If you wish to watch the sunset at the Manila Bay and enjoy the soothing sea breeze, you go to the promenade area along the seashore, now known as the Baywalk. Believe it or not, the Baywalk, one of the loveliest places in Manila, is getting to be a hot election issue in the nation’s capital city. It is a two-kilometer stretch along Roxas Boulevard between the United States Embassy and the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
Long before the official election campaign period starts, Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim and his immediate predecessor, former Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Lito Atienza, have been trading barbs on what to do with Baywalk.
During Atienza’s stint at City Hall, he had the long seaside strip widened with thick brown and yellow cement bricks. From a dark and neglected zone after sundown, it became a brightly-lit concourse that attracted commoners and elites alike. Restaurants, bars and open-air coffee shops sprouted there almost overnight. In the evening, live bands performed and entertained the crowd. Baywalk became a magnet for people from all walks of life looking for a convenient place where they could relax and be entertained with their kind of music—at an affordable price.
Adding to the vibrance of the Baywalk was the nearby Rajah Sulayman Park, in front of the Malate Church, one the most beautiful parks in the city.
Even at daytime, especially in the early morning during weekends, the Baywalk overflowed with people, including entire families, to have their breakfast and do physical exercises, from jogging and brisk walking to aerobics and biking.
With the huge number of people flocking to Baywalk everyday, it became comparable to the famed Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii as a popular tourist destination. Needless to say, the Baywalk was a smash hit and the crown jewel of the city’s tourism..
But shortly after Lim sat for the second time as Manila mayor in 2007, he banned restaurants and cafes from operating at the Baywalk. He justified this by saying he was heeding the complaints of residents and guests in hotels and condominiums about the “loud noise” from the live bands. He also blamed these establishments for adding to the trash in the already polluted Manila Bay.
Lito Atienza, who was Manila mayor from 1998 to 2007, vows to revive Baywalk and bring back the eateries and singing joints there if he wins the mayoral race this year. He described the Baywalk as the “engine of development for Manila” and a recreation place for the poor. He rued that the place had lost its luster since Lim ordered the demolition of the “unwanted” structures Lim has put more lampposts along Roxas Boulevard, but Atienza belittles this because Baywalk now has few visitors or is almost deserted at night.
“Look at what Lim did. Instead of improving it, he removed it. If the problem here is noise, he should have put a solution to it. But to say that it is a center for prostitution and drug distribution, that’s a lie.” Atienza grumbled.
To independent observers, the Baywalk was a top tourist drawer, a showcase of how domestic tourism came alive and stimulated the economy. With the influx of people to the Baywalk area, the restaurants, karaoke bars, souvenir shops, shopping stores, hotels and other business establishments along Roxas boulevard and adjacent streets such as those on Remedios, Pedro Gil and Padre Faura avenues benefited from the spillover of customers. They enjoyed an unprecedented boom.
The ex-mayor said the Baywalk was just one of his urban renewal projects that Lim has discontinued or neglected. He lamented that “Manila has deteriorated once again under the present local administration with its lack of vision.” He said that for three years, “Lim has deprived Manilenos of the right kind of life they deserve by removing and destroying what my administration did for the people in nine years.” Determined to arrest the decline of the city, Atienza is seeking to retake the mayor’s seat in the coming electons under the campaign battlecry “Buhayin ang Maynila” (Revive Manila).
Another major campaign issue raised by Atienza against the present city administration is the continued stay of the storage facilities of the country’s three largest oil firms in Pandacan. He accused Lim and his allies in the city council of railroading the approval of city ordinance 7177 allowing Chevron (formerly Caltex), Petron and Shell, as well as other heavy and medium-scale industries, to continue operating at the Pandacan oil depot despite warnings of possible accidents and terrorist attacks.
The new ordinance amended Ordinance 8027 promulgated during the time of Mayor Atienza which called for the removal of the oil depot from the Pandacan district, which was classified as a residential area. Thus, the classification of Pandacan was reverted to industrial. Ordinance 7177 was issued in defiance of the Supreme Court’s decision which upheld the validity of Ordinance 8027. Lim said he signed the new ordinance so as not to deprive the city government of P100 million revenues from business license fees and real property tax collected yearly from the industries that are based there.
In effect, Atienza said, the controversial ordinance ensured “the permanent stay of highly pollutive and extremely hazardous industries which placed the lives of Manilenos in grave danger and made Manila the most polluted and toxic city of the world.” He warned that an accident in the Pandacan depot could trigger an explosion that could cause damage to an area within a 14-kilometer radius. He also considered the retention of the oil depots as the highest form of insensitivity in the light of worldwide efforts to combat pollution and global warming. The depots, he said, must go to assure the safety of city residents.
“Manila is the inspiration of the country. Manila is the microcosm of the country. I cannot take the very, very sorry state of the city now,” he said.
Atienza sees his candidacy as a response to the Manileños’ clamor for the return of his urban renewal and sustainable development projects. During his term as mayor, he implemented the “Buhayin ng Maynila) program by upgrading and renovating Manila’s decaying public facilities such as parks, markets and slaughterhouses. He carried out the reconstruction and beautification of public places such as the, Plaza Miranda, the Andres Bonifacio monument and the Binondo park. He also pursued the construction of the linear park in Pandacan, the renovation of Carriedo and R. Hidalgo streets in Sta. Cruz. He upgraded the services of the city’s public libraries, schools and hospitals, including the Ospital ng Maynila and completed the construction of a brand new building for the Pamantasan ng Maynila.
Lito Atienza claims that during his tenure, Manilans, especially the poor and marginalized sectors, experienced genuine progress. They enjoyed, among others, health centers and hospitals with adequate equipment, facilities and free medicines.
Perhaps as environment secretary and chairman of the Pasig Rehabilitation and Development Council, Atienza will be best remembered by Manilans for implementing the long-overdue dredging of
the heavily-silted Pasig. Had the mouth of Pasig not been widened from six to 10 meters, he said the flooding of vast areas of the metropolis caused by typhoon Ondoy in September and October would have been much worse because floodwaters had no chance of flowing out into the Manila Bay.
by Fel Maragay, Manila Standard Today
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