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Mayor Oscar Moreno: The Continuing Challenge to Lead

Posted: 2014-12-05

AIM TeaM Energy’s Bridging Leadership Fellow Oscar Moreno on his leadership journey


MAKATI, Philippines - “The more successful you are, the more challenges you face,” well-chosen words from Oscar “Oca” Moreno, the current Mayor of Cagayan de Oro City and former Governor of Misamis Oriental, who shared his leadership story with Executive Masters in Development Management (EMDM) students of the Asian Institute of Management for their session on Leading with Integrity: Community Engagement and Negotiation Complexity.

Successes don’t come easy, as Moreno attests. “You just have to do what you can do. The baby steps lead to bigger successes.”



Before 2004, Lantad – a small village in Misamis Oriental - was locked in isolation. Lantad was known as the bulwark of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) in Northern Mindanao. The area was impenetrable to government intervention due to the rebel forces in the area, as well as the lack of roads going to the sitio. Despite having fertile lands ideal for farming, the community found it difficult to bring their produce to the markets. They lacked facilities to prevent crop spoilage and had to make the grueling trip down the mountain via a steep, muddy footpath while carrying heavy produce and supplies. Children also had to walk several hours going to school, and the sick almost never made it to the hospitals in the nearest town.

Together with the local government, Moreno, as governor, facilitated the building of a road connecting Lantad to the highway by bringing gravel and sand to the area, at first by hand. “If I had thought of planning to build a road, nobody would’ve believed me. Nobody would’ve listened to me. Pero ang sabi ko [But I told them], ‘let’s go as far as we can. The farther we go, the less road we take on foot.’” Shortly afterward, a solar dryer was built for the community’s use. The facility enabled them to immediately dry harvested crops, preventing spoilage and increasing the quality of produce, which increased livelihood opportunities in Lantad.


As Moreno reflected on his experience of transforming Lantad, he cited that the community’s success depended on the community’s involvement. “With the help of the people, you can achieve.  Ang sense of fulfillment mahirap idescribe! Biro mo yung mga tao empowered.” [The sense of fulfillment is hard to describe! Imagine - the people are empowered.]  Asked if there was anything he could have done differently, Moreno says he would have pushed for greater engagement of national agencies such as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to advance his initiatives for Lantad. 


After his term as governor of Misamis Oriental, Moreno recognized that his work was far from done. He saw the continuing challenge of leadership spanning from Congress to the provincial level and down to the city government, which pushed him to run for Mayor of Cagayan de Oro.



In July 2013, Moreno assumed responsibility of a Cagayan de Oro (CDO) faced with worsening criminality, traffic disorder, and deteriorating quality of social services such as education and health. The city’s public hospital, J.R. Borja Memorial City Hospital, named after a very popular former mayor, was in such bad shape that the namesake’s family even thought of asking the city government to remove ‘J.R. Borja’ from the hospital’s name because it could barely accommodate 50 patients. There was also a shortage of classrooms in both public secondary and elementary schools in the city, which forced the school administrators to conduct two class sessions per day. The arrangement left the students cramped in classrooms and sweating in the profuse heat. “With the lack of facilities, education had to suffer so nagdeteriorate ang quality ng education sa public schools.” […the quality of education in public schools has deteriorated.]

All these problems compounded against the campaign promise of Moreno for Hapsay nga Panggobyerno [Orderly Governance].


Moreno championed orderly governance with a multi-faceted thrust summed up in the acronym: PRIME HAT, which stands for poverty alleviation and peace and order; revenue generation and resettlement for informal settlers especially in coastal areas; infrastructure; metropolization; environment and education; hospital and health services; agricultural productivity; and teamwork, traffic, and tourism.


Moreno reorganized the city government to be more inclusive. He involved the citizens and private sector as active participants in governance instead of passive recipients of it. He reorganized the local school board from a seven-man team of ex-officio members to a fifteen-man team with eight members representing the local academic institutions and associations, youth and faith groups, and the chamber of commerce. The youth, usually an overlooked sector, is now represented in all committees and councils. They are also convened as the Oro Youth Development Council, which advocates for youth empowerment and civic engagement.


These measures gradually brought much-sought change in the city. There are now 200 newly-constructed classrooms in different barangays. ICT-enabled educational audio-visual materials have also been distributed to all the 70 elementary schools in partnership with the private sector.

In health services, 38 of the 54 rural health units were recently accredited by Philhealth for maternal health packages, and accreditation for the remaining units is underway. The city government is working to transform these rural health units into primary health providers for their respective communities.

Under Moreno’s leadership, CDO has also developed its early disaster warning system, flood risk mitigation program, and river basin program in partnership with various academic institutions and the Archdiocese of CDO to avoid another catastrophe like Typhoon Sendong, which killed over 1,257 people and displaced 97,019 families in 2011.1

The huge traffic and trash problem of the city is being addressed through Hapsay Dalan, a program that strictly enforces traffic and pedestrian rules. Unlike before, loading and unloading zones in the city have been properly designated. There are now hefty fines or community service imposed on pedestrians caught jaywalking. The Hapsay Dalan program is intended to expand to as many streets as the city government can manage.



The changes in governance implemented by Moreno gradually gained CDO recognition. In 2014, the city was ranked as the 2nd most competitive city in the country by the National Competitiveness Council,2 which ranks Philippine cities in terms of their economic dynamism, government efficiency, and infrastructure.

Cagayan de Oro also received the “E-readiness leadership award” in June 2014 from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) for being the top-ranked city in terms of e-governance, specifically in ICT capability, technology environment and web presence.3 The award was mainly attributed to CDO’s kiosk-based business licensing system.



While Moreno acknowledges that there is still plenty to be done, he is optimistic about the prospects for CDO. With the upward trajectory of Mindanao’s economy and the peace process ongoing in the Bangsamoro, he believes the city will benefit from a unified and peaceful Mindanao. “I want Cagayan to be the premier city of Mindanao and [to assume] leadership not only for the region but also Mindanao.”



Mayor Oscar S. Moreno is a Fellow of the AIM TeaM Energy Center for Bridging Leadership’s Mindanao Bridging Leaders Program (MBLP) Cohort 2011-2012. He continues to advocate stakeholder engagement and mobilization as a critical means to co-creating solutions and new arrangements to address social issues.


1   Virola, R. (2012). Sendong and Albay. Retrieved from
2   National Competitiveness Council, (2014). 2014 Cities and Municipalities Competitive Index, Retrieved from
3   Department of Science and Technology. (2014). Ten Cities Commended for E-Readiness [Press release]. Retrieved from





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