Numbers Don’t Lie

Bar none, the city of Makati is the country’s best foot forward to the world. It represents what we Filipinos are capable of as far as city planning and urban development goes.
Makati tops most domestic indices in terms of business vitality, tax revenues, infrastructure, ease in doing business, disaster preparedness, cultural vitality, social services and the use of technology. It is among the key financial centers of Asia. Although imperfect in many ways, Makati remains to be the nation’s most progressive city.
While the Ayala Group can be credited for having developed a central business district, a retail corridor and well-planned residential villages, we must recognize that the city government had much to contribute towards Makati’s success, especially in its early days of development. It was the city government that introduced game-changing innovations such as a simplified system to obtain business permits, the digitization of business and real estate taxes and the use of a Command Control & Communications Center (an extensive system of more than 100 CCTV cameras) used for law enforcement, emergency response and disaster mitigation. All these, among others, have made Makati conducive for business and a safe place to live.
In infrastructure, it was the first city to invest in pedestrian tunnels, underground utility cables, computerized traffic control systems and a waste management recycling facility.
Makati leads the way in social development programs too. Within the halls of Makati’s public schools and university, residents enjoy free tuition, books, uniforms and even shoes. In health care, the city boasts a hospital rigged with advanced medical equipment. Residents are entitled not only to free medical care but also medicines on the city’s account. Analysts agree that Makati’s social programs are superior to many cities in the European Union and America.
The fact that the city government built upon the success of the Ayala Group’s master plan should not be taken lightly. It could have gone the way of the city of Manila. It will be recalled that Manila had everything going for it at one time. It was home not only to the country’s first business district (Binondo) but also its cultural, tourist and university belt. Yet, Manila has fallen into depths of poverty, urban decay, blight and squalor, all due to mismanagement.
Makati is proof that forward-looking governance and investment in infrastructure are key to competitiveness, sustainability and a dignified way of life.
The two leading mayoral candidates are incumbent Mayor Abigail “Abby” Binay and brother Junjun Binay.
Many suspect that this is a ploy for the family to remain in power regardless of the election outcome. Based on what I know of the family’s dynamics, I do not believe this to be the case. Both siblings are dead set to serve as Mayor with neither giving way to the other. It’s ugly, but it happens in many political families. As adults, however, Abby and Junjun have decided to just slug it out in the polls.
I will not talk about Junjun since I haven’t had a chance to speak to him in earnest about his plans for Makati. I did talk to Abby at length about her forthcoming programs. We had an animated conversation and I was rapt. Her passion to take Makati to the next level of development was both obvious and infectious.
Mayor Abby has grand ambitions for the city. To sum it up, she wants to transform Makati into a Smart City within the next six years. For those unaware, a Smart City is one that is digitally interconnected, paperless, cashless, efficient, green and ready to participate in a knowledge-based economy. This is the same direction taken by other progressive cities like Singapore, Seoul and Taipei.
For Abby, the basics of good city governance (e.g. ease in doing business, social development programs, basic city services, etc) are givens. Her intention is to leap to the future using technology as an enabler.
As we all know, reaching the next level of development requires more than just money and determination. It takes skills, tools and systems to get programs implemented efficiently. Abby has spent the last three years building the city’s management team and fine-tuning its systems. Her background in the telecommunications industry (she worked with Smart Telecoms before) comes into play too. With a strong organization backing her up, her ambitions for the city are not so far-fetched.
With wide eyes and palpable fervor, Abby told me all about the many projects in the pipeline.
At the heart of the effort is an upgrade of the city’s digital infrastructure. Makati is now in the process of installing its own fiber optic cable and mobile signal boosters to strengthen cellular bandwidths. These projects are being done through a PPP framework with Neo-Converge ICT Solutions and Voyager Innovation as private partners.
When complete, Makati will have the strongest internet signal in the country, making it the natural choice for multinationals, corporate headquarters and startups involved in technology, knowledge and innovation.
This will also enable the city to provide free internet services to 27 barangays.
With the digital backbone in place, government offices will all be interconnected, thus, eliminating bureaucratic redundancies. Processes that took hours, if not days to complete before can now be done instantaneously.
On the ground, high speed digital connection will allow law enforcers to feed live images to the city’s command center through body cameras. Decisions and responses can be made on the spot.
Another of Mayor Abby’s keystone projects is the Makati Citizen Card or MakatiZen Card, as it is widely referred to. This is a project also done under a PPP framework with Globe Telecom and iBayad Online Ventures as private partners.
The card, which functions as a valid government-issued ID, allows its holder to access public services and transact with the city government without the need to carry piles of papers, certificates or licenses. A simple swipe of the card reveals the personal data of the cardholder, including his medical history. The card also serves an up-to-date city census.
The card gives its holder an automatic GCash mobile wallet. As such, cardholders can receive cash allowances, stipends, and other cash benefits digitally. The cards can be used to pay for fees and taxes, as well as for personal remittances. It can also be used to purchase goods and services from GCash accredited establishments, including Jollijeep vendors. The absence of cash minimizes corruption and deters crime.
Tens of thousands of Makatizen cards have already been issued. The goal is to have every resident and transient worker of Makati carry one.
The Makatizen card comes with its own application (app) on an android platform. Through the app, cardholders get a direct hotline to City Hall. Residents can call for police assistance, report disasters, crime and even request for pothole repairs. Conversely, it provides the city with a direct access to its citizens. The app is an invaluable tool especially when enforcing new ordinances and implementing disaster protocols.
The Makati Zen Card and App triggers the digital transformation of Makati and brings it one step closer towards becoming a cashless eco-system and Smart City.
In addition, the new fiber optic facility allowed Mayor Abby to invest in four Command Center Vans equipped with telecommunication equipment directly linked to the city government’s mainframe. This allows the continuance of governance even during disaster scenarios when cellular facilities are down.
Contrary to the rumor that Makati’s subway is struggling to raise funds, Mayor Abby assures that all the pieces are in place for its implementation. As of this writing, the proponents are in the process of validating the assumptions of the feasibility study as a precursor to construction.
Last October, after a Swiss challenge, the city awarded the rights to build, operate and maintain a subway system to a consortium lead by IRC Properties Inc. of Antonio Tiu along with a slew of Chinese companies including Greenland Holdings, Kwan On Holdings and China Harbor Engineering Construction Ltd.. The project is also done under a PPP framework.
The US$3.7-billion subway will ply an 11-kilometer route from Edsa Ayala to Ospital ng Makati with eight stops in between including Ayala Triangle, Circuit Makati, Makati City Hall, Poblacion and Edsa Guadalupe. (Note, we heard that the stop in Ayala Triangle may be cancelled due to technical problems). There will be provisions to inter-connect to MRT3, the Metro Manila Subway and the Pasig River taxi system. Future expansion includes extending the line to Bonifacio Global City. The subway is due to be operational in 2025 and will have a capacity of 700,000 passengers per day. It will reduce vehicular traffic in Makati by 270,000 cars.
Apart from the subway , Mayor Abby will migrate the city’s fleet of police cars, service vehicles and select public utility vehicles to hybrid and/or electric powered vehicles. This is the start towards weaning the city from non-renewable energies.
Makati is fortunate to have a visionary mayor who plans for the future. All indications show that Mayor Abby will keep Makati’s status as the country’s most progressive city and the nation’s best foot forward to the world.
Andrew J. Masigan is an economist.