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April 7th, 2016
Cities • Justice

Revitalising the public administration of Naga City

Elected in 1988, Mayor Robredo of Naga City was faced with an array of problems, including government corruption and public scepticism about the city’s administration. He devised a plan to revitalise the city by opening up the administration and involving the citizens in decision-making and urban projects. His reforms have since been adopted as a blueprint for many other cities in the Philippines.

The initiative

Robredo came into office with a plan to revitalise the city, whose main components were:

  • To abolish the symbols of bad governance.
  • To promote transparency and accountability in government.
  • To close the budget deficit and answer citizens' demands to remove corruption.

His first focus was on closing the budget deficit and dealing with the illegal activities within the city administration. Next, he took steps to increase citizen participation in government functions.

The challenge

In 1988, Jesse Robredo was elected as mayor of Naga City, which has a population of about 100,000. He faced a multitude of problems, such as the corruption and lack of transparency of previous city administrations, and the fact that the city was effectively bankrupt. In addition, it was located in one of the poorest regions of the Philippines.

The public impact

By 1997, he had succeeding in achieving his objectives. “By the end of his nine years as mayor - term limits prevented him from running again - Robredo had closed the budget gap, and Naga had gained international recognition as a model of effective and transparent local government." [1]

There were concrete instances of public impact:

  • “By 2011, at least five cities in the Philippines had adopted councils modelled after the one created in Naga." [2]
  • The mayor had succeeded in shutting down sex shows in the city and “largely expelling illegal gambling operations".
  • Naga is nationally and internationally recognised for its innovations, whose common denominator is the premium being given to “people participation” in governance. [3]

Stakeholder engagement

Mayor Robredo was extensively involved in the initiatives. Apart from him, other key stakeholders who supported the initiatives included the citizen representatives on government committees, who supported the initiatives extensively and were engaged in its implementation and processes, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

There was an intense focus on the concept of people participation. "After a councillor from Robredo's party drafted an ordinance in 1994 to allow citizen representatives on government committees, Robredo urged his colleagues to pass the measure and implement its provisions." [4] Subsequently, ““the Empowerment ordinance established the structure to achieve active partnership between the city government and the people of Naga in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of government policies, projects and activities.” [5]

USAID was the main international donor: “Naga received USAID funds for various projects, including the People's Council.” [6]

Political commitment

Robredo strongly supported the Naga City Management project and formulated several initiatives and plans to achieve the objectives by engaging the community and staff in the implementation of various processes. He had been developing ideas about reforming the city well before taking office. “He left San Miguel in 1986 to become director of the Bicol River Basin Development Program, a World Bank-funded project to promote development in the Naga area. Robredo recalled that the job ‘allowed me to really look at the problems which I felt were retarding the development of Naga … We immediately addressed long-standing problems that were doable, but difficult, just to gain the confidence of the constituency’,” [7]

Public confidence

Robredo became mayor of Naga City with the intention of abolishing corruption and bringing transparency to its government. The steps and initiatives taken by him during his first term helped him in building the trust of Naga's citizens, who had formerly been disenchanted with the city administration. As a result, he was re-elected for two subsequent terms, making three in all, the maximum number that he could serve. This demonstrated that people had faith in his leadership.

“In his first two years in office, Robredo demonstrated that his administration was unlike its predecessors, by assuming a more public profile and eliminating vices that past leaders had ignored. During this time he also closed the budget deficit. These early reforms won voters' trust in his style of government and resulted in his re-election." [8]

Clarity of objectives

Robredo’s objectives were to curb corruption, make the administrative system transparent, and return prosperity to Naga City. The objectives were stated at the outset and maintained throughout. However, there were no specifically measurable objectives in place.

Strength of evidence

Robredo took steps to understand the city's political and business environment. “When he came to office, Robredo had a suspicion, shared by many both [inside and outside] City Hall, that many business owners were dodging taxes by reporting lower sales than they actually had. To confirm this notion, Robredo instructed the city treasurer to make rough estimates of the daily sales at local businesses. As a test case, the treasurer's office assigned staff to count customers at a movie theatre. Staff from the treasurer's office counted far more customers entering the theatre, providing support for the argument that businesses were declaring figures significantly lower than what they were earning.” [9]

The people participation initiative was established on solid foundations. “Immediately following the passage of the 1991 Local Government Code, several civil society organisations in Naga formed an ad hoc coordinating council. The group explored ways that civil society groups could collectively approach local government about their needs.” [10] It was developed further two years later. “In 1993, the [NCPC] was established to explore other areas of collaborative work, mainly by bringing together elected officials and key staff of the city government and their counterparts in the local civil society in a series of continuing dialogue.” [11]


Robredo and his team wanted to involve people directly in the initiatives, so that communication gaps could be reduced and a direct link built with citizens for effective implementation of their plans. An ordinance was drafted to allow citizen representation in local government committees. “‘The only way to make sure that people are represented is if we pass a local law that requires government to have people's representatives.'” [12]

Apart from this, the team also designed ways to involve citizens in the decision-making, such as the NCPC (see Management below).


Robredo brought with him members of his successful management team from his previous role. “Assisting Robredo in this effort were a few staff members whom he had brought with him to City Hall. Gabriel Bordado Jr., Robredo's public information officer, and Soler, Robredo's secretary, had been associates of Robredo's at the Bicol River Basin Development Programme.” [13]

He also created the Naga City People's Council (NCPC), which “comprised 44 civil society organisations. Representatives had seats on the city's five local special bodies and 25 standing committees and lent a strong voice to policy discussions”. [14]


There was a lack of a monitoring or evaluation mechanisms to measure the effectiveness of the mayor’s initiatives. “The political intent of the condonation programs could be apparent in the manner in which these have been successively implemented, despite the lack of systematic monitoring or evaluative mechanisms to gauge their effectiveness.” [15]


Actors were strongly aligned to the goal of revitalisation. Several initiatives were undertaken, such as balancing the budget, the enactment of laws to engage citizens in government affairs, implementing an open door policy and an i-governance initiative, and launching a collaborative housing programme.

There was a move towards greater participation by city employees. “As a first step toward bolstering the public's confidence in city government workers, Robredo instituted an open-door policy at his office. Any employee or constituent could speak with the mayor without having to make an appointment.” [16]

Robredo introduced greater transparency. “He instituted a number of reforms including an i-governance initiative, a major part of which consisted of refurbishing the city's website and internet offerings. The new website displayed city ordinances and resolutions passed by the City Council. Also on the site, constituents could view the city's budget, see all bid notices and results related to the procurement of items, and access a directory of city officials' phone numbers and email addresses.” [17]

The collaborative approach extended to providing an improved infrastructure, for example the 1989 Kaantabay sa Kauswagan programme. “This secure-tenure social housing programme is built around organising urban poor communities, giving them a voice in government decision-making processes, and crafting local laws that institutionalised these reforms.” [18]

The NCPC ensured closer ‘people participation': “the NCPC representatives are now the ones sitting in the Local Government Code-mandated special bodies”. [19]


Michael Scharff, 2011, BUILDING TRUST AND PROMOTING ACCOUNTABILITY: JESSE ROBREDO AND NAGA CITY, PHILIPPINES, 1988 - 1998, Innovations for Successful Societies, Princeton University

The Evolution of the Kaantabay sa Kauswagan Program of Naga City, Philippines: The Influence of Policy and Politics (Pre-1989 to 2010), Annabelle Vitti C. Valenzuela, October 2012, Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University, Perth, Australia

Civic Engagement in Policy Development at the Local Government Level: The Experience of Naga City, Philippines, Jesse Manalastas Robredo, June 2007, in ‘Building Trust Through Civic Engagement', UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, pp.105-112

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