“WE ARE Davao de Oro” reads the new profile picture on the official social media page of what used to be Compostela Valley province.

Residents of Davao de Oro — the second richest province in the country in terms of assets with about P19 billion based on the Commission on Audit’s 2018 financial report released in October — voted an overwhelming “yes” during the Dec. 7 plebiscite for Republic Act No. 11297, the law renaming the province.

The official tally shows 174,442 votes in favor against only 5,020 saying ‘no’.

Governor Jayvee Tyron L. Uy earlier expressed confidence that the people will ratify the name change, which he said will give them a better identity as part of the Davao Region in Mindanao. The other provinces in the region are Davao Oriental, Davao Occidental, Davao del Norte, and Davao del Sur, while Davao City is an independent local government.

Nonetheless, the provincial government actively held an information campaign in the past months to explain the benefits as well as allay concerns such as the effects on legal documents bearing the old name.

“Majority support this, we believe the plebiscite will just be a formality,” Mr. Uy said.

Last September, the 34-year old governor, on his second term after serving for three years as provincial board member, sat down for an interview with BusinessWorld at the new Dusit Thani at Lubi Plantation Resort, an upscale destination that is a first for the province, where the economy is driven mainly by agriculture and mining.

He describes the investment as a “trendsetter” for the province that comes at an opportune time as they make the name shift, a rebranding initiative to attract investors and tourists.

BusinessWorld: You now have a luxury island destination in Compostela Valley, what does this mean for the province?

Gov. Uy: It will bring economic growth, especially here in the municipality of Mabini. The employees here are mostly from Mabini, and some other parts of the province, so it creates employment, opportunities, and at the same time promoting tourism, which we are aiming for, to make Compostela Valley a rising tourism hub.

BW: How ready is the province to take that position in the tourism sector?

Uy: For one, we are focusing on our peace and development efforts because we know that we cannot invite tourists and investors if we cannot preserve peace and order. Compostela Valley was known to be a hotbed of insurgency before, now it is improving fast… In fact, even before (President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s December 2018) Executive Order 70, the whole-of-nation approach (against insurgency), we have been doing that in the province. Actually, they patterned EO 70 from our experiences, from our Oplan Pagbabago. We had an influx of ‘surrenderees’ for the last three years. It was a joint peace and development efforts on the ground. This (Dusit Thani in Lubi Plantation), they would not have invested here if magulo tayo dito (we do not have peace and order here).”

BW: What other tourism-related programs are you undertaking?

Uy: Our infrastructure, we have built roads leading to tourism sites, our waterfalls in Maragusan and Maco, these are very accessible na, all have paved roads.”

BW: What about mining, how is the clean-up of the Naboc River with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)?

Uy: The drafting of the masterplan (for the rehabilitation) is ongoing. Since our province has a lot of mining areas, but the most popular is Diwalwal, where the biggest tributary is the Naboc River, that’s why doon namin sinimulan (we started there). But we intend to do it all over the province… with the DENR. Nine out of our 11 municipalities are gold-rich and there are miners, small-scale miners under the Minahan ng Bayan (program). Diwalwal, that was one of the first, that started in the 1980s, so that is our lesson learned… We do not want to take away the livelihood, but we really need to regulate… we have to teach our miners to innovate, use processes that are safe, especially for the miners and the environment.

BW: At your age, you could be considered part of this new wave of young politicians who are leading local government units. What made you go into politics? And you are among those actively using social media as a tool for governance, what is the reason behind this?

Uy: Actually, mas mahina ang (we have less) viewers of the Website than our Facebook page for promoting activities, projects, and programs. That is why we tap social media. We have a team handling social media. I ran as (provincial board member) last 2013 because I wanted to be the committee chair on education so I can make an impact on that. Then I ran for governor (in 2016) at na-swertehan (I got lucky).

BW: Do you really think it was “luck” that won you the election? What do you think you have brought into the political scene that made people vote for you?

Uy: I think we (the young politicians) bring new ideas, creativity in the management of local governments. We are open-minded, we grew up in the social media age, the digital age, so we are more resourceful and we appreciate new technologies that we can take advantage of to deliver services. Also, the voting population, I think they are younger and they prefer fresh faces in politics.

BW: You think social media is contributing in terms of improving transparency and not just for promotion?

Uy: Yes, that is correct. That (social media) gives us pressure. Mabilis makita ng mga tao and mga kakulangan ng (People now more easily see the shortcomings of) government, so we have to respond faster, better. Before, marinig mo lang sa radyo (you only hear the complaints over the radio), now it’s actual, picturan ng isang netizen ang project mo na ‘di natapos or a dirty hospital (a netizen can take a photo of your unfinished project or a dirty government hospital), then we have to respond faster. — Marifi S. Jara