We were giving them 3 months, tops, to impress us with announcements of reforms and display of political will in addressing pestering problems in their localities. And they have, so far, not failed us.
Metro Manila’s 4 new mayors – Quezon City’s Joy Belmonte, Manila’s Isko Moreno, Pasig City’s Vico Sotto, and San Juan’s Francis Zamora – have been in the news every day, mostly telling their constituents about poorly-thought-out policies they inherited, the financial mess they have uncovered, anomalous or lopsided contracts they would be reviewing.
We were also clear-sighted about the challenges that would confront them. In a post-election briefing we gave in May to members of the exclusive Rappler PLUS community, we pointed out that, however well-intentioned these young local chief executives appear to be, there’s realpolitik to contend with:
Belmonte, vice mayor for 9 years and with the backing of the outgoing mayor and a block-voting religious organization, won over her rival by only 103,265 votes – a lead that political strategists consider precarious in vote-rich locality like Quezon City. She has to deal with a bureacracy that was, for some time, not exactly run the way she would have it, while those aspiring for the top post of the country’s richest city are probably already strategizing on how to flip that lead to their favor in the next elections.
Although Moreno had served as councilor and vice mayor under several mayors, and therefore must have worked at one point or another with members of the current council, the fact remains that he will be balancing their 39 different interests (the vice mayor, 36 district councilors, and two ex-officios) if his policies are to get anywhere.
Sotto ran and won as a lone ranger – with no running mate or slate, except for an allied congressional candidate. Practically the entire Pasig City council, whose members will approve resolutions and contracts, are allies of former mayor Robert Eusebio, who is contesting Sotto’s victory.
Zamora may have put an end to the half-a-century rule of the Estradas in San Juan and there’s his congressman father to work with, but his council is dominated by the Estradas’ Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino.
But we were admittedly not expecting that their reality checks would surface only a week or two into their terms:
While her predecessor mayor Herbert Bautista said he was leaving Quezon City with P26.27 billion in cash and investments, Belmonte did the math and realized that the amount actually available to serve her constituents for the remaining part of the year is only P516 per resident. That her first executive order is for the creation of an internal audit unit indicates there is a lot to look into in how resources were allocated in the past.
Moreno, according to findings of the Commission on Audit, has inherited a P4.4-billion debt incurred by the administration of former mayor Joseph Estrada. In addition, a few days after he fired 9 policemen who were involved in the syndicate-like operations that allowed illegal vendors to clog the streets in Divisoria and adjacent commercial districts, a bank right within Chinatown was robbed in broad daylight, as if to embarrass the mayor’s “Bagong Maynila” campaign.
When Sotto moved to the mayor’s office – occupied by the Eusebios for many years – he found the place bare except for tables. It was also stripped of computers that incoming staff could have used. He has ordered an inventory of supplies because state auditors pointed to P1.4 billion in unaccounted funds during his predecessor's time. His first executive order was to scrap what he called – which motorists also agreed to – the city’s “disjointed and unjust” odd-even traffic scheme.
Zamora’s San Juan has inherited a debt of P1.3 billion, left behind by the past administration. Last week, he gave city hall employees a heads-up that their salaries for June and July would be delayed since the councilors from Estrada’s party didn’t attend the sessions where the release of funds was supposed to be approved, so no quorum was reached to get the business done.
The actions and problems of these Metro Manila mayors are well-known to the public, even to those outside their cities, because of their exposure to both traditional and social media. But we know there are more like them – well-intentioned, reform-minded, open to innovations, but also besieged – in other parts of the country.
And, given the circumstances, they have only one ally: us, their constituents, if we too badly want change and seek what is good, right and just in our cities; us, who may not be residing in their cities, but go there to do business, study, or work, and are thus affected by policies that will work or fail.
We need to keep watch and bring problems to their attention. We need to think critically and not aid baseless talk and accusations meant to discredit sound initiatives. We need to do our part by following ordinances and rules, reporting abuses and corruption, even perhaps offering our ideas and services to the right offices.
We also need to be vigilant so these leaders – and the people they bring along with them – stay the course and not become the monsters they had sought to slay. – Rappler.com