Adam Brown from the City of Ontario, OR Shares His Experience in the Philippines on YSEALI Reciprocal Exchange

YSEALI U.S. Fellow Summer 2017 Cohort


For a person well traveled in the United States, I am a beginner at international travel. I’ve been to Canada twice and I’ve lived on the border of Mexico. I’ve been to 47 states in the US, but I haven’t left the continent. A 24-hour travel day was difficult, but that’s the price to pay to go half way around the world.  I believe it was about 17 hours in the air. I was surprisingly alert at the time I arrived probably because of excitement or intimidation, I’m not sure which. I didn’t sleep more than 30 minutes during the entire trip. I was greeted with big smiles from Fidel and Ashley my first two greeters, a characteristic shared by most Filipinos. They seem to be a genuinely happy and positive people.

My first destination, and where I will spend most of my time, is Pasig City which is part of the metropolitan Manila area. There are 23 million people in the metro Manila area which includes 17 cities. It’s as modern a city as you can imagine. I’m surrounded by skyscrapers, that are not only tall, but have beautiful architecture. The streets are packed, but not with single occupancy cars; they are mostly vans with multiple passengers or filled Jeepneys. Motor bikes are also a very popular form of transportation. They weave in and out of traffic rather than wait in line. Car horns are used a lot more here, not out of anger, but to warn other drivers that you are there. So, other drivers don’t take it personal. Many pedestrians walk. The streets are very crowded.

 Philippines Greatest Pastime?

I was told that going to the mall is Filipino’s greatest past time from my two hosts.  So I had to check out the super-mall on my second day.  It really was large, maybe not as large as the Mall of America, but larger than any other mall in the US I have been to. It was very vibrant, busy, and had anything you can imagine. The Pasig Mega Mall was 6 stories tall and very long.

Cornucopia of Flavors and Cuisines

I have a Philippine breakfast each day at the hotel, which to an American feels more like a dinner. There are a lot of meats, including beef, chicken, fish, and pork. They have a few American dishes, like cereal and yogurt, but I am determined to get an authentic experience, so I stick with the traditional food. The fish is served mouth to tail.  That’s a little tough to handle for a queasy American, but I tried the dry fish this morning, which was quite tasty.  Rice is served at every meal like most of the Asian countries.

In the evening I have gotten some of the other cuisines near the hotel, such as Japanese and Thailand food. They have most anything you can think of including Korean, Chinese, and American.  You can find American establishments, but they all have a little international twist.  McDonalds is here, but they have a fierce competitor, Jolibee.

Course on Effective Local Legislation

My activity on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday is to participate in a class provided by the Philippine Development Academy (PDA).  The PDA is not an NGO, they are actually an organization of the federal government created to train, consult, and advise local government leaders. One of the services they offer is training for local legislators.  Attending this class is Mayors and board members from provinces, and municipalities.

Filipino Time

I’m learning what Filipino time means.  The meeting was scheduled to being at 8:30. Of course I, not having anything else to do, showed up at 8:15.  I think the first person showed up around 8:45. The rest strolled in over the next hour.  They got started at 9:30 AM. They had lunch and asked everyone to start at 12:45.  It’s now 1 PM and have half of the room is empty. They started with an ice breaker exercise after lunch. Making a straight line by alphabetical order, height, waist line, years of service, size of shoes, , birthdate, first sweaty pie. It was a very funny light hearted icebreaker.  A lot of laughter and a lot of humility. The Philippine people are a humble people in the most complimentary way that can be conveyed. It’s quarter after 1 and half of the participants are still gone. About 1:40 everyone else arrived.

Form of Government

For municipalities, the mayor form of government is very different than the United States.  The mayor is truly the executive of the government. The council (Sanggunian) is a separate body with different authority than the mayor. Mayor’s have veto power but can be overturned by the Sanggunian. They also have city managers and city administrators that assist they mayor in the administration of the government.

Do you have the problem of apathy amongst the community in matters of government.  i.e. How engaged is your citizenry/community

The vice mayor presides over the Sanggunian. There are 8 regular at large councilors and the vice-mayor. The real function of the vice-mayo is executive.

Different Forms of Government by Hierarchy

  • Sangguniang Panlawigan for provinces
  • Sangguniang Bayan for municipalities
  • Sangguniang Panlungsod for cities
  • Sangguniang Barangay for barangays

Bilingual Conversation

I find it very interesting how the conversations, even among Filipino’s, flow freely between Tagalog and English. English is very well spoken by almost all of the country, and the accents are flawless for most educated. There are over a 100 dialects spoken here but Tagalog is the common language of all Filipinos


I am the only Caucasian in the room for the last two days, one of only a few times in my life where I have been the minority.  I don’t feel any different though.  Everyone is a little nervous before they talk to me, but quickly loosen up and we laugh together and learn about each other. They are a really great people.

Presentation to Class on Effective Local Legislation

I was afforded the opportunity to present to the class on Effective Local Legislation today. This was a good exercise because it gave me a chance to reflect on the lessons I have learned over many years working with governing bodies. My mindset is typically from a management perspective. This required me to think of effective practices of city councils or boards I have seen over the years.


The elected councils in the Philippines are paid very well and receive government benefits. The age differential amongst these legislators who are from the same province, is much broader than I have seen in most places in the United States.  There are young legislators in their twenties all the way up the age groups fairly equally.  The pay and benefits may explain this, but the compensation and level of benefits, plus corruption creates a lot of distrust.

I am told that much of the corruption here is in procurement.  Council persons are paid by a contractor to award a contract to their company.  This is very common and because audits are done by the federal government and the audits are 2-3 years after a fiscal period ends, by the time it is caught, it is hard to prove, the elected official is gone, or they do not think they can win in court.


Since 1992 voter turnout has ranged from 72% to 86% participation, which is extraordinary by American standards. I had to tell them how there is much apathy amongst many Americans and their government.  I was told, that to the Filipinos voting is an equalizer. “One is one” they said, clarifying that it equalizes socioeconomic statuses. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, everyone gets one vote. That means a lot to the people in this country. They will go to great lengths to cast a vote.  They will travel long periods in rural areas.  In rural and urban areas, they will wait long periods of time at the polling places to cast their vote.

Adam Brown, City Manager

City of Ontario, OR

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