Manila reborn
HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - September 14, 2020 - 12:00am

Two cheers for Manila Mayor, Isko M. Domagoso.

The first good mayor of Manila in the post-war period was Arsenio Lacson, a journalist. In the 1950s, Manila then had a population of less than two million. Today the city’s population has more than quadrupled. The second best is the incumbent, Francisco Domagoso. The movie and TV personality German Moreno gave him roles in his TV and movie productions when he was a teenager. His screen name Isko Moreno stuck and he is publicly known as such. In Manila’s City Hall he is Yorme Isko. Like the late President Ramon Magsaysay, he is very accessible and transparent.

I was watching Mayor Isko on TV the other day as he put some noisy Tondo demonstrators in their place. The mayor is building a high-rise condo for the residents there and rightfully scolded them for complaining about the project. I know the place very well for it is the setting of my novel, Mass. I have visited the place from way back in the 60s to this day. The condo will be a permanent structure, unlike the earlier apartment buildings put up by the government there which have now decayed. The mayor will also set up a condo in Ermita and another in Quiapo. These will clear these areas of clap-trap dwellings easily destroyed by fire or typhoon. Housing for the poor is Mayor Isko’s priority. Expats, OFWs, businessmen, even children have contributed millions to Yorme Isko’s housing projects for the poor, impressed as they are by his candor.

Mayor Isko Domagoso came from the dumps, so he knows firsthand what abject poverty is. It is this knowledge that has equipped him with compassion for Manila’s lower classes and has done so much to help the very poor and to clean up the city and beautify it as well. In so doing, he has illustrated how incompetent the past administrators of Manila were. He has also minimized corruption in City Hall; I hope the people’s money is not also misspent as it was in the past. How many street lamps have been replaced? The ornamental plants on Roxas Boulevard and around the Luneta needlessly uprooted. Much of what he knows of the urban malaise is street learned but a crash course in government at Harvard, I think has taught him so much, how leadership can fructify renewal ideas to become achievement. There is still so much that can be done for Manila to restore its prewar eminence.

Parks and open spaces

Manila needs breathing space. The golf course right in front of City Hall should be given back to the people, planted with trees and provided with playgrounds. A small portion of it can even be transformed into a night market to accommodate some of the sidewalk vendors that have been driven off the streets. The Arroceros Park is lush with trees; some of which should be cut down to provide a space for people to relax. It can be closed at night. For the heavily populated areas, I suggest that some streets be blocked off on holidays for playgrounds and social gatherings.

The entire Bilibid area all the way to the Central Market should be rehabilitated, a part of it made into a park and the city jail transferred elsewhere. He can fund this with a loan from the Asian Development Bank or he can get into an agreement with any of the country’s urban developers.

Public toilets

The city badly needs public toilets with bathrooms as well. In Japan, all the subway stations have toilets and all districts, too. They can be manned by the barangays. The barangays are crucial; they should assist in garbage collection; the mayor can use the carrot and stick technique to fully activate them.

Good street food in Manila is not all that available, unlike in Singapore or Bangkok where there is so much street food that is prepared on the spot. The few sidewalk food vendors should be monitored. Many of the restaurants in Manila also have very filthy toilets.

Many of the problems of Manila are beyond the capacity of the mayor to handle. The cleaning of Manila Bay and the Pasig River, for instance, is a national effort and perhaps it is best to form a Metro Manila central government that includes not just Manila but the other suburban cities. This is particularly necessary with the police, a national institution that needs coordination.

It is so important to see policemen in the streets, and perhaps the Japanese experience can be transported here – the police stations are clearly marked, and the policemen are made to go around their jurisdiction and know the residents there. This is routine in Japan, for which reason Japanese towns and cities are very safe.

Many of the sidewalks in Manila, with the knowledge and permission of the barangay chairmen, were taken over by the residents. They have been cleared; again, another achievement. These neighborhood associations need to be strengthened further for, in the end, a city can be safe and clean only to the extent that the citizens themselves contribute to the cleanliness and security of their neighborhoods.

Mayor Isko is not deskbound like his predecessors; he is up and about trying to see for himself Manila’s underside. I hope he will also formulate a cultural program for the city, revive the concerts at the Luneta for one and similar activities. The other week, a Binondo shopkeeper angered him for labelling a product as made in Manila – a province of China. An ordinance also prohibits shop signs without Tagalog or English translations. He should enforce this ordinance.

He is married to Diana Lynn Dulan, and they have five children. Like most successful politicians, even if he seems lukewarm to the idea, he may run for a higher position in the next election so he could do for the country what he is doing for Manila. Francisco Domagoso is very young; he is deeply rooted and intelligent. If he is able to maintain this stamina and commitment, I hope he will run instead for a second term.

Three cheers till then.

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