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MANILA, Philippines – They first tangled in the 1998 presidential race: one was former President Corazon Aquino’s Robocop and the other, an action star who rose to mythical status parlaying Manila’s hoodlums behind the silver screen.
That time, Alfredo Lim was Manila’s tough-talking mayor and Joseph Estrada, then vice president, had re-invented himself as an anti-crime czar. Separately, they struck fear among criminal elements—the former littering Manila’s streets with dead bodies of suspected criminals and the latter, targeting rogues in uniform.
Already on his second term as Manila mayor, Lim surprised everyone when he made a last-minute decision to contest the presidency, with no less than Aquino as his main endorser. But this time, the Cory Magic failed. Estrada was simply too popular, running away with the presidency like it was his destiny.
Eventually, the two would strike a friendship that quickly would soon be tested.
Estrada appointed him as interior secretary, but Lim defected to the opposition as Estrada’s government tumbled in 2001 following EDSA 2.
It wouldn’t be the first time that Lim would turn his back on Estrada.
Sometime in 2003, Estrada and Lim mended their broken fences through the intercession of retired Gen. Roberto Calinisan. Eyeing a comeback in politics, “Lim begged to be included in the senatorial lineup. Thus, he was accepted in the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino,” Estrada’s party, said someone in the know.
Lim won a Senate seat in 2004, but soon realized that legislative work was not his thing. He quit in the middle of his senatorial term in 2007 and asked Estrada for his support to contest the mayoral race in Manila.
It was a merging of vested interests.
Lim wanted to re-claim Manila, but Mayor Lito Atienza, who was already on his last term, was fielding his youngest son, Ali.
As for Estrada, in exchange for his support, he wanted a guarantee that a company his family favored would corner the garbage collection contract in Manila’s two districts, says a source from Lim’s camp. Lim made a deal.
Estrada even gave up his political party’s presidency to Lim.
With Estrada behind his back, Lim clobbered the younger Atienza.
Souring of relations
But cracks on the renewed Estrada-Lim friendship started to show up shortly after Lim assumed the mayoralty in 2007. Calinisan resigned as Lim’s consultant for security and police affairs.
Reportedly, Lim reneged on his promise to Estrada to absorb some National Police members who were jobless. He also reneged on a promise to give the garbage collection contract to Estrada’s, a source close to Estrada relates.
In 2008, Lim was kicked out as president of PMP, with Estrada re-assuming that post. Just before the 2010 elections, Lim jumped ship to the Liberal Party for his re-election bid. With the popular Benigno Aquino III behind him, Lim was able to repulse Lito Atienza’s attempted comeback.
The victory made Lim the only Manila mayor to win under 3 different political parties – the People’s Reform Party in 1992, the PMP in 2007, and the LP in 2010.
City legal officer Renato dela Cruz says Lim and Calinisan had a falling out when the mayor found out that Calinisan collected money from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) without Lim’s knowledge. Pagcor remits P10 million monthly to city hall to support the city government’s social services.
Dela Cruz says Calinisan was able to secure from Pagcor an additional P3 million, supposedly on the mayor’s behest, to support a foundation. The mayor found this out after the Commission on Audit sought liquidation for the money. “We filed estafa and malversation of public funds against Calinisan,” he said.
As for the garbage contract, Dela Cruz says the city government has a standing contract with Leonel Waste Management Corp. Giving the garbage contract collection in two districts (Manila has six districts) as Estrada had supposedly asked, would be tantamount to sub-contracting. “This would be in violation of our contract with Leonel.”
Preparing for war
Estrada is known to forgive, but not forget. What better way to get revenge than to take away Manila from Lim and send him to permanent retirement?
But first, he had to deal with Atienza, who was also eyeing a rematch with Lim in 2013.
The former 3-term mayor says that, early last year, he and Estrada “had a good talk. He wanted to find out what my plans were (for the midterm polls). He asked me to give way and allow him to fight Lim.” Atienza and Estrada have remained good friends despite finding themselves on opposite sides of the fence during the Arroyo administration.
Atienza, whose relationship with Lim was never cordial even when he was Lim’s running mate and his vice mayor for two terms, weighed Estrada’s offer. If he runs, there would be a 3-cornered fight. That would only benefit Lim since he enjoyed the advantage of being the incumbent.
Lim defeated Atienza in the 2010 polls by a lead of more than 214,000 votes. The former mayor alleged massive rigging in the automated polls. Atienza’s logic was Lim could not have beaten him handily. “He won over Ali by 80,000 votes [in 2007]. How could he have defeated me with more than 200,000 votes? I was carried by the Iglesia ni Cristo, the El Shaddai, the Baptists and Pro-lIfe groups.”
With the now ruling LP behind Lim, Atienza calculated the risk. For the sake of Manila, he said Lim should be ousted, and Estrada, who had shown he is still a political force to reckon with following a strong showing in the 2010 presidential race, had the bigger chances.
In a way, Lim and Estrada share one common character: they do not get angry, they just get even. Atienza had experienced this first hand.
After assuming office in 2007, Lim began dismantling Atienza’s development projects by simply neglecting them. In Atienza’s words: “It is as if he wanted to erase my legacy.”
Lim dismantled the business establishments along Manila bay and snuffed out the life on Baywalk along Roxas Boulevard, which was Atienza’s anchor for the re-development of the Malate district.
Lim also refused to fund other redevelopment projects – like the lighting of bridges, fountains, and parks – that Atienza initiated to revive Manila’s old glory. Critics say Manila under Lim is “Madilim” (an obvious play on his surname), which means dim or shady.
To be sure, Lim was just in character, critics point out. They recall the time when Lim first became mayor in 1992. He padlocked the girlie joints in Malate and Ermita, without any alternative program for the affected establishments.
The once lively red light district lost its luster. Lim cited morality in padlocking the girlie joints, but refused to lift a finger when bodies – obviously victims of summary executions by the police – began littering Manila.
Manila councilors opposed to Lim say the mayor has no clear vision for the city, no sense of urban development, and that they could no longer allow Manila to further decay.
They lament that under Lim, the city of Manila had fallen in disarray, validated by the results of the Department of the Interior and Local Government’s Local Governance Performance Management System (LGPMS), which showed Manila as third to the last among 38 cities surveyed.
In the LGPMS, San Juan City – ruled by Estrada and members of his family for decades – topped the list, followed by Puerto Princesa. The LGPMS is a way of measuring an LGU in terms of financial accountability, economic management, and other key aspects of governance.
The councilors also point to the fact that, ironically under Lim, Manila has dislodged Quezon City as the “carnapping capital of the Philippines.”
Too, the capital city is now supposedly bankrupt, with total debts amounting to P3.5 billion. Vice Mayor Isko Moreno, Estrada’s running mate, says Manila owes Meralco hundreds of millions in unpaid electricity bills.
Lim’s chief of staff, Ric de Guzman, said the mayor is focused on improving health, education, and the peace and order situation. “We were able to build two new hospitals and additional school buildings,” De Guzman says. “We do not care what they say. We just do our work.”
100 percent confident
At 83, Lim could very well be doing his last political stint in 2013. On the other hand, Estrada, 76, obviously wants to cap his political career with his greatest real-life performance, after getting convicted for plunder, having been pardoned, and incurring his first electoral defeat in the 2010 presidential race.
Who’s got the upper hand?
De Guzman says Lim’s camp is “100 percent confident” that the incumbent will have his last and third term, citing his performance so far. Atienza, however, disagrees, saying Lim has the tendency “to believe his own press releases.”
In the 7-cornered fight for city hall in 2010, Lim got almost half a million votes, or 60 percent of the votes cast. Estrada on the other hand, got 214, 517 votes in Manila, second to Aquino’s 298, 217 votes, in a 10-cornered fight for the presidency.
Political observers say Estrada’s pro-poor stance and charisma will carry him to city hall, and with the support of the majority of the councilors, he’ll have a walk in the park. Out of the 38 councilors, Lim could only count 9 as his allies.
Moreno says Lim’s insecurity about Estrada is showing. When the mayor clamped down on the bingo activities being sponsored by opposition councilors, it was a sign that the mayor is panicking. “Lim is targeting us, instead of the President. He cannot attack President Estrada directly.”
But Estrada is handicapped by the perception that he is not a true Manileño, an interloper who just wants to expand the Estrada political empire into Manila, although he was born in Manila and had launched significant political activities in Tondo in the last several years.
Some Manileños express the view that they would vote for someone who is truly from the city, rather than someone who has only taken residence a year before the elections to comply with rules on eligibility. From San Juan, Estrada supposedly has moved to Altura in Sta. Mesa.
If he wins, Estrada has assured Moreno that he will only serve for one-term – or 3 years – and pass the mantle on to his running mate. But Atienza downplays such pre-election agreements. He recalled that when he and Lim ran together in 1992, Lim also promised to serve for only one term, but went on to run for two more terms.
Atienza also pointed out that Estrada must have continuity in order to achieve a significant impact in Manila. Serving for only one term may not be enough.
But first, Estrada should win the elections. Will Asiong Salonga triumph over Dirty Harry? The box office tally on May 13 will reveal who reigns supreme in Manila. – Rappler.com
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