Citizen Action Guide to Albay

 

Area Profile

The Province of Albay is situated in the Southern Luzon land mass between the provinces of Camarines Sur on the north and Sorsogon on the south. It is bounded on the east by the Pacific Ocean, on the northeast by the Lagonoy Gulf, and on the west and southwest by the Burias Pass. North of the province’s mainland are the islands of Rapu-rapu, Batan, Cagraray and San Miguel which all fall under its jurisdiction.

Albay has a land area of 2,554.06 square kilometers, politically subdivided into 15 municipalities, three cities and 720 barangays. At present, it has three congressional districts. The province has a population of 1,233,432 as of May 1, 2010 reflecting an average population density of 482.9 people per square kilometer. The population of the province grew at the rate of 1.23 percent from the year 2000 to 2010.

The province’s economy is basically agricultural with coconut, hemp, rice, vegetables, sugarcane and pineapple as major products. Vast pasturelands also dot its landscape which are ideal for raising cattle, carabao, horses, goats and sheep. Its forests are sources of timber, rattan, pili and other minor forest products.

The topography of Albay is dominated by the world famous Mayon Volcano rising over 7,500 feet above sea level. The volcano has erupted 47 times since 1616.

The progressive city of Legazpi, Bicol’s regional center, is the capital of Albay. The province has large reservoirs of geothermal steam in Tiwi and Manito, supplying substantial amount of electric power to the Luzon Power Grid. Two major mining companies, the Rapu-Rapu Minerals Inc. (RRMI) and the Palanog Cement Corporation, operate in Albay. RRMI is a consortium owned by Filipino, Korean and Malaysian companies and produces gold, silver and other precious minerals exported to other countries. Aside from these two companies, five other smaller mining companies operate at Batan Island, Albay and are into coal mining.

Economic developments saw the mushrooming of major business establishments primarily in Legazpi City where shopping malls and major hotels have opened up recently. Different service companies also sprouted up in various parts of the city plus a host of local entrepreneurs also established their own small and medium-sized businesses which tend to show a growing economy.

Also recently, the city government of Legazpi launched its own campaign promoting the city as a convention hub which saw the successful hosting of national conventions of different large organizations as well as government agencies. This effort was complemented by the campaign of the provincial government to increase tourism under the Albay-Masbate-Sorsogon Tourism Alliance also known as AlMaSorTA.

Albay is classified as a first-class province by the Bureau of Local Government Finance (BLGF) based on its annual income.

Despite all these economic gains, however, Albay, just like all other local government units in Bicol, is also largely dependent on the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) coming from the national government. And although it has the second biggest income in the region, such stature does not necessarily mean its people are well-off economically: Certainly, the statistical figures show that the economic gains do not trickle down to the lower parts of the social strata.

Data from the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) show that Albay has suffered from consistently increasing poverty since 2006. Records reveal it had 32.3 percent poverty incidence in 2006, 33.9 per cent in 2009 and 36.1 in 2012 - higher than the regional average.

Albay was second only to Masbate in terms of poverty incidence in 2012 – and while the latter is considered one of the poorest areas in in the country, it has had at least a consistently decreasing poverty incidence rate since 2006.

This lamentable picture of economic conditions in Albay was further worsened by the statistical figures released by the Department of Education on the nutritional status of school children.

Data from the DepEd regional office’s Health and Nutrition Unit showed that Albay had the highest prevalence of malnutrition in pre-elementary, elementary as well as secondary levels among the Bicol provinces for the past two school years, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013.

In pre-elementary levels, Albay recorded a malnutrition prevalence of 18.5 per cent, 20.45 percent in elementary level and even higher in secondary level at 23.1 per cent.

In a previous interview with Media Solutions, a Bicol-based news agency, Albay Governor Joey Salceda said: “The spike in Albay malnutrition between March 2011 to March 2012 especially among school-age children is a temporary break from the overall structural trend of hard-earned gains in well-being and nutrition status by the province and was essentially driven by Typhoons Bebeng, Chedeng, Egay, Falcon, Juaning, and the protracted severe weather season between April 2011 and ended only in Feb. 2012 which had 20 rainy days out of 28.”

He further said: “Cumulative damages of PhP 2.8 billion, of which PhP 1.8 billion from Juaning alone which affected 765,000 people. In anticipation, we have lobbied with the DSWD to increase the 4Ps (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program) families from 11,000 to enable families with school-age children to cope with income stress due to severe weather impacts.

“As of April 2012, 4Ps increased by 21,000 to 32,000 and another 30,000 in July 2012 to 62,000 which would entail PhP 1.042 billion annually. Moreso, we are fortifying and reconfiguring our provincial nutrition interventions from barangay-based towards school-based for more efficient targeting. With these aggressive interventions, we are programming and we are confident to bring down malnutrition rates as computed by DepEd from 17 per cent to 10 per cent, or easily at least 2nd best in the region.”

This statement from Gov. Salceda was found ironic by many coming as it did from the supposed “champion” in disaster risk reduction and management. It should be noted that after the devastation from typhoon “Reming” in 2006, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo poured about PhP 7 billion for the rehabilitation of the affected provinces, with Albay getting the lion’s share. Salceda was then a senior economic adviser of President Arroyo. The governor’s statement also showed the lack of concrete economic program by the provincial government of Albay to address both malnutrition and poverty as Salceda was relying primarily on the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Program of the national government in addressing the plight of the hapless Albayanos.

Based on records of DepEd regional office’s Planning Unit, Albay had 9,679 public elementary pupils enrolled as beneficiaries of CCT Program for school year 2011-2012. This ballooned to 28,656 in school year 2012-2013.

This unfavourable economic condition of its people is further proven by Albay’s Human Development Index (HDI) whereby it placed fourth in terms of Real Per Capita Income at 0.191 next only to Catanduanes (0.393), Camarines Norte (0.205) and Sorsogon (0.192). Understandably, then, is the fact that Albay was not included in the Top 50 in Economic Governance Index. In terms of Good Governance Index (GGI), Albay ranked 70th in 2005, improving slightly to rank 61 in 2008. GGI is a conglomeration of 27 basic indicators grouped under three major indicators which are Political Governance, Economic Governance and Administrative Governance.

On basic facilities, Albay has 464 public elementary schools and 90 public high schools. It also has 725 provincial health workers, 5,364 barangay health workers and 3,346 trained birth attendants.


LGU Profile

Albay is the third biggest province in Bicol in terms of land area, next to Camarines Sur and Masbate, but second to Camarines Sur in terms of population. Despite its huge territory and intense political rivalries, Albay has been relatively peaceful in terms of politics, though similar with other provinces it is also being ruled by political elites.

Among the ruling families of Albay are the Imperials, Zigas, Lagmans, Bicharas, Gonzaleses and the Sartes. The oldest political clan which until now still holds sway in the province is the Imperial clan whose rule started in the mid-1800. One of the most notable political leaders of the province was former Cong. Carlito Imperial popularly known as “Papay” whose legendary hold to power as the congressman of the second district remains an enigma of sort. The incumbent governor, Joey Salceda is a descendant of the Sarte clan.

Though considered a newbie in the politics in terms of years in office, Salceda wields power and influence that is quite unparalleled in Albay. Salceda was able to complete his three terms as representative of the third district of the province before taking the gubernatorial post. Now on his last term, Salceda ran unopposed in the May 2013 election.

As if ruling an encomienda, a feudal system where overlords “owned people as well as the land, the political elites of Albay have long held on to their respective territories and any “unauthorized” encroachment into one’s territory would mean a direct challenge to the ruling family. The first district of the province, which includes Tabaco City, is considered a bailiwick of the Lagman family. It used to be the territory of the Zigas. A Ziga scion attempted to challenge the Lagmans in the May 2013 polls but was trounced by current ruler.

The second district, which includes the city of Legazpi, is the territory of Bicharas and Imperials. Through alliances, the two families co-exist peacefully and both have family members sitting as incumbent officials. Al Francis Bichara is the incumbent congressman while the incumbent vice-governor is Harold Imperial.

Albay’s third district, which also serves as the bailiwick of the Salcedas, is being ruled by the Gonzales family. Both co-exist peacefully which allowed Salceda to run unopposed during the recent election.


Budget

The province has the second biggest annual budget in the region, next to Camarines Sur. But as poverty and nutrition statistics reveal the huge budget don’t seem to benefit its people directly. In 2012, Albay had a total income of PhP 1,241,549,084.28 while in 2011 it had PhP 1,267,878,049.39 and PhP 1,215,128,061.57 in 2010.

For the past three years, the Commission on Audit rendered a “qualified opinion” on financial condition of the province due to some deficiencies in its fiscal management.

In the latest audit report for 2012, the COA had 19 adverse findings, most notable of which was the seemingly irregular utilization of calamity funds amounting to PhP 17.9 million whereby the provincial government failed to submit the necessary documents for audit.

In another finding, the audit commission questioned the validity and propriety of the expenses incurred by Team Albay in conducting mercy mission to calamity-stricken areas outside the province amounting to PhP 2.3 million, including PhP 1.6 million for plane tickets alone.

The COA report also raised an issue on the procurement and utilization of medicines amounting to PhP 18.4 million and PhP 2.6 million in gasoline. Similar findings on irregular utilization of gasoline were also noted in the 2010 and 2011 audit reports.

Even so, the Department of the Interior and Local Government has consistently awarded Albay with the Seal of Good Housekeeping despite numerous unfavourable findings in its fiscal management.


Civil Society and Media

The involvement and participation of civil society and the media on transparency and accountability campaigns in the province is still insignificant in terms of impact and over-all effect.

None among the well-established civil society organizations or the so-called progressive groups have engaged the local government on issues of transparency and accountability in any manner. Neither did the local media.

This is largely due to the existing quid pro quo system between the local government on the one hand and the media and civil society groups on the other.

Floreno Solmirano, former Southern Luzon bureau chief of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and currently the bureau chief of the Philippine News Agency in Bicol, said a group called Legazpi City Local Project Monitoring Committee is actively involved in monitoring of government projects in the province but that it is funded by the local government unit.

He said that the local media might be willing to engage the local government units on issues of transparency and accountability but does not know how to go about it.

Meanwhile, a member of the Rotary Club in Albay admitted that most civil society organizations in the province in one way or another have a “friendly” relation with the provincial government especially with Gov. Salceda.

According to him, this is mainly due to the fact that these civil society organizations, when conducting their respective activities, usually engage with the governor to ensure that the activities would be successful. He also explained that civil society organizations like them have specific purposes for which they were created and engaging the local government units on issues of transparency and accountability is not one of them.

The source, who requested anonymity, said most civil society organizations are organized to partner with the government in the delivery of basic services and so it would be counter-productive if they would antagonize the governor or the provincial government.

But he alleged that Salceda has a lot of “excesses” in his governance and most of his programs are “purely cosmetics” and do not necessarily address the plight of the people. He cited the issue of malnutrition which is one of the concerns that has been bugging the province for years now.

The source, a local entrepreneur, laughed at the recent statement of Salceda that he would ask the Department of Social Welfare and Development to increase the number of 4Ps beneficiaries in Albay to solve malnutrition.

The businessman said increasing the number of 4Ps beneficiaries would not necessarily reduce malnutrition. “What the people need is an honest-to-goodness program that would increase income so that families would be able to afford their nutritional needs,” he stressed.

He said Salceda’s statement, which the local media in Albay published, proves that he has no grasp of the real situation and that the governor has no concrete plan, short term or otherwise, in solving malnutrition. If the governor has no realistic plan about malnutrition which is very basic, how much more the complex ones, he pointed out.


LGU-Citizen Engagement

Perhaps there is truth to the saying that one cannot be a prophet in one’s own land. In Albay, a people’s organization is active in its advocacy for transparency and accountability and its base of operation is right in the town of Gov. Salceda, Polangui.

The Polangui Movement Alliance towards Action Inc. (PMATA) is an association of local citizens bound by common desire to serve as watchdog of government especially the local government unit.

In its meeting October last year, the members renewed their desire to continue with their advocacy to fight corruption and to help ensure that the people are appropriately served by the government through the delivery of basic services.

The PMATA has committed to work with the CANA in pursuit of the common goal of keeping the government transparent and accountable.


Opportunities and Threats

Opportunities

1. Public awareness
The people are aware of the current situation of governance in the province as the local businessman pointed out. The source said the sad state of governance in the province has become a regular fare their discussion though mostly done in hushed voice. This is an indication of a simmering discontent among the people.

2. Openness of some media members

It is public knowledge that many members of local media are “soft” when it comes on negative issues involving Gov. Salceda for reasons not totally strange. But a group from within the local media sector has expressed readiness to work on the project and this can be a potent group that could help greatly in the pursuit of the project’s objectives, though they have yet to fully understand the extent of the purpose of the undertaking.

3. Existence of a people’s organization

The existence of a people’s organization which is directly involved in accountability and transparency campaign is a good indication of the people’s desire to hold the government responsible for its actions. It is something to start with and is very ideal springboard to launch the campaign in the province.

Threats

1. Lack of driving force
The statement of the local businessman about the hushed talks among civil society organizations is an indication that they are not yet, as of the very moment, eager to confront or at least have the urge to discuss the issue with the local officialdom. It indicates a passive community which allows the lapses of the government for as long as it does not endanger its own interest.

2. Threat from local officials
The passive stance among the upper class of the society also indicates their fear for possible retaliation from local officials. They might have read between the lines that the local government expects them to be “cooperative” in the same way that the local government cooperates with then in carrying out their purpose and objectives.

3. Uncooperative media
Media is a vital factor for the success of the campaign, thus, the presence of a media sector which is perceived to be beholden to the local government could prove to be a major stumbling block. It would be difficult to mount a crusade with a hostile media. It may be difficult but not totally insurmountable.