It was grand enough, the whole day affair held by The Manila Times on Thursday at the New World Manila Bay Hotel. The event was to honor 13 of the country’s urban centers as “Philippine Model Cities,” namely: Bacolod City, Batangas City, Davao City, General Santos City, Laoag City, Mandaluyong City, Naga City, Parañaque City, Quezon City, San Fernando City, Sta. Rosa City, Tagaytay City, and Zamboanga City.
Nevertheless the occasion was commonplace enough as to impart an air of ordinariness characterizing most awards ceremonies. Dignitaries from business and development sectors were in attendance, together with officials of the 13 cities being honored in the proceedings, but the program indicated nothing that would separate the affair from the bombast and brouhaha of similar events
After the welcome remarks by Manila Times Executive Editor, President and Chief Executive Officer Dante Ang 2nd, I found myself toying with the question: If writing 30 is journalism’s style of ending a manuscript, what can writing 13 signify? What was so significant about the Manila Times honoring 13 cities as the Philippines’ model ones?
Powerpoint presentations on the 13 cities were the featured intermission number of the affair that somewhat served as added delicacies for the guests as they took their lunch. But my seatmate, a radio broadcaster, dismissed the presentations as no big deal, saying if you believe all that stuff, then everything should look okay – which, he pointed out, is not. What the guy was saying was that those presentations would naturally show only the good sides of the cities. I am a filmmaker and should have no difficulty understanding what he meant. Unlike the guy, however, I tend to always scrutinize what’s behind nice facades, and after four speakers I thought I was beginning to see the light in the way the program was crafted.
Each of the speakers ventilated their points with the help of visual aids, which had a way of clarifying to listeners what otherwise would have been vaguely understood messages.
The first speaker after Mr. Dante Ang 2nd was multi-awarded and internationally-recognized architect Felino A. Palafox, Jr. I think he succeeded in regaling the guests with visuals of what the Philippines had been in the past, what development the country is currently undergoing, and what transformation such development would experience by 2021 and beyond. With his use of visual aids done superbly, Palafox made a rather spectacular presentation of an artist’s rendition of what he termed postcards for the future, showing, for instance, the Pasig River having been developed along lines that reminded me of the spellbinding glitter and glamor of the famous Bund in Shianghai which bursts in many-colored brilliance at nights. But what the Palafox presentation evoked in me on the occasion was not so much a reminiscence of the Shanghai sight as a realization that such a development is very possible in the Philippines but is not being undertaken. Nor such a development is planned at all.
I brought the matter one time to the attention of Mr. Diego Cagahastian, Public Information Officer of the Manila City Hall, suggesting that Pasig River could be developed like the Bund in Shanghai, but why wasn’t Erap doing anything about it? Only then did I know that developing Pasig River is a function not of the City of Manila but of the national government.
Listening to Palafox’s presentation of postcards for the future as projected remedy for the many neglected development concerns of the national government, I ended up asking: Whose fault has all this neglect been?
I will have to look further into the cases of those cited in Palafox postcards of the future, but at least in the case of Pasig River, the Manila PIO is categorical: the blame is on the national government.
One postcard for the future stressed in the Palafox audio visual presentation was the series of bridges linking all islands of the Philippine archipelago. This immediately struck me as reminiscent of the Duterte vision of a transnational railway system which loops the island of Mindanao and branches out to link the islands of the Visayas and Luzon all the way to Aparri. That the ambitious infrastructure project has been actually thought out by two separate visionaries serves to prove the idea is workable. But more important than workability is the conviction in the case of Palafox that the multi-island road links can be achieved at no cost to the Philippine government. President Duterte has already taken this up with his initial arrangements with China whereby the railway system will be bankrolled by the latter.
In this sense therefore, for all its innocent façade as just one more awards ceremonies, the Manila Times’ crowning 13 urban centers as the Philippines Model Cities takes a dig at the neglect by the national government of those who are not among the thirteen. This contention is bolstered by revelations made by the other speakers, notably Eleanor Roque, head of the Tax Advisory and Compliance Division of the P&A Grant Thornton, who divulged certain anomalies in the process of business registration and tax payment by businesses in the Philippines; Vickram Cuttaree, World Bank Program Leader, Sustainable Development for the Philippines, who revealed that all financial grants by the World Bank for Philippine development must come as a response to concrete requests for such grants by the Philippine government; and Michael McCoullough, who disclosed the very negligible compliance by Philippine businesses with environmental guidelines.
All told, Philippine development is responsibility first and foremost by the national government. That of the 145 cities the Philippines have, only 13 has found merit in The Manila Times criteria for Philippine Model Cities speaks much of the kind of government we have been having all these years. Of course, the current administration is only into its first year, and what neglect has been there in developing the country’s cities cannot be ascribed to President Rodrigo Duterte. But The Manila Times, by writing 13 as Philippine model cities, actually makes a wake-up call by which the Duterte administration may pursue objectives of developing like the 13 the 132 other Philippine cities.