CLOSE-UP: JOJO BINAY

Makati’s two-fisted chief

LIN NEUMANN September 15 1986
CLOSE-UP: JOJO BINAY

Makati’s two-fisted chief

LIN NEUMANN September 15 1986

Makati’s two-fisted chief

CLOSE-UP: JOJO BINAY

He is a reform-minded democrat and a crack shot with a .45 calibre automatic pistol. As the mayor of the suburban Manila municipality of Makati, Jejomar (Jojo) Binay leads members of his security squads in raucous gun battles with operators of car-theft rings and ille-

gal gambling dens. But he also spends many more genteel evenings moving among diplomats in the affluent neighborhoods at the centre of town. Sometimes he uses his wealthy contacts to secure endowments for municipal projects. Binay, appointed last spring by Philippines President Cora-

zon Aquino, is one of a new breed of tough but honest local politicians in a nation traditionally retarded by corruption at the local level. The pugnacious Binay, 43, defends his harsh, frequently heavily armed attacks on law breakers and influence peddlers. Said the mayor: “You just have to show the bad elements you are prepared to stand and fight.”

Although international attention has focused on Aquino’s efforts to clean up national corruption left behind by the exiled Ferdinand Marcos, most experts say that reform is most badly needed at the local level. For years, municipalities had been run by local Marcos strongmen, who repaired roads and built schools while ignoring the presence of gambling dens and strip clubs in exchange for lucrative payoffs. Since coming to power, Aquino has fired the country’s most important local officials and replaced them with handpicked reformers loyal to her. One of the most trusted and valued is Binay. He is so important to the Aquino government that when proMarcos forces attempted to overthrow her government in July, Aquino brought him to the presidential palace to help put down the rebellion.

The urban reforms are most apparent in Makati. The satellite town encompasses two different worlds. Gleaming office towers stand at the centre, surrounded by heavily guarded, <> plush, two-storey villas, home to foreign diplomats and the nation’s wealthy business class. Ringing the island of affluence is a vast shantytown where Makati’s poor live in shacks made of plywood, cardboard and corrugated tin. Often, three or four families share one dwelling.

The man overseeing that volatile combination of rich and poor is an uncommon success story. Orphaned early in life, he was raised by lower-middleclass relatives on the edge of Makati’s slums. He paid his way through law school at the University of the Philippines by selling newspapers and shin[ ing shoes in the streets of Manila. Binay is defiantly proud of his origins, calling himself a pure-blooded “Indio,” unlike the mixed Spanish-Filipino “Mestizos” who have traditionally formed the country’s ruling class. Former fellow students remember him as a negotiator who frequently arbitrated his friends’ disputes. Under the Marcos regime he became well-known as a human rights activist and was imprisoned after Marcos declared martial law in 1972. During recent elections he was again threatened with arrest by the Marcos government because he served as a close adviser to Aquino.

As mayor, Binay says that he wants to break down the barriers to city hall

that have alienated ordinary residents for decades. He frequently jogs through the slums to “see the condition of areas” before hurrying off to breakfast strategy sessions with his political lieutenants. Then, he returns to the Municipal Hall to hold a “people’s hour.” Residents bring their complaints and requests, usually for jobs, police protection or funding for projects. Binay deals with less grandiose undertakings as well. Those include keeping the public toilets clean. Said the mayor: “You can tell if the administration cares by how clean the toilets are.”

The new style of politics contrasts vividly with that of his Marcos-supported predecessor, Nemesio Yabut. The former executive died of a heart attack the day before Aquino took power. He had built a reputation for Makati as a town run on corruption. During last February’s presidential election, Yabut’s district leaders chased citizen scrutineers out of polling places. Surprisingly, Binay has kept many of Yabut’s men on staff. “I believe in the loyalty of the stomach,” he said. “Most of these people were just told what to do.” But he has purged the most corrupt officials, including the city engineer and chief accountant.

But the damage left behind by the Yabut regime will be harder to repair. When he recently toured one school in ' an outlying neighborhood, Binay found overcrowded classrooms, broken seats, faulty wiring and a leaky roof. His aides said that the state of disrepair was a result of Yabut’s practice of diverting municipal funds to his friends. And in a locked room nearby, Binay found valuable power tools and hardware supplies of little use to the school’s pupils. “The old administration ordered this stuff from their friends,” Binay said, adding that they “overcharged the city and pocketed the difference. Now it sits wasted and the system is broke.”

Clearly, cleaning up Makati will not be an easy task. Lacking the resources for an immediate sweep of longstanding criminal activities, the new mayor says that for the time being he will have to tolerate strip shows run by military officers. But he says that his assistants have told local contractors to stop offering Binay payoffs in exchange for building project contracts. Binay acknowledges that governing a city is far more difficult than leading street demonstrations against the Marcos government. But he added that his beliefs “have given me a sense of respect for the people’s rights, for the justice that needs to be done.”

LIN NEUMANN