Thrilla in Manila
FROM A DISTANCE By Carmen N. Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) Updated January 31, 2010 12:00 AM
While attention at the moment is riveted on the presidential contest, the mayoralty fight in the country’s capital promises to be just as exciting. It promises to be a rematch between two erstwhile rivals.
With former DENR Secretary Lito Atienza’s return to the ring, incumbent Gen. Alfredo Lim faces a formidable contender. Manilans are happy with the return of Atienza, Lim’s nemesis. They now have a clear choice.
It must be remembered that Atienza’s name for nine years was a byword in Manila politics. He won three terms but had to step down because of term limits.
The Atienza-Lim electoral contest may not be about boxing but it is also a Thrilla in Manila as the bout was between Ali and Frazier in the 70s. The stakes are great, and its results go beyond the contest for the post of mayor of the country’s capital.
The rivalry is enhanced with two candidates representing two wings of the Liberal Party. On one side is the Noynoy-Roxas wing which refers to itself as “pedigreed” (a fatal mistake, if you ask me). Atienza, a Liberal since he was a young man, has turned the tables around to put the snobs in their place and called his wing “askal” (short for asong kalye). These are overtones of a class war that Noynoy and Roxas would be well advised to avoid. It makes them vulnerable since both come from super-rich dynastic families. By implication candidate Lim becomes the “bodyguard of the pedigreed.”
On the other hand, Atienza feels quite at home among the masa and has waded right into the ring with hard punches to knock down his pedigreed opponents. His campaign office is not far from the neighborhood where he was born, grew up and learned the ropes of constituency politics from his father, Jose Atienza Sr. who is considered one of the founding fathers of the Liberal Party.
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At a recent press conference, he pointed to the almost empty restaurant where it was being held. The restaurant was forlorned. In his time, the same restaurant was a thriving, bustling place. People came to Manila from all over to dine in the Malate area that became a gourmet’s paradise. Then it was fun and fashionable to be in Manila with the young buying up old houses and apartments for a song that they then refurbished.
Manila as an old city has character and history that Makati or Fort Bonifacio cannot match. Indeed it is or should be the center for tourism in the country. As an architect, Atienza recognizes the possibilities of reviving the city to its former glory. But he has to be assisted by a competent group that will guide him through the history of the landmarks of Manila.
Atienza’s Buhayin ang Maynila has great potential and should be supported by the national government and those who live outside Manila. It is true of all great cities and country capitals. Think of a clean Pasig River and a roads built around it like Paris’s Boulevard Peripherique or London’s embankment. Think of monuments and landmarks that could be revived to tell the story of how and why it became the capital of the country. That Atienza has pledged to do.
As a foreigner in the travel business in Manila told me it is hard to sell tours if all we have to offer are the condos and brand shops and malls of Makati. These are bigger and better in other countries. We have to offer something unique about the Philippines and one of them is Manila and its history. A revived Manila reconstructed according to its history would be a boon to the historical consciousness of Filipinos and generations to come.
Atienza laments that under Alfredo Lim some of the improvements he began have been neglected. Among Atienza’s projects were the renovation of Plaza Miranda, the Andres Bonifacio monument, Rajah Sulayman and Binondo. There are others — the creation of a Linear-Park in Pandacan, Carriedo and the R. Hidalgo streets in Santa Cruz. Atienza’s idea of Buhayin ang Maynila is laudable. It should be supported by the national government and other cultural groups. It needs a comprehensive approach to be meaningful.
Having been in exile for many years during martial law I was not aware of Atienza’s role with the opposition in those days. He was arrested twice when he exposed human rights abuses under the Marcos dictatorship. Isn’t it strange that this means nothing to Noynoy, the supposed heir to Ninoy’s legacy?
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Atienza has not been immune to attack. Critics claim Manila was bankrupt when Lim took over as mayor of Manila. Atienza’s answer: Of course, it will be bankrupt if you do not know how to make it work and manage its resources well to bring in revenues. That he did during his term.
He, too, inherited a poor annual collection of P2 billion in 1998 but he was able to bring it up to P8 billion when he took over. This he did through reforms and programs for the city. “The proof that I did the right things was the people elected me for three consecutive terms,” Atienza said. This is a feat. He is only mayor of Manila to achieve that.
Manilans would not have reelected him if had not done the right things. What he did is for Manilans to see and experience: health centers and well-equipped hospitals, cheap medicines and nutrition programs.
When he says young Manilans, especially the poor were given quality education, he can point to the schools he set up during his term and how the students were able to compete with students elsewhere in the country.
Having been experienced in constituency politics he understands the needs of the people. High sounding rhetoric about caring for the poor will just not do. They will want concrete things done like the collection of garbage and the maintenance of roads. They want businesses to thrive to give them jobs and livelihood opportunities.
“They vote for you because it has made life more comfortable and not because you say you are good,” adds Atienza.
If he wins in this election, Lito Atienza has a hard job ahead of him with so much of what he began left to waste. No wonder Manileños want him to return and restore his urban renewal and sustainable development program for the city. It was neglected under Lim’s tenure.