The basurero cleans up
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - July 8, 2019 - 12:00am

Last Thursday night I drove past C.M. Recto Avenue from the junction of J. Abad Santos. It looked like a real avenue, used by vehicles rather than as a vending area. I wanted to see if there was any backsliding in the evening, but no, the avenue remained clear of vendors and parked vehicles.

From there I also drove through Quiapo. Gonzalo Puyat, the narrow street where I used to buy musical instruments and record player stylus when it was still called Raon, was so cleared of obstructions that vehicles were passing through it. It was the same in Plaza Miranda in front of Quiapo church. I saw TV footage of Carriedo and Carlos Palanca street – site of the first Shoe Mart (it’s still there) and Excelente ham – also cleared of sidewalk vendors. 

The scavenger who has become mayor of Manila, Francisco Domagoso, a.k.a. Isko Moreno, promised to clean up his city. As a mayoralty candidate, he had told us on “The Chiefs,” on Cignal TV’s One News channel, that by law, streets must be beyond the commerce of man, and he intended to implement the law. Faced with the inevitable skepticism, he said, “just watch me.”

Mayor Isko has started delivering on his promise. The dramatic improvement in what has to be the most congested and polluted city in Metro Manila, starting with the commercial districts, is showing what political will can do, and how much local government executives can accomplish if they put their hearts into the implementation of reforms.

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Moreno understands the concepts of sustainability and livability, and he wants these for his city. Another campaign promise that he vows to fulfill is to clear all city waterways of informal settlers.

He knows such efforts in the past have always failed, with the squatters simply playing a cat-and-mouse game until city hall tires of it, gives up and a new mayor comes along.

So he’s readying low-cost vertical housing within the city where the squatters can be resettled, still close to areas where there are employment opportunities. The city, he says, has enough funds for this. But it will take time to construct such low-cost condominium-type dwellings similar to the working-class mass housing in Hong Kong. So people are watching to see how soon Moreno can clear the waterways of informal settlers.

The clearing operation is needed if Moreno is to attain another livability objective: to create esplanades at various points along the Pasig River. Moreno has vowed to strictly implement the law setting a five-meter easement along all waterways.

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Isn’t he worried that the resulting human displacement could cost him votes? There are mayors who in fact encourage squatting because informal settlers are allowed to vote. And many landlords in slum areas are barangay officials – the very people tasked by law together with the police to prevent squatting.

Moreno told us that most of the sidewalk vendors in Manila are not residents of the city, so he’s not worried about losing votes. As for the squatters, he reckons that any lost votes will be offset by those from city residents who will benefit from cleared waterways.

The city government will still have to determine which squatters deserve relocation to low-cost vertical housing. A number of them may have to go back to where they came from – which could be as far as the Cordilleras and Mindanao – or they can relocate to other parts of Metro Manila.

I still have to find out if the collection of usurious parking fees without official receipts by barangay personnel in Divisoria, Quiapo and Ermita-Malate has also been stopped.

Moreno had told us that like the unauthorized collection of “rent” from sidewalk vendors, the parking fees were divided among crooks he called “Eddie” and “Patty” – eh di sino pa and pati na silang lahat (who else but… and all the rest of them).

As a former basurero or garbage collector, Moreno told us that people expected him to clean up the city not just of obstructions and pollution but also of dirty business. It’s still not clear if he will file graft charges against some of the crooks, whom he knows from his days as city vice mayor.

The question on everyone’s mind is whether Moreno can sustain the impressive reforms. As one former mayor told me, the moment vendors again crowd C.M. Recto in Divisoria, it means Mayor Isko has created his own Eddie and Patty.

For the sake of the decaying city where I was born and bred, I hope the changes will endure, with more reforms to come.

*      *      *

HELL ON EARTH: Last Wednesday at past 6 p.m., it took me 45 minutes along Gil Puyat Avenue just to cross South Superhighway and reach Chino Roces Avenue in Makati – a distance of less than a kilometer. It took me another half hour to reach the Makati Shangri-La for an event that was of course nearly over when I finally staggered in.

It was a clear day, no rain or flood; there was no accident or road digging.

That was hell in a very small space?.

The police Highway Patrol Group, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and local governments (not just in Makati) must identify their personnel posted in strategic areas, and start firing the incompetent morons who can’t tell a hole in the ground from a body orifice.

I wonder what it’s like in Makati on a stormy payday Friday. And they’re promising Cubao to Makati along EDSA in five minutes? I’m doubled up with laughter.

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