HAGEDORN: The Maverick by Tony Lopez BIZNEWS ASIA

March 4, 2007

Cover Biz News Asiainner-cover-biz-news.JPG

Having built many of the amenities of a city fit for the 21st century, Mayor Edward Hagedorn realizes that Puerto Princesa doesn’t have enough facilities to meet an impending tourism boom over the next ten years, the influx of some 600,000 tourists, from only 130,000 a year at present.

            Now, he must make up for lost time and work double time to make the city the country’s premier destination.

            Thankfully, he has help from the central government in Manila, international lenders and even Church leaders who share his vision of a modern city anchored on helping the poor and on sustainable development of the environment.



After 14 years as mayor of Puerto Princesa, Edward S. Hagedorn has brought about or built just about any amenity a modern city can aspire for – relative peace and order, absence of illegal gambling, a 911-type quick0response public assistance center, clean and green surroundings, a state-of-the art  garbage processing plant, Olympic-style sports facilities, a sprawling housing settlement for informal settlers, and a national and growing global reputation for its heavy focus on the environment.

So why is there impatience in his gait and intensity of his action?

“I don’t have facilities to host more than150,000 tourists a year,” he confides. “We only have 1,000 hotel rooms of all kinds. In peak season, we can only take in only 1,000 tourists most a day.”

Hagedorn wants to double the number of hotel rooms in three years. To do that, he must attract investors into the city’s tourism. Before he could attract the, he must dramatically build up the city’s infrastructure. The roads in particular. That takes time. “It is a chicken and egg situation,” the mayor winces.

In the interim thus, Puerto Princesa welcomes tourists but they have to make do with the limited facilities of a city that is now at heart, is just a small town.

The city’s former first class hotel, the 100-room Asiaworld Resort has been shuttered for two years now, a victim of the previous mayor’s shortsightedness. Hagedorn is helping the hotel’s owners, the Tan Yu family of Manila and Taipei, find buyers for the property. “The building structure is good and solid and sits on a 5-ha. Property,” he says.

Asking price for the hotel: P250 million, cheap considering that the property is centrally located and where going rate is P 7,000 per sqm.

In the meantime, Puerto Princesa was promised $100 million, P1.5 billion by President Arroyo for tourism infrastructure.

 The city has plenty of money. In 1992, Hagedorn had only P50-million budget. That’s crippling considering that in land area alone, 2,539 square kms. Puerto Princesa is the country’s largest city.

Travel north or south of the town center for two hours and you are still in Puerto Princesa. The city runs 140 kms north to south and is about 50 kms at its widest.

To link with the world, Puerto Princesa has to modernize itself. That requires considerable resources. Hagedorn spent P200 million to build a sports coliseum that can seat 8,000 people.

He built a sports complex complete with a track and field and an Olympic-sized pool, also for P200 million. No wonder the city is becoming popular as a convention and sports destination. With near complete sports facilities, Puerto Princesa has hosted the Palarong Pambansa twice.

This year, the city budget is P1 billion, thanks to a massive increase in IRA (Internal Revenue Allotment) from Manila. With that equity capital, the city can borrow money. The Manila-based Asian Development Bank has provided loans for the city’s garbage recycling, massive road-building, and environmental protection programs.

Arroyo has declared Puerto Princesa one of the country’s major tourist destinations. It has been singled out as one of the primary growth areas in central Philippines.

Said the President in her State of the Nations Address in July 24: “Central Philippines has the competitive edge in tourism in its natural wonders and the extraordinary hospitality of its people.” The area, she says, sweeps across Palawan and Romblon, the Visayas and Bicol, plus the northern Mindanao islands of Camiguin, Siargao and Dapitan. “Topbilled by Boracay, Cebu, Bohol and Palawan, it attracts more than half of the foreign tourists to the Philippines,” she said. “The priority here is tourism investments.”

Mrs. Arroyo related further: “Tourism in Palawan requires the upgrading of the airports in Puerto Princesa, Busuanga, San Vicente, as well as a continuous road backbone from El NIdo to Batazara.”

Palawan is perhaps, the only province in the Philippines where four airports are being built simultaneously over the next four years.

During that time, Hagedorn is confident that Puerto Princesa will be able to attract 600,000 local and foreign visitors yearly. Each day, flights to Puerto Princesa are almost always full, each using wide-bodied aircraft. Last year, the city had only 130,000 visitors.

At its height, the city’s tourism attracted 170,000 visitors but the number dropped following a series of unfortunate events under the previous mayor, Dennis Socrates who became very unpopular and was ousted in a recall election that Hagedorn won.

To be sure, Puerto Princesa cannot compete with other Philippine cities like Metro Manila, Cebu, Davao or General Santos in attracting major industries. But it has one attraction its peers don’t have – eco-tourism.

Puerto Princesa, in fact, threatens to become the Philippines’ No.1 tourist destination in terms of eco-tourism.

The city’s recent preeminence is a tribute to Hagedorn’s work as mayor of 14 years.

Coming to office in July 1992, he found the city’s coffers nil and visioning equally absent. The city had unruly police force. There was filth and dirt all around. Many of the commercial structures were decrepit.

Immediately, Hagedorn went to work with the only available resource at hand, cheap labor, actually displaced jueteng workers who had just lost their source of livelihood, the illegal numbers game, because the once tough gambling lord had promised the local bishop he would not engage in it for electoral support.

Hagedorn thought the bishop was bluffing and readily agreed to the deal. But the promise apparently was cast in stone and so the newly elected mayor had to comply with the covenant.

He went to clean the city’s streets. A fine of P200 was imposed for loitering, a huge amount given that most of the residents don’t earn that much in a day. Among those who was fined himself was caught by his police chief throwing a cigarette butt in a canal.

The police thought of making an example of Hagedorn. He went on radio and television about the mayor being fined for littering. Hagedorn has since quit smoking.

Hagedorn also ordered the city’s beaches and waters patrolled for illegal fishing.

Bantay Dagat also has one unintended benefit. Pirates couldn’t maraud in the area.

Hagedorn’s vision is to “see Puerto Princesa as a model city in sustainable development,” by developing the city based on the following concepts:

  • A park-like city demonstrating balance and harmony between development and environment;
  • A center for eco-tours, healthful recreation, applied research on ecology, ecosystem, marine and terrestrial flora and environment management;
  • A home for disciplined inhabitants whoa re responsible stewards of the city’s ecological system and resources; their quality of life improved as they enjoy directly or indirectly the bounties of nature and the fruits of their labor; and,
  • Its major thoroughfares developed as boulevards, promenades, and stretches of tree-lined and coastal highways interspersed with parks and resorts and provided with appropriate facilities fro tourism, agriculture, commerce and environment-friendly industries.


To protect and preserve the city’s environment – marine and terrestrial the – city instituted environmental protection measures against the despoilers of nature.

For his efforts, Hagedorn reaped awards, such as, the Earth Day Award, MAcli-ing Dulag Environmental Achievement Award, Best Governed Local Government Unit Awards and Gusi Peace Award.

Delighted with the Mayor’s notable achievements and rising popularity, a series of Presidents, from Fidel V. Ramos, to Joseph Estrada, to Arroyo extended their backing.

Ramos gave the city a 1,772-hectare of land carved out from the Iwahig Penal Colony to be used as the City Industrial and Commercial Zone. When she became president, Arroyo gave the city and additional 1,000 hectares for mass housing.

ADB is funding almost P2 billion worth of infrastructure projects to backstop the city’s $100-million development plan aimed to garner 600,000 tourists in three years.

A $100-million development plan will prepare Puerto for a massive tourism promotion that aims to bring in 600,000 tourists within three years.

Among Hagedorn’s infra projects are: the widening of the main Rizal Avenue, reclamation of the wharf, and a BayWalk that will rival Manila’s. he is buying additional police cars and hiring more police officers to beef up the current police force complement.

The ADB-funded P1.6 billion Palawan North Road stretches 134 kms, from the City to Barangay Roxas, cutting travel time from four to five hours to just one and a half hours. The concrete road was made with a special concrete paver, making it much smoother than normal concrete roads. Engineers boast that it is a world-class road. It was completed in 2004.

The road is part of ADB’s Sicth Road Project which aims to improve infrastructure an the countryside to boost economic development. The project consists of the 80.34-km Puerto Princesa-Langogan road and the 54.14-km Langogan-Roxas road along the northeast coast of Palawan. The road is a scenic view of the sea and of the famous snake island.

“These nice roads are catalysts for development,” Hagedorn enthuses. “When investors come, the first thing they notice is the condition of the roads,” he points out.

“Before, when you go to Roxas, you stop at San Rafael which 75 kilometers form the city. All buses stop there to eat because the trip is long. After the uphill climb in Langogan, there’s another eatery, they eat again because they are hungry again,” says Simeon Alarcon, vice president of the Palawan Chamber of Commerce. “Now the busses don’t stop anymore.”

The Palawan North Road boosts the tourism economy of the province, which is one of the one two industries after agriculture. It leads to major tourism spots like Honda Bay, the Underground River, and its famed world-class resorts like El Nido, Club Noah-Isabelle, etc.

Another ADB-funded project is the P200-million sanitary landfill in barangay Santa Lourdes, said to be the first local government-controlled and engineered sanitary landfill in the country. “When tourists came, you build up your garbage. This landfill takes care of the problem,” says the mayor.

The landfill can handle garbage for the next 20 years.

With the implementation of the zero waste management program under R.A. 2003, the City expects that the life span of the sanitary landfill will extend to 50 years or more.

The sanitary landfill will be implemented in six phases on a 20.9-hectare abandoned mine site.

Phase 1 covers the construction of a leachate treatment plant and pumping stations, composting plant, and auxiliary facilities  like access road, perimeter fence and gate, cut-off ditches and drainage system, monitoring wells, protection dikes, gas vents, waste recovery shed, equipment yard and wash bay, weighbridge, guardhouse and administrative building. Dump trucks and a landfill vibratory compactor were also purchased.

The third ADB project in the city is the P40-million Fisheries Resources Management Project which supports the strong environment vision of Mayor Hagedorn.

Some 370 hectares have been declared fish sanctuaries, prohibiting fishing and any other human activity.

“We are achieving our goal of sustainable development and reduction in poverty,” says Hagedorn. The city also maintains nurseries with mangrove seedlings and the maintenance of full-frown mangroves.

ADB says the project has an income diversification component, through community participation for the sustainable livelihood of fishermen who were once involved in destructive and/or unsustainable means of fishing, by providing the micro financing for such activities as crab fattening, fish drying, processing, etc. it covers 56 coastal barangays. In Honda Bay alone, there are 18 barangays benefiting from the project while in Puerto Princesa Bay, it covers 22 barangays.

If Hagedorn loves the environment now, it is because he used to ruin it, his family having been among Palawan’s largest loggers. And if hates gambling now, it is because he used to be the city’s biggest gambling lord.

Parañaque-born Hagedorn was humbled by the fact that despite being a non-Palawan native, he was elected by the people in 1992. “My election changed my outlook,” he relates now. “Because of the trust and confidence of Palaweños, I promised I am going to protect the resources that rightfully belong to the Palaweños.”

Among the city’s major projects and programs:


Oplan Linis Program (Clean and Green Campaign)

Launched on Aug. 1, 1992, the program aims to sustain cleanliness, beautification, and sanitation in the city through active and continuing partnership among government agencies, non-government agencies, the private sectors, and the citizens.

The program has earned for Puerto the coveted honor of being the cleanest and greenest city in the Philippines.

Oplan Linis has six major components: cleanliness, Beautification, Sanitation, Sagip-Dagat (Save Sea), Sagip-Hangin (Save Air), and Information and Education.

In 1994, Puerto Princesa was formally declared the Cleanest and Greenest Component City in the country. Its 98% rating over the 95% garnered by Baguio City as the Cleanest and Greenest  Highly Urbanized City technically makes Puerto Princesa the cleanest of them all.

Oplan Linis’ success is not only in terms of actually and immediately cleaning and greening the city, but also in sustaining the cleanest effort.

In 1995, Puerto Princesa again bagged the Cleanest and Greenest Component City Award scoring a near-perfect 99.8% rating.

In 1996, it received the Hall of Fame Award for having been declared as the cleanest and greenest component city for three years in a row.

This program was chosen by the Asian Institute of Management as one of the ten most outstanding local government programs, and was awarded the Galing Pook Award.


Comprehensive housing

            Locate. Identify. Register. This is what Puerto Princesa did to understand the magnitude of the squatters’ problem.

            Declaring war on squatters, the city sought suitable relocation sites, source funding for land acquisition, site development, and housing construction.

            Puerto Princesa has some 10,000 squatters. Hagedorn has relocated so far half of them. Living along the coastal areas of Puerto Princesa, Honda Bay, the squatters are the city’s biggest polluters.

            He got a 1,000-hectate portion of the Iwahig Reservation for housing for squatters.


Agriculture program

Aside from tourism, agriculture is the city’s only other economic base. The city is almost self-sufficient in food, except for a few varieties of vegetables.

Metro Manila gets it fish and other marine supplies from the city in particular and Palawan in general.

Hagedorn helps farmers raise mango, form agri cooperatives, and acquire the necessary agricultural inputs like fertilizer and pesticides.


Livelihood program

            This has a three-pronged approach: Enhanced agricultural activity, aggressive tourism development with the end in view of making Puerto Princesa the eco-tourism capital of Asia, and promotion of livelihood activities that are not necessarily reliant on natural resources.

            The city provides schemes such as agro-forestry; rice, corn, vegetable, and cut-flower production; furniture-making, goat, poultry and piggery raising; cattle breeding and fattening; sari-sari stores; buying and selling; and similar such projects that promote self-employment.

            He has involved the San Teodoro Rural Bank in a project call Sosyo sa Negosyo that the city government appropriates for livelihood assistance.


Education program

            The city government constructed five two-story school buildings with sixty classrooms, on City High School building, two Technical School buildings, and eighteen Elementary School buildings.

            Hagedorn has put up satellite libraries.

            Each Satellite Library is equipped research materials such as encyclopedias and dictionaries; Instructional media materials; books covering a wise spectrum of learning; magazines; newspaper; and a variety of livelihood and how-to reading materials.

            Reading, the source of all higher learning, is gradually becoming a hobby among a group of people who had previously been deprived of its pleasures and benefits.

            Forty-two of Puerto Princesa’s sixty-six barangays are in rural areas. About 86,255 or 64.8% of the city’s population reside in these 42 remote barangays, engaged mostly in fishing and farming. Each of these barangays has its own elementary schools; seven have secondary school of learning.

Total student population is estimated at some 12,060. Not one of these rural elementary and secondary has a functional library. So where do the students run to for research? Nowhere! To go to the city proper where the City Library is located is impractical, given the distance, time and infrequency of transport.

Scholarship Program – it annually sets aside funds to defray the educational expenses of poor but deserving college freshmen. More concretely, it provides free tuition, books, transportation, uniform and a miscellaneous fees until the candidate finishes a bachelor’s degree.


Health program

            One day, in 1992 then mayoralty candidate Hagedorn was in hurry to visit a project south of the city. Along the highway, he saw an apparently sick person needing help to be brought to the hospital. Since he was going to the opposite direction, he promised to be back soonest.

            When he came back, the man was dead. From thereon, he promised his city folks wouldn’t die for lack of medical care.

            He put up satellite hospitals and centers equipped with doctors, nurses and cheap medicines. The satellite hospitals are linked by two-way radio for easy communications.

            The project is a drain on city finances but Hagedorn believes health is an essential public service.

            The seven satellite hospitals are in strategic locations – one each for the barangays in the southwest, northwest, north, southeast, and the central areas.

            “You can travel for miles in this city for two hours and you cannot find a doctor or a hospital. The satellite hospitals fill that need,” explains Hagedorn.

            Each satellite hospitals has five-bed capacity and is equipped with radio communication, electricity courtesy of solar energy, ambulance, medicines; and, manned by a physician, nurses, midwives, radio operator, driver and a utility man. Each is open 24 hours a day.



            Puerto’s principal tourist attraction is the Subterranean River, 81 kms north from the city proper. The National Park was declared a Unesco Heritage Site by the United Nations Environment, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

            It is said to be the longest navigable underground river in the world, runs for 8kms, and spills out into the South China Sea. It is under the St. Paul’s Mountain which has a lush tropical rain forest. The river can also be reached by a two-hour hike on top of the mountain.

            Several threatened species are regularly seen in the extensive lowland forests and substantial number of Palawan Pheasant Peacock and Philippine Cockatoo are found in the park.

            Hagedorn limits visitors to the underground river to just 250 a day, “its carrying capacity”.

            Aside from the underground river, the city is becoming popular as a convention center.

            It also has a 50-ha. Zoo and botanical park, hot spring at Santa Lourdes, water spa in the woods at Salakot Falls, the Salvacion View Deck overlooking Honda Bay, the Talaudyong Beach, the Canigaran Sandbar, and the 100-hextare government center and nature part at Santa Monica.


Eco-tourism village

            To promote the habitats of Palawan, the Eco-tourism Village will feature jogging/biking trail, nature viewing spot, north train station, north security node, viewing tower, hostel type units (log cabins) and interest areas such as aboriginal habitats, orchid farms, curio shops, delicatessen, etc.



            On Jan. 7 1994, Puerto Princesa City was adjudged and given the National Distinction Award for Best-Governed Local Government Unit, making Hagedorn the best local executive there is in the country today.

            On April 25, 1994, Hagedorn received the Grand Award of the First Macli-ing Dulag Environmental Achievement Awards.

            Less than a year earlier, on Aug. 25, 1993, he was likewise given the national recognition by the Department of Natural Resources (DENR) via a special Earth Day Award for Wildlife and Protected-Area Management.

            Among Hagedorn’s latest awards are: the Development Management Award, the first ever that was given to a local government unit by the very discriminating and prestigious Asian Institute of Management (AIM); the Pamana ng Lahi (Heritage Award) bequeathed by President Fidel V. Ramos; and, the Global 500 Roll of Honor Award by the United Nations Environment Programme.

            These accolades show, in a nutshell, the Mayor’s distinctly effective management style.

            One of the major components of Bantay Puerto is Bantay Gubat or Forest Watch, which is tasked with the protection, conservation and rehabilitation of the city’s forest areas.

            Hagedorn has confiscated hundreds of thousands of board feet of prime lumber, hundreds of talking birds, dozen of chainsaw, and trucks full of logs. It has also apprehended more than two hundred persons found violating the various forest ordinances; filed cases against sixteen of them, two of whom had already been convicted.

            To rehabilitate the denuded areas of the city’s forestlands, Hagedorn embarked on a massive reforestation scheme.

            Dubbed a “Pista Y Ang Kagiban” of Feast of the Forest, it has mobilized thousands of peole from all walks of life, and greatly succeeded not only in terms of the number of trees actually planted (approximately 800,000 with 80% survival rte), but also in inculcating the proper attitutude among the Puerto Princesans toward tree planting and conservation, making it the “in” thing to do.

            Celebrated every last Sunday of June, this unique feast has transformed from a novel reforestation activity to becoming a tourist-attracting one that people from everywhere look forward to annually.

            Another worthy project is Bantay Dagat, or Baywatch.

            It seeks the protection and conservation of the city’s marine ecology by waging an all-out illegal fishing and related activities in its four strategic bays, namely; Puerto Princesa Bay, Honda Bay, Turtle Bay, and Ulugan Bay.

            By one reckoning, the campaign has apprehended 1,657 pump boats and 46 fishing boats for violations of various fishing laws and ordinances. One vessel (F/B Robinson) worth P20 million was forfeited in favor of the city government. Some 18 tons of fish, including live ones, found illegally caught were confiscated.

            Among the illegal methods of fishing, cyanide is the most pemicious and the most difficult to control.         

            Unlike dynamite or trawl fishing, cyanide fishing is a very silent operation and is usually done underwater.

The city bans live fish for shipment. Hagedorn says live fish is almost always caught with cyanide.

To protect the interest of the legitimate live fish catchers, the Cyanide Detection Test Laboratory was established to scientifically determine if fish were caught by illegal means. It is the first of such facility in the country to be put up by a local government unit.

            When mayor Hagedorn opted for sustainable as apposed to extractive development and implemented nature conservation measures, his sole interest was in preserving nature for all generation to come.


Infra program

            The city has more construction equipment than the regional office of the DPWH.

            It has ten trucks and 37 heavy equipment, most of them almost new.     

            The city also has an asphalt batching plant. The equipment pay for themselves. Having them, Hagedorn is able to quick-start projects and finish them ahead of time. And he saves a lot of money in the process.


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