By Frinston Lim
February 19, 2011
CLAD IN a white shirt, shorts and sneakers, the diminutive man stops by one of the barbecue stalls along the clogged Quezon Street in Tagum City, where long tables and smoking grills cluttered the otherwise wide, clean-swept place during an ordinary night.
He waves to the crowd of uniformed students and workers having dinner and many of them call back, inviting. He politely declines.
Some from the crowd call him by his nickname, “Chiong Oy,” and he doesn’t mind at all. There’s really nothing to fuss about being called such, he says. Even if he is Rey Tao Uy, the mayor of Davao del Norte’s capital city, one of Mindanao’s newest bustling urban centers.
“I’m just a simple person. I’m more comfortable at being ordinary,” the 56-year-old businessman-turned-politician says.
Since its first days as a city in 1998, the agriculture graduate has been at the helm of the former marshy municipality that used to be safe haven of communist rebels, and where solvent-sniffing juveniles terrorized residents with crude knives and barbecue sticks.
The transformation of the rural capital into a booming metropolis in just over a decade was largely under Uy’s administration. Making a comeback in 2004 after being defeated by the veteran Boholano Gelacio “Yayong” Gementiza (who would later become governor of Davao del Norte), the Chinese mestizo stamped his own brand of leadership in Tagum.
“A no-nonsense governance and strong political will that shaped what is now Tagum,” according to Ped Velasco, a newspaperman covering Davao region since the 1970s.
“The development of Tagum speaks a lot about who really the man is. If he did not become a mayor and instead chose to continue being a businessman, Tagum wouldn’t look like what it is now, developed,” Velasco says.
He narrates how he used to see the young Chiong Oy back in the days tending the family’s store at the Magugpo (Tagum’s former name) poblacion in what is now Roxas Street. Even back then, he says, Uy was known already for being simple and friendly man.
Uy began his political career in 1988 when he represented the then undivided Davao del Norte’s second district in the provincial board.
At a young age, he was already taught by his parents to be resilient and resourceful—traits which became helpful when he plunged into politics and was elected to govern a city of 200,000 and with scare natural resources, Velasco says.
“Manage properly and efficiently whatever you have right now,” the mayor says on how he realized those traits as a politician. “Run your city as if you’re managing an enterprise.”
He calls that kind of leadership as corporate governance. Effective utilization of resources and efficient delivery of services are not just bywords. These are the mantra.
“Since we’re not blessed with rich natural resources like gold or tourist spots compared to our neighboring local government units (LGUs) like Compostela Valley or Davao City, what we do is we create situations in such a way that businesses could thrive,” Uy says. The same concept, he adds, serves as the driving force behind the progress of the small state of Singapore.
The city government under Uy sees to it that projects and programs are effectively and efficiently implemented. All infrastructure projects are being done by administration to eliminate corruption.
The city’s equipment and facilities are properly managed and well-maintained. Raw materials for concreting and other road projects are produced by the city’s asphalt mixing plant, thereby reducing considerably the cost of road and drainage projects.
The city also offers its equipment and services to other LGUs like Davao City, providing additional revenues to the city coffers. Tong-pats (grease money to contractors) and shakedowns are a no-no.
“We saved so much (government money) by eliminating corruption,” he says.
Being at the center of two intersecting national roads, Tagum’s strategic location attracts an influx of visitors virtually all times of the year. The Pan-Philippine Highway cuts through the city from north to south while the Davao-Mati road snakes to its west.
With this, Uy says he sees to it the city has enough good facilities to cater to the demands of visitors so to attract investments and revenue.
Millions of pesos were invested to the city’s drainage system to arrest the perennial flooding that used to hit the city proper during rainy months.
Adding to come-ons to local and foreign tourists is a slew of festivals (an average of 14 a year), showcasing the city’s rich culture, tradition and, of course, delicious fruits.
The city is also known of its improved peace and order situation. The place, in most parts, has been spared from bombings, kidnappings and other terror attacks plaguing other cities in Mindanao.