12 JANUARY 2007
by ISA LORENZO
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
Email us your comments about this article, or post them in our blog.