January 2007
Good (Local) Governance

Marikina’s (not-so-perfect) makeover

BIKE-FRIENDLY CITY. Marikina is the only city in Metro Manila with an extensive network of bicycle lanes. [photos by Isa Lorenzo]

ON THE surface, Marikina looks like any other city in Metro Manila. But after a few minutes of just standing there, many of the things that set it apart from most of its neighbors become apparent: In Marikina, people actually use the pedestrian lanes. Public utility vehicles give way instead of bullying cars and jeepneys off to the side. There is no trash clogging the gutters and no stray animals wander around. And among Metro Manila cities, Marikina is the only one with an extensive network of bicycle lanes.

Most of its residents also say they are proud of their city. In 2001, Marikina topped a report card survey conducted by the Development Academy of the Philippines. The survey measured citizens’ level of satisfaction with the local government’s delivery of public services in nine Metro Manila cities that included Quezon City, Pasig, Manila, Makati, Parañaque, Pasay, Muntinlupa, and Mandaluyong. Marikina gained the highest satisfaction rating from its constituents and ranked first in public safety, garbage disposal, public market management, and permits and licensing.

Marikina lies in a valley about 21 kilometers from Manila, with mountain ranges for borders and a river that cuts through one side. An estimated 457,722 people live in 16 barangays spread out on 2,150 hectares of land.

Many believe it was because of his success in transforming Marikina from a muddy, crime-infested municipality to a multi-awarded city that Bayani Fernando was able to clinch his current post as chief of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA). Fernando — better known as ‘BF’ among Marikeños — was elected mayor in 1992 and served for three consecutive terms. His wife Maria Lourdes Carlos Fernando or ‘MCF’ succeeded him in 2001, and is expected to run for her third and last term in the May elections.

Like her husband, MCF has grand plans for Marikina, which she envisions of becoming a “little Singapore.” But to achieve this goal, the city must increase its revenues and hurdle obstacles such as a high unemployment rate and traffic congestion. MCF will also have to contend with distractions like the 14 cases of graft the Ombudsman has filed against her. (Husband BF himself has been charged with 20 cases of graft and corruption before the Ombudsman.)

The Fernandos’ critics say the couple has not really transformed Marikina, but has given it a mere cosmetic makeover. Yet while it’s quite clear that the city still suffers from several pockmarks, deep creases, and other blemishes, it’s hard to convince many Marikeños that the changes it has undergone are just skin-deep.

Chemical engineer Lani Cortes, who has lived in Marikina for the last 35 years, admits that she doesn’t particularly enjoy being perennially stuck in traffic, which is one of the city’s chronic problems. But she says that as far she is concerned, no other mayor has achieved what the Fernandos — BF in particular — have.

“Since I was small, I’ve seen the progression of flood levels in our street along with other streets,” says Cortes. “Now it’s zero, except for low-lying areas.”

Location map of Marikina City courtesy of Wikipedia

For an interactive map of the city, click HERE.

Mayor MCF, meanwhile, says she still has vivid memories of what Marikina looked like when she moved there as a young bride in 1987. “Marikina at the time was underdeveloped, like a dirty province, the crime rate was high,” recalls MCF, who had bowed to the wishes of BF to live in the place where he grew up. “There was a lot of grass, and the river was filled with trash. You needed to wear boots to the market because the mud was three inches deep. So every time you (took a) step, you would sink in the mud.”

Today the public market is divided by a road into wet and dry sections, with a food lab nearby for residents who want to test the cleanliness of their purchases. Even the surrounding carinderias (small eateries) are clean. According to the city government, Marikina has a 100-percent garbage collection efficiency rate.

THE CITY’S clean-and-green program is just one of the initiatives of the city government that have won Marikina recognition from bodies like the Galing Pook Foundation, which gives out awards for good local governance every year. The foundation — actually part of an international network that promotes good governance — inducted Marikina into its Hall of Fame after the city racked up six citations for programs that include the Five-Minute Quick Response Time, Squatter-Free Marikina, Barangay Talyer, and Disiplina sa Bangketa. Apparently, though, Marikina’s being a Hall of Famer did not stop Galing Pook from giving it yet another award in 2005, this time for its bicycle program.

Every three years, Galing Pook conducts a tracer program on cities that have been inducted into its Hall of Fame. Marikina has been able to sustain and expand its awarded programs, according to the foundation.

MODERN MARKET. Shoppers walk along the road that separates wet and dry goods in Marikina’s public market.

VIEW a slideshow of images of Marikina.

Marikina excels because the city has a clear vision, says Galing Pook program officer Pamela Grafilo. “They have very clear ideas how to get there,” she says, “and they have prepared the bureaucracy to get here.”

BF developed the work values of discipline, good taste and excellence in city hall employees, according to a management case, “The Internal Assessment of Marikina City”, by Asian Institute of Management graduate Daniel del Rosario. BF also endorsed certain criteria for prioritizing the city’s programs: Projects should have maximum impact on the community, be sustainable and cost-effective, and able to be accomplished by the local administration.

MCF says that during his first term, BF was able to double the city’s income from P77.4 million to P154.8 million by cracking down on residents who weren’t paying taxes.

Local and international financial institutions have also helped in Marikina’s development. The city has borrowed P400 million from the Development Bank of the Philippines for various infrastructure projects, as well as P98.5 million from the Philippine Veteran’s Bank. The National Home Mortgage Finance Corporation (NHMC) has also financed a medium-rise housing project. The construction of the city’s public market was funded by the World Bank, while its food safety program was financed by the World Health Organization.

MCF says that international financial institutions have “only helped us as far as capability-building is concerned.” She says that the grants are rather limited, and cannot pay for several multimillion-peso infrastructure projects that the city government thinks Marikina needs.

Still, the city has already done some of the most important infrastructure projects. BF, for instance, began Marikina’s flood-control project in 1992, with an average annual budget of P43 million. To reduce flooding, the city paved roads, demolished obstructions caused by illegal settlers, and conducted massive dredging operations. More than 27 percent of Marikina was classified as a flooded area in 1994, with an average of 1,045 homes exposed to flooding. Ten years later, less than 20 percent was inundated, and only 479 homes were still at risk from flooding.

One of the city’s perennial flooding risks is the Marikina River, which longtime resident Cortes says used to look like a dumping ground for dead bodies. By 1995, however, Marikina had won a Galing Pook award for its Save the Marikina River program.

These days, many residents have taken up the habit of going on long, leisurely strolls along the riverbank. And while an elderly pedestrian comments that the river has not been clear since 1973, there are many ripples in the brown water. This means that there are fish in the river. There is no noticeable stench, and only a few pieces of trash drift by.

REVIVING MARIKINA’S economy, however, has proved much harder than reviving the river. For all the Fernandos’ much-vaunted managerial skills, unemployment in Marikina remains high. At 17 percent as of 2005, the city’s jobless rate is more than double the national unemployment rate of seven percent.

REVITALIZED RIVER. Many Marikina residents now walk along the riverbank in the morning.

VIEW a slideshow of images of Marikina.

MCF admits that the city needs to improve on its economic opportunities. “The only way we can do that is to enhance the business climate in Marikina,” she says. “So as long as businesses start to come in, then we’ll have more jobs.”

But that may take some doing. Once the country’s shoe capital, Marikina is now counting on call centers and shopping malls to generate new jobs. There used to be over a thousand shoe factories in Marikina, says former vice mayor Benjamin Molina Jr. Molina’s great grandfather, Don Laureano Guevarra, pioneered Marikina’s shoe industry. In 2005, there were only 267 registered shoe manufacturers in the city.

MCF says manufacturing industries like shoemaking have suffered due to a lack of national government will to stop smuggling. “We already put a watchdog in customs under the city government’s payroll, but he can’t stop rampant smuggling,” she says. “We have to go to areas where we believe we have a strength, and call centers are definitely one of them.”

That may help explain why veteran shoemaker Florino Santiago says his business has not been getting any support from the local government — save from his store being one of the stops in the city-organized Lakbay-Aral educational tour. His whole family used to be into shoemaking, but now he is the only one still doggedly at it. Santiago says he now earns more from his small pansitan (noodlehouse) than his shoe business.

The city government, however, does offer many training and livelihood programs under its Center for Excellence. Residents can enroll in short courses on appliance repair and dressmaking. The city also offers P5,000 loans to residents, but MCF says that it would be better for would-be entrepreneurs to gain experience in their chosen field and save up for their capital instead of borrowing it.

For sure, though, Marikina’s unemployment rate can be traced partly to its rapidly increasing population. In the last few years alone, Marikina has had to create two new barangays: Fortune in 2004, and Tumana last year. The latter’s population is estimated to be 45,000. But Marikina seems to keep on getting more and more new settlers each year because of the possibility of employment in other nearby cities — as well as its homegrown good points like cleanliness and orderliness.

Unfortunately, many newcomers wind up in illegal settlements. In 1995, a third of Marikina’s population, or 13,441 families, were squatters, according a 1998 study by the Ateneo School of Governance. This was even if two years earlier, BF had established the Marikina Settlements Office (MSO), in an effort to make the city squatter-free.

The MSO conducted a survey of squatter families and purchased six sites to serve as resettlement areas. Under a community mortgage system, families were given the opportunity to buy 24-square-meter lots with funds from the National Home Mortgage Financing Corporation. Other families have been relocated in a settlement site in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan, according to Marikina’s 2005 annual report.

MCF says that the program is 80-percent complete. There are a “few major snags,” including legal problems with some of the resettlement properties that seem to be owned by several people. In the Ateneo study, the Commission on Human Rights also scored the Marikina government for failing to hold dialogues with residents before demolishing their houses. The city government says that the demolitions were legal.

Next year, a community residence office will be established in place of the MSO. MCF, meanwhile, says that the continuing flow of migrants into Marikina can mean opportunities for legal homeowners to put up spaces in their houses for rent. But, she says, Marikina is closed to new squatters.

GALING POOK’S Grafilo says Marikina’s policies are effective because of the local government’s political will and consistency in implementing these. “When they say we’re gonna clean up streets and put the sidewalks in order, they mean it,” she says, adding that Marikina practices a top-down style of governance that emphasizes discipline and adherence to rules.

In Barangay Tumana, however, some sidewalk obstructions are creeping back. A fruit stand spills over into the sidewalk, while a man selling fish sets up shop right in the middle of a sidestreet.

Therese Calo, a trainor for the Mother Earth Foundation, also says residual waste, such as plastic and slippers, are still dumped at a site in Doña Petra Subdivision in Barangay Concepcion Uno three times a week. The dumpsite, which is about 250 meters away from the river, was closed in 2004 — nine years after the Laguna Lake Development Authority issued a series of cease-and-desist orders regarding its use. But Calo notes that the city has also established a material recovery facility (MRF) at Doña Petra, as mandated by law. Each of Marikina’s 16 barangays also has an MRF.

In the meantime, several Commission on Audit (COA) reports indicate that the Fernando-led Marikina city government’s record may be far from spotless. A special audit report the agency conducted in 2002, for instance, revealed questionable transactions undertaken by the local government that involved millions of pesos. This included irregularities in the awarding of contracts for school buildings, the unnecessary hiring of a consultant, the procurement of deformed steel bars, and the illegal purchase of personalized notebooks and school bags.

Marikina has also won awards for local budget administration, yet COA reports reveal that the accuracy of property, plant, and equipment accounts totaling over a billion pesos have been in question since the year 2000, due to the improper maintenance of property, plant, and equipment ledger cards.

Too, despite a 2002 city ordinance, the Central Barangay Accounting Unit remains uninstalled, according to a 2005 COA report. The agency cites as well discrepancies in Marikina’s year-end balance of inventories, and says the Marikina Hotel, which the city government bought and developed for P30 million, has failed to attract customers since it opened in 2003 due to its “limited facilities, lack of amenities, and technological innovations normally available in city hotels, thus resulting to low revenue generation.”

In 2005, in fact, the hotel incurred a net loss of over P300,000. But MCF says that the hotel’s success is not just a matter of the bottom line assessed in the audit report. Although the hotel still lacks amenities, she points out that it is used by participants in a hotel and restaurant administration program that is conducted by the city.

MCF is believed to be a shoo-in for re-election. Perhaps, to Marikeños, it’s not a matter of the Fernandos being incapable of doing anything wrong, but of their having been able to do many things right. Of course, such an attitude may backfire on the Marikeños in the long run. Still, Grafilo says that at the very least, the systems, mechanisms, and processes the Fernandos helped put together and that have made Marikina a model of good governance will continue — even with a change of leadership.