Mary Jane Ortega: “I have learned that aside from communicating, you have to educate. If you communicate and you educate, the effects will be long lasting"

Mary Jane Ortega was mayor of San Fernando, Philippines, and accumulates awards for her achievements in the city management.


Mary Jane Ortega was mayor of San Fernando, a coastal city around 270 km from Manila, in Philippines.  She accumulates awards for her achievements in city management. Even if she has been away from the office since 2013, Mary Jane still works with cities administration. She is Special Advisor of the Global Network for Safer Cities and Iclei, member of the Resilience Committee on the Future of Public Places and Secretary General of CITYNET. “My husband would ask me: ‘why are you involved in all of these things? You don’t finish your advocacy once you are out of office. You still continue with your advocacy, even if you’re already out of public office”.

In September, Mary Jane Ortega will travel to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the Mayors´ Summit. 

Read below is an exclusive interview for WRI Brasil | EMBARQ Brasil with the former mayor.


Which were the main achievements of your administration?

Mary Jane Ortega - The United Nations Scroll of Honor Award was for my work on empowerment of women and at the same time for espousing the city development strategy. That would be one. The second would be I’ve received an award from Konrad Adenauer for Merit of Excellence on Governance. And the third one is an award by the World Bank, which was given by the president James Wolfensohn, and it was a for the city development strategy. I also received a grant from Japan Social Development Fund because they liked my project on relocating fishermen who were informal settlers.  Even when I’m out of office, now for eight years, what we started has been institutionalized. Right now I’m working on improving the quality of education for the basic education. I’m a mentor for not only one city but I’m a mentor for local governments units in the north of the Philippines.


How difficult is to manage the city and its problems?

MJO - This has been a “macho” city, they only look at men. They always thought that only men could handle a city. When I was elected mayor they thought I would only go for culture. So they were surprised that we drop down criminality, we were able to eliminate dynamite fishing, we were able to eliminate all for drugs among youths. So, they were able to see that a woman was as capable as a man; they were ready to give the whole support.


Which are the biggest problems that Asian cities face?

MJO - Especially in the Philippines, we face the problems of climate change. We could never predict what rain risks would be, we were not preparing for the eventuality of having these earthquakes. We want to prepare our citizens to be ready and to be resilient. We try to help Asian cities to come out with the means to bring down criminality and make safer cities especially for women and the marginalized. We should come up with public places, every citizen should have public parks and it should be socially inclusive. That’s a problem in the Philippines and in some Asian cities where the population is so big that we have very few green parks. We also are trying to show that streets are not only for cars. Most of the cities in Asia are polluted, the air is bad. II was able to convince 1400 operators to change from two-strokes to four-strokes tricycles. I was able to have a very holistic approach in governance.


How is it possible to keep a growing economy without harming the environment and the urban life?

MJO - We have to have green jobs. So whenever there’s a construction it should be a green construction. When you have this and people start investing, the economy also improves. For example, we are now pushing on the use of solar energy. It’s expensive. Local governments that has money we call them to invest in solar power because they would be able to reduce their energy consumption by 35%. So this is how we encouraged them to spend on renewable energy and not just leave the money in the bank. Once money keeps rolling then the economy becomes dynamic.


In terms of city and transportation, which are the main demands of the citizens in Philippines?

MJO - What we are now pushing is for walking. If you can ride a bicycle, that you ride a bicycle. If you can take on the transport, take on the transport. These are the basic advocacies we have for transport. One frustration I have is that on the Philippines we don’t have trains, we have very limited access to trains. So this is something that we thought that our country would be able to have.


What have you learned being a mayor?

MJO - You have to learn to communicate, communicate, and communicate. Communication is the best form of encouraging and educating people. I have also learned that aside from communicating you have to educate. If you communicate and you educate, the effects would be long lasting. We hope that people would be able to internalize and own the allows for the city, for participate in the community. Right now, for the city, I’m chairman of the Multi-sectorial Governance Council of the city, an oversized committee of private individuals. This is my involvement, for my city, even beyond my term of office.


As you are coming to Rio to the Mayors´ Summit and the Cities & Transport International Congress, what are your expectations of these events?

MJO - My expectations is that I can learn from the lessons in the American side, that I can bring [these lessons] for Asia-Pacific. And perhaps that there are also lessons that we can also share from ours. I will be very glad to share that.


What is the phrase or the idea you want to spread to the world?

MJO - I would like to share that we have only one world; we have to take care of it. We may have to cross cultural differences and be united in our goal to preserve the world.


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