The heart of the metro

The location and shape of the city of San Juan earn for it this tagline, although other drumbeaters at City Hall prefer a more eloquent tag—The Historical City of Excellence.  Thanks to a well-run local government, the city’s “excellence” stems from its being a consistent recipient of the Department of Local Government’s Seal of Good Local Governance.  This award certifies that the city has an effective Financial Management, Disaster Preparedness, Social Protection, Environmental Protection, Business-Friendly Government, and Peace and Order. 

The city’s 600-hectares comprise less than one per cent of the area covered by the National Capital Region, but its central location has easily made it a hub of history, culture and commerce.  Six years ago, it clinched the top spot in the list of highly urbanized cities in the country, made possible by City Hall’s solid management, fiscal efficiency, and progressive policies.

The city’s most popular historical spot is the Pinaglabanan Shrine.  It is inside a mini-park, with a sculpture by Eduardo Castrillo as its centerpiece, commemorating the Filipinos’ first-ever battle in the 1896 revolution against the more-than-300-years of Spanish colonization. This heroic event ignited the patriotism of our forebears and eventually led to our Independence in 1898.

Thanks to the very amiable City Tourism Officer Allenmarie “Lheng” Alejo, I became aware of many other things that make San Juan interesting.  Spirituality has reigned supreme in the city, tracing back to the 17th century when the Dominicans built a Retreat House that eventually became the Santuario del Santo Cristo.  In 1894, the equally historic Pinaglabanan Church was put up.  And somewhere in one of the city’s winding roads, the Iglesio Ni Cristo Bishop’s Palace dominates the landscape.

Senator JV Ejercito using a firehose to get everybody wet in his path (left) and Mayor Guia Gomez leading her constituents (right) during the Wattah-Wattah Festival
Of course, who among us hasn’t been to the Greenhills Shopping District?  This center of commerce has made the city the “tiangge capital” of the metropolis, with a wide array of affordable electronics, apparel and even pearls, to satisfy the most discriminating shopper.  Our country’s only Music Museum is right in the midst of the district, surrounded by a plethora of culinary specialties offered by eating places ranging from fine dining restaurants to food stalls.

Today is a very special day for the city as it stages its very popular Wattah-Wattah Festival, in celebration of the city residents’ devotion to St. John the Baptist.  Started by former Mayor and now Senator JV Ejercito, the event calls for city residents having fun spraying each other with water, including non-residents who pass through any of the city’s streets.  It is pretty much like the Songkran Festival in Thailand. The good Senator and his mother, Mayor Guia Gomez lead what they refer to as the “Watercade” where they are perched on top of fire trucks navigating the city’s streets, pointing the water hoses on everybody along the way, all in the spirit of fun and kinship.

This one-week festival starts on the day marking the anniversary (its 10th this year) of San Juan’s progression from a First Class City to a Highly Urbanized City.  In fact, when I had the chat with Tourism Officer Alejo, everyone in her office was busy preparing for the first activity of the week, Family Day, a special treat for City Hall employees and their families.  Programs, games and food were being readied for the afternoon event in the Pinaglabanan Park, right across from the City Hall.

Attractive fire trees serve as backdrop to Eduardo Castrillo’s sculpture in the Pinaglabanan Shrine
The fun and colorful weeklong celebration also includes Zumba Sessions, a Fun Run, Bike Rides, and a street dancing competition among the city’s eight public elementary schools.  Although they are not part of the competition, the city’s private schools also participate, to add color and pageantry to the occasion.

Three-termer Mayor Gomez, with the support of her son, Senator Ejercito, has done wonders for the city and its residents. Driving around the city, one easily notices the well-paved and well-lit roads, clean sidewalks, traffic police, and a flourishing business community for large, medium, and small enterprises.  The professional management skills, style and the caring persona of “Inday Ging,” as her constituents refer to the personable and friendly mayor, have accelerated the progress of the city.  Not only do the residents have an efficient leader, they also have a caring mother.

Mayor Gomez’s passion for public service, good governance, efficient health and education services has created for the city an atmosphere that is conducive to the growth of all types of business enterprises.  Although she was reluctant, at first, to take on the challenge of continuing the good work started by her son, Senator JV, she eventually, and rightfully so, heeded the city constituents’ clamor for her professional skills and motherly guardianship.

The city now has a new, impressive City Hall, a Museo ng Katipunan, the San Juan Sports Arena, and the first in-city medium-rise housing facility called St. Josephville, where 300 families, fire victims two years ago have been relocated.  This facility was built with the support of the National Housing Authority.  Several pumping stations have been completed, with more still being built, all designed to significantly reduce the number of flooded streets during typhoons and monsoon rains.

Not one to rest on her laurels, Mayor Gomez continues to build facilities that cater to the welfare of her constituents.  Very soon, the city will have a 100-bed public hospital, a new Justice Hall, a Disaster Management Center, a K-to-12 School Building, a Science High School, Voctech Center, a Kabayanan In-City Housing and a Batis In-City Housing.

Barely two years more to go before the end of her last term, “Inday Ging’s” focus on public infrastructure has made San Juan a livable city of high standards.  Her heart is in the right place, and it continues to beat for her people…and that endlessly beating heart has, in turn, made her city, The Heart Of The Metro.

For feedback, I’m at [email protected]

Topics: San Juan City , Pinaglabanan Shrine , Senator JV Ejercito , Mayor Guia Gomez , Wattah-Wattah Festival
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