Quo vadis, Quezon? 

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In Photo: The Quezon provincial capitol compound in Lucena City during a Niyogyugan Festival celebrated yearly in August.

Story and photos by John A. Bello / Correspondent

WHERE to for this province known for its coconut trees?

Quezon province is called “Cocolandia”, with the  Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) confirming the province is the top coconut producer in Calabarzon—composed of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon—and in the whole country.

Quezon Gov. David C. Suarez puts salt fertilizer to a coconut tree in Barangay Masin, Tayabas, Quezon.

The PSA said Quezon produced 1,210,224.58 metric tons (MT) of coconut in 2015. Batangas ranked a far second in volume of coconut production, with only 68,371.8 MT; and Davao del Sur ranked second among coconut-producing provinces in the country, with 872,895.86 MT.

The country produced a total 14,735,188.98 MT of coconut, ranked second among the top 5 coconut-producing countries in the world. Calabarzon produced a total of 1,379,297.8 MT in the same year. Around 78 percent of the total coconut production in Calabarzon came from Quezon province.

Out of a total land area of 867,477 hectares, Quezon has a total agricultural area of 450,186 hectares and its biggest portion is planted with coconut, the direct source of livelihood of coconut farmers in the province. But it is not only coconut that Quezon tops in crop production in the whole Calabarzon region, but also in palay and corn.

The province produced a total of 146,988 MT of palay and 44,622 MT of corn in 2015. Calabarzon produced 392,907 MT of palay and 64,823 MT of corn; while the whole country produced 18,149,837.78 MT of palay and 7,518,755.72 MT of corn for the same year.

Quezon also appears on top in the region in terms of root crops, like sweet potato, gabi, peanut and ube; and fruit crops, like banana, calamansi, lanzones, and papaya.

In fish production, the province is also a faraway winner with 142,914.49 MT of fish catch, with Batangas a far second with 99,533.19 MT. The whole Calabarzon region came up with 408,141,53 MT and the whole country produced a total of 4,858,097.1 MT, all in 2015.

Agriculture drives the economy in Quezon, with coconut as its main crop, and its manufacturing industry is driven by agricultural commodities and their by-products.

Though Quezon province is considered to have the biggest land area in Calabarzon—with two cities Lucena and Tayabas, and 39 municipalities—it has a population of 2,122,830, considered the smallest among the provinces in Calabarzon accounting for only 14.73 percent of the region’s population.

A bit of history

HISTORICAL accounts have it that around 1571 or 1572, a Spanish commander and soldier, named Juan Salcedo, visited and explored the central portion of Tayabas in his march across Laguna de Paracale upon the order of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the Spanish explorer who established Spain’s dominion over the Philippines that lasted until the Spanish-American War of 1898. Legazpi served as the first governor of the Philippines.

In 1591 Tayabas was created into a province under the name of Kalilayan and its capital was the ancient town of Tayabas, now a barangay in the municipality of Unisan. Around the middle of the 18th century, the provincial capital was moved to what is now Tayabas City.  Civil government was established in Tayabas on March 12, 1901, with Lucena as its capital and Cornelius Gardiner, its first governor.

On September 7, 1946, President Manuel A. Roxas, by virtue of Republic Act 14 renamed the province to Quezon in honor of the late President Manuel L. Quezon, the most illustrious son of Baler, formerly part of Quezon. The present seat of provincial government is Lucena City, the province’s capital.

Young David

AT the helm of the provincial government of Quezon since July 2010 is a young and modern David at 40, nicknamed “Jayjay”, surnamed Suarez, who continues to shine in the province’s politics. No wonder, as the Urban Dictionary said, Suarez means “extremely dedicated to anything they do”.

Suarez, first elected in 2001 as municipal councilor of his hometown in Unisan and ex-officio board member when he was elected president of the municipal councilors league, was elected in 2014 as the province’s youngest vice governor and, eventually, governor in 2010. He believes his intervention development programs and projects are sufficient to uplift and benefit the whole province and improve the lives of his constituents.

So far, he has garnered two landmark awards for his province both in 2014: Galing Pook Award  for his Health Coupon system pioneered in 2011. The program, dubbed Lingap Kalusugan sa Barangay, provides P50,000 health coupons to 1,242 barangays in the province and prioritizes indigent Quezonians for their medical needs.

Another is Galing Pook Award for the synchronized province-wide project to protect the natural resources of the province and address global warming by planting 2.7 million mangroves in a single day in 194 coastal barangays in 34 towns of the province.

ELA

ON July 13, 2016, Suarez has issued Executive Order 23 appointing the Executive-Legislative Agenda (ELA) team and the ELA Technical Working Group-Secretariat to prepare, plan and monitor the ELA formulation to ensure the proper implementation of the three-year programs, projects and legislative measures that will produce positive impacts to the province.

ELA 2017-2019 is a collaboration between the executive department and the Sangguniang Panglalawigan, which sets the three-year road map for the province. The ELA team is headed by the governor with all the provincial department heads of the executive department, the vice govenor, the secretary to the Sangguniang Panglalawigan and two non-governmental representatives from the Provincial Development Council (PDC) as members.

The ELA, according to the PDC resolution, “sets the local government’s strategic directions for the next three years and provides an explicit expression of the present administration’s goals, objectives, strategic priorities and programs that are consistent with the LGU’s vision and mission.”

The Sangguniang Panglalawigan, headed by its presiding officer Vice Gov. Samuel Nantes, issued on November 21, 2016, a resolution approving the ELA for 2017-2019.

Among the major projects lined up in the ELA for the next three years are the following: Lingap Kalusugan para sa Barangay, which has an allocation of P75 million yearly; Quezon’s First 1,000 Days of Life (Q1K) program, allocated with P20 million in 2017, P25 million in 2018 and P30 million in 2019.

To promote agriculture development, the ELA has allocated P51.2 million for agricultural and fisheries productivity enhancement program; P8 million for herbal research and development program; and P7 million for cooperative development program. To promote and enhance the cultural heritage of the province, loan proceeds from Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank) will fund the following big-ticket projects: establishment of Quezon Complex, including Niyogyugan Village, allocated with P150 million; construction of Quezon Cultural and Arts Center at provincial capitol compound, P50 million; and restoration of the provincial capitol building, P170 million.

To promote competitive and business-friendly governance, the ELA has allocated P120 million for the construction of Infanta Convention Center; and P130 million for Gumaca Convention Center Phase III.

P2-B loan from LandBank

SUAREZ makes no bones about the provincial government’s P2-billion loan from LandBank During the provincial convention of the Barangay Nutrition Scholars on July 27 at the Quezon Convention Center, the governor announced the LandBank loan would fund the various priority projects of his administration.

Just three days earlier, on July 24, the Sangguniang Panglalawigan, led by Nantes, approved to ratify the P2-billion loan agreement between the provincial government and LandBank to fund various development projects of the province.

The proposed complete programs and projects and their estimated cost to be funded from the P2-billion loan include the following: Construction of three-story dormitory building at Quezon Science High School, P35 million; construction of Quezon Medical Center (QMC) West Annex (Administration) Building, P180 million; various projects, such as purchase of hospital equipment and improvement of hospital and facilities, P100 million; restoration of the Provincial Capitol building, P170 million; construction of additional school buildings and facilities at Southern Luzon State Univrsity-Catanauan, P100 million; construction of Convention Center at Infanta town, P120 million; establishment of Quezon Complex, including Niyogyugan Village, P150 million; construction of roads and various projects, P230 million; a plastic-processing plant, P5 million; and Pagbilao Mangrove Experimental Forest (Phase 2), P35 million.

The provincial government, with a present annual budget of P2.8 billion, has an outstanding loan balance with LandBank of P449 million.

Asked during the SP joint committee hearing about the capacity of the province to pay the gargantuan loan, provincial treasurer Marilou Rosario Uy said the province has a maximum borrowing capacity of up to P3,271,328,000,  and the monthly loan amortization with interest rate at 4.5 percent of up to 10 years is within the paying capacity of the provincial government.

Major infrastructure projects

QUEZON is to partner with the World Bank-funded Philippine Rural Development Projects (PRDP) in providing key infrastructure, facilities, technology and information designed to raise income, productivity and competitiveness in the countryside.

Under the PRDP the provincial government has undertaken the initial phase of farm-to-market roads in Padre Burgos, Agdangan, Pitogo, Sariaya, Unisan, Calauag, San Andres, Quezon, Infanta, Real, Catanauan and Atimonan, and continues the ongoing ones in Mulanay, Guinayangan, Lucban, Lucena City, Candelaria and San Narciso, while those under procurement process are in Buenavista, Macalelon, San Antonio and Polillo.

In June Suarez approved the Provincial Commodity Investment Plan (PCIP) for 2018-2020, which will be supported by the PRDP. It covers various existing commodities for expanded production and development in various areas in the province, such as abaca, coffee, mango, pineapple, cacao, banana and lowland vegetables, such as ampalaya, okra, squash and string beans.

Provincial agriculturist Roberto Gajo presented on May 2 the PCIP during the PDC full council meeting led by Suarez and attended by various municipal mayors and municipal council development officers. The PRDP aims at least a 5-percent increase in annual real-farm income of the project’s household beneficiaries; a 30-percent increase in income of the enterprise development beneficiaries; a 7-percent increase in value of annual marketed output; and a 20-percent increase in number of farmers and fisheries with improved access to agricultural services.

Gajo said the PRDP has allocated P70 million to PCIP with a P12-million counterpart funding from the provincial government.

Q1K

CLOSEST to the heart of Suarez is the Q1K program, a community health and nutrition program focused on mother and child, which is now being implemented in the entire province.

The program aims to promote and uphold the quality of life of each pregnant Quezonian. It starts from conception then continues until the child reaches 2 years old.

“The Q1K is a life-changing program and best sound investment for the future so I am now implementing this for the whole province to give a fair chance to the next generation of Quezonians,” he said.

Conceptualized in 2014 and launched on July 8, 2015 with 12 pilot municipalities pledging commitment to the program, it has enrolled some 1,000 young, poor and pregnant women for first batch beneficiaries that have gone through three components of the program: food and nutrition, health care and sanitation and social care, which included regular prenatal checkups for the mother and vaccination of the baby up to 2 years, said Dr. Grace Santiago, Q1K executive director, adding that Q1K coordinators from every municipality undertake orientation and training and various agencies are tapped to insure the program proceeds smoothly.

The governor’s wife, Party-list Rep. Anna Villaraza-Suarez of Alona, who is spearheading the program, has touted it as the first in the entire country to be launched for a packaged intervention program which aims to insure woman and child’s safety and health for the first 1,000 days starting from conception of the mother up to the age of 2 of the child.

Incidence of malnutrition

CLOSELY tied with the reason for the launching of the Q1K program is the effort of the provincial government to reduce the incidence of malnutrition, especially for preschoolchildren in the province. Records show that in 2014 the top  5 municipalities in the province with preschool malnourished children are Patnanungan, with 25.15 underweight and severe underweight preschool kids; Jomalig, with 22.4; Catanauan, with 20.8; Burdeos, with 19.6; and San Andres, with 18.6.

Suarez seeks to reduce the prevalence of malnutrition and produce healthy Quezonians as he commended the 1,400-strong Barangay Nutrition Scholars during their third provincial convention at the Quezon Convention Center on July 27 for the continuous reduction of malnutrition in the province from 12.9 in 2011-2012; 11.34 in 2013; 11.14 in 2014; 10.75 in 2015; and 9.32 this year.

Quezon Science High School

ANOTHER pet project of the provincial government is in the field of education, especially the establishment of the Quezon Science High School (QSHS), which stands out with a total of 335 bright and science-oriented students from Grade 7 to Grade 11 enjoying free tuition, free board and lodging, free foods (breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks morning and afternoon), free school uniform and free regular medical and dental checkups.

The QSHS had its opening in June 2011 with 80 freshmen high-school students as the first batch attending classes in a three-story school building located in Barangay Isabang, Lucena City.

Looking ahead

THE provincial government envisions Quezon to be the food capital of Calabarzon and Metro Manila in 2020 and  Suarez described his last term as ‘the next three, best three’ up to 2019 and he is passing it to the next top man in Quezon to sustain what he has built.

The young governor feels optimistic about the future prospects for his province as it gears up for redistricting plan. He anticipates a bigger and grander celebration of the coming Niyogyugan Festival, which is originally conceptualized by the governor’s mother, former Third District Rep. Aleta Suarez, to promote and energize the coconut industry in the province. The festival starts on the second week of August up to August 20.

 

Image Credits: John A. Bello