Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Mayor Lim's unpopular moves

Public officials cannot please all their constituents.

In fact, I believe that anyone who tries to do so is doomed. First, because it simply cannot be done; there is no way any elected official can ever hope to please everybody. There will always be someone out there with a different opinion and a contrary interest.

Second, trying to please everybody betrays a serious weakness in character. An elected official who sacrifices principles, or at the very least, a program of government, at the altar of popularity is obviously someone who lacks moral courage. Of course, the absence of moral courage is not an impediment to a political career as many of our political leaders occupying very high positions in government are obviously unfamiliar with the concept.
But a spineless politician is the worst kind; he deserves no respect.

The honorable mayor of the City of Manila is obviously not out to please everybody—or anybody for that matter.

In fact, if we are to go by his actions since he assumed office, we can even say that Mayor Alfredo Lim seems bent, even possessed by this great need—to become unpopular.
I have many bones to pick with the mayor. I disagree with some of his new directives, although to be honest about it too, I laud many of his decisions as well.

For example, I am incensed that he has turned the portion of Vito Cruz Street from Taft Avenue to the Rizal Memorial Stadium into a two-way street again resulting in daily monstrous traffic jams in the area. This particular strip of road has been one-way for the longest time and it actually makes sense because the rest of Vito Cruz Street all the way to the South Superhighway is one-way.

I pass by the area every day and believe me, the traffic is so bad now vehicles are backed up bumper-to-bumper all the way to the area in front of Century Park Sheraton. While in the past it would take me, no more than 10 minutes to get from Macapagal Boulevard to Taft Avenue. Now it takes me at least 30 minutes and that’s when I am lucky. On a bad day, the short distance would take an hour to traverse.

Nobody has been able to explain the rationale behind the decision to revert that strip of road into a two-way street. “Utos ni Mayor Lim,” the traffic cops tell me every time I ask them, “bakit ginawang two-way ito?”

I also disagree with the decision to demolish the entertainment complex at the Baywalk area. I wasn’t a regular patron of the bars and restaurants that magically sprouted in the area, but I had the occasion to be there several times. I liked the way the place became a convergent zone for people from all possible social demographic backgrounds. It was a place where people who drove BMWs and garbed in designer outfits rubbed elbows with people wearing basketball jerseys who walked all the way from Tondo and San Andres on a whim just to be where the action was.

I can’t make heads or tails of all the talk about how those bars and restaurants destroyed the view of the Manila Bay sunset. The sun sets on the bay for crying out loud, not on Roxas Boulevard. The boulevard is also quite long; anyone who wants an unobstructed view of the sunset can choose a better spot. It also doesn’t make sense for residents of the condominium buildings in the area to complain since the structures are too low to obstruct the view from their high perches.

Besides, that argument does not fly when we consider that there are taller and more permanent structures on Manila Bay itself, such as the Army Navy Club, the United States Embassy and all those restaurants and bars behind the Museo Pambata.

I agree that the Manila Bay sunset is something that we should all take pride in. It’s a spectacular, breathtaking sight. But until former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza cleaned and spruced up that particular area of Roxas Boulevard, how many actually took the trouble to go there with their friends and families in tow to enjoy gazing at the setting sun? Roxas Boulevard did not have a “friendly” reputation before then. One had to be really adventurous to venture out into that area; the general perception was that it wasn’t a safe place to be.
But Lim has a point. There is a law against selling and drinking liquor in public places. And Baywalk did become a watering hole more than a place for a family picnic eventually.

It is difficult to argue with Lim’s hard-line stance because regardless of how you feel about his decisions and actions, you know that the man is doing it because he firmly believes it is the right thing to do. It is a matter of principle to him. This is probably why he can afford to be unapologetic and straightforward about it.

I think Lim continues to earn respect even from people who do not agree with him, precisely because we know that it is not personal—the man is doing his job and doing it well.
And to give credit to the mayor, he has accomplished—and all within two months of his mayoralty—certain things that were deemed impossible to do.

For example, he was able to clear Avenida Rizal and Recto Avenue of all those vendors that have made walking on those streets akin to running through an obstacle course. Manufacturers of fake diplomas and makers of other counterfeit documents who had the temerity to shove their masterpieces on your face as you walk through them are finally gone. When these people wailed on public television about how the mayor owed his election to them, Lim uttered his Dirty Harry one-liner: The law applies to all or to none at all.

The mayor was also able to demolish squatter shanties that clogged up the canals around Quiapo. This area used to be untouchable before because the occupants, who were mostly Muslims, somehow felt that being marginalized entitled them to certain allowances. Naturally, the argument failed to thaw the mayor’s heart.

So like I said, one may not like some of the things that the mayor does, but it is difficult not to respect him for what he stands for. A public servant who does not care about being popular for as long as he gets the job done deserves respect. Yes, even if you disagree with him.
All this reminds us that in the end, it really doesn’t matter if we disagree; what is important is that we continue to respect each other.

No comments: