Erap’s legacy in Manila
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - April 17, 2019 - 12:00am

On the observance of Palm Sunday, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle called upon the Filipino faithful to spend the Holy Week reflecting on the passion of Jesus Christ. Palm Sunday kicks off the observation of Holy Week, which ends next Sunday with the Easter celebration.

In his Palm Sunday homily at the Manila Cathedral, Tagle reminded Filipino Catholics like us that the Holy Week period is not just an opportunity to take a vacation. “While we also get to rest during Holy Week, I hope it will not remain merely as a break or vacation, but rather a time to deeply know Jesus,” the Good Cardinal pointed out.

Personally speaking, my family’s traditional activity during the Holy Week is doing together the “visita iglesia,” or visiting at least seven churches. And at every church stop, our family recites together special prayers for two of the 14 Stations of the Cross as our annual ritual on Maundy Thursday. My family just stays at home for bonding and quietly attends to do our own things on Good Friday.

But while the rest of the Filipino Catholics enjoy uninterrupted non-working holidays during this Holy Week, many of us in Philippine media have to report back to office by Black Saturday. Especially for us at The STAR, we resume normal operations to prepare publication of the next day’s good news, literally for the Easter Sunday when we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

But really for many of us in media, this is the only time of the year that we look forward to spending time for ourselves. We, at The Philippine STAR in particular, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are the only official holidays when we really do not report for work. These are the only two days out of 365 days that The STAR has no publications on Good Friday and Black Saturday.

Incidentally, former president and Manila Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada will quietly observe his birthday as it falls again on a Good Friday. Mayor Estrada, who is up for his third and last term at Manila City Hall in the coming May 13 elections, is turning 82 years old.   

It’s a family affair though for the Estradas in next month’s elections. Aside from the Manila Mayor, three of his children and a granddaughter are up for elections. They are namely, re-electionist Senator JV Ejercito, comebacking Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, daughter Jerica who is running as Manila councilor, and granddaughter San Juan Vice Mayor Janella Estrada (Jinggoy’s daughter) is up for the mayoral race in San Juan City.

The Estradas though has each to conduct his or her own individual campaign. Because Mayor Estrada is facing challenge from fellow octogenarian but much older ex-Mayor Alfredo Lim (88 years old) who is seeking a comeback at Manila City Hall, and former Manila vice mayor Isko Moreno (44 years old). Thus, Mayor Estrada is working doubly hard to make sure he would be able to complete his vision to bring back the glory of the city of Manila as the “Pearl of the Orient Seas” in his own re-election bid.

When he first assumed office at City Hall in June 2013, the city government coffers were practically bankrupt. Mayor Estrada inherited as much as P8 billion in debts from unpaid electric, water and telephone bills, unremitted withholding taxes of City Hall employees, delayed allowances of public school teachers and policemen in Manila, etc.

So how was Mayor Estrada able to turn around the city government finances out of the red? Aided by his former Cabinet members and political allies like budget secretary Benjamin Diokno (who is now Governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas), finance secretary Jose Pardo, the late Senate president Ernesto Maceda, just to name some), Mayor Estrada fixed all the “leaks” that have drained the city government finances.

Collection of business permits and local taxes, including updating the real estate taxation in Manila, removal of “fixers” and “ghost” employees and cutting down of red tape also reduced the main source of corruption at City Hall. And the rest, as we say, is history.

Now, the Estrada city administration earns more than enough to buy new equipment in each of the six district hospitals in Manila. To date, the Manila City Hall through the Gat Andres Bonifacio Memorial Hospital in Tondo operates 70 dialysis machines for free for Manileño patients.

Normally, a patient spends P3,500 per session on dialysis.

The Ospital ng Maynila in Quirino Avenue now has its MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) that generates images of the organs in the body, also is for free for Manila residents needing such expensive medical service, he added.

Only last week, Sta. Ana Hospital acquired its own CT-scan, or computed tomography, that allows doctors to see inside your body. It uses a combination of X-rays and a computer to create pictures of your organs, bones, and other tissues. All of these medical equipment are multi-million peso worth investments made by Mayor Estrada out of the Manila city government’s own resources at no cost to patients.

The city government also has a columbarium at the Manila North Cemetery for indigent families who can’t afford decent burial for their loved ones. Cremation is offered free to those who opt to avail of this service and slot at the columbarium.

Mayor Estrada best describes his accomplishments during his first two terms at City Hall as having been able to provide the basic needs of Manileños “from womb to tomb.”

He boasts of comprehensive public services from free hospital and medical care services to all Manila residents starting from mothers giving birth, free uniforms, books, and health snacks for public schoolchildren, all the way to free burial of indigent souls.

“From womb to tomb, or from erection to resurrection,” Mayor Estrada wisecracked and guffawed at his own Erap joke.

Levity aside, Mayor Estrada believes in the sanctity of life as he endeavors to further improve the lot of many less privileged Manileños in consonance with his “Erap para sa Masa” trademark program of government. Now on the last “hurrah” of his political career, Mayor Estrada calls his re-election bid as “legacy” to leave behind.

LUIS ANTONIO CARDINAL TAGLE MANILA CATHEDRAL
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