MMDA chief Tolentino running for senator

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino formally announced his candidacy for senator in 2016.

Speaking before some 100 leaders from his home province of Cavite on Tuesday, September 29, Tolentino said he had decided to accept the challenge to run for a Senate seat in next year's elections.

"I accept the challenge. I accept your endorsement and hereby declare my candidacy for senator. I will carry the flag of Cavite, knowing full well that our leaders will work hard not just for the province but for the country," he said.

The MMDA chairman had earlier been tightlipped on his plans for 2016, but he has been eyed to form part of the ruling Liberal Party (LP)'s senatorial slate.

Tolentino confirmed that he will be running under the LP. He will be submitting his resignation to President Benigno Aquino III "within the next few days," but he declined to name who could be his possible successor as MMDA chief.

The LP's national executive committee is scheduled to meet on Wednesday, September 30, to finalize their vice presidential bet and senatorial slate.

Prior to his announcement, several prominent Cavite politicians expressed their support for Tolentino.

Cavite Governor Jonvic Remulla said the province will rally behind Tolentino, whose younger brother, Abraham Tolentino, is the incumbent representative of the 7th district of Cavite.

"Ang Cavite nagkakaisa para kay Francis...Caviteño, obligasyon natin na ikampanya si Francis," Remulla said.

(Cavite is united behind Francis...Caviteños, it is our obligation to campaign for him.)

The Cavite governor also pointed out that the province's local leaders, who come from different political affiliations, disregarded party politics to support Tolentino.

Remulla himself said that while he will vote Tolentino for senator, he will be supporting the presidential bid of Vice President Jejomar Binay, who comes from the opposition United Nationalist Alliance.

Tolentino thanked the Caviteño politicians for uniting behind him in spite of their political allegiances.

"Lahat ng magkakatunggaling pamilya – Remulla, Revilla, Maliksi – lahat nagsama-sama para ipakita muli na ang Cavite ang nangungunang lalawigan ng Republika ng Pilipinas. At kahit anong kulay pa tayo, kapag ang pinag-uusapan na ang tama, ang karapatan ng nakararami, ang Cavite ang laging tatayo," he said.

If elected, Tolentino said, he would focus on the environmental issues. 

Tolentino's background 

Tolentino was former mayor of Tagaytay City from 1995-2004, which is under the 7th district of Cavite. The current mayor of the city is Agnes Tolentino, the MMDA chief's sister-in-law.

In 2010, Aquino appointed him to head the metro agency tasked to oversee the planning and development of the Philippine capital region. Among other things, the MMDA is tasked to oversee traffic management, flood control projects, urban renewal and land use planning, and public safety.

But it is in the area of traffic management that Tolentino gets the most attention – primarily because of the worsening congestion problem of Metro Manila. Experts say the massive traffic jams cost the Philippines P2.4 billion a day in productivity losses.

To solve this, the MMDA has attempted various solutions. Under Tolentino's term, the Pasig River Ferry was relaunched as an alternative form of transportation. The agency has also used social media to respond to motorists' concerns and provide real-time updates on the traffic situation.

But Tolentino has also drawn flak for failing to ease the paralyzing traffic jams, especially during sudden downpours.

On September 8, hundreds of commuters were left stranded and motorists spent the evening stuck on roads, after torrential rains caused flooding in many parts of the metro. Many frustrated commuters took to Twitter questioning the absence of MMDA personnel in manning the roads.

The hours-long traffic jams have also prompted the President to step in, deploying members of the Philippine National Police - Highway Patrol Group (PNP-HPG) to critical choke points along the major thoroughfare EDSA. Tolentino has said that it was his suggestion to deploy the HPG to instill discipline among drivers. 

In several hearings of the House committee on transportation, some lawmakers have also questioned the absence of the MMDA chief. In previous months, Tolentino has visited several provinces, but denied that he was campaigning and that he was using the agency's funds.

He has also shrugged off criticism against his alleged failure to solve the metro's traffic woes, saying that it was a complex problem that needed a whole-of-government approach.

In his speech before Cavite politicians, Tolentino highlighted the province's role in helping solve Metro Manila's problems. 

"The key to unemployment in Metro Manila is Cavite. The key to solving the traffic problem is to decongest Metro Manila and go southwards to Cavite...The key to the many problems of Manila lies in the heart of Cavite," he said. Rappler.com