Fernandos should explain status of § 1.3 M World Bank grant

The Daily Tribune-without Fear of Favor

Thousands of members of the local biking community are upbeat regarding the plan of Marikina City Hall to revive its 52-kilometer long bike network in line with their “Make It Marikina Year 2012” (MIMY) campaign which is designed to perk up the local economy.

MIMY 2012 is actually a marketing gimmick conjured up by the well-meaning bright boys of Marikina Mayor Del de Guzman in a bid to promote the city’s products and services, as well as to attract new investors to set up their business there, convince more people to build houses in several of the sprawling subdivisions and housing projects that they have and to lure transients or visitors to patronize their parks, recreation centers and other amenities.

Marikina, which is situated at the eastern portion of Metro Manila, right at the foot of the Sierra Madre mountain range, used to be known as the “Shoe Capital of the Philippines” with easily more than 60 percent of the businesses located there devoted to shoe manufacturing.

Unfortunately, it lost its proud title (its present inhabitants are descendants of shoemakers dating back to the late 19th century) in recent years when virtually all of the shoe-making companies were forced to fold up because they could simply not compete with the super-cheap imports from China which began flooding the local market due to unabated bigtime smuggling in the 1990s during the Ramos administration. Adding to their woes was the runaway growth of housing subdivisions, coupled with the uncontrolled influx of informal settlers (squatters, if you may) which made doing business in Marikina unfeasible.

In lieu of this sorry development, we were told Mayor de Guzman now envisions Marikina as the new “Bike Capital of the Philippines.” In a recent executive order, he had the Marikina Bikeways Office resurrected to supervise and monitor the implementation of the bikeways program.

City Hall sources say the idea behind the refurbishing of the old bike network is to entice the local biking community to come over and make Marikina their destination of choice.

Each and every weekend, literally thousands of bike aficionados and health buffs pass through Marikina town proper on their way to the Sierra Madres to get their regular exercise spin and dose of fresh mountain freshness. But they don’t end up staying for long since the Marikina air is so polluted, the streets are so crowded, there is so much traffic and too many unruly motorcycle, tricycle and jeepney drivers and there are no suitable places where they can congregate and shoot the breeze among themselves.

By proposing to repaint the bike lanes, install CCTV cameras and public address speakers, put up lampposts, repair rutted roads, assign security guards and bike patrols to ensure compliance with city ordinances on the proper use of the bike lanes and to deter untoward incidents, Marikina officials are hoping they can create the right kind of atmosphere that bikers could enjoy.

The plan works both ways, as this would somehow encourage Marikina residents to embrace the culture of biking rather than rely on motorized vehicles for their means of transportation, in going to work or school especially if it is only within city confines.

“We also hope that this will create a change in the lifestyle of the city residents which will benefit both their health and the environment,” Mayor De Guzman said in a statement.

In furtherance of the bikeways revitalization effort, City Hall is also eyeing the possibility of extending the present 52-kilometer network from the Riverbanks Center to Eastwood City in Quezon City, and the conversion of Daang Bakal into a dedicated bikeway where vehicles will be prohibited from passing or parking. Now that would be cool!

But before we get carried away with all these grandiose ideas, there is something that I’d like to ask Mayor De Guzman, and this has something to do with the huge funds (yup, huge) that had already been allocated to the Marikina local government, which was then under Mayor Bayani Fernando, by the World Bank (WB) for the development of its proposed bike program.

From what I had gathered, the novel endeavor was launched through a $1.3-million grant (approximately P50 million) from the WB’s Global Environment Facility in 2001 specifically intended for the construction of the bikeways network, the first of its kind in the country.

Sometime in 2008, then Mayor Marides Fernando inexplicably discontinued the WB-funded bike program and shuttered the Marikina Bikeways Office, and together with it went the upkeep and maintenance of the bike lanes and the bikeways network.

Therefore, if Mayor De Guzman expects the public to believe he is dead serious in his desire to bring back to life the highly-praiseworthy bike program that was originally conceptualized to help address environmental concerns, and ask for donations from NGOs and various green advocacy groups which I must assume is his ultimate objective, the proper procedure here is that he should ask the Commission on Audit for a report regarding the status of the WB funds entrusted to the Fernandos in 2001 to determine if indeed such were put to good use.

Seriously, whatever happened to the $1.3 million of the World Bank? The Fernandos should be told to explain.


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