government given the male-dominated leadership positions in the Philippines?

Mayor Climaco replies: Republic Act 7192 or Women in Development and Nation Building Act, served as my compass in my first term as a City Councilor. This gives women fundamental equality before the law and integration as full and equal partners with men in nation building.

My journey in public service began as a City Councilor, as Vice-Mayor, then in Congress and now as Mayor. Experience and background in management gained in our various socio civic involvements are very vital in governance.

Concretely, a woman’s involvement in professional, civic and religious clubs serve as venues to prepare her to enter politics. Organizing or joining women’s organizations such as Zonta, Soroptimist, or Rotary are starting points where training and leadership is developed. In a world that sees equal opportunities with men, women can break the barrier in male dominated clubs and positions because civic clubs and even the police and military have already welcomed women Generals in the Philippines.

In this arena, a woman must exert her right by contributing her expertise in Government. What can I offer and contribute if I were elected? I answered that question in my first speech in 1989! I spoke of Familia 2000 fresh from my Masteral Studies. I sought to contribute in the formation of Filipino families in our goal toward the year 2000. I realized this as a teacher and guidance counsellor when we sponsored Parenting Seminars. This unique contribution balances what men can offer. We never compete with men but contribute as a woman.


By Cris, Mindanao, Philippines:
Question:
As a mayor you have promoted children’s rights and young people’s welfare. Will you continue to do this if and when you leave politics?

Mayor Climaco replies:
The United Nations Convention of the Rights of Children is a legally-binding agreement that promotes the rights of children regardless of race, color and creed. It is also a guide that has taught me to value every child in Zamboanga.

In January 2, 2004, 15 years ago today, I said no to politics, because I wanted to devote myself to my advocacy for children and the youth. In my program proposal for the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship in the U.S, I wanted to look into “how American children and youth find their voice?” This was supposed to be my focus, because in my two years in high school in New Jersey, I found my peers very outspoken and knowledgeable in their Bill of Rights. Coming from the south of our country, young people then like me were passive and quiet, rarely letting our voices be heard. I wanted to empower the youth in the Philippines. Nonetheless, the death of the former Mayor did not allow me to pursue this, as I continued my stint in public service.

Being a teacher myself, and as one who feels the need to form young people, it will be inherent upon me to always nurture the development of children. The young people are the wind beneath my wings, my core team is composed of my former high school students. Today, they have their own children and I spend time with them and our grand children enjoying moments of play, because ‘play’ is one ingredient that is needed in developing children to become happy adults in the future.


By Diana A. G., Zamboanga City:
Question:
What programme promoting children and young people are you most proud of?

Mayor Climaco replies: Some of the meaningful programs for children and the youth under my administration include the following:

Early Childhood Education. We gave out reading materials for all our day care centers around the City, and doubled the incentives of our day care workers. I am most proud of this because we need to encourage parents and teachers to support pre-school education as this formative years are very crucial for it forms part of the building block of knowledge and integral in their foundation for learning.

Child Friendly City. It has always been my aim to make our City as a Child Friendly City and this we have met and achieved in 2018. We were also a grand-slam winner in the Annual Participation of “AKO Para sa Bata” [I am for Children] Conference where our village leaders promote the Barangay Council for the Protection of Children. This ensures that every village has a safe haven for children, and dedicated leaders to ensure their rights are protected against abuse.

State of the Children’s Report. As Mayor, I have consistently made the City’s annual State of the Children’s Report, because children are my ‘VIPs’ [Very Important Persons] since they comprise a significant portion of our population.

• PAG ASA (Hope) Youth Club. We have been supporting this agriculture-based clubs for the youth.
• Out of School Youth Program, the Alliance of Student Leaders and Speak Out. We initiate discussions on various issue affecting the youth, such as preventing and countering violent extremism as this provides an opportunity for young people to discuss issues that matter to them.
• National Youth Day 2017. We partnered with the Archdiocese in hosting this event that brought in more than 3,000 young people from all over the country.
• Rotary’s Youth Leadership Activitie. This program that provides opportunities for youth leaders to take on roles as Mayor, Vice-Mayor and other key positions in the local government as a formation and immersion activity for them.

These are some of the programs I am most proud of because it is fulfilling my dream and passion to inspire the youth to find their voice and speak-out as what my mother taught me when I was 14. I am also happy with the help of USAID and UNICEF, we have literacy, skills training and resiliency programs that already produced some 4,000 young graduates- Christian, Muslims and Indigenous youth who are now skilled, employable and some are already entrepreneurs.


By Francis T., New York City, USA:
Question:
The Philippines’ current President Rodrigo Duterte was twice Mayor of Davao City (like Zamboanga also on the Island of Mindanao). During his terms as Mayor, Duterte passed the Women Development Code, which aims to uphold the rights of women. But later, during his presidential campaign, he made some widely criticised remarks about rape.

Mayor Climaco replies: The Philippines climbed No. 8 in the 2018 Global Gap Report based on the Report by the World Economic Forum. The Philippines has maintained one of the most Gender Equal Countries in Asia (Rappler, Dec.18, 2018, Sofia Tomacruz) This ranking is reflective of the efforts to narrow the gap in political empowerment. About 80% of the gender gap has been narrowed and this is the “highest value” ever recorded in the Philippines, ranking 8th out of 149 countries.


By Silvia B.-A., Zamboanga City:
Question:
What can local government do to deter domestic abuse against women?

Mayor Climaco replies:
There are Five laws that ensure the protection of Women: (Foundation for Media Alternatives, Nov.28, 2017)
• RA 7877 Anti Sexual Harassment Act of 1995
• RA 8353 Anti-Rape law of 1997.
• RA 10364 Anti-Trafficking in Person Act of 2012
• RA9262 Anti-Violence Against Women Act of 2004
• RA 9710 Magna Carta of Women 2009
In all these laws, women must be protected from abuse. The local government unit together with the police and the barangays /villages, alongside with women’s groups are on the watch against Violence Against Women and Children.

The City Government of Zamoanga also has a strong Gender and Development Program, which provides trainings to employees, the police and other sectors, such as the Persons with Disabilities on Gender Rights. Our strengthened Council for the Protection of Children ensures that the issue of abuse against women is made public. Public awareness has led to an increase of reports against domestic violence.

In the City Government, employees are made aware of their rights – even LGBT members who have complained against sexual harassment are addressed and being investigated. We prevent domestic abuse through public awareness, community support, and educating women about their rights and the laws that protect them.


By Col Leonel N., Zamboanga City:
Question:
Zamboanga City is a melting pot of Christians, Muslims and Lumads (a group of non-Muslim indigenous people in southern Philippines). How do you plan to further enhance the unity and understanding between people from different backgrounds in Zamboanga City?

Mayor Climaco replies:
The key is social inclusion. We have found this as a very effective tool in order to make everyone accountable, responsible and involved in uniting our diverse community in a City with the 6th biggest population and 3rd in terms of size, in the country. The city has an Ordinance creating the Zamboanga Interfaith Council, which brings diverse groups to discuss key issues and address matters that are needed to prevent bigotry and bias. We have always adopted pluralistic and non-discriminatory policy initiatives; maintained ties with various religious organizations of civil society, and facilitated and promoted interfaith activities in the City, because we believe that we are one Zamboanga City- Christians, Muslims, and Indigenous Peoples.

We were united during the Zamboanga Siege and this unity is maintained as we converge religious leaders in City Hall, the Seat of Government, where we work to uplift the lives of our people. In those dialogues in City Hall, it was really a blessed opportunity for all of us to agree on humanitarian and security measures. We are a Government that recognizes the voice of everyone and we value consultative, collective and collaborative processes in governance through citizen participation and stakeholder empowerment. In our administration, no creed, color, group or religion will be left behind. Everyone is instrumental in the decision making process.


By Espiridion A., New Jersey, USA:
Question:
In 2015 you stated categorically that Zamboanga City nor any of its 98 administrative districts (barangays) should ever be included in the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). What is your position now after the Philippine Congress and the President have approved an expanded BARMM?

Mayor Climaco replies: Republic Act 11054 or the Bangsamoro Organic Law provides for a Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Mindanao. The City Government of Zamboanga has been consistent on the City’s non-inclusion in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in an overwhelming vote for non-inclusion in two plebiscites. In 2008, we were instrumental in the declaration as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court against the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity’s Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain. We have been consistent in our opposition even in the inclusion of parts of Zamboanga City in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao through a plebiscite. We appealed consistently in hearings in the Commission on Elections last December 2018 on our non -inclusion in the plebiscite for the ratification of the law and the new region. We continue to resist any form or attempt to undermine the territorial integrity of our beloved Zamboanga City. We remain firm, that none of our 98 Barangays and Municipal Waters should ever form part of the Bangsamoro now or ever. We remain under one flag, one nation and one Republic of the Philippines.


By Silvia B.-A., Zamboanga City:
Question:
Despite being opposed to its inclusion in the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), can the City become a unifying factor?

Mayor Climaco replies: The City of Zamboanga remains the economic, banking, sports, tourism and education center of Region 9: Zamboanga Peninsula, including the surrounding provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. Despite of our strong opposition, we have been very inclusive of all peoples - Christians, Muslims and Indigenous Peoples since Zamboanga City, being our home, needs the concept of a shared responsibility to maintain peace and unity. Ironically, Sulu filed a petition in the Supreme Court to question the constitutionality of the Bangsamoro Organic Law. We on the other hand, consistently made our opposition known very recently in the Commission on Elections against some barangays/ villages, which allegedly want to be included in the plebiscite. Our key to unity is done by ensuring that all the 98 Barangays especially our coastal and island barangays enjoy equitable benefits from the government and that our people recognize and value that this city is their home and be given opportunities too to be involved in decision-making and policy implementation.


By Dr. Annabelle G. C., Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines:
Question:
Zamboanga City is a fast growing city. How would you ensure that urban problems such as traffic, drainage, congestion, informal settlers, disaster risks and security are responded to?

Mayor Climaco replies:
The Comprehensive Land Use Plan and Zoning Ordinance have been finalized to ensure the identification of zones for commercial, industrial and domestic purposes. We also equip ourselves with the identification of spatial growth areas of development to decongest the City’s urban core and bring development outward in the western and eastern corridors of the City. The UN Habitat and AECID also worked on our Planned City’s Extension (PCE) to map out development in the East Coast particularly the transfer of the Zamboanga International Airport within the newly identified PCE. The National Resilience Council has also chosen our City to be part of their program to address disaster and human security risks in the city.
 
I issued Executive Order No. BC 442-2019 creating a Technical Working Group to coordinate with proper government agencies and discuss issues and concerns affecting the implementation of all government infrastructure and other projects in the City chaired by the City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Officer. The Technical Working Group shall discuss, synchronize and prioritize the implementation of all government projects in the city, coordinate with the implementing agencies and to ensure that the best interest of the City and its constituents are served best in terms of convenience and welfare. Furthermore, the TWG shall also monitor the project accomplishment and see to it that the timeline for their completion is strictly adhered to.

Critical to our city’s development are our roads and the need to address our traffic problem. Our administration is giving much priority to more road projects to include opening of new routes, widening of existing roads, rehabilitation of damaged roads and asphalt overlay as well since these types of projects will greatly contribute to traffic decongestion in the City.

Aside from infrastructure, we also need to instil discipline among our motorists to address our traffic woes. The traffic management unit was able to apprehend violators of various city ordinances enforced by our personnel. We also issued Executive Orders on traffic concerns and issues such as temporary experimental traffic schemes, traffic diversion and rerouting, road closures and naming of one-way and two-way streets. Our Zamboanga City Traffic Operations Management Committee regularly meets to discuss traffic management of the City. Moreover, it was only during our administration that we have improved and digitized our traffic lights system in major intersections of the City that was not done in decades. Currently, the local government is also working on completing its Local Public Transport Route Plan (LPTRP) which is a requirement for the issuance of a franchise by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) if we will push for a mass public transport system and we will present it to the transport groups. The local government is in constant dialogue with all transport groups in order to be able to provide the best possible service to commuters in line with the city’s efforts towards modernization.
 
 Furthermore, purchasing a property for Housing for Informal Settlers and Urban Poor Associations is a very important in responding to shelter needs. Last December, we handed Titles of property to owners who have toiled for more than 15 years to own their land. This in itself is empowerment since it has given our citizens their shared responsibility in land ownership.


By Col Jose R., Pasay City, Philippines:
Question:
Please describe the benefits of Zamboanga’s planned new international airport at Barangay Mercedes?

Mayor Climaco replies:
The New Zamboanga International Airport is one project I have began advocating since I was in Congress. First, it will address the increasing passenger and cargo traffic of Zamboanga City, the rest of Region 9 and the surrounding provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

Second, it open up South west Philippines to the Brunei – Indonesia –Malaysia – Philippines East Asia Growth Area, as Zamboanga City is closer to some Southeast Asian airports than Manila. Third, it will decongest the current site to give-way for economic development and it will open new spaces for growth. Fourth, the parallel transfer of Air Force Base provide a new line of defence in the east coast Moreover, this will bring about growth and development in the area as projected in the Planned City Extension provided by UN Habitat and AECID.


By Carmina A., Makati City, Philippines:
Question:
What are your plans for keeping the Chavacano (Spanish-based Creole spoken in Zamboanga) culture and heritage alive and thriving in the face of fast growing globalisation?

Mayor Climaco replies:
Chavacano is the third fastest growing creole language in the world. We worked on the provision of instructional materials on the Mother Tongue Based – Multi Lingual Education for teachers and pupils. We also provided work textbook for the learning of Chavacano in the MTB-MLE curriculum for the entire division of Zamboanga City and other reading materials promoting Chavacano. We also initiated and established the Chavacano Orthography and produced a comprehensive English-Chavacano Dictionary for all schools in the City. Likewise, we have provided Chavacano books for children, written materials on the History of Zamboanga and other published books. An ordinance is implemented on the recognition of Dia de Fundacion de Chavacano every 23rd of June marked by various activities and competitions highlighting the use of the language. To make language closer to children, they learn to sing Zamboanga Hermosa (our local anthem) as a requirement by law after flag raising. We had movies and musical compositions written, produced and sung by young people as well who learn the vibrancy of Chavacano. We even have this grand celebration in honor of Nuestra Senora La Virgen del Pilar where we showcase, history, art, faith, music and movies to keep Zamboanga and its culture alive. Writers from Spain and other countries have visited us in their studies of Chavacano. Television and radio news reportage and including some local dailies also use Chavacano.


By Dr. Annabelle G. C., Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines:
Question:
What do you consider as your most significant accomplishment during your two terms as City Mayor? What is your core message for the future youth leaders of the City?

Mayor Climaco replies: I have been blessed by God to be given an overwhelming mandate by the people and I hope to continue on in my third term as Mayor. Zamboanga City is now in the hub of national and international radar for investment and development as we are being recognized with our potentials as a City and as a people to sustain reforms.

After the siege, the international community has responded to our humanitarian crisis and we have built back better. Over the last 6 years since I became Mayor, we have made incredible progress and accomplished extraordinary successes for Zamboanga and our people. We faced countless challenges and endured every disaster and calamity that struck us. Today, crime volume has smashed one record after another, as it goes down every year in significant percentages with zero bombing and zero kidnapping record maintained for three straight years. This is peace and order at its best in Zamboanga.

Today, our City is in the constellation of outstanding LGUs as we were recognized as the Most Improved LGU in the Country, one of the most resilient and disaster-ready, and accorded with the Seal of Good Local Governance because of our hard work and dedication in quality public service. This is Zamboanga at its most competitive phase ever and our City is now an economic giant in Southern Philippines – a dynamic hub for business and commerce and a magnet for investments and employment.

My core message is to develop the youth so that one day, they too shall take on the reigns of leadership. I have a pool of milennials, LGBT and dynamic pool of youth volunteers in the City, whose passion for transformation and youth development makes their energy vibrant. I am very blessed to have my former students working with me with all dedication and principled leadership for love of Zamboanga. In these young women and men I see the passion to contribute their wealth of knowledge to forge a future for the City today. I am blessed to be called, Ate Beng (Big Sister) an endearing name that makes up for the family, the core of our toil.


By Ted L., New South Wales, Australia and Jonathan C., Zamboanga City:
Question:
Please describe your vision for Zamboanga City and the measures needed to achieve it.

Mayor Climaco replies:
My vision for my City is to be safe and secure for every child and family. I hope to ensure the security of our city to provide a sustainable liveability. I envision my City to provide for health and education of our peoples. With these, investor confidence and economic growth will bring food on the table of every home through job opportunities. I would one day want to see my city attain national prominence to help other cities transform to respond to the demands of growth. Also, I would want to go a notch higher in the international community to share our success stories in championing social inclusion and human security to make our homes safe for children and their families.


By Karim B., Zambonaga City:
Question:
You are planning to run for a third term as mayor. What do you want to achieve in a third term?

Mayor Climaco replies: Addressing security is a vital concern that will ensure safety of children and families. I intend to prepare a framework for social inclusion and human security for my city so that the next generation will have a template to follow. I want our City to continue being in the radar of development and enjoy national and international support and recognition. With Security, Health and Education, I hope to achieve economic progress so that every home will have their basic needs addressed. I hope to be able to pass on my leadership to others who will have the passion and dedication to love my City, our Zamboanga City.