It seems that newly installed Manila Mayor Isko Moreno has launched what could be a revolutionary era in the Philippines’ capital city. One of Moreno’s first acts was to clean up the popular shopping district of Divisoria of illegal street vendors. Initially dismissed as just another routine stunt any average newly-elected mayor would mount during their honeymoon period with their constituents, many have now expressed strong support for a renewed focus on consistent application of the law that does not discriminate on the basis of mere need.
As expected, the usual lot of left-leaning “thought leaders” are up in arms spewing “humanitarian” appeals meant to emotionally blackmail people who would otherwise invoke the law as a strong call to action. One such appeal is expressed in a tweet by Inquirer columnist Gideon Lasco who denounced this consistent application of the law as detrimental to people who “resort to informal jobs like street vending because they have little choice.”
Since that first impressive demonstration of a rare resolve to act on obvious problems that have plagued Manila for decades, there has been an outpouring of sentiment to the contrary. Over the last several days, Moreno has been inundated on Twitter by messages of support as well as suggestions and recommendations. Such is the outpouring of unprecedented civic engagement that a new complaints desk where people could formally lodge their requests for action was opened.
Mayor @IskoMoreno has ordered the creation of a complaint desk where Manileños’ grievances will be heard directly by the local government.
— Manila Public Information Office (@ManilaPIO) July 6, 2019
It is, of course, early days and Moreno still has lots to prove, specifically demonstrate that he is able to sustain this excellent focus over the long haul. More importantly, he needs to build the badly-needed administrative infrastructure to professionalise urban planning and government in the Philippines’ premier metropolis. This includes the tough task of rooting out corruption from the bureaucracy and implementing a fair and unpoliticised system for prioritising public works and development initiatives.
It can be done. World history is no slouch when it comes to providing examples of success stories along these lines. Manhattan’s Mulberry Street, for example, was once a similar teeming cesspool as recently as the 1900s.
Today it has been long “cleaned up” and still retains its retail charm and bustle.
Indeed, what evokes such strong sentiment over Moreno’s clean up of Divisoria was the stark difference to — regarded by many as an improvement over — the way things were. To be fair, Divisoria’s street market has a charm and dynamism that somehow needs to be preserved even as much-needed order is established there.
As always, balance is key to any successful undertaking and urban renewal and development is not exempt from that rule. Moreno and Manileños should take a balanced perspective in this promising revolution this new city government may have started. Keep what works and change what doesn’t.
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