In his first week as mayor of Manila, Joseph Ejercito Estrada did a cleanup job—literally and figuratively.
First, his honor (hizzoner) cleaned the Mayor’s Office which his advisers complained had reeked of urine and was infested with cockroaches and rats and other vermin.
A new coat of paint was promptly applied. The old dilapidated carpet was replaced with thick red wool. An executive desk with old- world patina was assembled, with a matching bookcase and cushioned chairs for callers. Leather sofas and a center table were whisked into the inner office for the use of the mayor’s men and his advisers and callers. He also installed a new seal of the Mayor of Manila, complete with backlighting.
The office’s little kitchen is being renovated, along with the toilet which the mayor found too small and smelled of urine and grime.
Second, with a familiar tangerine-colored towerl around his neck, and clad in plaid shirt, ragtag jeans and Converse rubber, Mayor Erap tried to clean some of Manila’s major streets by doing the sweeping and pressure washing himself. Later, he told Vice Mayor Isko Moreno, originally a street boy himself, for help. His glamorous deputy readily pitched in.
Third, the mayor tried to get rid of illegally parked vehicles —private, taxis, buses, and tricycles. As it turns out, parking is a very lucrative business for which little, if any, revenues go to City Hall.
At the Liwasang Bonifacio illegal terminal for provincial buses and jeepneys, for instance, the faceless operator collects up to P150,000 a day. Each vehicle dispatched must pay “kotong” of P100. Mayor Erap has decided to ban provincial buses. They will be allowed up to Vito Cruz Street only and then must drive back to the provinces.
Fourth, Estrada tried to rid Manila’s 4,000-strong police force of absentee policemen (what he calls the “lulubog, lilitaw” or the “now-you-see-them-now-you- don’t” cops).
Three ranking police officers—with the rank of colonel—were instantly sent to the freezer. One is the shadow boss of a parking business on city streets. Another was allegedly running an illegal sidewalk vendor racket.
Vendors are easy prey. They pay up to three times daily in the course of the day—P20 per vendor as “official” City Hall fee and P130 per vendor to the private operator. The city has easily 50,000 vendors so it’s easy to figure out the unreported take—P325,000 a day which loot is divided among people at the Mayor’s Office, police officers and local thugs down the line.
To get an inventory of the city’s active policemen, Estrada ordered every policeman and officer on the city payroll to personally report at the Manila Police District headquarters, update their personnel profile, and submit to biometrics (facial features, fingerprinting and weight compliance).
To clean up City Hall’s bungled finances, Mayor Estrada named a new city treasurer and a new head of the lucrative Business and Building Permits Department.
Next in the mayor’s Wish List —rid the city of criminal elements—bank robbers, kidnappers for ransom, and rapists plus probably even petty thieves.
As Vice President (1992-1998) and President from 1998 to January 2001, Estrada managed to clean Metro Manila and nearby provinces of big-time bank robbers and kidnappers, thanks to then Colonel Panfilo Lacson who treated the criminals with great dispatch and efficiency (they all disappeared from the face of the earth).
Why has Erap instantly become the world’s most glamorized janitor?
“It’s the only thing I can do without incurring expenditures,” he says. “The city has no money. I am not sure if I can even pay the payroll until October.”
According to City Treasurer Liberty Toledo, City Hall collects only P200 million a month—in property revenues, business and building permits and assorted fees and yet expenditures are more than P700 million. That implies an annual deficit of P6 billion. Manila has at least P600 million in unpaid electricity bills to Meralco.
A drain on city finances is City Hall’s bloated bureaucracy. Manila has about 11,000 employees, about 7,000 of whom are casuals, without permanent items. At least 2,000 are NPAs—non-performing asses. City Hall can be lean but mean with only about half its bureaucracy which eats up more than 40% of the budget.
“I have to clean the city, make it free of dirt, traffic and criminality to be able to attract tourists and investors,” he explains.
The mayor laments that all the large domestic corporations and multinationals are gone, having moved out to upscale Makati and now, fast-rising Taguig, the Global City.
Binondo to be revived
Binondo, once the proud and old symbol of Manila’s wealth and economic power, is now the shadow of its old self, its dynamism and economic power gone.
Sneers a writer in Yahoo News: “Let’s admit it, Manila will never have an Ayala Avenue, a Global City, or an Eastwood.?The best it can do is just to clean, beautify, sanitize, and keep safe what it once was—Beautiful Manila!”
Binondo had nurtured then rising entrepreneurs like Henry Sy Sr., Lucio Tan, and George Ty, today among the country’s richest individuals. Even San Miguel Corp., the Philippines’ largest conglomerate, began as a brewery in 1890 in a district named after it, San Miguel, by the Pasig River. San Miguel moved to Makati and later to Ortigas Business Center.
Believing that business is location, location and location, Henry Sy moved to Makati and then to his Mall of Asia complex. Lucio Tan moved to Makati but built his Century Park hotel in Malate.
Estrada hopes to clean Binondo of all its unsavory characters and traits and revive it as a business district.
The inner circle
The mayor has recruited top management and political professionals to help him do the job. For legal work and prosecuting grafters, there is Executive Secretary Ed Serapio and City Legal Officer Jay Flaminiano. To cultivate a business friendly environment, there is Business and Building Permits Chief Boy Soriano. To run the office, there is former Congressman Simeon Garcia as city administrator. They are backstopped by Erap’s son, Senate President Protempore Jinggoy Estrada.
In a sense, Manila is lucky to have Estrada. He has unrivalled experience in public service—17 years as mayor of San Juan town, six years as senator, six years as vice president and 30 months as President. He was convicted for plunder, by what looked like a Kangaroo court, imprisoned and kept in isolation for more than six years and later pardoned with full political rights. He recalls many famous ex-convicts—Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Anwar Ibrahim, and our own Ninoy Aquino. “We were imprisoned,” he smiles, “because we were men of conviction.”