Manila, once called the Pearl of the Orient and recognized as a center of global trade, had one foot in the grave, gasping for breath, when the last election for local officials was held last year.
Decades of neglect had left the nation’s capital bursting at the seams with makeshift shanties housing several hundred thousand families without running water or toilets.
Roads, sidewalks, parks, and bridges were invaded by informal settlers, resulting in chaotic traffic snarls.
The city’s public hospitals lacked even the most basic services and supplies.
Public markets were muddy, invading major streets at all hours and compounding the traffic problem.
School children were underweight and malnourished, unable to absorb classroom lessons because of hunger.
In the city’s poorest district, young and old swim in the murky Manila Bay shallows they have nicknamed Burak-cay, ignoring trash and human excrement among the flotsam.
When a young man born and raised in Manila’s poorest area won the election for mayor, defeating the incumbent and a former mayor, many were skeptical about what he could do for the distressed city which his predecessors had left in shambles.
Manila City Mayor Francisco ‘Isko Moreno’ Domagoso is proving to be just what the city needs: energetic, hands on, and undaunted.
Determined to restore the city to its former glory Mayor Isko Moreno used his popularity and movie star looks to raise funds and find sponsors for his ambitious projects. Millions in talent fees for endorsing products on giant billboards poured in, along with donations from various sectors.
Just months after assuming office, he led the inauguration of the refurbished Jones Bridge, restored to its near-original design and rewired with Paris-inspired ornate street lampposts. Fulfilling a campaign promise, the restoration project is part of Moreno’s bid to preserve Manila’s heritage and to open more tourist destinations in the nation’s capital.
Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat was amazed at how Jones Bridge turned out to be.
“When I first saw the pictures of the Bridge, hindi ako makapaniwala. Para siyang postcard. Alam mo yung unang sinabi ko, Photoshop ba yan? (I was amazed. It was postcard-pretty. The first thing I said was, ‘Is that photo of Jones Bridge Photoshopped?),” Puyat told Manila Bulletin.
FROM SHANTIES TO CONDOS
Last July, the mayor led the groundbreaking ceremony of Binondominium, a 15-storey housing project worth ₱401 million along Delpan Street in Binondo which will provide decent homes to informal settlers.
“Mahirap maging squatter. Walang kapanatagan. Ayokong danasin niyo iyon. Hangga’t kaya natin, hanggat may pagkakataon, ibigay natin ang mga proyektong pakikinabangan ng tao (It’s hard to be a squatter—there is no certainty. I don’t want you to experience that. While we can, and while we have the chance, let’s have projects people can benefit from),” Domagoso said.
“Kahit tayo ay squatter, ay hindi natin kailangan maging dugyot. May dignidad sa pagiging squatter dahil tayo ay mga tao rin. Kung gagawin lang natin ‘yon, gawin na nating tama at disente (We don’t have to look dirty just because we’re homeless. There’s dignity in being human. If we’re going to do this, let’s do this well),” the Mayor added.
Public housing for the homeless was one of Domagoso’s campaign promises when he ran for Mayor. These projects also include Tondominium 1 and Tondominium 2, which have already broken ground in Vitas, Tondo.
THEIR OWN BAYWALK
Tondo residents no longer have to walk far to enjoy the famous Manila Bay sunset; they now have their own New Baseco Baywalk where residents may promenade, exercise, or simply while their time away.
Moreno vowed to introduce more developments, noting that Baseco’s main problem is that it had never been planned as a residential area from the start.
Apart from ridding the Baseco waters of floating garbage through continuous cleanup operations, a walkable coastal area was also put in place in lieu of a dirty, smelly spot filled with feces and urine. Also set up were lampposts to illuminate the area during the night and make it safe for promenaders.
Moreno appealed to the residents to practice self-discipline and maintain the area’s cleanliness, saying being poor does not mean that they also have to be dirty.
“Ngayon, ipakikita nating me gobyerno, pamamahala, at malasakit pero me kaakibat na disiplina sa atin. Kaya mahalagang maituwid ang kaisipan. ‘Di baleng mahirap, basta me dignidad sa pamumuhay (We should show them the government works, and there is concern for the poor but that we also have discipline. We have to fix your perspective. It doesn’t matter if were poor, as long as there’s dignity),” Moreno said.
The mayor also called on the parents not to get tired of guiding their children, as he recounted his younger days as an informal settler but who grew up being guided by his parents on how to maintain a certain level of dignity in life.
“Nag-aral ako sa Delpan, dating Tulungan Center. Ano ibig sabihin? Ang isa pa lang taga-Parola Binondo, o Parola Tondo ay pwedeng maging mayor ng Maynila. Puwede pala maging mayor ‘yung anak n’yong uhugin, tulukin, alipungahin… ganun din naman ako noong bata ako pero pag itinama at nagpursigi sa buhay, merong masaganang bukas (I studied in Delpan, in a Tulungan Center. What does this mean? That even if you come from a place like this, you can someday be a mayor,” Moreno said.
Having lived and grown up in a similar environment, Domagoso said this is a gift for them.
“Tonight, we want to show that even if we are poor or informal settlers, we still have dignity,” Domagoso said. “We are the ones showing the character of our community. It’s in our hands. Let us show them that yes, we are informal settlers, yes, we are poor, but we are disciplined and we also have dreams of improving our situation.”
NEW PUBLIC OSPITALS
The Manila City Government is building Bagong Ospital ng Maynila, a ₱2.3 billion infrastructure project with a capacity of 384 beds with 12 ICU units and 20 private rooms.
Domagoso said that the local government aims to provide better tools, equipment, and facilities for the city’s healthcare workers.
“No matter how good our healthcare workers are, if they have limited tools na hindi naaayon sa hamon ng panahon, mahihirapan po sila (that are not fit for the challenge, they will be burdened). I won’t mind investing billions for their equipment,” he said.
FEEDING HUNGRY CHILDREN
As a child, Moreno looked forward to school days because of the free Nutribun and glass of milk distributed to public school students as part of the national government’s nutrition program.
Mayor Isko Moreno said he wants to institutionalize the Marcos-era Nutribun program in Manila to address child nutrition and hunger in the Philippine capital.
“It is very important to me that no child goes to school hungry. Hungry children tend to have short attention span because instead of listening to their teachers, they listen to their stomachs grumble,” he says,
CLEAN AND BRIGHT
Soot and grime piled up during years of neglect and apathy are finally being washed away literally, with the mayor himself wielding broom and water hose.
Parks have been cleared of unsightly structures, lights have made them safe at all hours. Vagrants no longer use open spaces for tents and shanties. Pedestrian underpasses are clean, well-lit, and a pleasure to use.
Public markets are hosed down twice daily. Sidewalk vendors are being given selling spaces without blocking traffic.
There is hope for the nation’s capital.