"The local government may not have enough resources."
The good news is that the new mayor of the City of Manila, Francisco “Isko” Moreno hit the ground running when he assumed office on July 1, and with a flourish, no less: a spectacular display of political will rarely seen in Metro Manila for as long as I can remember.
In his first week in office, Mayor Isko cleared several commercial areas in the city—Quiapo, Sta Cruz, Divisoria and Blumentritt—of illegal vendors and structures as well as illegally parked vehicles. He also cleared Liwasang Bonifacio fronting the iconic Manila Post Office of the homeless, illegal structures and accumulated trash from years of neglect.
News from City Hall indicates that Isko will focus on pursuing tourism, transportation and environmental policies aimed at reviving districts and streets that would remind his constituents of their city’s heritage and history. Among these are Escolta, the city’s financial and business center in the Commonwealth and postwar years, along with Intramuros and Chinatown.
Here’s Isko talking: “Let’s cooperate with our national government to revive all these. We will save, we will preserve, we will protect things that remind us of our past.” These projects in Manila will serve to “remind us of our heroes, our history and our heritage.”
The Mayor revealed that all in all, he would rebuild all 47 plazas, parks and playgrounds of Manila: “It is time to reclaim them for our children so they and we too could have a place to rest, feel the breeze and play. Let’s not allow our children to grow up with their concept of an open space limited to the lobbies of malls.”
With regard to the traffic problem in the city, Moreno vowed to “manage traffic systematically” and end “the law of the jungle in our streets.” He will also direct the state-run Universidad de Manila and Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila to create an institute that will streamline the traffic system. He promised to set up a modern traffic command center, implement a one-strike policy against corrupt enforcers, and build a city-wide rail system that will be called Manila Sky Shuttle in partnership with the private sector.
“We have to dream big. We may be short of funds, but not of ideas. The last thing my administration will be guilty of is poverty of ideas,” he said.
Moreno said an open governance policy “will be the cornerstone of my administration,” under which all financial records and transactions will be accessible to the public. More than this, he will also use social media to “crowdsource ideas and implement best practices, punish bad behavior, and reward good performance.”
“Ours will be a grassroots electronic democracy. If we want to win the future and join the league of great cities of the world, we cannot run on the software of the past,” he said.
No doubt, all these are steps in the right direction. And we therefore join the chorus of voices expressing full support for Moreno’s reform program for our beloved City of Manila.
After all, Mayor Isko has an intimate knowledge of the challenges facing the city. He is a former Vice Mayor of the capital city and a former three-term councilor of its first congressional district.
But the local government may not have enough resources to implement Isko’s vision of a clean and livable city. The Commission on Audit (COA) has reported that City Hall is short of cash to the tune of P4.39 billion. The city government’s payables and obligations totalled P9.05 billion as of Dec. 31, 2018. It had only P5.36 billion in its general funds, or a shortfall of P3.69 billion. COA said the previous city administration spent money it had yet to collect, a violation of the Local Government Code.
The COA report said that aside from the P3.69-billion deficit, the city had incurred more liabilities because it borrowed from some city funds, such as the development fund and intra-agency accounts that were meant for specific projects. The COA said the cash overdraft was not sound fiscal administration and did not comply with laws, rules and regulations.
Given this fund shortfall, Isko faces a big hurdle in getting various projects off the ground.
Former Manila Mayor and now Buhay Party-List Rep. and Senior Deputy Minority Leader Lito Atienza told the Saturday News Forum@ Annabel’s that while he wholeheartedly supports Isko’s initiatives to fast-track much-needed reforms, the latter must also deal with forces out to derail his plans. Isko said last week that he had been offered P5 million a day to allow the illegal vendors to continue occupying every nook and cranny of Divisoria. Atienza said he believes a criminal syndicate has been behind the proliferation of illegal vendors in Divisoria over the years. Atienza quipped that given the monumental headaches Isko is likely to experience in his term, he’s certain that the youthful mayor’s face would age prematurely by the end of his three-year term.
That’s a highly likely possibility, considering that Isko must also deal with a host of other problems, including rampant criminality, poverty, homelessness, and horrendous traffic, among others. But we hope he keeps up what he’s been doing right in his first week in office until the end of his term in 2022 and succeeds in this acid test of governance in our capital city.