17 February 2007

New Synergeia stars take centerstage

ON THE bus last night, I thought it was just an extended day in the office, standing in as usual for my principal. But as today's retreat of the Synergeia mayors at Renaissance Hotel in Makati progressed, it turned out time very well spent.

As Nene Guevara, Synergeia CEO, admitted, they were mulling the possibility of postponing this event, as its usual "superstars" -- the likes of Mayor Robredo, Bulacan Gov. Josie de la Cruz and Undersecretary Lito Coscolluela -- sent notice they will not be able to make it. As it turned out, today's retreat affirmed that a new set of Synergeia stars have been born and took the spotlight, in line with its theme "Sa Totoo Lang -- Ang Kwento ni Gobernador, Mayor at Kapitan."

The soft-spoken Tiwi, Albay Mayor Jaime "Ami" Villanueva was a revelation, doing a splendid job of managing the retreat. But the individual stories of the local execs present warmed the heart.

Mayors Albert Que of Bongao, Tawi Tawi; Alexander Tomawis of Barira, Shariff Kabunsuan; and Abdullah Campong of South Upi, Maguindanao in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) are all self-made men who did not go into college because of the war; their common resolve is to fix the public school system in their respective communities so that their children need not go through the same path.

Mayor Nurbert Sahali of Panglima Sugala, Tawi Tawi was hesitant of joining the Synergeia education reform effort. "Walang pera dyan," he surmised at the outset, a thinking shared by Siasi, Sulu mayor Wilson Anni who thought going into education will drain a lot of the town's limited financial resources. Sahali also had to overcome the formidable cultural constraint demonizing education in Muslim communities: "Pag nag-aral ka, magiging Kristiano ka." But joining the effort is one decision both have not regretted since.

Multi-awarded Mayor Ramon Piang, an educator before becoming mayor of Upi, Maguindanao (now part of the newly created Shariff Kabunsuan province) who enticed Mayor Campong to go into the education reform effort, summed up what differentiates Synergeia's approach from others: "Lahat tayo kasali dito."

Just three years into the project, Upi's pupils are now involved in improving real property tax collection, urging parents to pay their taxes so that the municipality will be able to improve public school facilities. Its newly computerized RPT system enables the LGU to provide billings in an instant, thereby making the local school board (LSB) more meaningful and functional.