Many have observed that becoming mayor of Manila is Erap’s last hurrah. It may well be just that and because of it, there is a lot at stake in terms of legacy issues in the next three years of Erap reigning supreme at Manila City Hall.
Winning the election was the easy part, even if the homestretch proved to be more of a cliffhanger than most people thought. But as Dolphy once said, what do we do after we have won?
For someone like Erap who had once been president of the country, vice president, senator and mayor of San Juan for the longest time, there should be nothing more to prove. But the abbreviated term of Erap in Malacañang and the corruption trial and eventual conviction and instant pardon make it necessary for Erap to prove himself all over again.
If Erap failed to be the best president we ever had, he now has the opportunity to be the best mayor Manila ever had. If he manages that, maybe all will be forgiven, so to speak. He would have shown the world that what happened during EDSA 2 was undoubtedly a big and terrible mistake.
Making something out of this opportunity to revive the City of Manila is a chance of a lifetime for Erap. Not many politicians are given a second chance in this grand manner. The challenges of reviving Manila can be as difficult and complicated as running the country, but maybe not as impossible.
The basic problems of poverty, essential services delivery from health to education and peace and order are similar to those faced by the tenant in Malacañang. But the big difference is that for a city mayor, all these problems are more immediate and bigger than life.
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Erap, through his years as mayor of San Juan, must be aware that these problems are more than the statistics discussed in cabinet meetings. These problems have faces and the mayor is expected to address these concerns, for each and every one of them, everyday.
Then there is the problem of poverty of the spirit brought about by one’s miserable surroundings. Seeing a Manila that is dirty and way past its prime can sap the spirit of its residents. Revitalizing the city means making it look vibrant and inspiringly promising.
The older residents can at least pine for the old days when Escolta was the premier street of the nation. This was where the notables spent time sipping coffee and exchanging gossip at Botica Boie while their wives and children shop at Berg’s or Syvels.
Binondo was the financial center where the biggest banks, the large accounting and law firms had their offices. Across the Pasig River towards the bay area is Dewey (Roxas) boulevard where every one could enjoy fresh air walking by the seaside or riding the Motorco open roof, double deck bus down the picturesque boulevard.
Ermita and Malate were not the red light districts of today, but where the notables lived. Calle Penafrancia in Paco was the virtual Forbes Park where the Laurels and the Yulos had their mansions. Even the working class neighborhoods of Sampaloc and Tondo looked a lot better than what we can see today.
I don’t know when Manila started to look like an old impoverished city, but I think the martial law years seem to be the beginning of the decline. Businesses started migrating to Makati in droves in the early ’70s.
I remember the times well because I was then commuting to UP Diliman from Pandacan daily via Quiapo. That was also the time when a sister who just graduated from UP Law started to work at the SyCip Salazar law firm at the Trade and Commerce building in Juan Luna St. in Binondo where I sometimes accompanied her.
Then when martial law came, I worked at a bank on Rosario Street which entailed walking from Echague to Binondo every day. I saw the steady decline of Escolta until PNB was the only major bank with its head office there.
Now, it is undeniable that the once Pearl of the Orient is no more. Somehow, the succession of mayors and other officials of the city lost control or no longer knew how to deal with the city’s sagging fortunes. They should have fought Makati’s drive to become the country’s business capital, but I got the impression they just didn’t care.
They should have cared. With the tax base of the city diminished by the migration to Makati, there was less money to spend on the growing needs of Manila. The Ospital ng Maynila and the Manila Zoo, two premier showcases of the city started to look shabby.
That’s the challenge for the new Mayor Erap. How can he raise enough funds to provide for the needs of Manilans? How can he attract businesses to go back to the city and create the jobs the residents need? How can he raise the morale of city residents depressed by years of living in really bad surroundings?
Addressing the problems of Manila will zap the energy and imagination of younger men. But a former president of the country who has the support of the masa can certainly have some bright ideas from years of experience. He also has friends with the means to help him revive the city.
Among the first things Mayor Erap must do is to clean up the city… collect the garbage and get the barangays to enforce cleanliness around their areas. Manilans shouldn’t be embarrassed to invite guests to visit their city.
Tourism is a quick way of improving the way the city looks as well as increasing livelihood opportunities. Luckily too, we have an energetic and imaginative Tourism secretary who should be a willing partner to a supportive City Hall.
Intramuros must be developed as the principal tourism attraction. While it is under the Intramuros Administration and the Department of Tourism, I know they are very eager to do something and are even ready with plans. They certainly can use the help of City Hall to bring their plans to reality.
From Intramuros, there is the Post Office and Metropolitan Theater. If City Hall cannot revive these areas near it, how can it revive other areas around the city?
Erap can also get the Philippine Ports Authority to partner with a property company so that its vast prime land holdings along Bonifacio Drive can be developed. There are at least two derelict buildings in the area, the old Philippine Banking Corp. headquarters and the old Philippine Veterans Bank building. Both have been condemned after some earthquakes decades ago. Something productive ought to be done with the land these derelict buildings stand on.
With the property sector in an upswing, Erap should work with developers to revive the inner city — Binondo, Malate, Ermita, Paco, etc. City Hall should explore the potentials of PPP in reclaiming areas of the city from their present squalor. Affordable housing for the residents now residing in slums should be explored with NHA and private developers. In-site housing for squatters should be possible.
The thing is, Mayor Erap must remarkably improve the way the city looks and lives so that property values will go up and City Hall can collect more from property taxes. Deteriorating neighborhoods erode the tax base and the downward spiral is bad for city finances.
For good things to happen, Mayor Erap must keep his credibility. People will be watching closely how he handles City Hall contracts. In the past, the biggest bone of contention is the garbage collection contract. It is a dirty business in every sense and a mayor can lose his credibility and his ability to lead the city if this is not handled well.
Mayor Erap can also make the Manila City Hall a showcase for ease in doing business. The country in general has received bad reviews from international agencies looking into corruption and red tape in LGUs specially those related to starting businesses.
In this regard, Mayor Erap can work with DTI and the National Competitiveness Council in streamlining and computerizing processes and procedures to get mayor’s permits, business licenses, etc. Mayor Erap has years of experience in how a local government unit operates so he knows where corruption infests the processes.
Mayor Erap can make a difference and revive the City of Manila. But it is hard work, and Mayor Erap should want it badly for it to happen. The work has to be done because we have to leave this city to our grandchildren better than we have found it, or we all die in shame.
Man of conviction
Here is a current Erap joke from my colleague, Ichu Villanueva.
Erap says he is a man of conviction just like Ninoy Aquino and Anwar Ibrahim. All three of them, he says, were unjustly convicted.