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Put a Chinese-speaking Italian-American from Brooklyn in the holiest of Buddhist temples and watch the racial harmony flow.

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Mayor Edward Hagedorn: Progressive Philippine Mayor Leads His City to International Recognition

by Antonio Graceffo

April 16, 2007

Mayor Edward Hagedorn was not always the progressive angel and champion of the poor that he is today. In his youth, Hagedorn was a member of the Axis gang, with a reputation for street fighting and violence. Later, he was called the Juengteng king of Palawan. Juengteng was an illegal form of gambling, a lottery with more than one drawing per day. The allure of easy money was too irresistible to the country's poor, 80% of whom exist on less than two US dollars per day.

When he ran for Mayor the first time, the Catholic Bishops of Puerto said that they would support him if he promised to put an end to illegal gambling. Hagedorn agreed. After he won, he made good on his promise. Now, there is no Juengteng in Puerto.

Ecology has been a central focus of Mayor Hagedorn's programs. To protect the oceans, he has put a stop to many of the destructive fishing techniques such as trawling, dynamite fishing, or cyanide fishing.  

Ending illegal gambling displaced 5000 juengteng workers. A modern day Robin Hood, Mayor Hagedorn put them to work as watchers of forests and coastal areas. The forest watchers have cracked down on poaching and logging operations. Patrolling the oceans has dramatically decreased the illegal fishing practices, and has had the added benefit of driving off pirates. Fishermen who were once destroying the environment were given micro financing for crab fattening and fish farming.

Mayor Hagedorn flew over the hills in a helicopter to see the damaging effects of slash and burn farming, which was destroying the city's forests. Shocked by the devastation that he saw, he went on the radio and threatened the farmers, ordering them to desist from what they were doing and come down out of the mountains. About 1,000 families came down. Now he had to find employment for 1,000 families to replace the income they had lost or else they would go back to slash and burn. He checked with his financial department who told him they had no budget for such a large employment project. There was money in the calamity fund, however. So, he asked the legal department if he could declare a calamity based on slash and burn farming. They basically said there was no provision to that effect. His next question was if there was any legislation that specifically said he couldn't declare a calamity based on slash and burn farming. There wasn't. “OK, I'll take the risk.” He said.

The mayor's team decided that the families were using slash and burn techniques because, without equipment it was the easiest way to plant. Mayor Hagedorn authorized the city government to buy modern equipment and petrol for the families. He then told them, “The first harvest is free. After that, you will eventually have to pay off the loan.”

The Mayor is constantly reaching into his own pocket to give money to the poor, needy, and deserving. “Salaries from Manila are often delayed by several months.” Explained the Mayor. “So, I pay my staff out of my pocket.”

The tangible benefits which Mayor Hagedorn has brought to his city are many, almost too numerous to name: new highways, schools, housing projects for squatters,  increased aid to indigenous people….The list goes on. Nearly as important is the intangible effect of good government. As a visitor to the city you will immediately realize that the people of Puerto Princesa are some of the happiest people imaginable.

Nearly every two weeks, the Mayor's office plans some type of public event, such as sports competitions, spelling bees, and of course festivals featuring traditional singing and dancing. The Puerto Princesa dancers and the city choir find themselves working almost full time, entertaining locals and honored guests. The Philippine dance presentation is a spectacle that you would not want to miss. The program reflects the various ethnicities which make up the Philippine character. It is both rare and refreshing to find a country in the process of modernization which so whole-heartedly embraces its tribal past. In the dance presentation, there is a brief duel between Spaniards and locals. The Spaniards don't fair so well, but after three hundred years of colonization, it is permissible to have a laugh at their expense.

Many of the traditional songs deal with the beauty of the natural environment and fall in line with mayor's focus on conservation. The mayor himself gets up and sings, his genuine emotion expressed in his song.

The Mayor is accessible to both his constituents and visitors. An anecdote which people like to tell about him is: during one of his reelection campaigns, Mayor Hagedorn made a promise to God that if he won, he would quit smoking. He hasn't smoked since.

A member of our team asked if there was any danger of malaria in the tribal area we were planning to visit. The Mayor laughed. “Don't worry about malaria. I postponed it.”

It is no wonder that Puerto Princesa tourism has grown from 12,000 in 2002 to 148,000 in 2006.

For all of his successful implementation of progressive programs, Mayor Hagedorn was the recipient of the UN Global 500 Award. He was only the second Asian leader to receive this much coveted international honor.


Antonio Graceffo is an adventure and martial arts author living in Asia. He is a professional fighter and the author of four books available on amazon.com Contact him Antonio@speakingadventure.com see his website www.speakingadventure.com

Get Antonio’s books at amazon.com
The Monk from Brooklyn
Bikes, Boats, and Boxing Gloves
The Desert of Death on Three Wheels
Adventures in Formosa

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