By Prof. Julio O. Castillo, Jr., DBA

ARRIVING at the Lipa City hall, we can’t help but appreciate the inside office of Mayor Eric B. Africa. PR Excellence, House Rep. Emelie Katigbak, showed us the way and introduces us to the staff of the office. After the pleasantries, we were accommodated by the amiable secretary of the office and led to the mayor’s hall. Noticeable are the numbers of massage chairs placed inside fronting the table of the good mayor. The cushioned massage chairs are intended for the visiting folks to be comfortably seated while they are waiting to be served of their respective concerns.

Trying one of the giant massage chairs I felt warmth and comfort after a long trip.

Visitors will not be intimidated to go see the mayor’s office hall because you will be met by their friendly and accommodating staff. We heard that the mayor is not the type to push his way around but kind words were thrown in and shared to manifest his good relationships with the folks of Lipa City and more so with his officers and staff.

Not soon after the mayor arrives and greeted us warmly. Done in casual tees and blue denim pants on walking pair of shoes, I noticed his youthful stance and bearing. Observing his demeanor, the mayor, seated in front of us not on his formal table but in the same rows of chairs we were seated at the time, you feel the sincerity, warmth, and candor. Coming from an earlier outreach activity and with a hoarse voice, Mayor Africa greeted us and allowed us to introduce ourselves.

Inquiring about the COVID situation in the city, Mayor Africa shared there are 90 positive cases and out of which has 25 active cases resulting in 11 deaths and these numbers worry him because these will lead to an increase in statistics if not properly handled. Based on initial analysis, these came about due to the opening of industrial parks and workers and residents coming from Manila and other provincial suburbs.

Mayor Africa stresses that at the start of the lockdown, the city started swab testing in March and up to the present. The city tested 1 percent or an estimated 4000 from out of about 400,000 Lipeños. The signing of the MOA with the Red Cross paved the way for the efficient testing moved by the city. Red Cross provided the swab kits for the testing.

Two days after the March lockdown, the city requested for the Serological Testing Machine. It is a nucleic acid-based testing and also known as PCR, or molecular testing. The machine is used abroad to diagnose active COVID-19 infection in patients with symptoms. Mayor Eric B. Africa said, “Serological tests do not detect the virus itself. Instead, they detect the antibodies produced in response to an infection and are not suitable for early diagnosis of COVID-1 9 variability in time is required after infection to develop antibodies.”

The approach of the mayor being proactive in his stance to contain the pandemic is commendable and appreciated by many. Isolation facilities were readied in anticipation of the results of the tests. Mayor Africa allocated the 3 floors of the LGU owned hospital exclusively for COVID patients with symptoms and another isolation facility when needed. These only prove the readiness of Lipa City when the need arises. Lipa City, Manila and Valenzuela are the only cities as of the moment that uses the Serology Machines.

The COVID-19 hospital has 80 beds capacity and 6 beds used exclusively for those infected. It is served by 2 Doctors, 6 nurses employed by the city, and 6 isolation nurses for augmentation coming from the DOH. True to its form the city readiness is evident by the approach of the father of the city and giving emphasis on his focus on testing, assessing positive patients, and sending them for isolation. Remarkable too is that Mayor Africa opens doors to non-Lipeños who need their assistance, such generous deeds and piety.

Blessed art thou who are generous in giving, there is a good economy despite the Taal episodes, Lipa City has the capacity to sustain medical treatments despite the recent Volcano eruption incident that drained the coffers of the city budget. There were about 10,000 Lipeños and 20,000 non-residents that came from the adjacent municipalities that the city provided help during the eruption.

The mayor constantly reminds constituents to follow AITF minimum standard policies and regulations to prevent COVID-19. LGU regularly gives free SWAB test to health workers on public and private hospitals, government employees, police and barangay officers, and distributed thermal scanners and supplies of alcohol to schools prior to the lockdown.

He added that the Red Cross swab fee is PHP3, 500 and that the treasury has allocated an initial fund of PHP7 million followed by another PHP2 million and additional PHP2 million to sustain expenses in containing virus transmission. Lucky are those who are senior citizens of Lipa City. A pension allowance is provided in the amount of Php1, 500.00 per quarter too. Mayor Africa is active in dispensing information to strictly follow health protocol especially to the industry that sustains the economic activity for the city. The mayor impresses even that no realignment of funds happened during these challenging activities.

Additional queries were thrown to the mayor regarding his plans for the coming school opening. Mayor Eric Africa gave us straight yet humble answers about his readiness to help the education sector of his city.

Lo and behold! Students and teachers were happy that they (students) received 3500 units of tablets to aide them on their studies and 2400 public teachers and grade 12 students were provided free laptops each for their use in dispensing their lessons and preparation for entering college for the grade 12 students.

Schools were provided with five printing machine facilities for module preparations, noteworthy are that the city has not sought financial support from DepEd. Fund allocations were initiated from the General Fund of the city and the Special Education Fund (SEF) approved by the school board.

If only all cities are self–sustaining, the National Government will be eased to such financial burdens.

The city sealed a memorandum of agreement with the telecommunications company. Globe, Smart broadband will be installed at the city plaza, and selected schools determined to have signals.

The estimated statistics show that there are about 68,000 public elementary and high school students and college about 3500 and 20 percent of these numbers are non-Lipeños that the city is helping.

The city also extends cash assistance to selected primary and secondary students of private schools ranging from 7,000-8,000 per semester and 5,000 a month for college students. The mayor shared that the city has 72 barangays and 84 public schools spread all over the city. He will make sure that the entire necessary aide in dispensing the school requirements will be dispensed accordingly with swift implementation. Printed modules will be picked up and submitted by the parents of the students from their respective schools for orderly procedures.

We enjoyed our small talk with the amiable Mayor Eric Africa. We bade adieu to the father of the city and his hospitable office administrators and staff for their kind accommodation provided us.

It has manifested his sincere concerns and dedication to lead and protect his city from any challenges coming Lipa City’s way. Lucky are the Lipeños for the kind of leadership your Mayor Eric B. Africa is generously giving to your land and we say is ready to defend his city.

About the Columnist

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Prof. Julio O. Castillo, Jr. is a Doctor in Business Administration, and academician of business management and entrepreneurship, university professor for graduate and undergraduate schools, academic research author, civil servant and advocate of good governance and transparency, environmentalist, and community servant.