MANILA Philippines — Impressed with the system of local governance in Metro Manila Sen. Rory Respicio will be proposing to create a council on Guam to coordinate the programs of municipal governments as well as a mechanism to help finance their operations by retaining property taxes.

Respicio said he will enlist the help of his colleague Sen. Tina Rose Muña Barnes; to co-sponsor a bill this year to help empower municipal mayors by creating a structure headed by an executive of the central government with its members coming from the different municipal governments.

Respicio said he got the idea after listening to the presentation of Bayani Fernando chairman of the Metro Manila Development Authority during a meeting with Guam mayors on Feb. 26 at the MMDA office in Makati City. Fernando presented an overview of the MMDA structure — its membership composed of mayors from 13 cities and four municipalities comprising the National Capital Region — as well as its solid waste management plan.

“I would like to initiate policy along those lines and am determined. … This is something I want to do in Guam. I am waiting for Mr. Fernando to send me a copy of the charter that created the MMDA ” Respicio told the Journal.

Respicio was in Manila along with 16 mayors vice mayors and members of the Northern Marianas city councils from Feb. 23 to March 2 for the signing of the preamble to form the Association of Pacific Island Local Governments with the city government of Manila headed by Mayor Joselito Atienza.

“The signing of the preamble between the Mayors’ Council of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands marks the beginning of formal friendship and cooperation between our two peoples. Historically we share common values. Our nation of the Pacific Rim will surely benefit from this landmark achievement ” Atienza told the Journal. The preamble was signed on Feb. 27 at the Pantalan restaurant a popular eatery beside Manila Bay.

According to Vice Mayor Robert Hofmann of Sinajaña Mayor Jejomar Binay of Makati the premier business district in the Philippines; Mayor Ma. Lourdes Fernando of the Philippine shoe capital of Marikina and wife of the MMDA chair; and Mayor Caesar P. Perez of Los Baños Laguna south of Manila are all interested in joining the regional group of mayors. The delegation was able to pay separate courtesy calls to Mayors Perez and Fernando on Feb. 25 and 26 respectively.

The Guam delegation which also toured the presidential museum on Feb. 27 was able to have a brief chat with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo while she was on her way to the regular Cabinet meeting.

“It was really nice. All the mayors and delegates give much thanks that we were given the opportunity to see her and greet her. We were very pleased. It was very brief…she was walking by and she actually greeted everybody who went up to her ” said Mayor Paul McDonald of Agana Heights president of the Mayors Council.

On Feb. 27 the mayors were briefed by the Mindanao-based Alto Power Corp. on a proposal to build a coal power plant on Guam. Earlier they had briefings with some property developers for possible investment by the mayors’ constituents.

On March 1 the mayors were expected to meet with U.S. ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney and on March 2 with officers of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Hofmann said in the meeting with Ambassador Kenney the mayors would bring up the issuance of visas to workers from Manila in anticipation of the demand for labor during the construction of military facilities for U.S troops transferring from Okinawa Japan.

“We are looking forward to our meeting with the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry. As you know there is a lot of interest in the region due the military relocation [which will] be a benefit to [Philippine] labor. We are also asking the PCCI to speak about [Guam] importing steel and concrete materials ” which will be needed for the construction Hofmann said.

Tours have been scheduled at the Intramuros the old walled city of Manila and meetings with officials of St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City and Medical City in Pasig City as well as officials of the Department of Agriculture. McDonald said he was personally going to meet with a “well-known insurance company offering supplemental insurance which would apply to the Philippines ” as well as some hotels which have “offered discounts for our patients from Guam.”

Like Respicio Hofmann was impressed with the mayors’ meeting with the MMDA “where we discussed solid waste and city planning for three hours. We’re very interested in things that we can bring back to Guam. For example we will ask our legislators for legislation to enforce waste segregation and educate the public on the use of [sanitary] landfills.” MMDA coordinates the garbage-segregation and disposal schemes of the municipalities and cities in the NCR the premier urban center of the Philippines.

He said the signing of the preamble to set up the Asia Pacific mayors’ group and election of officers along with Mayor Atienza will primarily be about “relationship-building.” The agreement will foster cooperation in several key areas such as health care agriculture disaster response and management education and business assistance.

“We want to to embrace the cultural and historical closeness of the islands with Manila and help improve our ties by re-establishing ‘lost’ families ” Hofmann said. About 30% of Guam residents trace their roots to the Philippines.

He said the idea for the Asia Pacific grouping of mayors stemmed from the current association of Guam and CNMI association of Mariana island mayors.

“We felt we needed to branch to the other Pacific islands especially to the Philippines which has a first world health care system at third world prices. Everyone comes here for health care.”

McDonald who was elected president of the newly-formed regional organization described the Guam delegation’s trip as “very fruitful. We now have a formal organization where we can now sit down and do some work. … The immediate need is the almost 30 patients in Manila being treated for whatever health reasons there are and to give them as much help they can get making their stay here comfortable and taking care of the needs of the people that have escorted them.” Other officers of the group are Atienza vice president; Joey Anthony Quitugua chairman of the Rota Municipal Council secretary; Mayor Francisco C. Blas of Tamuning treasurer; and Mayor Roke Blas of Sinajaña sergeant at arms. The next meeting of the regional mayors’ group will be on Guam   Hofmann said.

Meanwhile Respicio said that in his bill to create an MMDA-like structure on Guam the city’s public works director essentially works like a city administrator and will be the equivalent of the policy-making MMDA chairman. The bill he said “will force the executive and municipal governments to work together.”

He also said another piece of legislation he can propose is to enable the municipalities to generate revenue on their own instead of relying on appropriations from the central government budget. One way to do this he said is for the property taxes to be retained by the individual mayors.

Respicio expressed optimism that his twin bills will be supported by his colleagues as well as by the newly-reelected Camacho administration. “I challenge anyone to question any legislation to empower mayors and vice mayors. This is a good thing for the community that services will be delivered to municipal level. On Guam there is a high expectation of mayors and vice mayors. And yet the budgets they receive are not enough (to fund the services to their constituents).” Whether the municipality is large or small the mayors all get the same fund appropriation from the central government. “So whatever budget they can get is not enough ” he said.

The senator also defended the mayors’ trip to Manila saying it wasn’t a junket. “I would be the first one to attest to the fact that their agenda is very full.” Respicio said that he was paying for his own trip.

The 61-man delegation is staying at the Heritage Hotel along Roxas Blvd. in Manila and costs for each person are about $585 including the airfare according to McDonald. The nearest mall to the Heritage Hotel is the recently-opened Mall of Asia owned by Filipino-Chinese tycoon and Guam investor Henry Sy which is reputed to be the biggest mall in Asia and seventh largest in the world. Considered a five-star hotel Heritage is home to one of Manila’s many government-run casinos. MBJ