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The Transformer

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MMDA chairman Bayani Fernando is bent on changing the metro, even if it means knocking over the people in his way.

If the striking pink color doesn’t get your attention, then the sign screaming “Walang Tawiran, Nakamamatay” (No Crossing, Deadly) probably will.

Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) signs may be pink, but they´re far from being sweet to those planning to break the law.

MMDA chairman Bayani “BF” Fernando and his signs have gotten their share of attention for changes implemented in the metro. Known for his strict rules and controversial projects, BF proves that he will do what he thinks is right, regardless of what people say about him.

And Metro Manila residents do have a lot to say about BF. Some admire his political will; others call him a tyrant and a dictator. He has even been labeled anti-poor. The comments seem lost on Fernando, however, as he continues to be headstrong about changing the nation´s capital.

Make Over

Physical transformation leads to social reorientation. This, in a nutshell, is BF´s philosophy. At the Anvil Exchange Forum, the chairman explained this was how he changed Marikina City.

When he became its mayor in 1992, BF wasted no time reconstructing the once sleepy municipality into what it is now. In Marikina, which became a city in 1996, roads were fixed, sidewalks were cleared of obstructions, drainage systems and garbage collection were improved, and 30,000 squatter families near the river were relocated. The city´s river was also cleaned and its bank was later made into a recreational site.

By changing the environment, the former mayor believes he instilled order and discipline among residents. Fernando says, “What I did is a full exercise of political will. In Marikina you will not be allowed entry into the city hall if you’re wearing slippers. You have to be properly dressed.”

Today, Marikina is included in the list of cleanest, most progressive, and business-friendly cities in the country.

Pretty in Pink
What he did in Marikina, he now does in the rest of Metro Manila. Appointed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as MMDA chairman in 2002, BF aims to add order to the metro’s chaotic urban jungle.

The first order of business was to fix one of the biggest problems in the country´s capital: traffic jams.

To improve traffic flow, the chairman closed off intersections, replacing them with U-turn slots. He installed fences, separators, and concrete barriers to keep public and private vehicles in their proper lanes. He also built foot bridges to keep pedestrians from jaywalking and ensure their safety.

To add color to the otherwise dreary urban atmosphere, Fernando also painted the city pink. Pink signs, walkways, and urinals have mushroomed all over the metropolis. “In the pink of health,” a slogan he also used in his days as Marikina mayor, inspired the color choice.

He also launched “Metro Gwapo,” a program aimed at sprucing up the capital to attract investors. Fernando told Anvil members and guests that by cleaning the metro, he didn’t just want to lure businesses into the country´s economic center, he also wanted to encourage residents to become more productive and disciplined.

According to Fernando, “Metro Gwapo is Tao Ganado. It means we inspire, we energize our people so [they] can become more productive.”

Waiting Game
Although Chairman Fernando’s projects seem sound and practical, implementing them is a different story altogether. Often, changes are met with resistance. People objected when Fernando put U-turns along major thoroughfares. Motorists complained that the concrete barriers caused too many accidents. Other critics just couldn’t stand the look of the pink urinals.

Faced with mounting complaints, BF remains patient. The chairman says it usually takes two weeks for people to either get used to changes—like what the MMDA did in Edsa—or get tired of complaining. He advises leaders to wait things out and just accept all the brickbats. He adds, “You [must] know how to deal with the media and your public. And one thing the public doesn’t like to see is someone who loses his temper easily.”

One strong criticism against BF, which led many to believe he is anti-poor, is his harsh treatment of vendors blocking sidewalks and squatters clogging up sewers and waterways. BF, however, is not one to budge.

MMDA teams carrying sledgehammers have been caught on camera smashing sidewalk stalls or pouring kerosene over confiscated wares to make sure the vendors won´t sell them again. Shanties are shown being violently demolished despite pleas from displaced families. Critics see all these as human rights violations and have castigated the chairman for his ruthless enforcement of the law.

But Fernando sees the measures as necessary to Metro Manila’s development. On his being anti-poor, he waxes rhetorical: “As a leader, I cannot cry with the poor for if my eyes are blinded by tears, how will I lead them out of poverty?”

Whether or not BF´s projects could really solve destitution is a question for both critics and fans. Is cleaning the metro really enough to change society or is it simply an attempt to hide the grime of poverty from public view?

Despite their harsh words, even his most ardent critics have to admit that change is still possible. If nothing else, it shows that Metro Manila is not stuck in a rut and could one day take a big step towards development.

Print ed: 05/09


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