Elinando B. Cinco
December 17, 2008, 4:21am, Manila Bulletin
EVEN long before his bid for the country’s presidency was announced, the rumor mills were already grinding but at a timid speed. The question asked was, "Would he really be making a go for it, in earnest?"
But when Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Bayani Fernando made it known to all and sundry that he was, indeed, available as a candidate for the top most position of the land, the same rumor mills abruptly went grinding at a fast clip!
And at a pace that seems to be pulled by a collective cross-section of the public that was, unmistakably, at work.
One of the early endorsers of those reality churning mills is a fellow Thomasian.
The reason for his enthusiasm, he says, are the chairman’s extreme traits of simplicity on one hand, and audacity on the other, such that my friend has vowed not just to vote for Bayani Fernando but to actively campaign for him.
These days there is an unmistakable momentum of those grinding mills. In fact, they are already producing a centrifugal force with such energy that it has been drawing crowds of diverse personalities. They are themselves people of various interests and persuasions who wield influence that attract other endorsers and supporters.
If his popularity is not that infectious, why would everyone be calling him "BF" in such short a time?
"He’s the political equivalent of SM malls – he’s got it all! My friend loves to wisecrack, in reference to the retailing giant’s advertising tagline, "We’ve got it all!"
According to my friend, BF is his pick to lead the country after PGMA because he fits the bill exactly, "He is clean, he is mean to wrongdoers, he has an impressive track record as a public servant, and most importantly, he’s got political will." (As Spaniards would bluntly say, "El tiene cojones gordos!") He implemented change in Marikina and he’s now doing it in Metro Manila. You can’t argue with success," my friend points out. He also firmly believes that there are multitudes of closet BF followers just waiting for the call to rally round Fernando’s flag.
Many are of the firm belief it would be foolhardy to underestimate Fernando. Let’s not forget that former Joseph Estrada’s bid for the presidency was also met with derision when the idea was floated. We learned from a friend close to Estrada that an Erap non-believer had suggested that the title of book "Eraptions" should have been changed to "Erap for President and Other Jokes." Similar to her mocking of Fernando, Sen. Miriam Santiago also belittled Erap when the Estrada for President trial balloon was floated. The rest, as they say, is history.
My friend also said that only Fernando has shown strong political will among all those who have served as MMDA chairman. The thing is the guy may just be right in his layman’s assessment. It is only during Fernando’s watch that things in Metro Manila appear to be getting better. The foul smelling piles of garbage that used to dot even our main thoroughfares have disappeared. Vehicles now travel faster on Edsa and other major thoroughfares, saving precious time and gasoline.
Discourteous public transportation drivers have been partly restrained. Sidewalks occupied for decades by illegal vendors have been returned to pedestrians, illegal structures and squatter shanties are being demolished and trees are being planted along major arteries.
Before Fernando took over, traveling through Baclaran to Airport Road, a two-kilometer stretch, was an ordeal that required hours on end to negotiate. After he took over as MMDA boss, Fernando solved the traffic mess. After four months, travel time was reduced to five minutes. Motorists now call the feat the Baclaran miracle.
This didn’t happen, my friend stressed, during the tenures at the MMDA of former Mayors Mel Mathay of Quezon City, Prospero Oreta of Malabon, Benjamin Abalos of Mandaluyong, Sonny Belmonte of Quezon City, and Jojo Binay of Makati.
Fernando is certainly the underdog, for now, anyway, in the coming 2010 presidential derby. And the surveys that show him occupying the last slot (together with Binay as of the last poll) have validated this. But I believe my friend who expects him to be high up there neck and neck with the current frontrunners since, unlike the other presidential wannabes, he does not carry the image of being a traditional politician.
As the Pilipino phrase goes, Fernando’s aspiration could be a suntok sa buwan, but from what we’re seeing right now, he’s no stranger at taking shots at the moon. He was a virtual unknown when he first threw his hat into the political ring in Marikina and won as mayor against a heretofore unbeatable political rival.
Initially, his term was met with disdain and his moves at instituting reforms were greeted by resistance. But his persistence paid off as soon after, Marikina began to be considered and publicly declared as one of the cleanest, safest and most progressive cities, not just in the country but even in the region. Its citizens have become one of the most disciplined in the metropolis. Today, it is an established fact that there is not a single squatter, there are no illegal vendors, there are no erring drivers in Marikina.
He reportedly also went through a baptism of fire from local executives. People close to Fernando said that life for the MMDA chair has never been easy since his first day on the job, with mayors like Jojo Binay and Pasay’s Peewee Trinidad breathing down his neck. Used to always having their way, they kept trying to put their finger on everything the agency was doing. But Fernando has always stood his ground, while patiently trying to have the mayors see things his way.
Fernando watchers say that people are sometimes uncomfortable with him because he does not respond to situations the usual way. Those close to him say he thinks out of the box, an unorthodox politician who does things without fanfare even at the risk of attracting enemies on many fronts.
His detractors supposedly dislike him because he is able to achieve things that they have wanted to do but never had the political will to do them. Political will, I think, are the operative words here and they apparently work for Fernando.
However, for a man who wants to be president, he seems to be drawing more enemies than supporters. Traditional politicians would normally hold vote-losing activities like demolition and sidewalk clearing operations till the elections are over but not Fernando who appears to be crafted from a different mold.
A top official of a nationwide organization of local government executives once said admiringly of BF: "He has put some sense and saneness to the landscape of Metro Manila."
In a recent TV interview, Fernando lamented the fact that he is being branded anti-poor. "Tinutupad ko lang ang aking tungkulin. Basta batas," he said, "aking ipatutupad." Being hardheaded is one of our cultural defects as a people. Who knows, maybe an iron hand in a velvet glove is what the country needs at this time.