As I See It

Mayor Lim: Urban renewal in Manila

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At last, Manila will get a new face. Its old and decaying areas will be refurbished to restore the city to its old glory.

This was revealed by Mayor Alfredo Lim at the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel last Monday. Also with the mayor were his vice mayoralty candidate in next year’s elections, actor Lou Veloso, and candidate for councilor (first district) Raffy Jimenez.

Mayor Lim talked about a lot of other things. (No, he is not going to file a disqualification case against former President Joseph Estrada even if Erap’s pardon is conditioned on his no longer participating in politics; yes, a new police policy would be to handcuff the hands of suspects behind their backs to avoid a repeat of the three instances of suspects trying to grab the service firearms of their police escorts, etc.) But his urban renewal plans took center stage at the forum.

Because Manila looks like a dishrag compared to its neighbors like Taguig, Makati, Pasig and Quezon City that have their tall gleaming condominiums and office buildings, Mayor Lim is embarking on urban renewal in his city. Downtown Manila, especially Rizal Avenue and Escolta, the former financial district of the Philippines, will be refurbished. He is toying with the idea of giving property owners in Manila tax incentives if they improve their properties.

Wherever possible, parking buildings will be provided to rid the streets of Manila of parked vehicles. Land developers would be encouraged to build hotels and other tourist-oriented buildings on Roxas Boulevard with its magnificent view of the Manila Bay sunset.

But the pearl of Lim’s urban renewal program is the development of the waterfront. The 59-hectare port area owned by the Philippine Ports Authority will be transformed into a new financial center with tall office buildings, hotels and restaurants and shops along the waterfront. A Korean consortium has proposed to undertake the development of the project with the cooperation of Philippine developers. The project will have a 101-storey building, the tallest in the Philippines. The Korean consortium is ready to spend $6 billion for the project. All that is needed is the consent and approval of the appropriate Philippine government agencies. President Aquino, Lim said, has already been briefed about the project and he likes the idea.

Lim showed the media people an enlarged artist’s rendition of the proposed Manila Financial Center. It showed tall buildings along the waterfront, with Intramuros in the background, and with piers with docked ships and Manila Bay in the foreground.

Lim also said that he is thinking of reviving the railroad tracks from the pier area to Caloocan so that cargoes from ships can be transported by rail out of the city and thus free narrow streets of giant container vans and cargo trucks. That would improve the traffic situation not only in Manila but also in the other cities of Metro Manila where these cargo trucks pass. Another plan is to divert cargo shipments to the Batangas port and limit South Harbor to cruise and other passenger ships.

The plan is similar to the waterfront development in Sydney, Australia. The waterfront has been transformed into a tourist destination now called The Rocks.

“The most valuable land in any country is the waterfront,” Lim said, “so why don’t we do something to realize the full potential of the waterfront?”

The planned project, Lim added, would generate tens of thousands of jobs for Filipinos—not only during the construction phase but also after its completion in the form of services to the many hotels, commercial and office buildings and residential condominiums. It would also earn huge incomes for the national and local governments.

The mayor said he has asked land developers why they are not constructing high-rise condos in Manila. They replied that an old Manila ordinance limits the height of buildings in Manila to nine storeys. With that limitation, the developers said they would lose money. Lim told them to follow the National Building Code which allows taller buildings. As a result, several condos will be constructed in selected areas of Manila, particularly in the Malate area.

On the Pandacan oil depot, Lim said he vetoed the city council resolution closing it because that would have increased the prices of petroleum products in Luzon. Without the depot, he said, long lines of tankers would have had to haul gasoline and other oil products from the refineries in Batangas and Bataan to other parts of Luzon. The cost of transportation would be added to the prices of the petroleum products. Furthermore, the fleet of big tankers would congest the highways. At present the refineries pump their gasoline to the Pandacan oil depot via pipes.

Lim will face former President Erap in the mayoralty elections next year. His running mate, actor Lou Veloso, the topnotcher among the present councilors, will face fellow actor and incumbent Vice Mayor Isko Moreno. It would be two fellow actors fighting for the vice mayorship of Manila.

“But Isko said he is more handsome than you,” somebody joked.

“I am also handsome,” Veloso shot back, “according to my mother.”

“Your mother loves you very much besides having poor eyesight,” the journalist joked again.

The young Raffy Jimenez, if he is elected councilor, will represent Tondo, the poorest of Manila’s six districts and the most in need of urban renewal. Asked what he would do to his district if elected, Jimenez replied that unlike the councilors of Quezon City, Manila councilors have no pork barrel and so there would not be much money for public works in his district.

“But I will do my best to improve the lives of my constituents, give them more jobs and better housing, etc.” Jimenez replied.

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