Cleaning up Manila
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - July 12, 2019 - 12:00am

I am a native Manileno, born in Sampaloc and grew up in Paco. My family tree has roots in Paco going far back as the Spanish era.

Our ancestral home used to be in Calle San Antonio, a side street of Calle Penafrancia where families like the Yulos and the Laurels once lived.

But time has taken its toll on the Manila I knew. It has become dirty, dangerous, and simply allowed to rot. I blame the mayors through martial law and the 30 post- EDSA years for abandoning Manila to the dogs.

That’s why I was frankly surprised that Mayor Isko Moreno on his first day in office demonstrated a feeling I long had about the need to revive and clean up the city.

Divisoria is an easy place to start. It is known for sheer anarchy. The streets have disappeared as sidewalk vendors appropriated the roadways as if they were paying rent to someone.

As it turns out, they were. Someone was collecting money from the vendors. Mayor Isko revealed that he got an offer of P5 million a day to close his eyes on the anomalous situation. One wonders if his predecessors did.

Mayor Isko went beyond Divisoria… cleaning up Carriedo, Plaza Miranda and its underpass. He said he has just gotten started and alleviated fears he is all ningas cogon.

The new mayor is also saying a lot of the right things. He said he is preserving the Arroceros pocket forest, cleaning up Manila Zoo and working with the Department of Tourism to develop Intramuros as a safe tourist district.

Indeed, Mayor Isko wants to develop a “tourism circuit” that would link Intramuros to the National Museum, Rizal Park, Binondo, and other heritage districts in the city. The Mayor also said he plans to work with the Intramuros Administration (IA) to support its “urban regeneration” initiative.

Mayor Isko has all the support he needs from Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat. Reacting to Mayor Isko’s initiatives, Sec Berna said she is happy to hear that from the Mayor.

The Tourism Secretary noted that “Manila is the crucible of Philippine history and culture, and the primary gateway to the country’s 7,641 island destinations. We at the DOT share the vision and enthusiasm of Mayor Moreno in providing our international visitors a great first impression of the Philippines as soon as they set foot in Manila.

“There is much to experience in the country’s capital city.  Aside from Intramuros, we have Rizal Park, Paco Park, Quiapo Church, Sta. Cruz, Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown, and University of Sto. Tomas, as well as the traditional and religious festivities,” Sec Berna pointed out.

Not one to lose time, the Mayor met with officials from the IA and the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) a week ago to discuss how to revive Manila’s cultural heritage sites and boost the tourism sector.

TIEZA, an agency of the Department of Tourism, committed through its chief operating officer Pocholo Paragas, to among others, put new tourist signages in all tourist destinations, including the 47 parks located in Manila. Signages… we surely need those.

As for the IA, administrator Guiller Asido said the agency committed to fix the Lawton-Intramuros underpass by September. Asido also asked Moreno to have businesses operating in the walled city obtain a permit from the IA before the Manila City Hall. Moreno agreed.

Intramuros had always been a big problem for tourism officials. It is the perfect site for a tourism and heritage oriented development. We need something like that to provide a point of interest for our visitors.

But some of the land there are privately owned, whether legally or land-grabbed through the years. The past IA administrator worked hard to also convince squatters in the area to move elsewhere with government assistance, of course.

The best solution is for President Duterte to declare the entire Intramuros district a heritage site to be owned totally by government. Land with valid titles will be expropriated and owners compensated.

This is the only way we can have a coordinated development plan for Intramuros. Right now, there are bodegas and other buildings that do not contribute to the Intramuros heritage story. If President Duterte can do this, he would be leaving behind a concrete achievement that only a leader with political will can deliver.

The other thing I want to see developed is the recreation of the Nayong Pilipino. President Duterte already thumbed down the granting of a gambling license to a foreign entity on that site. There should be no hindrance to developing Nayong Pilipino in the Bay Area into what it was originally supposed to be.

The other low hanging fruit is Binondo, one of the world’s oldest Chinatowns. I once worked for a Bank whose head office was in Calle Rosario near the Binondo Church. We used to try a lot of the small restaurants, the hole in wall types, around the area. It was good, cheap food.

My friend, Ivan Man Dy is singlehandedly trying to whip up interest for Chinatown cuisine with his walking tours. I joined one of those walks and he brought us to places we would otherwise miss.

The Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce should spend some money to clean up the esteros and make sure those esteros are kept clean. There was a time when eating by a Binondo estero was a good experience. Not any more because of the stench.

Binondo is one project Mayor Isko should do with the Chinoy community. Everyone benefits.  And yes, can we revive Escolta?

Mayor Isko is like a breath of fresh air. I hope he has staying power. Maybe we can have a competition among the 17 Metro Manila mayors on who can clean up and beautify their cities best. DILG should launch it.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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