Changing of guards
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - July 3, 2019 - 12:00am

Officially sworn into office, the newly elected local government officials all around the country are now on their first three days into office. For many of these local chief executives who were re-elected for another three-year term ending June 30, 2022, it would be a walk in the park.

But for those coming in as new mayors and governors, many find themselves deep into problems and the situation in the local governments they have inherited from their immediate predecessors.

Known for his colorful street language, newly elected Mayor Francisco “Isko” Moreno Domagoso quipped it would be like a “walk in the Rizal Park” for him as he assumed the helm at the Manila City Hall. After all, it is actually a homecoming to Manila City Hall for Domagoso who once served as vice mayor for three consecutive terms.

Domagoso took over from former president and mayor Joseph Estrada under whom he served in his third and last term as Vice Mayor from 2013 to 2016. Domagoso challenged and beat Estrada’s bid for third and last term during the last May 13 election. Domagoso won by a huge margin of 147,000 votes over Estrada.

Disappointed and surprised on the turnout of the election, the former president gracefully accepted his defeat and quietly paved the way for the transition into office of his erstwhile vice mayor. “The Mayor’s office is now ready for the next mayor,” Estrada cited. He ordered all the department heads of the Manila City Hall to turn over to the transition team all the records and documents of the city government.

However, the newly minted Mayor of Manila found himself in the dark where these records and documents were supposedly turned over. Estrada, however, could not believe there was no such turnover of records, citing he even personally offered to Domagoso his own table made of narra he brought in at the office of the Mayor during their ceremonial turnover at Manila City Hall last week.

As far as records are concerned, Estrada touted during his final state of the city address last week, he left behind a debt-free city government finances compared to the more than P4.5 billion in obligations he inherited from his own predecessor. As he stepped down as mayor, Estrada reported the city government coffer has more than P12 billion.

Unlike Mayor Domagoso, the new Mayor of Quezon City, Joy Belmonte, is facing enormous financial problems that she would have to deal with in her first year in office. In her remarks after her inaugural address, Mayor Belmonte noted with concern that the city government has only P1.6 billion of funds remaining.

While the city currently has P26.5 billion in general funds, Mayor Belmonte found out the city government has P14.3 billion in obligations and P10.4 billion in projected expenses. For this purpose, Mayor Belmonte announced she would create an internal audit team as her first order of business as the city government is expected to grapple with budget limitations in the last six months of the year.

For now, Mayor Belmonte asked for patience from her constituents in the first six months of her administration. She vowed to focus on four priority areas in her first 100 days in office: housing, health, education and social services.

After nearly three decades of stronghold of Pasig City, Vico Sotto, son of popular TV host Vic Sotto and actress Coney Reyes, toppled a political clan and unseated erstwhile Mayor Robert “Bobby” Eusebio. Aside from having famous parents from showbiz, Mayor Sotto comes into office after having served as No. 1 councilor in Pasig City. The 30-year-old Sotto also comes from a political clan who included his uncle, Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III.

One of his first actions as new Mayor – is suspend the odd-even traffic scheme in Pasig City. Sotto made good on his word that he would suspend the “odd/even” traffic scheme in his city, which he finds as a “disjointed and unjust odd-even scheme.” Mayor Sotto ordered a study to improve a citywide traffic scheme and reassured his constituents: “We will make decisions based on the data and numbers.”

Most, if not all, newly elected Mayors in Metro Manila did not encounter problematic transitions.

In the case of Mayor Edgar Labella, his immediate predecessor stripped bare the Office of the Mayor. Obviously disgruntled by his defeat, ex-Cebu City mayor Tommy Osmeña took all the furniture and other equipment, including the floor tile at the Office of the Mayor.

Osmeña’s antics though did not escape notice of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretary for operations Epimaco Densing III who warned the ex-mayor could face administrative charges after he left his office bare for his successor. Densing branded Osmena’s move as an act of a “sore loser.” Justifying his actions, Osmeña claimed he spent personal money and contributions from his friends.

But to other newly elected local chief executives, holding office at City Hall or at the Capitol is not an issue compared to the old guards they replaced.

In North Cotabato, the new governor and the mayor of Isabela City in Basilan spent their first day in office outside their offices. Instead of entertaining wellwishers in her office, Gov. Nancy Catamco went around and inspected the provincial hospital and the local government’s heavy equipment pool at the capitol in Kidapawan City. Catamco, a three-termer congresswoman, assured her constituents that they can go to her office if they have concerns and complaints.

In Isabela City in Basilan province, hundreds of volunteers led by Mayor Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman and Vice Mayor Kifli Hataman collected some 10 tons of garbage along streets to mark their first day in office undertaking citywide cleanliness and sanitation campaign.

The changing of guards in various local governments all around the country coincided with the start of the second half of the six-year term of President Rodrigo Duterte. The former Davao City mayor is now entering his fourth year in office at Malacañang Palace before a new guard takes over from him in June 2022 yet.

ISKO MORENO JOSEPH ESTRADA
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