WHAT surprised attendees at a fund-raiser held in a hotel in Manila for the campaign of former Mayor Lito Atienza who is returning as Manila Mayor on a campaign to bring life back to the city (Buhayin Muli ang Maynila) were young performers – ballet dancers, singers and modern dancers, many of whom showed great talent. They were abandoned children who had been taken in by the former mayor’s private initiative which he calls “House of Angels,” Lito’s personal effort at saving crisis babies.
Atienza is a devout Catholic and strictly follows Church doctrine on the sanctity of life: “There are no unwanted children,” he says, “only selfish adults.” Crisis babies are those their own parents regard as inconveniences that they are better off not having.
His “House of Angels” began on his last term as vice mayor. Attending an El Shaddai prayer-rally, he told Mike Velarde about his idea of setting up a crisis center that would take in children who would otherwise be abandoned or, worse, women who would abort the pregnancy. This was then still just an idea and Lito was even in doubt about its viability, when Velarde announced at the Luneta before the El Shaddai’s horde of thousands that the vice mayor would take in any babies. The very next day, a woman was at the Atienza apartment where the Atienzas had their own six children living in a two-room residence.
Now, there is a two-story House of Angels in Sta. Ana, Manila, that takes in unwanted babies. Some 300 babies have gone through the House of Angels which is not an adoption house or an orphanage, just a place that will temporarily save babies from worse fates. From there, they will move to other institutions or will be adopted by parents looking for children to love. Based on the performers at the fund-raiser, many of these children are potential world-beaters.
Lito says: “Life comes only from God. Life is not man-made. Who knows, that child may become a Jose Rizal, a Manny Pacquiao, a Charise Pempenco, an Ariel Pineda, Nobody but God knows the future of every child.
“One couple’s unwanted baby can be the most wanted one in another family.”
One thing that distinguishes Lito Atienza from most politicos is that he is consistent in what he believes. For instance, he is against the Reproductive Health Bill and sticks to the language and spirit of Catholic Doctrine. Thus, he argues that our large population is not the problem.
Look at China, he says, it has the highest population and is among the world’s leading economies.
In politics, he has also always been faithful to the Constitution. Thus, he was against the unconstitutional ouster of President Erap in 2001 just as he disagreed with segments of his Liberal Party, which he then headed, who wanted to unconstitutionally depose President Gloria Arroyo in 2005.
Because of his stand against the moves to unconstitutionally remove Gloria, Lito was removed as chairman of the Liberal Party which was ordered by the Courts to unite the factions of the party. Instead the LPs, under Franklin Drilon, who was invited into the party by Lito who also made him chairman, unceremoniously removed Atienza from the LP.
Will his removal work for the LP in Manila or will it work against it in the May election. My reading is that the LP could lose Manila and most of Metro Manila precisely because, for the first time in a long while the LP has national candidates; yet, this time around, Mr. Liberal Party in Manila (Lito Atienza) is not backing the candidacies of Noynoy Aquino and Mar Roxas, the official LP candidates. For a long time, during the dark days when Martial Law ruled, Atienza was the only LP in national office.
The leadership of the Liberal Party has changed – perhaps, not for the better.
What was different about Manila in the years when Lito Atienza was mayor is that he had a plan for the city that consisted of urban renewal and the rebirth of Manila as the wondrous city that made the Philippines, the pearl of the orient. Manila was a beautiful city before it became the most bombed-out major city in World War II. Sadly, while the rest of the world’s cities have grown as human habitats, Manila wallowed in the sewers olf politics, greed and incompetence.
During his time as mayor, Lito Atienza worked on his dream of a Manila resplendent again: “My vision is to catch up with the great cities of Asia in urban development, but a development that is more people-oriented and more attuned to the quality of life we all dream of. It’s not a development that only wants to see an impressive collection of skyscrapers. More than that, Buhayin ang Maynila, the battle cry of our administration, expresses our goal of improving community life and services and the environment, developing the facilities in the public areas, preserving the city’s links to its glorious past, and ultimately reviving Manila’s soul and spirit and traditions.”
He started with what was called “Bay Walk” that gave Roxas Boulevard a life of its own but which was immediately shut down by the next administration and condemned to oblivion.
Atienza was a different mayor because he had a philosophy and searched for the soul of the city in order to grow it and nurture it. He is a rarity in politicians who seek the nuances and the secret life force of the city and country they live in. Most politicos only want to control and exploit.
Seeing the former mayor campaigning in his signature flower print Hawaiian shirts, Manilans can look forward to again having someone in City Hall who knows what living in Manila means and how it can improve for the better.
Former Manila Assemblyman, General Manager of the National Housing Authority, Manila Vice-Mayor for 6 years, Mayor of Manila for 9 years, and Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources