Editorial

Messy Manila politics

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A day after election candidates in Manila signed a “peace covenant,” reelectionist Mayor Alfredo Lim declared war on reelectionist Vice Mayor Francisco Domagoso and five councilors by having them arrested. Their alleged crime: engaging in “illegal gambling” by sponsoring a bingo game that drew some 500 people in the Blumentritt area.

Domagoso (aka the actor Isko Moreno) is the running mate of Lim’s main challenger, former President Joseph Estrada. He was arrested by members of the Manila Police District along with the councilors who are also Estrada allies.

Supt. Ricardo Layug, commander of the Quiapo police station, said Domagoso et al. were held for illegal gambling because they organized and attended a bingo session in Barangay Tambunting. But maybe because they had watched too much TV, the team that swooped down on the quite-innocent-looking bingo session included the MPD’s Special Weapons and Tactics unit. Domagoso later said he and the others were manhandled by the arresting team.

Estrada denounced the incident as “pure political harassment,” but Layug said “nobody ordered us” to make the arrest. Lim likewise denied having ordered the arrest, but well… A police officer also complained that Estrada had punched him, a claim that the man who immortalized the gangster Asiong Salonga on the silver screen dismissed with a vintage sneer.

If the incidents seem to be playing out like the tired scenario of a B movie, it is not only because many of the players come from show biz but also because they do not seem capable of anything loftier. They are not even capable of good behavior because that would be boring to those who demand song and dance in this silly season. In the true tradition of Manila politics, they have to hurl mud at each other, wrestle in the slime, and generally make fools of themselves, ostensibly for the benefit of the taumbayan.

The back story of the dramatis personae also reads like show biz, with the two men contesting the mayor’s seat once thick as thieves. And the incumbent mayor and vice mayor, now belonging to opposing camps, were on duty at the time of the botched Luneta hostage incident in 2010, which resulted in the killing of a number of Hong Kong tourists and humiliated the Philippines before the world.

Meanwhile, Manila goes under the gun. Despite Lim’s police background, the city is riding the crest of a crime wave. Not even the tacky lampposts of all shapes, sizes and contortions that have been put up by the mayor are scaring criminals from preying on victims under the cloak of night. (At any rate, many of the lampposts are useless, the bulbs being busted or stolen by petty thieves. At any rate, too, criminals are truly brazen nowadays and operate in broad daylight.)

The creeping menace can be seen in the petty crime victimizing students in the University Belt and the outright robbery in shopping districts. But despite this, police visibility is barely there. At one time, it was reported that President Aquino checked on the tourist police precinct on Roxas Boulevard and found it locked; the policeman on duty was nowhere. Perhaps he was taking a break in one of the bars in Ermita, taking to heart the slogan that it’s more fun in the Philippines?

Meanwhile, too, Manila sinks. Perhaps because of the effects of climate change compounding the city’s characteristic topography, the flooding has become worse. But city authorities and the public works people have not responded well.

Amid the shortsighted public works and unimaginative urban planning, Lim and his city council have passed an ordinance to reclaim portions of Manila Bay—a move that is roundly opposed by Manila residents and business enterprises. It’s just about the only thing the city’s politicians can agree on: Reclaim the bay, widen the ugly concrete landscape, and inflict on the environment more of the same dirty politics, poor public administration and unimaginative urban planning that have made once proud Manila a seedy capital.

Will its messy politics and the May elections result in pushing it further to seed?

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