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An ‘old-fashioned’ campaign for Lim

He promises a good, old-fashioned campaign, the third he will mount for his second round as mayor of Manila, and perhaps his last hurrah in electoral politics. Although, as Ate Vi once famously said, “you can never can tell” when it comes to Manila Mayor Fred Lim, who is in his 80s but has the looks, stance and memory of a man many decades younger.

“My opponents will probably mount large rallies,” he says when asked if he will be “running scared” next year, against a most formidable opponent, a former President no less. “But that has never been my style,” he declares. Instead, as has been his wont, during the campaign period, “I spend each morning going from house to house, especially in the urban poor areas. Many people there tell me I am the only candidate who goes around their area on foot, knocking on doors.”

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And when noontime comes round, he stops at a convenient corner sari-sari store, orders canned goods, bread, drinks and snacks and feeds the hungry horde accompanying him on his walk-through.

“In the afternoon,” he adds, “I like to go on a ‘motorcade.’” But instead of driving around in expensive, gas-guzzling vehicles (“mahal na ang gasolina,” he quips), he prefers to roam around in a calesa, a horse-drawn carriage. “There are many advantages,” he tells the women of the Bulong Pulungan at Sofitel, a weekly media gathering, in going around in such a rudimentary form of transport. “You don’t move too fast, and the people can follow you on foot. You can gather quite a crowd by the time you reach your destination.”

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Indeed, by the time next year’s campaign draws to a close, promises Mayor Lim, “you would have seen me in only two rallies: the proclamation rally where I will announce my lineup, and, of course, the miting de avance,” held on the eve of voting.

Maybe we’ll know if Fred Lim is “running scared” only if he changes his “old-fashioned” style, driving around in fancy SUVs (or colorful jeepneys) and holding frenetic rallies, left and right.

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If he wins, it will be Mayor Lim’s third term as mayor of Manila, an occasion to punctuate many decades’ worth of public service, since he began as a humble foot patrolman when his hair hadn’t yet turned platinum.

Which may be why the accusation that he ran Manila to the ground during the last six years rankles the usually calm mayor. To accusations that the city has been left “bankrupt,” he challenges accusers: “How can a bankrupt city continue to build hospitals in all the districts of Manila, build school buildings such that there are no shortages of classrooms in the city, and provide ‘womb to tomb’ services for citizens?”

“Womb to tomb” is not just a rhyming slogan. For Lim it is very much a reality. “When a woman in Manila gets pregnant, she can avail herself of prenatal services for free in our health clinics. When she has to deliver, she can do so for free in any of our public hospitals. Children and adults get free health services, whatever their age. We provide free nursery, grade school and high school education. And if a youth wants to go to college, we have two universities (Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila—for honor graduates—and the City University of Manila) that do not charge tuition or other fees. When you get sick, you get free treatment and even medicines in city hospitals, and when you die, you can even avail yourself of a free casket (‘rescued’ from those who prefer cremation at the city crematorium), free funeral services and even free cremation or burial.”

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Mayor Lim brought with him City Treasurer Marisa de Guzman to explain the situation that led to the charge that Manila is currently “bankrupt.” “No truth to the matter,” said De Guzman, who, Lim hastened to clarify, is not his appointee and who falls under the supervision of the Department of Finance.

The shortfall in the city’s finances, said De Guzman, resulted from several lawsuits where “big” companies were able to win tax breaks from the city. As a result, Manila faced a deficit, and to meet all its budgeted expenses, Mayor Lim met with his department heads, including Vice Mayor Isko Moreno who presides over the City Council, to trim their employee rolls, starting with “casuals,” consultants and advisers. But Moreno and the councilors, said Lim, refused to submit the names of staff to be stricken off the payroll.

“When I learned that the practice before was for the paymaster to simply turn over the amount for the salaries of councilors’ staff to the councilors, I issued an order requiring all the council staff to join the other City Hall employees in lining up each pay day to collect and sign for their salaries,” said the Mayor. But strangely, none of the councilors’ staff turned up to get their salaries, leading to the suspicion that many of them may have been simply “ghost” employees. “Have you checked the signatures they were submitting before?” I asked. To that, the Mayor simply smiled and said: “That’s our next step.”

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Despite being “just” a city mayor, albeit of the nation’s capital, Mayor Lim has been a national political figure. In fact, one of his messages at the media gathering was to invite everyone to the observance of the third death anniversary of the late “democracy icon,” former President Cory Aquino.

“The best President the country ever had,” he declared unabashedly when asked what he thought of “Tita Cory.” Even better than her son, the current President?

“History will judge P-Noy,” Lim said. “But I can promise you one thing: President Noynoy will never be involved in a huge corruption scandal. He has a legacy to live up to.” And maybe, so does Alfredo Lim.

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TAGS: Alfredo Lim, election campaign, featured column, politics
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