“BF was the epitome of efficiency and effective leadership, armed with vision and political will, qualities which if appreciated by a people who allow emotions to prevail over brains, would have made him a great national leader”
I was shocked by the news, shortly after noon last Friday, that Bayani Fernando had passed away, after a fatal fall from the rooftop of his Marikina Valley residence.
My first reaction was to ask why he was at all in the rooftop of his house. At 77 years of age, going up to the roof and looking at repairs is quite atypical, if not unusual.
But then again, for BF, the engineer turned construction magnate and public servant, that rather daring deed was in his usual regimen. Hands on, all action, few words.
I first heard about the guy from a Valley Golf subdivision resident in 1992, who told me he would be volunteering for the campaign of one Bayani Fernando to become mayor of Marikina.
At the time I was quite busy as spokesman of the presidential campaign of the Mitra-Fernan ticket for president and vice-president.
My candidates did not make it, but BF won in Marikina against six other candidates.
Then we saw how Marikina was transformed into Quezon City’s backwater into a clean, orderly and disciplined metropolitan town, later to become a city in late 1996, on his second term as mayor.
Never before in the contemporary history of Metro Manila had a near-forgotten town achieve such national prominence than when Bayani became mayor of Marikina.
Sure, Makati was the wealthiest municipality, but that was because it had become the financial center starting from the late 50s into the 70s, when the Ayalas converted hectares of rice fields and talahib into enclaves for the rich, around which exclusive villages big banks and tall buildings as well as the well-planned Makati Commercial Center stood out in the midst of nearby warrens of low income habitat.
The same may be said of cities like Mandaluyong, San Juan and Pasig, where real estate values went astronomical because of shopping malls and high rise buildings jumpstarted by big business.
But Marikina before BF was then truly backwater, known only for its shoe-making industry, Manila’s Boys Town, Loyola Memorial Center where Quezon City residents buried their deceased, and crime was rife in the barangays going to San Mateo and Montalban.
Marikina River was unkempt, the industrial wastes of obsolescent textile mills disgorged into it. For a long time, a few barangays comprised the red light district of the eastern section of NCR.
In our college days, we would motor to Marikina, at the time without traffic, to visit the Valentino and Mendoza shoe factories, to get the former to copy footwear featured in GQ magazine long before the word “bespoke” described our local “pasadya,” or buy the latest Jarman shoes made by the latter before they got into the Escolta outlet of the American brand, courtesy of Marikeno college chums.
Sadly, the shoe industry has declined due to the massive flood of cheap China imports.
Marikina’s Bayani moved with decisive steps to transform his town, cleaning its sidewalks of street vendors, putting order into the wet markets, widening thoroughfares, lined them with trees, dredged the silt out of the river, built its embankments and a former textile mill into a riverside park that had no equal in the metropolis, and made his city clean and green.
He reclaimed the sidewalks from itinerant vendors, illegal structures and parked vehicles, with strictly enforced bike lanes and pedestrian walkways.
He went to the extent of prohibiting half-naked istambays from gallivanting, ordered them to wear decent t-shirts, so as to imbue order and discipline.
Here was a local government official who used the authority given to him by the new Local Government Code not for personal gain but for holistic and efficient governance, unafraid to do what was unpopular provided it was the right thing to do.
Which was why Marikenos rediscovered their pride of place, and the whole country saluted their mayor for consistently good performance.
When his three-term limit expired, they gave his wife Marides another three terms as mayor, where she continued building upon the renaissance BF started.
It was during the presidency of Erap that I got to meet Bayani and Marides, when we were their dinner guests along with then defense secretary Orly Mercado and his wife Susan, amid banter and song.
As I was the head of the Philippine Tourism Authority at the time, I realized that one of the complaints of tourists on long road travels was the absence of clean and well-maintained public toilets.
Mayor BF designed for me an easy maintenance prototype of a public toilet made entirely of stainless steel, to be cleaned regularly by simple water hosing.
That project failed to materialize when Erap was deposed by GMA, the funds transferred to Intramuros by the succeeding tourism leadership.
BF and I had long discussions on the solid waste management of Metro Manila, where tons of garbage were at the time trucked to Payatas and later Montalban.
His idea was to bring each city’s garbage to PNR stations where they would be loaded into cargo trains and brought to public land in the boundary of a southern province where a modern garbage segregation facility complete with recycling factories for paper and plastics could be built.
This would provide regular work for those who lived on daily scavenging, their work made easier and safe.
But the Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) mentality prevailed.
If Erap was not ousted, I got his commitment to appoint BF as MMDA chief, since Jojo Binay was returning to Makati in the elections of 2021.
As fate would have it, GMA appointed Bayani to the same post, where his skills, innovative talents and management expertise would bring so much improvement to NCR’s even then worsening traffic.
He built pedestrian walkways and redesigned major thoroughfare flow with effective U-turns that remain to this day. Replicating his Marikina performance, he cleared the sidewalks of itinerant vendors, which the bleeding hearts and the leftists denounced, but the guy was undaunted.
One project I recall was the MMDA chief putting up public urinals out of simple steel enclosures with receptacles that emptied into the street drains.
Again a lot of criticism about the smell came up, mainly due to LGU cleaners failing to properly hose down the area, but it served its purpose. The indecent sight of drivers emptying their bladders into fences and trees was solved.
BF was the epitome of efficiency and effective leadership, armed with vision and political will, qualities which if appreciated by a people who allow emotions to prevail over brains, would have made him a great national leader.
Shunted off by his party from his desire to lead the nation in 2010, he settled for a vice-presidential slot with another effective leader, then senator and former Olongapo mayor Dick Gordon. But destiny denied them the nation’s leadership.
His untimely demise last Friday leaves a void in the politics of this benighted land.
Farewell, my friend. You are a true bayani ng bayan.