FVR fuming over Tagaytay mess

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Yes, this is Tagaytay City, with SMDC’s condominium towers by the main road.

I’m mad myself over this, as Tagaytay, the idyllic, dreamy unique place of your childhood, indeed, has become a mess, with traffic in the last holiday season as worse as EDSA and the ridge stinking more and more with garbage.

One thing I admire, but sometimes complain about our former President Fidel Ramos, is that he’s been so much of a statesman, and a gentleman that he seldom criticizes an administration since he stepped down in 1998. This actually has been the practice in the USA and most Western nations, as it leaves a bad taste in the mouth for a former head of state to put down an incumbent.

So, in the rare times Ramos hits publicly an administration, or a part of it in public, you can be sure that he’s angry and fed up. Ramos in his first column for the year in the Manila Bulletin (Jan. 4) dispenses with his usual happy-new-year greetings, and its title shows how mad he is: “Tagaytay City: Sad example in nation-building.”

He narrates why he got so angry:

“All of our hardy clan, whose members range from age 87 to 20, had looked forward to our reunion in Tagaytay, and to be able to savor its incomparable scenes, enjoy its cool weather and breathe in fresh Philippine mountain air. For the first time in years, in fact, all children and grandchildren were present in the Philippines.”

“Last week’s sortie to our favorite mountain city, however, was a frustrating and disappointing experience largely because of massive traffic jams along the long stretch of the Sta. Rosa-Tagaytay road both ways, and related difficulties in reaching the People’s Park in the Sky, which is supposed to be Tagaytay’s crown jewel.”

I am seething precisely because of the same frustration.

On January 2, it took me four hours to travel from the Ayalas’ Solenad-Nuvali commercial center in Sta. Rosa City to Tagaytay City. I counted only two traffic policemen in that entire stretch. The thought crossed my mind that the Tolentinos – the current mayor is Agnes Tolentino, sister-in-law of Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino – may have the knack, or the jinx, of creating horrendous traffic in any place where they have been assigned as the official in charge.

But traffic is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the mess in Tagaytay City is concerned.

The title of Ramos’ column – “Tagaytay is a sad example of nation-building” is an understatement, if not a misleading one. How can one even talk of “nation-building” in the case of Tagaytay when it has practically been a fiefdom controlled by one family, the Tolentinos for half a century? The patriarch, Isaac, was mayor for 27 years, succeeded by his son, now MMDA head Francis, and then followed by his younger brother Abraham. When he reached the three-term limit in 2013, his wife Agnes, a doctor, assumed the post.

There isn’t a sidewalk for tourists, and you see them actually risking life and limb having to walk by the road. There are just three bus stops along the main road on the ridge. Many of the restaurants by the ridge stink, as the ravine has become one big garbage pit. There is anarchy by the ridge as houses and restaurants build whatever they want – blocking the view of the Taal Lake. “The People’s Park in the Sky, the highest point in the area, which used to be Tagaytay’s major attraction for thousands of tourists,” Ramos wrote, has deteriorated into a “dirty, smelly and ugly kind of place.”

But, of course, there is Tagaytay College, providing free tuition for children of the city’s residents, which somehow ensures votes for the Tolentinos in every election. Agnes Tolentino won in 2013 with 18,145 votes, giving her an edge of 4,722 over Boying Remulla. What a travesty of democracy: every three years, about 18,000 Filipinos put into power this clan that has ruined, and will continue to ruin, what is an irreplaceable nature site of immense beauty owned by 100 million Filipinos.

I applaud Ramos for hinting that the Tagaytay mess reflects how much of an illusion our purported democracy is, pointing out that the rich are unbothered by what’s happening as they can afford exclusive vantage points in the area, such as the Highlands Golf Club and the Mountain Spa.

What I am particularly sad about, because the consequences would be irreversible, is the frenzy of property projects along the main road, with the owners and developers showing no concern over the aesthetic value of a nature tourist site and with the local government obviously having no master plan for the city.

Why on earth was Henry Sy (or was it the Jr., the CEO?) of SM Development Corp. allowed to build 10 ugly condominium towers along the main road, making Tagaytay’s skyline looking like a typical sight in the congested metropolitan Manila? (see accompanying photo). Are the Sys intent on ruining Tagaytay just as their SM City ruined Baguio?

In many mountain and seaside tourist spots in Greece for instance, there are strict limits on the height of buildings, so that as far as practicable the views of the sea and the mountains are unimpeded from the main road. In Santorini, for instance, which is a bit like Tagaytay in that it faces a volcanic caldera, the local government’s strict regulations on building heights have turned its towns into such beautiful places that they themselves have become tourist attractions.

What stirred my anger even more was Ramos’ report in his column that he had even created a Presidential Commission on Tagaytay-Taal in 1993 that was “empowered to formulate short- and long-term plans for the Development of Tagaytay City and its Adjacent Municipalities.” Ramos said that the 20-year and 10-year plans were made. Where are they now? Did the Tolentinos even bother to study them and undertake consultations with the community for their implementation?

I haven’t heard or read Ramos as vociferously critical of any politician as he is of the Tolentinos of Tagaytay:

“Complaints against Chairman Tolentino and family have been exposed in various broadsheets… ‘New MMDA Chief Faces Plunder, Graft and Other Charges’ by Michael Punongbayan (The Philippine Star, 4 Aug 2010)… At the time of the two Tolentino mayor-brothers, it was strongly recommended to Malacañang that these complaints amounting to criminal neglect be looked into immediately and not taken lightly – if only to protect the integrity of President Aquino III, whose supposed basis for appointing Francis Tolentino as MMDA chairman was that P-Noy and the latter were Ateneo classmates.”

And I haven’t heard or read Ramos as critical of this administration as he is with regard to its culpability for the Tagaytay mess:

“P-Noy’s administration has failed to push solutions to the problems of Tagaytay, particularly the sustainability of its unique natural beauty. Is a deteriorated Tagaytay part of the legacy that younger Filipinos will inherit from Aquino III and the Tolentino dynasty? To end up looking like EDSA – which is our biggest parking lot – are Tagaytay and EDSA good examples of Daang Matuwid – or Daang Ma-Trapik?”