Progress in Intramuros

- Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

The one good ray of hope that’s still there for this country is its youth. Last Wednesday, I attended a forum for Ateneo students at its Graduate School of Business. It was about our rail transport system, easily the one big destroyer of citizen morale.

The fact they chose that topic and invited DOTC, NEDA and private sector observers like Rene Santiago and myself shows how much they want to understand what’s wrong and how we can move forward.

In so many words, we told them the problem is in execution. We have all the studies our taxes can buy, but unless we have better execution, our situation will remain grim. Even the NEDA and DOTC officials agree we have serious problems in execution.

This is why I am so heartened by what another young Atenean had been able to accomplish in Intramuros. Marco Sardillo, who heads the Intramuros Administration, is in his mid-30s, a classmate of my son in Ateneo. He is a lawyer with a graduate degree in public administration from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Government.

I had written before about his plans for Intramuros and he recently e-mailed me to give a status report:

Thank you very much for your generous words (and kind mention). Most people don’t realize how difficult it is to be in government/public service, and how the occasional kind words of approval can really perk up one’s day. And while we work not for the praise or for the “validation,” a little encouragement, indeed, goes a long, long way.

Suffice it to say, it has not been easy. As I shared with you before, we started from scratch--no plans to commence, continue, or conclude, and worst of all, no budget for infrastructure. (Our agency has been surviving on a measly budget of P34-36M for over 15 years, with zero capital outlay.) 

Thanks to Secretary Jimenez’s direction and support, we managed to obtain nearly P900M worth of funding for the first batch of projects in our strategic plan of action. With the help of TIEZA, the projects I shared with you--for the completion of the Museo de Intramuros and the comprehensive rehabilitation of Fort Santiago--are now ongoing.

By mid-2016, we can all look forward to a “renewed” Fort Santiago: re-landscaped, properly and tastefully lit, and with its ruins restored and renovated (e.g. the former American barracks), and new features introduced and opened to the public (e.g. the Soledad promenade beside Pasig River).

As regards the museum (which will feature our collection of over 8,500 antiques and artwork), fingers crossed, my successor will proudly inaugurate it in late 2016/early 2017.

In addition to these infrastructure projects, we are also looking at institutional partnerships consisting of, among others: our recently concluded Memorandum of Understanding with Instituto Cervantes for the establishment of an Instituto Cervantes de Intramuros, a publicly-accessible culture space at Plaza San Luis, Intramuros; and upcoming collaborations with the Film Development Council of the Philippines and the Manila Symphony Orchestra. 

It appears the most visually impactful project, so far, has been the completion of the first phase of our underground cabling project: the removal of the utility poles, wires, and cables surrounding Plaza Roma. So far, the before and after image has received nearly 30,000 likes (on the DOT’s and IA’s Facebook page, combined).

In truth, the project was all but finished in January. We previously managed to remove all the existing Meralco utility poles, except for that single PLDT pole that could not be removed until after we firmed up the technical master plan for the project.

In the early days, when I would tell people about this underground cabling project, they would respond by telling me what a pipe dream it was-- because of how expensive such a project would be. Thankfully, there was one person who got it and never quite let go of the idea. Secretary Jimenez dealt with that biggest obstacle, and championed the funding necessary to make it happen

As we soon found out and learned, however, the budget wasn’t going to be the only obstacle, migrating aerial facilities for an existing brownfield development turned out to be a logistical nightmare and extremely complicated engineering-wise.

The fact of the matter is that even Meralco admits this is very complicated because they’ve never done anything of this sort before and they are being flexible and accommodating, all for the love of Intramuros. (There is no comparing the greenfield development that was Bonifacio Global City’s underground cabling project and our ongoing effort--involving as it does, a brownfield.)

In order to move the project forward, we had to engage Meralco’s subsidiary (Mserv) to prepare the technical master plan and to help consult and work with the affected establishments. And because of the nature of our heavily-regulated power industry, I had to meet and secure the buy-in and support of the Energy Regulatory Commission-- which, I’m happy to share, the new ERC chairperson did not withhold. (In fact, he was and remains to be very supportive.) 

It was only when the master plan was finalized and endorsed to us that we managed to pull out that last pole on Plaza Roma.

Early next year, we shall commence the full underground cable installation of Calle Aduana. When we’re done burying the cables, we shall be relandscaping and redesigning the streetscape, reducing the carriageway to only two lanes; thereby, giving back to the public very wide, bicycle friendly, Narra tree-lined and granite/natural stone-paved pedestrian lanes.

We will continue to work, looking at other opportunities and aiming for even loftier goals--all the way through to the very end, when we bid farewell, 214 days from now.

We are eagerly awaiting the General Appropriations Act for CY2016, hoping we can obtain additional funding for the underground cabling to be pursued for Calle Real del Palacio (now General Luna Street).

Should Congress greenlight the additional funding for our agency, this would represent a tremendous paradigm shift for Intramuros Administration; This means my successor will have an easier time justifying the provision of a capital outlay for Intramuros. (As you know, typically, annual increases to an agency’s budget is in the range of 10 percent-20 percent. In our case, as I mentioned previously, our capital outlay has been stuck at zero.)

Some people ask me why I am ever-mindful of/obsessed with the fact that I have only an X number of days left--if I am thoroughly enjoying myself (which I am) in doing this job. My thinking has always been simple: count one’s day, and make every day count.

“If anything, what has been lacking from this work is the sense of urgency. After all, what’s another few years to waste, given we are already 70 years “too late.” But then, that’s precisely the point: we have already wasted too much time, tending to ruins and nursing old wounds and stuck in nostalgia, instead of rebuilding and mending the frayed fabric of our nation.

My current stint in government service is a “limited resource” that I am allocating accordingly, knowing especially well the situation we find ourselves in is extremely rare as it is unique. We have a Tourism Secretary who gets Intramuros—its problems, issues, and opportunities--and the necessity of, finally, redeveloping it.

We have other champions in government--foremost of whom are Secretary Abad and his team, Senator Legarda, and our colleagues from DOT and TIEZA – and a host of other people who have responded to the “call.” I am happy to say that – two years and four months since I assumed office--I am probably the least significant actor in this configuration, and there are many more (and better) people who will continue this work and, in so doing, do a better job.

Fingers crossed, if we keep at this– in the long-term vision, and not get stuck in “quick wins”--in five to 10 years, we shall have done right by Intramuros, as a fitting legacy and heritage of the Filipino people.

Thank you very much.

During that Ateneo GSB forum, Cito Beltran asked why the tourism sector seems to have advanced under P-Noy, while DOTC so miserably floundered. I said it is a question of leadership. Sec. Mon Jimenez has it… Mar Roxas and Jun Abaya were just pretending to have it.

Persistence is indeed a key to good execution as shown by Perth Salva who wouldn’t take no for an answer when he was organizing that Ateneo GSB Forum. It is also what is behind Marco Sardillo’s success at Intramuros.

The good news is we have young leaders like Marco Sardillo in government. The bad news is, he plans to leave office on June 30 next year and probably go back to Singapore. The next president should convince him to stay and finish what he started.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco.













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