How this agricultural town became the Philippines’ first 'smart city'

By Yun Xuan Poon and Fang Shiyuan

Interview with Bernard Faustino Dy, Mayor of Cauayan.

“The irony of being a smart city is that people think of cosmopolitan and urban cities. But we’re not that,” says Bernard Faustino Dy, Mayor of Cauayan.

In 2015, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) in the Philippines named Cauayan as the first smart city in the country. The city government has tied its vision to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. “These goals address the problems of every citizen in the world, and we want them to become the focus of every Cauayan citizen,” says Mayor Dy. He plans to achieve this by working across the public, private and academic sectors.

GovInsider spoke to Mayor Dy to find out what makes Cauayan smart and the reasons behind its prominence.

How technology is changing Cauayan

Cauayan has plans to make its agriculture smarter. Step one is to set up 5G networks. The city has recently signed a partnership with the largest telco in the Philippines to roll out 5G networks - it will be the first city in the country to do so. Step two would then be to kickstart the Digital Farmers Programme, which aims to equip farmers with more knowledge about the latest technology so they can make the most out of it.

Cauayan has also developed an IoT-based aquaponics greenhouse, which is the brainchild of Isabela State University (ISU) and Singapore’s Temasek Polytechnic. “Projects like this give students exposure and encourage them to think outside the box, beyond what is normally taught in IT,” says Mayor Dy. The Cauayan local government has partnered with ISU and DOST to form the Business Intelligence Resource Development Centre, or BIRDSEED, an incubator for students to explore technological possibilities and pilot their innovations. Beyond that, this hub is a space for engaging citizens and empowering the next generation in Cauayan.

Mayor Dy notes the importance of constantly engaging citizens and helping them to see the practical benefits of technology. For instance, the city has installed LED screens that display weather updates near farms. Farmers have to dry their crops when they harvest, but drying it just before rain would damage the crops. Knowing whether it was about the rain could help farmers avoid this. “Simple information means a lot,” Mayor Dy notes. He adds that this is one of the projects he is proudest of in the city because of its direct impact on citizens’ lives. The screens were first put up in 2014. “Simple technology works too,” he says. “It’s not just about driverless cars and complicated technology.”

A city built for its people, by its people

Citizens in Cauayan are not ones to kick back and relax while watching progress unfurl - they prefer to be right in the middle of developing its latest advancements. Cauayan’s very own smart city application was developed by a local. “One of the partners who made the app was born and raised in Cauayan, and he wanted to give back to the city,” shares Mayor Dy.

The recently-launched second iteration of Cauayan City Connect! is linked to all payment centres, making hassle-free, online cashless transactions a reality. Citizens no longer have to make a trip down to city hall - they can now pay their utility bills, school fees and administrative fees for passport renewals, for instance, through the app.

The app also offers an extensive list of functions for citizens. This includes the usual fare one would expect - maps, emergency contacts, news and events updates in the city and a feedback portal for the government - along with a few fun bonuses thrown in. Think a page on the town’s history, hotel and restaurant recommendations, movie screening timings at the cinema and flight schedules.

Behind Cauayan’s success

Mayor Dy named the Juan Time project as one of his favourite projects implemented in the city. Synchronising all clocks within the region with the Philippine standard time has not only made information dissemination easier, it increased efficiency across all sectors in the city.

Cauayan’s approach is reminiscent of how the police dealt with New York’s broken windows in the 1990s. Begin with the smaller matters like fixing broken windows and out-of-sync clocks, and you are well on your way to tackling bigger challenges like citizen engagement and smart agriculture.