2 APRIL 2007
Binay's son, Jejomar Erwin or Junjun, 29, who began his political career as Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) official at the age of 15, is now a councilor of the city's first district and is running for reelection. Binay's wife, Elenita, warmed the mayoralty seat for the family patriarch for three years after he reached his term limit in 1998. For a man orphaned at a young age and worked hard to go through law school, activism and then, politics, life has indeed changed radically for Jojo Binay. He exudes power and shows he can keep and expand his political clout — by fielding his wife and children in elections.
Binay dismisses accusations that he is building a political dynasty in the country's financial and business capital. Instead, he sees his family's efforts to add on to its political strength as proof of a healthy democracy. "Hindi ako naniniwala sa dynasty-dynasty na iyan (I don't believe in that dynasty thing)," he says. "Where's the spirit of democracy if there's a prohibition (to run) based on family relations?"
"Jojo really loves politics," says former Senator Rene Saguisag, Binay's long-time friend and fellow human rights lawyer with the Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity and Nationalism (MABINI). The two forged a friendship in the turbulent milieu of the '70s. But while Saguisag shunned public office after his "transitional stint" in the Senate in 1992, Binay gleefully soaked up being a bigshot in Makati's politics. When Binay reached the limit of three consecutive terms in office, he campaigned for his wife to take his place. She served for one term and then Binay took another shot at his old post. He is now the longest-serving mayor of Makati since 1901, with a total of 19 years in office.
No wonder then that Binay has managed to consolidate power in Makati. His is a power base that is likely to make it easy for his children to move in, and up, in Makati's political totem pole. Only two of the 33 barangay captains are not allied with the mayor, one of them businessman Jose Concepcion, barangay captain of Forbes Park. Of the 16-member council, only Nemesio 'King' Yabut Jr. does not belong to the mayor's camp. Yabut Jr. is the son of Binay's predecessor.
Binay downplays the inherent influence he may have on voters — many of whom grew up knowing no other mayor aside from him and his wife — in boosting his children's political fortunes. "Hindi naman porke kamag-anak mo, mananalo (A candidate's being an official's relative is no guarantee of a win)," he says. Binay cites the example of Kim Atienza, son of Manila Mayor Lito Atienza, who was fielded by his father for a congressional seat in 2004 but lost.
Perhaps compared to their father, Abby and Junjun may indeed be lacking in the charm department. Yet at least the mayor has made sure they would be equipped with something else other than their now-famous surname. Abby, for instance, has a law degree from the Ateneo de Manila University; she has also been active in legal and street actions against charter change. Junjun, meanwhile, graduated cum laude from his Philippine Studies course at the University of the Philippines. Recently, he finished his master's degree in public administration at the state university. Moreover, Junjun holds the distinction of being Makati's youngest ever councilor in 2004. Then again, he had been in the council since 1992, having occupied the seat reserved for the city's Sangguniang Kabataan president.
But there's another — more important — factor that could make voters overlook Abby and Junjun's perceived deficit in the charm department: their father's much-vaunted accomplishments. Of which, to the Binay children's luck, there are several.
When Binay took over Makati in 1986, for instance, the town's income was only P274 million. In two decades, that figure has risen to over P8.4 billion, or an increase of over 30 times. Makati also became a city under his watch, despite opposition by major businessmen who were concerned with the higher tax rate — often the root of skirmishes between the Binay city hall and big business. Thus, unlike other local governments, Makati is not dependent on its Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA), which in 2006 amounted to less than P500M. "Maliit lang (It's small)," says Binay.
Through the years, with the city's treasure chest filling up, Binay embarked on projects that have endeared him to the city's poor population. Makati's public schools are well provided for, both in infrastructure, teaching materials, even food and mineral water. Over 100,000 heads of families of Makati's half a million population are members of the Makati Health Plus program, which issues "yellow cards" that qualifies holders to subsidized health care. Binay also set aside funds for the city's elderly, granting them free entrance to the city's movie houses. Senior citizens also get free cakes during their birthdays or golden wedding anniversaries. Traffic rules within the city are strictly observed.
In 2001, Binay moved to Makati's new city hall. The towering, 22-story building dwarfs the old five-story municipio, and blends with the business skyscrapers that dot Makati's landscape. The sleek and spiffy city hall reeks of business, dovetailing with Binay's desire to make Makati run like a corporation. Binay says it has cost the city P3.8 billion in loans, but he says these are scheduled to be paid in full anytime now.
"It's the only city hall na ganoon kaganda (that is that beautiful)," says Saguisag. "And his office is high enough to enable him to spit on the Ayalas. Makati truly works. Because of him, or partly because of him, or despite him, this place is jumping. Give the guy credit that he really has leadership ability. May imagination."
"Makati works," repeats Saguisag.
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