Story and photos by Ceasar M. Perante
ACCORDING to its geographical location, Santiago City is located within the Fourth District of Isabela, about 326 kilometers North of Metro Manila. The landlocked city sits at the heart of the Cagayan Valley Region. It is bordered by the Sierra Madre Mountain Range on the eastern side and the Cordillera Mountains in the west.
The total land area of Santiago City is 275 square kilometers with 80 percent practically flatlands. The city population recorded as of 2010 is 132,804.
Named after Saint James the Apostle, its Patron Saint, Santiago remained as a municipality for 84 years. However, on May 5, 1994, by virtue of Republic Act (RA) 7720, the municipality was converted into an Independent Component Santiago City from Isabela.
It was during his second term as Municipal Mayor when Jose Miranda in 1992 issued Executive Order 92-05, which created and tasked an ad hoc committee to conduct a thorough study and submit recommendations on the potential conversion of Santiago into a city.
On May 05, 1994, then-President Fidel V. Ramos finally signed RA 7720 converting the town of Santiago into an Independent Component City. On July 6, 1994, a plebiscite ratified RA 7720 affirmatively.
One of his legacy projects that time as first city mayor was the construction of an ultra-modern and hi-tech City Hall building big enough to accommodate comfortably all departments and their employees. To secure and provide visual access on all department offices as he watched them work and kept psychological eye on them, he ordered the installation of closed-circuit television cameras in all offices directly linked to his office to monitor his people work in and out of the city hall.
With his futuristic visions, Miranda prioritized the construction of concrete roads connecting all villages to the city proper serving as farm-to-market roads at the same time used as multipurpose pavement to solar dry the farmers’ grains harvest.
“Our city will not prosper with bad roads,” he told this correspondent more than two decades ago now. Of this reason, he unwittingly raised the value of land in the city.
To gain momentum at that time, he launched what was dubbed as Redireksyon Program designed to promote modern farming in the city by introducing the cultivation of high-value crops like semi-temperate vegetables normally raised in the uplands of Benguet and Nueva Vizcaya.
“We spend so much everyday while traders from nearby provinces siphon a lot of money from us because of the high-value agricultural products that we buy from these outsiders instead of raising them here in the city ourselves,” Miranda said.
To teach local farmers in the city the technology of planting these crops, the Santiago City Agricultural Training Center was built for such purpose. The SCARTC also served as a demonstration area for showcasing modern farming techniques designed to promote agro-tourism, as well.
High-value crops like cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower successfully grew in Santiago City weather conditions. To demonstrate the planting of these vegetables, the green thumb city mayor as many described him, had the City Hall grounds transformed into veggie plots.
As a comprehensive way to convince more local farmers to engage in modern agriculture, livestock that included cattle and goat raising, piggery and even fishpond operations were introduced in an actual demo. Tilapia and bangus were raised through inland fish farming method which were proven to be successful.
The program was followed by seed and livestock dispersals in all villages for those who can not afford but interested to join the bandwagon for free. Also included was free insemination to farm animals even without boars courtesy of the Santiago City veterinary office.
Vegetable nurseries in all villages were established where farmers and even local residents can get seedlings for their backyard gardens. Miranda ordered all vacant lots in the city planted with either fruit trees or bananas.
During her three terms in office, the first lady City Mayor Amelita Navarro, being a registered nurse by profession, health service was on top of her priorities and education, as well. Social services in various forms were provided her constituents. Senior citizens in the city were given special attention. Urban gardening was also introduced for an immediate answer to kitchen needs of every household.
Her constituents observed that Navarro served in action where she spearheaded her programs. She would love to pay surprise visits to the villages of the city. She believed that personally knowing the actual conditions of her people and listening to the sentiments would give the real picture of what is going on, be it a problem or an expression of delight.
“Leadership is by example and action speaks louder than words. What you see is what you get,” Navarro said.
It was during her tenure that the city bloomed with a number of commercial establishments. Malls here and there, hotels grew like mushrooms. Street lighting was among her priorities because she claims that criminals actively do it in the dark and behind the scene. She also modernized the Santiago Public Market.
It was during her tenure that the annual Pattaraday Festival showcased the participation of leading festivals in the country from Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao.
For such virtues, Santiago City has been the most award-winning city in the region. The majority of the series of awards received from award-giving bodies landed the city to Hall of Fame.
At present, during his second term in office as third city executive, Santiago City Mayor Joseph Salvador Tan has sustained what his predecessors have done to keep the city growing. Awards received by the past city administration were kept sustainable. A notable accomplishment was the construction of a diversion road that stretches from Sinsayon to Rizal village to decongest the city proper of big delivery trucks including vehicles that do not need to traverse main city thoroughfares. Urban gardening program has been sustained.
The Tan administration provides educational support program to deserving Santiagueño students dubbed as “Bespren” city scholars. The groundbreaking for a new Isabela State University Santiago City campus was held recently at Rizal village to accommodate more students who need tertiary education.
Image credits: Ceasar M. Perante