Garbage man

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Residents of the nation’s capital have reasons to be upbeat following the just concluded midterm elections.

They have just booted out an inefficient aging mayor and rejected the comeback bid of another aging former city executive in favor of a youthful newcomer who came to battle with a plan for the once grandiose city now said to be just a shadow of its former self.

Manila, for the uninitiated, used to be a bastion of knowledge and innovation, being home to a number of universities and educational institutions. It is the site of the country’s first central business district of Binondo, the Central Bank and the Department of Finance, making it a center of finance and trade.

Historical and cultural spots also abound like Intramuros, the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex and the National Museum, easily making it a hub for culture, tourism and entertainment.

Sadly, however, Manila is no longer these. Mismanagement by past leaders who had nothing better to offer has plunged the capital into an embarrassing model of urban decay, blight and squalor and regarded as a massive failure in urban planning and governance.

The past two decades have seen the emergence of newer, more modern hubs, like Makati, Taguig, Parañaque and Quezon City, leaving Manila at the mercy of its more affluent neighbors. The rise of new central business districts like the Bonifacio Global City, Aseana and Vertis North has attracted multibillion-dollar enterprises that boosted their tax bases.

Manila, meanwhile reeled from its lack of investment in infrastructure and the inefficient delivery of basic services, so much so that business establishments left for more viable places to invest.

While other more progressive cities are already thinking of ways to facilitate hyper-connectivity, disaster resilience and pedestrianism, Manila is still grappling with trash collection, a manual tax collection system and a low tax collection rate.

Development-wise, Manila is said to be 30 years behind its neighbors.

Enter Isko Moreno, a former garbage man, who, after dislodging a political giant like Erap Estrada, now promises the moon to his constituents.

On the day he was proclaimed mayor of Manila, Moreno was quick to the draw. He knows what the disgruntled Manileños wanted to hear: Clean up a city littered with trash and lay the foundation of urban renewal.

They didn’t get that from Erap Estrada whose two terms were marked by uncollected garbage, broken promises and a parking and traffic bureau that mulcted residents for every known violation imagined or otherwise. Although he was able to pay the city’s P800 million overdue obligations by raising taxes in 2013, Erap failed to invest in meaningful infrastructure and modernize the city’s management systems.

They, too, didn’t get that from Alfredo Lim, who had a chance to reform the city but lamentably, squandered it. The former policeman, for all his tough talking ways, had little talent outside of peace and order. He was also held responsible for approving the construction of Torre de Manila, the eyesore that has become a photobombing background to the historical Rizal monument in Luneta.

Mayor-elect Moreno wants to go beyond collecting trash. He wants to implement a social amelioration program that would provide pension for senior citizens, allowance for students and nutrition assistance to the sick and hungry.

He plans to build ambitious infrastructure, including a street vendors’ commercial strip in Divisoria aimed at decongesting traffic in the country’s bargaining capital. He also wants to build vertical in-city housing, and the creation of a green city that would rival Taguig’s BGC and Clark’s.

The stakes are indeed high for this non-pedigreed former garbage collector, pedicab driver and actor dismissed by his rivals as nothing but an opportunist who took advantage of his popularity as a celebrity to get into politics.

Three years may be too short for one who has so much plans, but Moreno, hopefully, will bring back pride to Manileños who have given him the mandate to do what his predecessors failed to accomplish.

Here’s hoping he will succeed.

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