Danny Lim and the MMDA

I have known former general and current MMDA Chairman Danny Lim for several years on a personal basis. But even before that, I had heard of him when he and other rebel forces took

   Jose M. Montelibano

over the Intercontinental Hotel in the failed 1989 coup de etat. Years later, disillusioned by the corruption he observed from the highest political leadership that had overflowed to the military, Danny tried to convince the senior command of the Armed Forces to withdraw their support for then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. When he failed to do so, he quietly accepted the consequences and spent years in detention.

Throughout the incidents and situations that highlighted the involvement of Danny Lim, I saw a consistent thread in his behavior. He was a man of his word, prone to act decisively, not fond of talking, and when he spoke, he was always civil. I was surprised that Danny accepted the challenge of President Duterte to serve as Chairman of the Metro Manila Development Agency. All the major problems of the MMDA are beyond the power of any MMDA Chairman to resolve – except for corruption among the ranks of its own employees.

On the surface, there is the horrible Metro Manila traffic, among the worst in the world. The underlying problems are even worse. The physical infrastructure is obsolete, a sorry road system in a metropolis that is overcrowded beyond imagination. The MMDA Chairman simply does not have the official power to effectively govern, much less reform, an unmanageable collection of autonomous cities.

Nevertheless, Danny Lim did accept the challenge of President Duterte, probably from a soldier’s instinct for battle. I was curious how the veteran army officer would perform in a position that demanded a variety of skills and a ton of political will. He was specifically tasked to address corruption and mitigate the traffic, and it seemed he was only counting the days before he and the President would realize it was mission impossible.

Metro Manila remains Imperial Manila, not anymore by design as it may have been from Spanish times, but from a force of circumstance. Population estimates of 3 years ago said 13 million people. But millions more from Cavite, Laguna, Rizal, and Bulacan work in Metro Manila. Add visitors and those passing through will bring the estimates closer to 20 million during daytime hours. Metro Manila population also includes the elite, not only of the metropolis but of the Philippines. They bring their influence, wealth and businesses.

The economic power of Metro Manila is greater than its percentage of the population, close to 40% of the nation. In such a little space, the drawing power of Metro Manila is irresistible. The heart of its imperialism lies in the lure of money. Moving the government centers to anywhere else is easier than moving the economic power away from Metro Manila. Imperial Manila will outlive any administration because of both economic and population power.

The thing about money, however, is that it is closer to greed than wisdom. In theory, business and economics think about the future. Unfortunately, the pace of change in the last three decades has accelerated so furiously that the future had actually shrunk in terms of time. People are not thinking any more of what is going to happen 50 years from now. In fact, we have no idea what 2070 will look like.

Infrastructure development requires looking at the time the way man until recently, had always looked at it. That means our businessmen should be visionary and our politicians should be statesmen. Those who cannot think beyond their present businesses or their political positions cannot plan for a society 50 years from now. The Americans rulers did have some and, to some extent. were followed by the early Filipino leaders after WWII. After that, it has been downhill all the way for Metro Manila. Chairman Danny Lim was not tasked to plan ahead, only clean up the mess of all administrations before him, especially corruption in the MMDA ranks.

His first year has been, at the very least, outstanding. Mutual friends have looped me into the MMDA website and Facebook account. There, anyone can see the daily efforts of MMDA to clear road obstructions and clear canals and drainages of trash. For the first time ever since Metro Manila came to be, many streets have been cleared of all kinds of structures that have mushroomed there over the last 50 years. That meant dismantling what mayors and barangay officials had turned a blind eye to, or earned from. The garbage that communities all over the metropolis keep throwing are not picked up by garbage collectors – it is MMDA doing it by going inside city drainages and canals. All these you can monitor through the MMDA website or MMDA-Danny Lim connected Facebook pages.

Internally, the purge has been very massive but kept very low keep, in keeping with the character of the MMDA chairman. A full one-third of long controversial MMDA traffic enforcers were terminated, resigned, have gone AWOL or are facing charges. One-third of about 3,000 traffic enforcers I realized in less than a year that their new chairman was serious and determined to weed them out. I can’t recall outside of the first declaration of martial law in 1972 of any cleansing that massive. Well, Danny Lim did it. He is not having an easy time replacing the purged personnel, however. The pay scale is ridiculously low.

The greater challenge for Danny Lim and the MMDA, however, is not his direct challenge from President Duterte. Lim has to think about the future. He has to give people hope that, in fact, Metro Manila has a future better than its past. His present achievements in the MMDA will only push and pressure him to imagine that future of a Metro Manila that will be kind and thriving megacity for its populace. I know this is not what he signed up for. But if Danny Lim does not do it, who will?

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