MANILA—The continuous downpour in the metropolis did little to dampen the spirits of the 60-man delegation of the Mayors Council of Guam which was in town to visit its counterparts and tour health facilities and popular sites. Three representatives from Saipan accompanied the group: Gregorio V. Deleon Guerrero chairman of the Northern Islands Municipal Council; Antonia M. Tudela secretary of the council and a consultant — former Rep. Vicente T. Attao (See BriefCase on Page 16). The Saipan delegation’s fares were paid by the CNMI government while the Guam delegation covered its own costs.
Guam council members dubbed the seven-day trip a success after seeing up close the operations of Metro Manila mayors and being treated to the generous hospitality Filipinos are known for.
Everywhere the Guam mayors went their hosts treated them to lunches snacks and shopping time to break the monotony of some stiff official briefings and presentations.
The mayors and some guests also perked up during the briefing of the Metropolitan Bank and Trust Co. The bank encouraged them to open savings accounts. (See “Metrobank offers tax haven for Guam depositors eyes expansion in Guam” Page 3).
While no agreement was inked between the Guam and Metro Manila mayors a proposal for tie-up with the larger Pacific area was raised.
And despite complaints by some Guam doctors about the medical trips to the Philippines depriving them of income the mayors defended trips because they said the health facilities on Guam and their insurers left them with no choice.
Mayor Paul M. McDonald of Agana Heights president of the council told the Journal “It is really a success. I think the whole group was overwhelmed especially by the hospitality that we’ve received. We’ve been running like an hour an hour-and-a-half behind because of such great reception.”
The mayors were particularly impressed with what official funding sources can do to uplift a community. Unlike in the Philippines where mayors can collect taxes to use for the municipal government operations Guam mayors do not have such resources. Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay for example uses taxes he collects from property and the business community to fund free public education and health care for poor families as well as subsidies for senior citizens.
Dededo Mayor Melissa Savares said “If I have the money that are paid the taxes my municipality it’s feasible I can do what Mayor Binay is doing. But we don’t; everything goes to the general fund on Guam. I don’t keep property taxes or even a percentage.”
The same view was echoed was Mayor Francisco Blas of Tamuning-Tumon-Harmon who looks forward to a proposal to have Guam mayors use property taxes to fund community projects. “In the future we can put that in the agenda for the governor and for the senators to help village mayors.”
In the Philippines each mayor takes care of the needs of about 400 000 residents compared to mayors on Guam whose constituents number from 30 000 to 50 000 — about the population of an average residential subdivision in the Philippines.
At the meeting on Aug. 11 between the Guam mayors and Metro Manila Mayors League president Lito Atienza who oversees the Philippine capital of Manila a wider cooperation with Pacific mayors was proposed.
“Mayor Atienza wants a bigger idea. Not just an agreement with Guam but with the Pacific and offered Manila to host a conference ” said a representative of the Department of Foreign Affairs who attended the meeting at the posh Manila Polo Club in Forbes Park the traditional enclave of Manila’s old money. The meeting was supposed to have been a conference and formalization of a memorandum of agreement between the groups for cultural and educational exchange.
“We cautioned Mayor Atienza not to sign anything ” the DFA source said but said that an agreement with more mayors to include the Northern Mariana Islands Guam Hawaii and other Pacific economies would be welcome. “All forms of exchanges are good ” he said. The Metro Manila Mayors League is composed of representatives of 17 cities and municipalities in the metropolis.
For their part three Metro Manila mayors expressed support to an agreement with the Guam chief executives.
Mayor Sonny Belmonte of Quezon City whose population of 2.17 million makes it the largest city in the Philippines told the Journal “I appreciate that the Guam group wanted to visit us because anyway we’re the closest country with cultural social and blood relations. They wanted a slightly more formal setup among mayors with Metro Manila. I’m fully supportive of the idea. We’re part of Metro Manila and any iniatives taken by them we fully support.”
Mayor Ma. Lourdes C. Fernando of Marikina the shoe capital of the Philippines said the “short meeting with the mayors was very cordial” and looked forward to more of such visits. She also supports a formal tie-up between the Guam and Metro Manila mayors. “I think it is a very opportune time to tie some relations with some mayors and learn from one another and do cultural exchange as many of those in Guam have roots in the Philippines.”
She told the Journal that she would like to explore some business opportunities with the Guam mayors in regard to exporting Marikina’s shoes. “If there is an opportunity for business there or help in some projects there we would be glad to explore those ideas ” she said. The Guam delegates and their families toured some shoe factories and in true Imelda Marcos fashion bought a lot of shoes for themselves and to take home to relatives.
Binay whose indigent health-care program and senior citizens program wowed the Guam mayors also expressed support for the agreement. “In fact we have more in common with our Guamanian neighbors than we do with the rest of Asia. Especially considering that there is a fairly substantial ethnic Filipino (population) on Guam we therefore look forward to an exchange in ideas and practices not only in the cultural and educational field but likewise in the business and finance sector.”
Of Guam’s 168 564 population (July 2005 estimate) about 26.3% or 44 332 are Filipinos or trace their roots to the Philippines.
The Guam mayors and their families took advantage of the visit to get medical treatment. Mayor John A. Cruz of Hagatna the capital of Guam said his wife has been coming to the Philippines to get treatment for a medical condition.
The mayors defended the frequent medical trips of Guamanians to the Philippines by saying that the Guam Memorial Hospital “doesn’t really give us much choice.” Insurers also would rather pay for the cheaper costs of medical procedures like CAT scans in the Philippines than on Guam Savares said.
Mayor Blas was kinder. “We have our hospital on Guam. They’re very much capable. The only thing is their resources are very limited. And if they do have the resources like you have here in the Philippines I think we will work side by side instead of sending patients down here.”
GMH on Aug. 10 received a $3 million emergency funding from Compact-Impact funds.
The mayors visited some major hospitals that have accredited Guam insurers — Asian Hospital in Alabang Muntinlupa Makati Medical Center in Makati and St. Luke’s Hospital in Quezon City.
The monsoon rains aggravated by an approaching typhoon however slightly spoiled the tour of the Guam mayors and their families to Tagaytay in the province of Batangas a site south of Manila frequented by tourists because of its picturesque volcano and dining establishments.
The Guam delegation visited Tagaytay Highlands a golf and country club frequented by Manila’s rich and famous had lunch at the Midlands and saw the beautiful Taal Volcano. “It was a memorable occasion ” Savares said.
The mayors met briefly with the councilors and vice mayor of Tagaytay before visiting a flower farm. They were not able to go down to the farm itself due to the downpour Savares said and only managed a drive through the Peoples’ Park formerly known as the Palace in the Sky. Described as a “mansion in the clouds ” the Palace in the Sky was built by President Ferdinand Marcos but he was ousted from power before it could be completed or used.
During the week aside from their families’ visits to their doctors and treatments at the local hospitals the mayors also paid courtesy calls on Interior and Local Government Secretary Angelo Reyes and Tourism Secretary Ace Durano. The latter facilitated the visit of the mayors to the exclusive Tagaytay Highlands and Midlands. MBJ