“What a vibrant city this is. There is a mix of historic buildings and new infrastructure here.”
This was the first impression of acting Australian Ambassador Richard Sisson, when he and his fellow Embassy officials made a courtesy call on Mayor Evelio Leonardia at the Bacolod City Government Center yesterday.
Sisson and his party, composed of First Secretary Georgina Harley-Cavanough, Security Services manager Sandy Labrador, and research officer Amanda Fidelino of the Australian Embassy in Manila, are on official visit to Bacolod City and other places in Negros Occidental this week.
Leonardia said he hopes that the visit of the Australian ambassador will pave the way for wider cultural, tourism, and business exchanges between Australia and the City of Smiles, a press release from the city said.
Leonardia said, “Ambassador Sisson has shown his keen interest in our City. We take it to mean that we can expect vibrant positive exchanges between Bacolod and Australia in the future.”
Joining the mayor in receiving the Australian delegation were Councilor Israel Salanga, City Administrator Em Ang, secretary to the mayor Edward Joseph Cuansing, acting city tourism officer Sandra Ruth Sycip, and executive assistant Moises dela Cruz.
Leonardia said that before the pandemic, the City had earned several national awards and citations for its business and economic gains, and when the crisis is over, it will be back on track.
The ambassador also attributed the continuing economic progress in Bacolod to the City’s enforcement of minimum health protocols, like the use of face masks and face shields, and observance of physical distancing.
A video was presented to the ambassador and his party on how the City fared before the pandemic, Covid affected the local economy, and how the City is managing the situation.
The culture and tourism in the City, especially the world-renowned MassKara Festival, was also presented.
When the ambassador asked the mayor about the secret behind the city’s success, Leonardia said, “We are the biggest city in Western Visayas and we create an environment conducive for business investments to rapidly grow.”
City Hall records show that in 2020 – at the height of the pandemic – 23,545 businesses registered with the Business Permits and Licensing Office, or only about 2,000 short of the 25,637 business registrations in 2019, the press release said.
“It’s only an 8 percent drop and we hope, again in 2021, it will not be as bad as some sectors would project it,” Leonardia said.
Ang, who is the executive director of the Emergency Operations Center and coordinator of the Covid-19 Vaccination Council, meanwhile, briefed the Embassy officials on the inoculation program of the City.
When the ambassador asked about the education system in the city, Salanga, who is a product of the Bacolod City College, talked about how BCC, the brainchild of Leonardia for the poor but deserving students of the city, molded him into becoming an elected official now.
Meanwhile, Sisson also lauded the Philippines as one of the first 12 countries in the world, and one of the first countries in Asia, to have diplomatic relations with his country, the press release added.*