POSTSCRIPT / February 29, 2004 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Belmonte transforms QC into top metro city

PEDESTRIANIZATION: In search of a cool place to dine out? Join residents and out-of-towners flocking like moths on most nights to the “pedestrianized” and enchantingly lighted Morato-Timog entertainment-dining area in Quezon City.

We are excited over the place, having seen its transformation — especially of Morato St. where we hold many press kapihan — under a beautification-renewal program of Mayor Sonny Belmonte.

Aside from the neon lights of the name establishments, the first thing you notice about Morato when you visit in the evening are the sidewalks and the clean, airy atmosphere. It has been “pedestrianized” or made more pedestrian-friendly.

The old sidewalks were cleared (except for the trees), leveled, widened and paved with colored tiles that give the strip a European character, especially with sidewalk tables spread under the trees for overflow crowds.

The lamps lighting the sidewalks marked by wrought iron railings give it a kind of Old World charm. Those who have been around will note Morato’s stark contrast to the gaudy, circus-like lighting effect of Roxas Blvd. in Manila.

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MORATO IN THE RAIN: Visit Morato in an evening drizzle. Whether you are just passing through or sitting cozily inside a resto looking out, you cannot escape imbibing the ambiance that Belmonte’s refurbishing has created.

The place has all the signature old and new restos competing for the increased number of diners. As long as you know how to park in closed quarters, you won’t have any problem inserting your car into place.

There were a few property owners who initially objected to Belmonte’s pedestrianization, mainly, we think, because of the usual suspicion of government intruding into private business.

But trusting his judgment, Belmonte went ahead. Now, see for yourself how the old sleepy and disorganized Morato dining strip has been throbbing with new life after its transformation into a must-visit spot this side of town.

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COURTING BUSINESS: Many operators of restos and other businesses on Morato have told us that the pedestrianization was one of the revelations of what City Hall under a progressive administrator could do.

Early on in the administration of Belmonte, he started a courtship of business. (He had to, if we may say so parenthetically, since revenues are the lifeblood of the city.)

He cleaned the licensing and permits offices, introduced an integrated computer system that made transactions as efficient as those in progressive business firms. He motivated businesses, especially the big ones, to pay the correct taxes.

He established a one-stop taxpayers’ lounge that made payment of fees and taxes so relaxed and so efficient that it seems to lighten the burden of taxes. Dealing with government is suddenly much like dealing with a friendly bank.

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QC–RICHEST LGU: Apparently, with businessmen (and real property owners) seeing where their taxes go, the courtship has succeeded.

When Belmonte took over in 2001, he found City Hall financially distressed, facing claims for payments amounting to P1.4 billion and a bank debt of P1.25 billion! It was one of the mayor’s biggest start-up problems.

But with improved collections and wise financial management, Quezon City hurdled its money problems and is now the richest local government unit in the entire country.

The city’s general fund last year reached more than P5.4 billion, exceeding the expenditure budget for the first time in the last 10 years. Awash with cash, Quezon City under Belmonte is no longer dependent on its internal revenue allotments from the national government.

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WEIGHING IN: By asking that opposition candidate Fernando Poe Jr. debate with her, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is not belittling the actor as his fans claim. Instead, she is recognizing him as a leading contender for the presidency.

It does not make political sense for the President to climb down to tangle with the minor players. For her to take on Poe, therefore, he must indeed be looming largest on her radar screen.

As frontrunners, it is incumbent upon GMA and FPJ to afford the public a chance to weigh their native wisdom, government platform, preparation for the presidency, stand on burning issues, temperament and charisma.

This can be done effectively through a public debate moderated by an impartial group.

A public debate, simulcast nationwide, is certainly not the only way, but it is one important means of helping voters arrive at an informed decision for the May 10 elections.

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PUBLIC PRIMED: Any of the candidates who whimper at every suggestion of engaging in a public debate on political platforms and the issues do not deserve to be president.

Actually, Poe has nothing to fear. On the contrary, he should grab the opportunity to reveal his true worth and charm the public with his honed-to-perfection award-winning performance.

The rest of the population is dying to see what it is in this man that makes millions of fans go crazy over him. The TV camera, like his old reliable movie camera, should show all that, and more.

With Poe’s hesitating (or pretending to hesitate) to debate, he has actually primed the waiting public for the coming live performance of his life.

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DA KING’S ENGLISH: Come on, FPJ! Hey, hey, FPJ! Huwag po kayong matakot!

Don’t worry, po. The debaters will not be let loose on a collision course for a fight to the finish. Walang durugan. The format and the moderators will not allow that to happen.

The debaters will not be colliding head-on, but running along one another on parallel lanes heading in the same direction — the enlightenment of the public.

Neither should Poe worry about being required to talk in pure English. Nobody will stop the speakers from using any tongue that best connects them to the target audience.

And any broadcast veteran will tell you that the best medium in these parts is taglish, which is Da King’s English!

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FREE TO SOAR: As we see it, President Arroyo has more reason to worry since a public exposition on gut issues will put her on the defensive.

The President will rise or fall on her record. She cannot run away from the past and the present. Government statistics will not be able to paper over the reality that life has not been easy for many of us.

On the other side, Poe the challenger will be free to roam and soar into the future that, to the imaginative, knows no boundaries.

Having suffered for decades in the hands of trapos (traditional politicians), the people are ripe for picking in the hands of an expert manipulator (sorry for the term, but it is really manipulation) without trapo trappings.

Once she is boxed into a corner, a defensive Queen might just unsheathe her famous katarayan in one reckless moment. A wee bit hint of presidential temper… and she would lose everything.

It could be the opposite for Poe. Like the perennial underdog in his movies, Poe could come in pa-humble, pa-soft spoken… before he delivers the knockout punch toward the end. Just like in the movies, ba!

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 29, 2004)

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