Senate Goals and Sharing Dinner with the Ex-MMDA Chief

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It wasn't the normal travel duration. With the usual traffic, a Grab Car ride from my place near Buendia- Taft in Pasay to Tomas Morato in QC takes at least 1.5 hours. Three hours passed and we were still inside San Juan, looking for small streets where there's movement. Coincidentally that day, I am meeting a former MMDA chief who is now aspiring to be a Senator. Could Chairman Francis Tolentino be stuck in traffic too?

He was. He was stuck in an hour-long almost heated discussion between him and a select group of bloggers about the seemingly hopeless Manila traffic. When I found myself a seat at the back part of the room after arriving very late, another blogger whispered that I did not really miss anything. The crawling discussion about what's been done and how to solve Metro Manila's number one problem was as  painful as being stuck in EDSA on a rainy Friday evening. 

Moments later, the ex-MMDA chief, who resigned from his post effective October 7, 2015 after 5 years, explained that the MMDA was not made to just decongest roads. It is also not the only agency that should be blamed for the worsening traffic problem. "There are a lot of things like red tape and other inter-agency complications. We have to work with the local government, each cities and the LTO and LFTRB among others. Traffic failure isn't just the failure of MMDA but nevertheless, we tried our best to work with who we need to work with to make things better," Tolentino said.

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Airing that statement should be fair now that the voters have the tendency to measure his competence and leadership capabilities through just the traffic. But even if we stop our considerations there, it would also be fair to note that Tolentino is the MMDA Chair who re-initialize the Pasig ferry transport system, implemented the bus stop system along EDSA and the integrated bus terminal, and cleaned up flood-prone highways. 

As I quietly transferred from the back side of the room to the seats nearer to our guest of honor, I was asking myself how much of Francis Tolentino do I know. Other than the controversial sexy dancers in a gathering of Liberal party politicians in Laguna, which was a flagged topic at the round table discussion by the way, what are the other things you know about this Senatoriable? 

"Do you know that I was mayor of Tagaytay? Some of you don't know that," he said. I reached out for the press release and started reading while Tolentino was sharing his achievements as the three-term chief executive (1995- 1998, 1998- 2001, 2001- 2004) in one of the country's top tourist destinations. I honestly did not know that he was a mayor and that he formed the Tagaytay Office of Public Safety that helped him write policies for his stint at the MMDA.


His life as a mayor when former President Cory Aquino appointed him as OIC in 1986 shortly after he finished his studies at the Ateneo Law School and passed the bar. He served for more than a year, took a break from politics, ran in 1992 but lost. He successfully became Mayor when he ran unopposed in 1995 and founded the City College of Tagaytay, built the Ospital ng Tagaytay, and formed the horse-trained Tagaytay City Mounted Police. Now, his wife Agnes is running the city. 

As the conversation got deeper, Tolentino showed knowledge on foreign relations, environmental protection and urban planning, giving examples of how other countries have done it. Obviously, he said, he'd like to lead the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations should he win Senator. He also wants to be the chairman on the Committee of Environment and Natural Resources. He looks like has the goods to back this dream, publishing books like The Precautionary Principle: Closing the Gap Between International Trade Organization and Biotechnology (2009) and An Environmental Writ: The Philippines Avatar (2010). 

When I finally had the chance to ask the man of the hour his views on survey, his tone shifted from serious to excited when he shared that he jumped from 21st- 23rd to 13th- 15th. "We're enjoying support from several local officials even if we are running independent." But what if the result of the elections is not what he desires? He paused and said, "Let's cross the bridge when we get there." 

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