LAOAG CITY — The province of Ilocos Norte experienced both highs and lows in 2017, with various developments in the areas of business, tourism, agriculture, and peace and order.
Natural and man-made calamities came and went throughout the year, but hardworking Ilocanos have remained resilient as ever, with a clear resolve to fight poverty and hunger.
Indeed, Ilocos Norte continued to develop its agro-industrial economy as it aims to be one of the most progressive provinces in the country by 2020.
Agri-business receives boost
The province last year revived sisterhood ties forged in 2002 with Shandong province, China, resulting in the northern Philippine province receiving a boost in agri-business and economy.
In April, some 30 local officials and business owners from Shandong met with provincial leaders in Ilocos Norte to prepare a “business matching” plan to create mutual business opportunities.
Shandong is China’s largest agricultural exporter. Its economic development focused on large enterprises with major brands. It ranks first among Chinese provinces in the production of cotton and wheat, as well as gold and diamonds.
Edwin Cariño of Ilocos Norte’s Sustainable Development Office reported to the local media that the visit yielded stronger cooperation between the provinces of Shandong and Ilocos Norte that was expected to give momentum to the latter's economic growth.
Also, a Japanese firm came to help Ilocos farmers revitalize the garlic industry here.
Ilocos Norte is a top producer of garlic in the country, with an annual average production of 6,000 metric tons covering 1,876 hectares.
The Japanese experts encouraged the local farmers to expand their production area as the province aimed to deliver at least 20 percent or 26,000 metric tons of the national market demand.
During its visit, the Takara Inc., a group of Japanese professionals specializing in black garlic, other vegetables, fruits and processed products, and the state-run Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU), used their combined technology to set up experimental garlic farms in various parts of the province.
In May, MMSU hosted a garlic technology forum and partnership meeting attended by 80 garlic stakeholders, composed of municipal agriculturists, high-value crop coordinators, policymakers, and garlic producers and processors with the Japanese group as they shared their best practices and experiences related to production, processing and marketing of this high-value crop.
IT firms as economic contributors
Giant information technology and business process management (IT-BPM) companies are expanding service centers at the business-friendly town of San Nicolas.
Accenture inaugurated its three-storey building located between the cities of Laoag and Batac on March 4, 2017. It was built by the Venvi group of companies, a local real estate developer.
Next to Metro Manila and Cebu, the Ilocos facility is Accenture’s third delivery center in the country.
Expert Global Solutions (EGS) now called Alorica also constructed a building near Accenture’s delivery center while Robinson’s Mall has expanded two floors for its BPO locators.
It can be recalled that in 2014, the Department of Science and Technology awarded Metro Laoag for having the best IT-BPM infrastructure and for becoming a part of the Next Wave City, a reference to alternative IT-BPM destinations to Metro Manila and Metro Cebu.
Ilocos Norte now a cruise line destination
Star Cruises, one of the biggest international cruise ship companies in the Asia Pacific, has made Currimao town in Ilocos Norte one of its home ports.
One of its luxury liners, the Superstar Virgo, is a 13-storey vessel with 935 cabins and can accommodate up to 2,800 passengers and 1,100 crew members.
From Manila, the ship made its maiden voyage to the port of Currimao in March 2017, and passengers were able to visit not only tourist sites in the province but also historical and cultural landmarks in neighboring Ilocos Sur province, particularly those in Laoag, Paoay and the wonder city of Vigan.
This is a welcome development for the booming tourism industry in this northern gateway of Luzon as it gave more opportunities for small and medium entrepreneurs to expand market.
Hotels, resorts and restaurants also mushroomed in 2017 to accommodate the increasing number of tourist arrivals.
With local government units’ aggressive tourism promotion efforts to make Ilocos Norte a premiere summer destination of the north, the Ilocos Norte government hopes to beat the province’s target of inviting at least one million tourists every year.
Improved peace and order
Following a series of killing incidents believed to be perpetrated by organized guns-for-hire, the Philippine National Police (PNP) succeeded in improving its crime clearance efficiency to 84 percent in 2017.
Senior Supt. Jose Melencio Nartatez Jr., PNP Ilocos Norte Police director, reported a tremendous drop in crime volume of 4,335 in 2016 to 2,421 or a decrease by 44 percent in 2017. There was also a remarkable decrease of 54 percent in robbery, theft and cattle rustling cases pegged at 256 in 2016 to 118 last year.
The number of crimes against persons, such as rape, homicide and physical injury, also decreased by 27 percent.
In the anti-drug campaign, the PNP confiscated a total of PHP2.1 million worth of drugs during the conduct of Double Barrel (Reloaded) from January to December 2017.
Also, there were 5,748 identified drug users and 545 pushers in Ilocos Norte. A total of 6,298 surrendered last year, some of whom were not in the list of the police. Of all the surrenderers, 5,894 enrolled in the Community-Based Rehabilitation Program (CBRP). Some 99 percent, or 5,880, of the enrollees had finished the program.
Tobacco excise tax fiasco
Amid its success in several areas, Ilocos Norte experienced some difficulties in governance in 2017. In May, six employees of the Ilocos Norte provincial government were detained at the House of Representatives for almost two months for being “evasive” during the Congress inquiry into the alleged misuse of PHP66.45 million in tobacco excise tax funds for the purchase of motor vehicles by the provincial government.
While the House investigation is still ongoing, the processing of government transactions, particularly by the Bids and Awards Committee at the Capitol, became more stringent than ever, as a result.
Good governance and ISO re-certification
It can be recalled that Ilocos Norte became the Philippines’ first ISO-certified province in 2013. Last year, the provincial government, under the administration of Governor Ma. Imelda Josefa “Imee” Marcos, made each department at the Capitol undergo a rigid training and accreditation process to achieve its ISO 9001:2008 re-certification.
Also, the Department of the Interior and Local Government in 2017 awarded Laoag City a Seal of Good Local Governance (SGLG), which is a symbol of integrity and good performance of a local government unit.
The SGLG is an improved version of the Seal of Good Housekeeping (SGH) introduced in 2011 by the late DILG secretary Jesse Robredo.
Laoag City was a recipient of both the SGH-Bronze Award and the second SGH-Silver Award before it was upgraded to SGLG.
An LGU needs to comply with all three Core Elements of the SGLG -- Good Financial Keeping, Disaster Preparedness, and Social Protection -- to become an SGLG recipient. (PNA)