Monday, August 09, 2010

Can’t P-Noy do something to reverse Tagaytay’s deterioration?

by Former President Fidel Valdez Ramos
Manila Bulletin
First of Two Parts
August 7, 2010, 7:32pm

President Aquino III’s appointment of former Tagaytay Mayor Francis Tolentino as MMDA Chairman has created waves of protests from responsible Tagaytayans – concerned residents, taxpayers, voters, and tourists/visitors. Complaints against Chairman Tolentino and family have been exposed in various broadsheets: “Mismanagement, Corruption, and Election Fraud in Tagaytay” by Buddy Cunanan (The Manila Times, Aug. 3, 2010) and “New MMDA Chief Faces Plunder, Graft, and Other Charges” by Michael Punongbayan (The Philippine Star, Aug. 4, 2010).

Protect P-Noy’s integrity

While these stories appear to come from one source, Reverend/Pastor Ronald Tan, former executive assistant of then Mayor Tolentino (1995-2004), Rev. Tan formalized his charges in a complaint filed with the Ombudsman last July 21. This is only one of several cases filed against Mayor Francis and/or incumbent Mayor Abraham Tolentino with the Ombudsman, DILG, and Comelec.

Quoting Tan, The Philippine Star reported that the two Tolentino brothers... “amassed some R500 million in ill-gotten wealth by way of unabated graft and corruption, abuse of power, and authority in the form of real estate properties, businesses, vehicles, and bank deposits, which in no way can be justified as having been acquired legally through their earnings as public officials or even their private business ventures.”

Comes now Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda with an unjustified dismissal of these serious charges as “simple harassment” with this statement:

“Tolentino is aware that graft charges would be filed (against him). The President is also aware of the graft cases filed before the Ombudsman, Lacierda told reporters. The President and other sectors view the charges against Francis Tolentino as ‘simple harassment,’ he added.” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Aug. 4, 2010).

Criminal neglect by two mayor-brothers

These complaints need to be looked into immediately by Malacañang and not taken lightly – if only to protect the integrity of President Aquino III, whose basis for appointing Francis Tolentino as MMDA Chair was reportedly that he and the latter were Ateneo classmates.

Without getting into above-mentioned criminal, electoral, and administrative cases which will take time to unravel and decide upon, this writer now focuses on the People’s Park in the Sky (PPIS), which was Tagaytay’s major attraction in 1998 for thousands of domestic tourists, foreign visitors, religious faithful, and local residents.

Tragically (and wastefully), however, in the past 12 years, this prize destination has deteriorated into a dirty, smelly, and ugly kind of place. As early as July 12, 2006, FVR wrote a detailed report to PGMA on “the deplorable ecological-environmental state today of Tagaytay, in particular, its centerpiece attraction called the PPIS.”

“With this letter are photographs of the PPIS taken on April 14, 2006 (Good Friday) and the old Tagaytay-Talisay road taken on July 8, 2006. The first set of photos shows the massive deterioration that the PPIS, an unequaled eco-tourism asset, has suffered. It used to be one of Tagaytay’s prime attractions and favorite weekend-holiday destination of thousands of common folks who cannot afford to enjoy the breathtaking view from expensive, high-end vantage points in the Taal-Tagaytay area. Clearly, its facilities and surroundings are in a state of unmitigated disrepair, possibly the result of the criminal neglect of local officials who are responsible for its upkeep.

“The second set of photos shows the continued dumping of garbage along the old national road that extends from the Aguinaldo Highway rotonda at Tagaytay down to Talisay, Batangas. These pictures reveal the need to completely pave and widen the same, which is still a dirt road except for patches of concrete on the Tagaytay side. The Batangas portion is already concreted, widened and apparently well-maintained.

“Let me also submit a CD video of a joint investigation conducted by DENR’s Solid Waste Commission Team headed by Raul Jardin and ABS-CBN’s Bantay Kalikasan on May 6, 2004. Said video shows one of the open garbage dumps in Tagaytay located on a creek flowing towards Taal Lake, and records the total unconcern/inefficiency of responsible LGU managers.”

This has created a stinking, disgraceful eyesore polluting the immediate environment and downstream areas below Tagaytay.

Environmental sustainability

Continues FVR’s report to PGMA: “A Presidential Commission on Tagaytay-Taal (PCTT) was created on April 24, 1993. Under the PCTT, the 10-year (for municipalities) and 20-year (for the whole Tagaytay-Taal area) strategic plans were adopted on November 28, 1995 to promote/insure their sustainable development with these long-term objectives:

* Preserve the natural beauty of the environment.
* Develop the area as an eco-tourism zone.
* Put in place support infrastructures and programs to generate local economic and livelihood development for the people.

“Conscious of the ecosystem’s criticality as the basis for development planning, PCTT’s Chairmanship was transferred from DoT to DENR as the Office of Primary Responsibility on May 6, 1997 per EO 412, s-1997.

“In the run-up years to the Centennial of Philippine Independence (mid-1995 to mid-1998), the PPIS was substantially enhanced as part of the ‘Freedom Trail’ in Cavite Province – identified by the National Centennial Commission chaired by former Vice President Salvador Laurel.

“During those years, various improvements were added to the PPIS to maximize people’s appreciation of this historical-recreational center, notably the Centennial Heroes’ Hall, Presidential Room, Library/Reading Center, Viewing Decks, Outdoor Bandstand, Religious Statue/Worship Place, Picnic Huts, Children’s Playground, Souvenir Shops, and necessary amenities of clean toilets, running water, and safe passageways.

“The main structure, which was and continues to be a DoTC antenna facility, was likewise cleaned up and integrated as part of a wholesome, friendly and presentable complex for people’s enjoyment.

Abolition by Pres. Estrada; inaction by Pres. Arroyo

“Unfortunately and inexplicably, former President Joseph Estrada abolished the PCTT – in one swoop on December 9, 2000 without any provisions for the orderly transfer of its national functions, property/assets and civil service-eligible personnel – per EO 327, s-2000.

“Upon the petition of the unpaid staff, the implementation of said Estrada EO was mercifully deferred for a brief period thru EO 65, s-2001. Then DENR Secretary Heherzon Alvarez, to his credit, took care of the interim residual problems by placing PCTT’s functions, personnel, and assets under DENR’s Taal Volcano Protected Area Management Board in August, 2001, in line with Republic Act 7586. Thereafter, primary responsibility for the implementation of the 10- and 20-year master plans was devolved to the municipalities concerned and Tagaytay City, respectively.

“Last January 3, 2004, on the request of several concerned residents of Tagaytay, then Mayor Francis Tolentino signed a ‘Letter of Undertaking’ committing, among others, to sustain the local environment. While the Tagaytay LGU adopted some of the PCTT master plan’s features, the actual implementation has been characterized by ‘tokenism’ amounting to neglect and unsustainable development, exemplified by:

* “Heavy commercialization;
* “Increase in squatter colonies; and
* “Poor waste disposal systems.”

“The substantial repair and rehabilitation of the PPIS building and its facilities/surroundings will surely expand eco-tourism and other beneficial activities. With the help, support and cooperation of civil society leaders as already manifested in their past dialogues/consultations, and positive action-teamwork on the part of national and LGU officials, Tagaytay – including the PPIS – could be restored to its pristine beauty and made a self-sustaining, revenue-producing, and livelihood-generating educational center; religious retreat/worship place; economic zone for SMEs; and healthcare/retirement community, without becoming overburdened with crass commercialization and squatting.

“It will, however, take consistently good local governance – in which public officials/concerned residents/private entities must join effectively as partners and stakeholders – to make the above happen. Not just goodwill but, more importantly, political will should be exerted constantly to secure/perpetuate this incomparable God-given asset for posterity.

“At this point in time, years after the National Government’s initial enhancements, it is essential to revisit the strategic development plans for Tagaytay as a city for all Filipinos to be proud of, and restore the quality of the PPIS. The primary focus should be on the entire Tagaytay-Taal ecosystem’s sustainability so that it can remain among the nation’s ‘crown jewels’ for the enduring benefit of our people.”

Appeal to P-Noy

Can’t P-Noy do something quickly to reverse Tagaytay’s deterioration? It deserves more than just nonchalance from Malacañang. Just visit the PPIS which has been wiped out from Tagaytay’s official 2010 website – because it is now a sorry mess.

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