Manila began a massive clean-up drive in multiple fronts in the hope of restoring its old-world charm.
Shortly after winning his second term as mayor of Manila in May, Joseph Estrada took President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on illegal drugs seriously.
Since the new administration buckled down to work in July, Manila police have knocked on 2,936 households to carry out ‘Oplan Tokhang’, searching and convincing drug users to yield to authorities and promise to start a new life without illegal drugs. As of this month, a total of 38,482 have surrendered to the police, while 2,946 have been arrested and 333 had been killed in daily sting operations since July, according to Police Supt. Marissa Roberto Bruno of the Manila Police District’s (MPD) information office.
On Oct. 7, Estrada oversaw an early morning raid at the Islamic Center in Quiapo that led to the death of seven suspected drug pushers, one of whom was reportedly the chairman of Barangay 648 who had a PHP1 million bounty on his head; the arrest of 263 drug suspects, including an alleged commander of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter (BIFF); and the seizure of dozens of high-powered firearms and grenades and at least 60 sachets of shabu.
On Nov. 8, the city government also subjected 7,168 elected barangay officials to a mandatory drug test. None of the officials tested positive for drugs, including Mayor Estrada and Vice Mayor Honey Lacuna who were first to take the initiative. Last month, the MPD reported that it was investigating 16 public servants from City Hall, barangays, police and national government offices located in Manila for their alleged involvement in illegal drugs.
Rallying barangay chairmen to do their part in the drug campaign, Estrada last Dec. 5 released PHP32 million to augment the budget of barangays. Plans are also afoot to construct a drug rehabilitation center at the Manila Boystown Complex in Marikina City.
As a preventive measure, the mayor brought the campaign to the youth through his pet project, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), a classroom instruction program that taps active duty police officers to teach Grades 5 and 6 students good decision-making skills to keep them away from drugs and other vices. On Nov. 28, retired Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) police officer Scott Gilliam and 13 other mentors conducted a training course for 72 police and military officers. Some 15 DARE instructors were recently provided motorcycles and PHP2,000 in monthly allowances to help improve their mobility in going to different public schools.
Meanwhile, to rid the city of lawless elements, the city government fielded 289 police officers to tighten security, especially following the discovery of an improvised explosive device (IED) in a trash can, some 200 meters away from the US embassy on November 28. Four suspects have since been arrested, and an employee of the Department of Public Works and Highways who found the IED and alerted the police, the two police officers who defused the bomb, and four others were rewarded with PHP50,000 each for a total of PHP350,000.
Some 200 to 300 Civil Disturbance Management (CDM) personnel were also deployed to the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta Park last Nov. 18 for the “Black Friday” protest against the burial of former president Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig. MPD director, Sr. Supt. Joel Coronel, instructed his men to exercise maximum tolerance to avoid a repeat of the incident at the US Embassy last Oct. 19 where a number of indigenous people protesters and policemen were hurt during a violent dispersal.
Some 1,113 policemen and security units have also been mobilized to secure 113 churches across the city as the traditional nine-day ‘Misa de Gallo’ went underway. The police sought public cooperation and patience as they launched ‘Oplan Sita’, random searches on motorists and raids on hideouts of suspected terrorists.
On another front, the city government’s clean-up drive was taken to Manila’s streets to make them passable again.
Major thoroughfares and sidewalks were cleared of illegal vendors, illegally parked vehicles and illegal structures that slowed down traffic. On Sept. 15, the city government declared the 6.5-km. stretch of Rizal Ave. as a no parking zone. Some 3,000 illegal vendors had been driven away and "countless numbers" of obstructions and illegal structures were removed, according to Manila Traffic and Parking Bureau (MTPB) chief, Dennis Alcoreza. Clearing operations focused on Divisoria, Blumentritt, Quiapo, Binondo, Sta. Cruz, R-10 and Pedro Gil, as well as the University Belt and major roads leading to and from the Port of Manila, that are used by some 3,000 container trucks.
In an unprecedented move, Estrada on Nov. 28 ordered the mass resignation of all 690 traffic enforcers and personnel of the MTPB after receiving complaints of extortion from motorists. Traffic management was temporarily turned over to the MPD’s Traffic Enforcement Unit, with help from barangay volunteers and other auxiliary units, until the MTPB’s reorganization is completed.
Estrada’s order coincided with the launch of a “traffic super body”, consisting of city and barangay officials and leaders and representatives of local transport organizations, parent-teacher associations, business groups and other stakeholders. The body will oversee the strict implementation of traffic rules in the city and come up with doable solutions to help decongest the city’s main thoroughfares.
Acknowledging that the capital city has “the most number of informal settlers”, estimated at 63,358 families as of 2015 according to Jean Joaquin, assistant department head of Manila’s social welfare office, Estrada has partnered with National Housing Authority (NHA) general manager Marcelino Escalada, who pledged to extend housing assistance to informal settler families (ISFs) located along railroad tracks, canals, rivers, creeks and garbage dumps.
A village is being built on a 3.5-hectare portion of Sitio Dubai in Baseco, Tondo that will serve as a permanent relocation for long-time residents of the area. ISFs in Manila are concentrated in 107 barangays that are traversed by such waterways as the Pasig River, San Juan River, Estero de Maypajo, and Estero de Sunog Apog.
In terms of livelihood, the city government partnered with the labor department in extending financial grants to a local senior citizens' organization to fund its livelihood program. Last Dec. 9, Estrada handed a PHP210,000 check to Nagkakaisang Senior Citizens ng Maynila (NSCM), which will use it for its bead-making business.
Health care for indigents remained a priority of the city government. Four brand-new computerized tomography (CT) scan machines worth PHP40 million were acquired in mid-November to replace the old ones used by the Gat Andres Bonifacio Memorial Medical Center, Justice Abad Santos Mother & Child Hospital, Ospital ng Maynila Medical Center and Sta. Ana Hospital.
Last April, the city government acquired a PHP117 million magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine for the Ospital ng Maynila and opened a dialysis center and an Eye Care Center at the Gat Andres Bonifacio Memorial Medical Center.
Estrada said he has set aside PHP500 million for the rehabilitation and modernization of the city's six public hospitals and 59 community health centers.
City Hall likewise released on Nov. 3 some PHP1.5 million as cash gift for indigent public elementary and high school students in the city. Earlier on Sept. 30, 300 student-beneficiaries from Manila’s 5th and 6th districts each received PHP5,000, meant for their school needs, such as school supplies and uniforms.
For the first time in Manila’s history, the city government acquired a PHP30 million state-of-the-art containment vehicle that could respond to any nuclear, biological, radiological and chemical (NBRC) incident, including terrorist attacks, anywhere in the city.
Estrada said on Oct. 20 that he ordered the acquisition of the trailer truck for the Manila Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (MDRRMO) to use in responding to any type of disaster and calamity, including possible terrorist chemical attacks and bombings.
For disaster preparedness, City Hall likewise allotted nearly PHP1 billion to acquire emergency and rescue gears and equipment and the training of rescuers and volunteers this year.
Disaster mitigation has been a top concern of Manila due to the city’s susceptibility to strong typhoons. On Nov. 21, Estrada released PHP24.05 million to declog drainage systems, especially for 620 barangays in Tondo, Sta. Cruz, Malate, Sampaloc, Paco, Quiapo, Binondo, Pandacan, Intramuros, Ermita, Port Area near Pasig River and its tributaries that are considered at “high flood risk”.
While flooding in Manila has drastically been reduced as a result of the city government’s successive anti-flood projects, Estrada acknowledged that many barangays remain flood-prone.
80-percent ready for the ‘Big One’
Meanwhile, Estrada declared last Nov. 20 that the capital city and its 1,780,148 million residents are “80-percent” ready for the feared “Big One” -- a 7.2 magnitude or stronger earthquake that experts believe would happen anytime soon.
Estrada said the city’s rescue and emergency units are fully equipped and trained “as we have invested heavily in equipment, machines and vehicles for immediate use when disaster strikes”.
On beautifying Manila, Estrada approved on Nov. 8 some PHP100 million for urban renewal, specifically for the renovation of two historic landmarks in the city – Plaza Lacson and the MacArthur monument in Santa Cruz.
Estrada has tasked the Manila Parks Development Office (MPDO) led by Arsenic Lacson to begin making plans for the two rehabilitation projects.
Plaza Lacson was popularly known by its old name Plaza de Goiti in the early 1900s and was considered the heart of Manila prior to World War II. The Manila tram system had its central terminal at the plaza back then.
Meanwhile, MacArthur Park, which features an old monument of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, is located at the south end of the MacArthur Bridge that crosses the Pasig River from Padre Burgos Ave. in Ermita and Carlos Palanca St. in Sta. Cruz.
Lacson said initial plans for Plaza Lacson call for major development and clean-up since it has been dirtied by street dwellers and undisciplined passersby in the past years.
Estrada further said the city government is working with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for the rehabilitation of Plaza Dilao in Paco and Plaza Azul in Quirino Ave., Pandacan that were affected by the construction of Skyway 3. The funds for the renovation of Plaza Dilao and Plaza Azul, he said, will come from the Skyway 3 project.
Similar rehabilitation plans are also being eyed for Plaza Lawton (now Liwasang Bonifacio) and Plaza Rajah Sulayman in Malate.
Once known as the “Pearl of the Orient”, Manila has 48 parks and monuments, all that remained of the old Manila’s pre-war and colonial architecture. A number of these have been converted to children’s playgrounds.
Among the parks and plazas that have undergone a major facelift are Plaza Rueda and Bonifacio Shrine along Taft Ave., Plaza Hernandez in Tondo, Plaza De Virge in Pandacan, Plaza Hugo in Sta. Ana, and Plaza Guerrero across the US Embassy.
The MPDO on Aug. 9 inaugurated the newly renovated Plaza Oliva Salamanca at Taft Ave. in Ermita, which was named after Dr. Olivia Salamanca, one of the country’s famous first female doctors who died in 1913 at the young age of 24.
City of the future
Moving forward, the city government is planning to fast-track a number of reclamation projects in Manila that would make it a city of the future.
On Dec. 4, Estrada signed a historic agreement with the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) and a construction consortium that will pave the way for the PHP7.4 billion expansion of Tondo's Manila Harbor Center.
“This MOU is significant because it signals the start of more development projects in our city, with the full support of President Duterte,” Estrada said, adding that this means more jobs, economic opportunities, and billions of revenues not only for the city but for the entire country as well.
The PHP7.4 billion project involves the reclamation of 50 hectares of Manila Bay to expand the 79-hectare Manila North Harbor Center, to enable it to handle larger vessels, thus speeding up and reducing the costs of cargo handling.
The PRA will also embark on the ambitious Solar City commercial and business district to be put up in Manila Bay that is projected to generate up to PHP17 billion in taxes every year on top of the PHP10 billion in real property taxes, generate 100,000 jobs during the construction phase and up to 500,000 more once it becomes operational.
The Solar City reclamation project entails the creation of three islands measuring 148 hectares in the Manila Bay, where business centers, residential and commercial properties, and tourism facilities, including an international cruise ship terminal, will be built.
Designed to be green, self-sustaining, and innovative, Solar City will use renewable energy from solar, wind, and biomass sources; utilize urban farming; and capitalize on a modern waste management system to reduce organic waste dramatically.
The designers of Solar City envision dedicated walkways and a monorail system to reduce the need for cars and bring tourists and visitors around hotels, convention centers, and even an artificial beach to make Manila good enough to be dubbed the “Dubai of Southeast Asia”.
Summing up the city government’s efforts, much has been accomplished this year but more needs to be done.
“Manila is the Philippines’ show window to the world so we will continue our ongoing campaign to do a complete makeover of Manila and transform it into a beautiful city that every Filipino can be proud of,” he said. (PNA)CVL/Lily O. Ramos