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Manila’s lost glory



In May 2012, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada announced he would run for the top post in the city in the 2013 elections.

Already 75 at the time and smarting from defeat in his 2010 presidential run, the former President said he still wanted to serve the Filipinos who have supported and believed in him since his arrest in April 2001 and conviction for plunder in September 2007.

Being born in Tondo, Estrada said he wanted to show his gratitude through public service to Manileños.

After edging rival Alfredo Lim by a mere 2,245 votes, Estrada promised to do the tough task of bringing back Manila to its glory days.

He also vowed to retire from politics after his three-year term as mayor and pass on the post to his vice mayor, Isko Moreno, whom he described as very competent and intelligent.

The mayor buckled up to work in eradicating criminality, corruption and poverty in Manila as well as city hall’s budget deficit and huge debt. In his first term, he improved the city’s bureaucracy, health services and public education.

By 2015, Estrada declared the city as debt-free. In the same year, Estrada repeated his commitment to implement a massive urban renewal program to restore Manila’s former title as the “Pearl of the Orient.” That declaration meant running for reelection in 2016.

Breaking his promise, Estrada ran and won a second term, defeating Lim again by 2,685 votes. Estrada began modernization of the city infrastructure, including the Quinta Market and Lacson Underpass in Quiapo District, lighted streets, ordered cleanups in Binondo and Manila Bay shore, beautified plazas and halted the conversion of the Ninoy Aquino Stadium into a mall. He has also approved reclamation projects in Manila Bay.

Now, Estrada, 82, is gunning for a third and last term in next year’s mid-term elections. But there seems to be no substantial progress in his promise to restore Manila to its former glory.

In fact, Manila earned the ignominy of being cited as one of the least sustainable cities in the world, ranking 95th out of 100 cities, according to Arcadis’ 2018 Sustainable Cities Index.

It ranked 100 global cities based on three pillars of sustainability: people, planet and profit.

Manila ranked 93rd in the “people” factor, measuring the city’s social sustainability and quality of life; 91th in the “planet” sub-index which measures a city’s pollution and sanitation management. It scored the lowest in the “profit” factor, settling in 98th place on the pillar measuring the city’s productivity according to economic growth, innovation and infrastructure.

London topped the list of world’s most sustainable cities, followed by Stockholm, Edinburgh, Singapore and Vienna. Singapore was tagged as the most sustainable city in Asia, followed by Hong Kong and Seoul. Manila ranked 21st out of 23 Asian cities on the list.

But even without such study, ordinary citizens know Estrada has not made much of a progress in halting the city’s decay. Air pollution has gotten worse, many waterways and esteros in the city are clogged with garbage and chaotic streets are choked with vehicles, pedestrians and vendors, all jostling for space. Such an environment would be stifling for any business.

In the matter of preserving historic structures, repairs are being done on the heritage site Metropolitan Theater in the Lawton area through the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. On the other hand, restoration of the Rizal Memorial Stadium is being done under the Philippine Sports Commission.

So where is the urban renewal effort of Estrada?

When Estrada applied for and was granted executive clemency by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in October 2007, he vowed he would no longer seek public office.

Unfortunately, Estrada has a penchant for breaking his promise. He ran not only for president in 2010 but also for Manila mayor in 2013. He also reneged on his pledge to serve for only one term as Manila mayor when he ran for reelection in 2016.

If Estrada can’t keep his words, how can anyone expect him to fulfill his vow to restore Manila to its old glory? It did not happen in his first term; it didn’t happen in his second term.

Will Estrada be able to do it if he wins for a third term?

The answer should be obvious to anyone.